The Great American Road Trip – Episode IV
by Carolyn McLaughlin
For about half an hour we drove around looking for action. There were firemen out on the road with their boots in their hands. They had signs leaning against a parked firetruck, glowing red and shining clean in all its glory. These signs said, “fill the boot.” Traffic slowed now and then while people tossed money into the boots. Since we were driving in circles we really got to observe this fundraiser. We all agreed it was a pretty fun idea, but big brawny firemen could have been doing something with a little more guts than collecting money in a shoe. It must have been their day off.
When we saw a sign for the tourism center we gave in and headed through the door into an office with air conditioning and walls plastered with posters of Texas flowers and birds. “Hey, where’s the beach?” we all chimed in. Directions in hand, we headed to the splendid and familiar first – a gas station.
The weather was sunshine and hot pavement. After a 15 minute browse along the entire back wall of the Texaco supermarket, covered with many, many choices of beverages, Melissa stuck with her regular tall order of Snapple Iced Tea. Meanwhile, Dan, Rob and I discussed which of us would get which flavor of some sort of boxed milkshakes. A bad idea to begin with, Rob lucked out the most by safely choosing chocolate while Dan was stuck with a banana flavor and I had something strawberry.
We should have known. They were very sweet and tasted like the container. But when you are traveling 75 to 200 miles a day, the sense of adventure has a tendency to devour you. We were also starting to feel like gas station convenience stores have not only unique but also the best selections anywhere. If it isn’t packaged and processed, there’s no way you can count on it. Right.
Still searching for the beach, the next chore of the day became the car. Although we couldn’t avoid an interior cleaning spree every 15 to 48 hours, the Buick had not been washed since Mystic, Connecticut. We didn’t mind a dirty car since the windshield washer fluid kicked in to rid our view of funky bugs. But we passed an automatic carwash, and for 50 cents we decided to splurge. A shining car to match a shining sun, we drove to the beach.
The beach we wanted to go to was called Whitecap, I think, but we weren’t paying for a season pass in order to park for one day. We hit the next beach on the map and avoided any ticket booths along the huge parking lot, which ended up not mattering since there is no charge for a single day. The friendly natives told us that. Great!
Beachgoers just park about fifty feet from the water’s edge. They barbecue and cruise around. A lot of beer cans. A lot of happy faces and deep tans. The wind was onshore and the waves were too small for surfing but good for a regular body surfing session. Ah it felt great.
Melissa and Rob basked in the sun. I went swimming. Dan also went swimming, but he was about 10 minutes behind me. This is because Dan, trooper number one, had to put a plastic bag and rubber band over his right arm. This was necessary because he had a cast. Several weeks before our trip began, he fractured his arm playing soccer. He fondly calls the game “footy,” as I’m sure many of his mates do.
This handicap made Dan a little slower with his meals and changing clothes etc., and maybe slightly reserved – we probably would have enjoyed the trouble he would have gotten us into had he had both hands free. But he loves swimming and so every opportunity we had for a dip, there Dan was with his trusty plastic bag.
After a relaxing day at the beach we went back into town. We wanted to camp near the beach but talking to the locals changed our minds. These people were glad to see new faces and therefore quite the conversationalists so I bombarded them with questions. After a slew of helpful facts and friendly chatting, the ultimate notion in my head was that our next destination – Mexico – was not a great idea.
Camping near the beach was not a good idea because the dunes were no good for tents, and local police patrolled the area all night since camping wasn’t really allowed anyway. There goes one choice for somewhere to sleep. Okay. Maybe we’ll just head for Mexico, it’s not that far away. The guys I’m interrogating disagree. The drive is more than six hours, and the part of Mexico we’d get into is …”sketchy.” They started telling horror stories of getting poor quality gasoline that destorys the car’s engine, customs and immigration is a drag, and they speak another language down there. “Lookout,” I’m thinking, “no, really?”. Of course, the border towns are not Acapulco.
We left our first lovely beach and decided to have dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. The food was great and the portions were generous. We suspended the dilemma at hand and had a good meal and pleasant conversation. The glasses of water we ordered – by now a standard – had slices of lemon in them. That was especially soothing after such a hot day. We decided to continue our pampering (and procrastination) with some entertainment.
There was a movie theatre next door and for some reason Rob and Dan really felt like seeing a show. Selections limited, we agreed on Don Juan. The movie proved to be light entertainment, a real escape from staring at road signs and maps all the time. When we stood up at the credits I turned to my friends and said enthusiastically, “Alright! Let’s drive to Mexico.”
Next week: …our experience in Monterrey disintegrated any bad ideas about Mexico, and the shopping was almost as much fun as the traffic.