I drive into work at 3:30AM each day. Its wonderful having the road to yourself without traffic, without distractions and with a better than small chance of the cell phone ringing unless its my college brother texting me incoherent words as he nears unconsciousness after an evening of drinking cheap beer.
My 40 minute commute allows me time to reflect on current events, the weather (my job), family, quantum theory, stuff like that. Just a few days ago as I passed the only 24 hour Wendys on the interstate, my mind came across the vivid memory of my cross-country driving trip back in 1998 and the second one with my wife back in 2000. It seemed like an eternity ago. A time before 9/11, a time before kids, a time before 90210 went off the air. A time when my wife and I almost got arrested while allegedly sneaking into Zion National Park. All I need to say is: Hungry Girlfriend and not enough money. Ready for this?
When I conceived the idea of traveling across this great land via automobile with my wife, I had the experience of one other cross country trip under my belt spanning grueling stretches of vast interstates of Arizona and Colorado, volvanic ash covered roads of the Black Hills of South Dakota, the cotton fields of Mississippi and a town with a population of 7 in rural Wyoming of which I have a picture. My checklist for the trip included a Mag-Light, pocket knife, money and a Rand McNally among other things. I thought I had thought of everything until we got about half way through our trek when the unthinkable happened.
Driving up I-15 after leaving Las Vegas, I thought of the bright idea of hitting every National Park within 4 inches on my current position on the map. What I failed to take into account in my wave of exploratory impulsiveness was that in Utah, 4 inches on a map isn't a quick 1/2 hour drive like it is in, say Connecticut. Its a 4 hour odyssey!
All I saw on the semi-worn Rand McNally were the green pockets that indicated national parks and plenty of them ready for me to conquer. They gleemed like diamonds; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; my reward after a long journey. My wife tried to convince me that this might not be a good idea but I wanted nothing of it. The conversation was like this as we thundered down the interstate at 77 mph (the speed limit is 75 in Utah):
Me: "Look at all of the sights we can see here in Utah!"
My Wife: "Lets try to prioritize what we want to..."
Me: "Hell, we'll be fine. We can hit Zion then right down the road is Bryce Canyon and then a little further east is Canyonlands National Park. No problem."
My Wife: "We better get something to eat before..."
Me: "There will be something near Zion; not to worrry."
That was the last thing we said to one another before we started down the road to oblivion.
10 miles....20 miles...30 miles...40 miles and no Zion National Park.
My wife: "We had better stop at this next rest area."
Me: "Just a little further..."'
Another 10 miles....and another 10 more...
My wife: "Uhhh, where is this Zion National Park? This had better be good because I'm freaking hungry!"
Me: "Almost there."
Another hour and a half and still no park.
You know those awkward moments when no one knows what to say or do. This fast became one of those times. The tension was mounting. The radio was off and I was seriously hoping for some sound to break the silence. Maybe we'd blow a tire or maybe a bird would hit the side mirror. Although she wasn't saying anything, I could feel my future wife crawling up the inside of the car in a despirate plight to locate food. I kept my mouth shut hoping that at the top of each rolling hill we approached marked the entrance to the park. We were out of crackers, the water was warm and our supply of gum was gone.
Finally, just over the horizon, Zion National Park appeared. I was relieved because at this point, my wife was licking gum wrappers frantically while mumbling a veritable plethera of expletives directed at the situation and me.
Don't get me wrong, she had every right to be mad. I acted a little too impulsive and now, we were in the middle of Utah with no sign of any park and my wife was hungry. I knew I was wrong but I ignored her and kept on driving with one hand on the wheel and the other hand on the door handle in the event I had to bail out.
We approached the ranger check-in station where you pay to enter. The only problem was that the brochure said it was $10 for a day, the sign at the station said $30.
Our conversation continued:
My wife: "What the f***!"
I feared for my life.
My wife: "We won’t have enough gas money to get home!"
The volume of her voice now escalating to the level that everyone within 20 feet of the car could hear her if the windows were down.
Me: "Alright. Let’s get up there and ask..." I was trying to frantically calm her down.
In a sarcastic tone, I made the mistake of saying: "Eat some crackers and relax."
My wife: "Goddamnit. this park had better be worth it!"
Although she didn’t say it, there was an implied "or else" at the end. I was visibly shaken.
We drove up to the window. The ranger said that the cost was indeed $30.
Once the amount was confirmed, amazingly nothing was said by either one of us. We were passed words. I purposefully didn’t make eye contact with my wife for fear that I’d either get "The Look" or I’d find her passed out in the passenger seat due to low blood sugar. Quickly taking hold of the situation, I told the ranger that we didn't have enough money and asked if we could turn around just beyond the gate and head back. He said sure.
There was a parking lot about 30 feet beyond the gate so I thought it would be better if I turned around there rather than do a "U’ie" in traffic. I pulled into the lot, decided at the last minute to stop, stretch and think about our next move after we exited the park. My girlfriend/future wife at this point was getting delusional and verbally confrontational with anything that moved. She was hungry and tired and at this juncture, according to her accounts a year later, the flowering tree and shrub in the grassy knoll near the parking lot appeared as a sandwich and chips. The garbage can--a chilled diet coke.
No sooner then I turned off of the car, got up and stretched out, a ranger officer pulled up behind the car.
My wife: "Holy sh**. So help me God, if he......."
Me: "Just be quiet. I’ll handle this."
The officer didn’t want to hear anything. I tried to explain but he wanted nothing but my ID. He ran a check on me presumably to make that I wasn’t a convicted felon.
My wife stood up out of the car and almost started ripping into the ranger. As she stood up out of the car, my life flashed before my eyes. In her present state of dehydration and malnurishment, her poorly chosen words would easily have gotten us both arrested. Thank goodness, she backed down and/or lost the will to fight. Either way, the ranger found that my record or lack thereof was not a threat so he told us to leave the park now in no uncertain terms. He escorted us out of the park as my wife threatened to impale me with a plastic fork.
Finally after 35 minutes retracing our driving, we found a Subway restaruant, ordered a few subs and calmly devoured them in roughly 90 seconds.
The moral of the story: When embarking on a trip without putting much thought into it, make sure your girlfriend or wife has a full stomach and is not thirsty.