Flare ups of Braxton Hicks prevented us from traveling far on what was to be my last road trip before my daughter’s birth. But I reasoned that since it had taken me twenty-four hours to give birth the first time, I could certainly drive for an hour before fearing that I was going to give birth in the back of the minivan with my gob-smacked toddler as my audience.
So my mother, my best friend, my firstborn daughter, and I left my home at eleven and started driving up the mountain toward Rugby, Tennessee: a quaint Victoria village. The village itself is small. If you sneeze or yawn while driving down Rugby Highway, you are bound to miss it, so it didn’t take long for us to surmise that the village was closed.
I pulled over at the welcome center, just to be sure, but the tour guide confirmed my suspicions. It was lunchtime, and one hour before my daughter’s nap. She was also refusing to use the public restroom or the portable potty chair that I keep in the back of the minivan to make myself feel better about not putting her in Pull-Ups on trips.
Crossing my fingers that my toddler could hold it for a few more miles, we loaded everyone up and punched the city into the GPS that would lead us toward a restaurant recommended by the Rugby tour guide. We traversed the switch backing roads. I missed my turn and slammed on my brakes without checking my rearview mirror, almost getting rear-ended by a small red car whose driver was gracious enough not to honk at me.
Eventually, we arrived at our destination and tried the back door of the restaurant/boutique. It was locked. I held my daughter’s hand and waddled through a small park toward the front. The lights were off; the restaurant/boutique recommended by the Rugby tour guide was also closed.
Stomach growling, sweaty, holding the hand of a now tired toddler in need of a loo, we loaded up again and tried to find a restaurant smack dab in the middle of nowhere.
I pulled into one café and went to check it out while everyone else stayed in the car. The bell jangled above me. I blinked against the gloom compared to the impossible August brilliance outside. My skin was immediately coated with grease, and there were balled napkins and crinkled paper straw covers scattered across the dirty tiled floor.
I turned without making eye contact and walked back out.
In a mostly abandoned strip mall we saw a sign for a Chinese buffet that looked like they might have cat heads in the bins out back. My best friend clambered out of the vehicle. “Don’t make eye contact!” I yelled as the van door slid shut behind her.
She came back a minute later and shrugged. We walked inside, having driven two and a half hours to do nothing but eat at a knockoff Chinese buffet. The waitress led us to a table and took our drink orders. I was glancing around and cringing, contemplating how to spray everything down with a cloud of Lysol without making it obvious, when my toddler licked the table top.
“Children have excellent immune systems,” my best friend soothed, just as my toddler turned and licked the high chair for good measure.
I screeched, and my mother laughed so hard that she spewed water from her cup all over my daughter. My daughter looked up at her grandmother, frowned, and patted her shirt front. “Wet!” she cried. “Wet!”
We all laughed until we cried.
Thirty minutes later, our bodies digesting a diet of fried rice and MSG, I cracked open my fortune cookie and read, “Life’s about the journey, not the destination.”
I tucked the slip of paper into my wallet and knew that I would always remember—and cherish—my final road trip before my second daughter’s birth because of all the detours on the way to our destination.
Have you ever taken a road trip that “flopped” but was somehow more enjoyable than if everything had gone according to plan?