This chapter will cover my travels from 20 years to 40 years of age.
While I was going to college, I lived with my parents so I went on one more road trip with them. I finally did get to have a say in the sights we stopped to see. So boy, did we stop and do some sightseeing. We stopped at Ruby Falls in Tennessee, we stopped at a really beautiful covered bridge in West Virginia, we stopped at the Gettysburg battlegrounds in Pennsylvania and on the way back home while we were still in New York, we stopped and visited Ausable Chasm. You know what, my mother actually had a good time exploring these locations with the exception of Ruby Falls. We only lost a half a day of travel time for all these stops. It also made for a more relaxed trip. The main reason for this trip was my Uncle Oliver and Aunt Beatrice’s 50th wedding anniversary. We had a great time at the the party as well. They had such a large group that they rented a local hall and park nearby for the events. I had just bought my first SLR camera, a Minolta X-700 with a nice 28-80mm Tamron Zoom lens. I was in hog heaven. The last trip with my parents turned out to be the best trip of them all. Only 20 years in the making. Who says patience doesn’t pay off?
In my memoirs, I have previously mentioned the woman I was first engaged to, the flaming red head, or as I fondly call her Psycho Bitch. I will bring her up this one final time because she was an integral part of my first adult trip. I was in charge of the itinerary on this trip. So guess what I did on this first excursion? I participated in a family gathering in North Carolina in the Smoky Mountains. This being my first adult trip, I had absolutely nothing. So I had to max out a credit card just to buy all the gear I would need on this camping trip. Of course, I had to buy all the best including a tent big enough for a family of 20 people. Because Psycho Bitch wanted to show off to the rest of my family, and being the whipped puppy that I was went right along with that nonsense. Despite this we still managed to have a great time.
The park we were camping at butted up to a beautiful little stream on which you could inner tube right down to our camp sites. It also served as the gateway to the Appalachian Trail, so there were unlimited hiking trails. So Ricky, Rodney and I decided to go on an ill-prepared and ill-advised all day hike. We did not think it was going to be an all-day event because it was only supposed to be 10 miles. Well, let me tell you 10-miles of hiking where there isn’t 20 feet of level ground in a stretch is a hell of a long distance. So, a hike that we estimated would take a little over 5 hours ended up taking well over 10 hours. All we each had brought was a single chocolate bar and a small canteen of water. Of course, we had no filtration system or purifier tablets. Needless to say we were really stupid and very lucky all at the same time. Of course, we were on everyone’s shit list when we got back. Everybody was worried because we were gone so long. I am also sure I was called quite a few choice words by Psycho Bitch. So, of course, we exchanged a few choice words which we quickly resolved in our usual manner, which was with wild monkey sex. See I knew there was a reason why I stayed with her for a whole year.
I have made several trips to St. Augustine, FL on several different occasions. It seems like I have gone there with every woman I was ever seriously been interested in including psycho bitch. I even married my first wife there. I frankly don’t know what the draw is? I think without a doubt it is the most frequently visited city by me with maybe the exception of Los Angeles, CA. If you haven’t been to either one, they are definitely worth a visit, however, don’t be a damn fool and keep visiting them like I seem to do. The only lesson I can take away from my visit to St. Augustine is to don’t ride on a carriage that goes on cobblestone roads with a full bladder. That sounds like a no brainer, right? Well, how about your bladder keeping this little secret right up until our carriage hit the first bump then it started screaming at me and would not let up for the entire 30-minute tour. Without a doubt, the longest 30 minutes of my life. Two must do’s for your stay there: first, try alligator at a seafood restaurant, you will be pleasantly surprised. Secondly, go see the Ripley’s Museum. The museum in St. Augustine is really good.
I know that I stated earlier that the trip for my Uncle Oliver’s 50th anniversary was my last trip with my parents. This actually was not entirely true. We did in fact have a few more trips that they were involved in, though now we went as couples and no longer as a parent-child role. The first one was a trip to visit my nephew Marty in Anchorage, Alaska. There were six of us on the trip. My first wife and I, my parents and my Aunt Theolus and Uncle Laverne. My mother being a frequent traveler was able to get discount round-trip tickets for a flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Anchorage, Alaska for $225.00/person. This was a great deal, however, we had two layovers. The first one was in Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and it was only one hour long. This is where the fun began because the gates were on the opposite side of the airport. So we had to run like hell to make our connecting flight. The second one was five hours long in Seattle, Washington. When we finally made it to Anchorage, my luggage turned out to be missing. All my cold weather gear and clothes was in the missing suitcase. I ended up wearing the same pair of underwear for three days. Finally the airport delivered my suitcase to my nephew’s house. Thank the hell God! I thought my clothes was going to rot off my body.
I thought this trip was going to be great mainly because my aunt and uncle were usually such fun people to be around. However, this was not the case this time. They were frankly a pair of whinny babies and never missed a chance to make our trip miserable. I really felt bad for my nephew and his wife. They tried very hard to make everything just right. They complained about the cost of the rental vehicle, they complained about the weather, they complained about the bumpy roads and it just went on and on. I did all the driving, so the other five took turns as my co-pilot. Of course, my aunt and uncle never missed their turns even though they both immediately fell asleep as soon as we got on the road. We got to see a lot of amazing sights but you could never please them. One more thing, they always wanted to eat. By 4 o’clock in the afternoon we had already eaten our supper. It was then that I said I would never take another family trip like this again. Surprisingly enough my parents were not the problem, they were great.
One little side note that I can’t believe I have not mentioned in my previous books is my mother and her bologna salad. For one, it is in the recipe section of my first book. You really have to try it. It is certified as tasty by several flight attendants. On our flight from Dallas to Seattle, my mother trotted out her bologna salad and started doling it out to the famished travelers. We had been on the go for quite some time with no sustenance. Of course, our activities caught the attention of one of the flight attendants. Well, as quickly as you can say the phrase “shit storm” we were surrounded by a swarm of hungry attendants. Each one of them got two slices of bread with the aforementioned salad. They thought my mother was the greatest. You know what she was in hog heaven. She could be a pain in the ass but she truly was a special person, at least when she wanted to be.
My first wife and I made a few trips up to Blue Ridge Mountains to camp and sightsee. On this particular occasion, we were up the mountains in North Carolina looking for a campsite to stay at. It was early in the season, so the pickings were very slim. I had my Isuzu Trooper with our trusty utility trailer in tow. We followed this sign saying that there was a campsite five miles ahead. Well, we climbed for about what seemed like a hundred miles and finally got to the entrance of the park. Well guess what, the damn place was closed. I was so pissed off. But now we had a problem how to turn around. It seemed like there were sheer cliffs on 3 of the 4 sides. So I had my wife get out of the Trooper so she could direct me and keep our vehicle from falling into a chasm. Well, I was backing up and the next thing my ear drums were shattered by this bloodcurdling scream. One tire was off the cliff and half the other tire was also off the cliff. If the other tire had completely slipped off, the weight of the trailer would have pulled my truck over into the abyss. It was about a 20,000 foot drop. So after I cleaned up the shit in my drawers, I ever so gingerly pulled forward and was able to get the hell out of there. I was proud of my wife I didn’t think she could shatter bone with her voice.
So after several failed attempts at finding a campsite, we decided to call it quits on this trip. We were just having so much damn fun we said enough is enough. But as luck would have it, the gods were not finished with us just yet. So now we had made it to Georgia and I mean we were in the middle of nowhere. We were driving on this two-way elevated road driving through open fields of sawgrass when my ever observant wife told me to look behind us. The sky looked like it should be in hell, it was that black. I could also start to feel our Trooper move a little bit as it was buffeted by strong winds. So I just floored it. I was going as fast as that V-6 2.8 liter motor could go. We finally reached a little town. By that time, the wind sounded like a freight train. The road into the town made a T. There was a building on the other side of the T, so I drove up next to it. It was a stone building and looked pretty sturdy. We were able to park right between the building which was on the left and a big oak tree on the right. It was just mere seconds afterwards when the tornado struck. But instead of going the way we went, it veered to the right and followed the T in the road. We gave the storm about an hour then we extricated ourselves from our cocoon and kept on driving. The town we passed through was devastated.
When I started doing wedding photography professionally, I made an offer to my brother Robert’s daughter Kelly to photograph her wedding when she finally got married. When the date finally came around, my wife and I packed up our SUV and drove to Blue Ridge, Georgia for the wedding. My brother’s house was on the smallish side, so most of the guests had to rent hotel rooms. I was afforded a room since I was doing him a major favor by doing the wedding for free. Remember how I said that I would never travel with my family again? Well, I was to learn another lesson and that is never to get involved in any kind of contractual agreement with a family member even if no money is going to be exchanged. As a professional photographer, I only show the images I want to the client. My brother wanted all of the photos, well, I refused. You know what we did not talk for two years after the wedding. He never thanked me for the work I did for Kelly. Eventually, we made up and resumed our relationship. My contact with my parents on this trip was only incidental.
Before I made up my mind about nursing or before it even became an issue for us, we had begun talking about moving to Arizona. Tucson being a likely location. So we checked out our travel options and it became apparent that a flight to Las Vegas was by far the cheapest travel option. It seemed liked there were all kinds of discount travel deals with car rentals being part of the package. So we bought our tickets and made our plans for the trip. Since we had two weeks off and we did not think it would take us that long to decide if Tucson was an option, we decided to make a big loop with Yosemite being the California goal for us before we went through Death Valley on our way back to Las Vegas. We started our trip by going through Flagstaff, Grand Canyon and Sedona and then on to Phoenix and Tucson and then back up through California. We fell in love with Tucson but realized that my career options being still in retail and only Tammy working in the medical field as a nurse, we would not be able to afford a nice house there. It just seemed like the housing market was geared about a couple of levels above where the salaries were. It was also a little too close to the Mexican border for my taste. We were concerned about the potential for crime. So we ruled out Arizona and continued on with our trip. As we made our way through the country despite the summer heat (the timing was by design), we started falling in love with the country. California was simply amazing and we found Yosemite to be a truly a wonderful park. We spent out first night in the national park sleeping in a teepee. Even though it was summer, due to the 8,000 foot elevation, the nights were quite cold. We just about froze our asses off sleeping in that glorified tent. It kind of made us appreciate our humble little house in Florida.
The next two nights we spent in a hotel which was just a bunch of modular units connected together. We got to see a large brown bear raid the dumpsters on our first night. We explored the hell out of the park the next two days and was amazed by the enormous Redwood trees. Even to this day after I have visited several parks with these trees, I am still in awe of their sheer majesty.
At the time of the trip I only had two camera bags and they were both just as beastly in size. I had brought my Tamrac 614 which could hold more camera gear than anybody had the right to own. I hate to say it but it was full of gear and must had weighed over thirty pounds. This is what I was carrying around throughout our walks in the park. After nearly dying of a heart attack trudging up and down those winding trails I decided it was high time that I bought a smaller bag. So when we made it to Las Vegas I did just that. I am still using that bag, and my other two bags have been relegated to my storage closet never again to see the light of day.
After we finished exploring Yosemite, we rounded off our trip by driving through Death Valley. What a truly wonderous park. I have since visited it at least ten more times and I have yet to get bored with it. But one thing you need to bear in mind is that when you travel through the park and it says to turn off your air conditioner, just do it. We tried to avoid doing that and my temperature gauge immediately started climbing on my rental car. So I quickly turned it off and opened up all the car windows. Second of all, stay hydrated. When I lived in Florida I never brought anything to drink with me when I went on a drive. Now that I live out west, I go nowhere outside the city without a bottle of water, it has just become second nature.
When we arrived in Las Vegas, we went to the airport to return our rental car and to check in to the airport only to find out that we were a day early. Before we left for our trip we had a very tight itinerary mapped out. And because of the faster traffic flow out west we had been gaining a little every day till we had actually accomplished everything we had planned but only a day earlier. So we continued to explore the city and we spent some time walking through the casinos including some of the animal exhibits. Treasure Island still had the pirate ship battles, the MGM had the lion exhibit as well. We went to the Mandalay Bay Casino’s shark exhibit and the Mirage’s Secret Gardens of Siegfried and Roy.
Before we left for our return trip back to Florida, we made up our mind to come back some day to live in Las Vegas. We had truly fallen in love with not only the city but the surrounding area.
Before I entered into nursing school, my first wife and I decided to go on a cruise since we figured it would be a while before we could travel again. I will discuss our cruise in Chapter 18.
We were to have two more road trips with my parents but they wouldn’t take place until several more years went by and will be discussed in the next chapter. I am sure you can see that relationship has begun to change in the travels that involve my parents and family.