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Fear and loathing on the American highway

When the friendly Norfolk curbside bag man said to me “What flight you say you on?” I knew the path of my own personal life had taken a hard right.


I was insistent for about 10 minutes from that point, insistent that indeed I was to fly from Norfolk, Virginia Intercontenintal Airport at 11:10 this breezy Saturday, Sept. 29th morning on American Airlines Flight 4225.

The bag man tipped his AA hat a little lower, looked up to me with sad, forgiving eyes and said, “You’ll have to take this up to the ticket counter.”

I lugged a big bag and my laptop up the steps to Level 1 American Airlines Ticket Center and did just that.

The lady who called me forward straightened me out but good. With sad and forgiving eyes, plus a nice subtle hint of expensive perfume.

“You aren’t scheduled to fly out of here until Saturday, Oct. 6.”



“Lord God.”


The AA lady informed me further that the old ticket, since purchased from, had “severe restrictions,” meaning it was now almost worthless ($18 bucks of worthless) towards a new ticket.

A new ticket, she added, would cost over $450, being that it was purchased inside of a seven-day window.

I’m not dirt poor, but $450 was hurting my head to think about.

So I started to plan how to get out of this beautiful East Coast port, and back to Texas.

On the paperwork provided me, I noticed the distance from DFW Airport to Norfolk was “1,200 miles.”

My youngest son Dillon lives exactly 1,036 miles away in Marion, Indiana. I’ve driven that non-stop more than once, in under 14 hours.

I figured I would try and do the same from Norfolk, not fully understanding at the time that ‘1,200 miles’ were as the crow flies, and not how highways run.
It was more like 1,700 miles.

But I found that out later. At the moment, I was determined to get started. I ran to the row of rental car outlets, looked over the half dozen offerings, and decided on the closest one, Avis.

The girl at the Avis counter made the mistake of asking me how my day was going. I thought she might be seriously interested in my response, but I didn’t want to push her too far. “I’ve had better days than this one.”

She seemed suddenly interested in taking a bathroom break, but by then I had her in a head lock.
“I’m really needing to get back to Texas,” I pleaded.

She of course took pity, and arranged a bargain deal of $168 and unlimited miles with a 2007 Mitsubishi SRS. She even spent five minutes showing me the attributes of a navigation system, renting this day only for $10.

We couldn’t get it to call up DFW Airport. I determined that the navigation system was in fact smarter than all of us, failing to acknowledge that some idiot would rent a car from Norfolk and drive straight to Dallas.

I declined the navigation system.

I did sign on the dotted line, which I later found to include the fact – from curb to curb – I was due at DFW Airport in exactly 24 hours. Past that, each hour would cost an additional $60.

My scheme to save some money from this costly airline ticket mistake looked to be in serious jeopardy at about sunset that evening, just when I turned my back on the skyline of Atlanta.

I called the publisher. She insisted I stop if I got tired. Oh, I got tired, but I didn’t stop. Avis wasn’t going to beat me on this one.

I ended up spending another $160 in gas, and $5.49 on a Wendy’s meal, plus a buck here and there for cups of coffee.

All in all, it worked out. I made it to DFW 22 hours later. I didn’t even start hallucinating until about the 20th hour, somewhere between Shreveport and Tyler.
Back in the day, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But now I was not only older, but hooked on mid-day “Spanish pauses,” so my brain was thinking nap-time far more often than it should have.

The Mitsubishi is a beautiful drive, which helped. I recommend it to anyone.

I won’t recommend Avis to anyone. If I ever do, it’s because I don’t like you.

The one saving grace for me was a mindset I achieved at the start of this cross country journey across the heartland of America.

I decided that The Man wanted something different for me on this trip.

Maybe it was to take a pause (captive in a car for 22 hours is a pause) and to look at America from sea level.

I did that. A trip down Highway 58 in Virginia was a treasure, with incredible homes old and new, fields full of beans and cotton. Huge, mutated roadkill jackrabbits every three miles or so. Thick forests through North and South Carolinas. Driving down molasses black highways in the Deep South past midnight.

Some places I wanted so much to stop at and couldn’t or didn’t.

I drove right past the exit to my sister Kellie’s place outside of Atlanta. I drove past casinos in Vicksburg and Shreveport. It was worst in Shreveport, because all the casino lights were messing with my hallucinatory brain.

I made it to the city limits of Iowa Park exactly 24 hours from the start of this unexpected journey. Another three hours later I fell into a deep coma.

Oh yes. The trip to Norfolk was for the National Newspaper Association’s annual convention. The Iowa Park Leader won first place in Best Advertising Idea, in a category that included both dailies and weeklies across the country.

I was proud for us, all the way from Norfolk back to my home.

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