Raising Richmond: Five trips in a car

“…all road trips should start with a breakfast sandwich.”

April 2009

It’s our honeymoon. We leave Richmond after stopping at Ukrop’s for a breakfast sandwich (all road trips should start with a breakfast sandwich). We stop in Roanoke, end up in Knoxville for the night, and then travel to Nashville, Memphis, Oxford, and Chattanooga.

Over the next week we eat our weights (combined, now, since we just got married) in barbeque sandwiches, fried chicken, and desserts. We go to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Graceland, National Civil Rights Museum, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio, and the homes of two presidents. We use a Road Food book as a guide for where to eat. We eat fried chicken at Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville. It’s made so spicy that the woman at the counter won’t let my husband order it as hot as he wants it because she doesn’t think he can handle it. I play air guitar on William Faulkner’s porch, as is the custom.

In the car we listen to the music we brought, Splendid Table podcasts, or scan the radio. I use paper road maps to navigate from Nashville to Memphis. We write haikus about our trip, including:

Rolling on the floor
Not laughing, just getting fat
Dern you, meat and three

“What’s the deal, Memphis?
Beale St. blows, but other parts:
One for the money.”

“Are you haikuing?”
“I forgot about that stuff.
I was just counting.”

We come back to our new home, empty except for the cats we came with into the marriage.

October 2010

When my husband pulls his car to the curb at the hospital and we prepare to place our daughter in her car seat for the first time, it’s not immediately clear how the straps work. The woman who has brought me down in my wheelchair says she isn’t allowed to touch the car seat but directs him on what to do. Eventually, it’s figured out. I’m in the backseat with our newborn, and on the way home we make good on a jokey promise to stop by Lee’s for fried chicken.

It’s been less than 48 hours since our daughter was born. The next year will be significant for days, weeks, months, and ounces. I will not remember the first hour that we spend at home with her, but I’m happy to know that it involves my three favorite things: my husband, my child, and my fried chicken.

October 2011

To make the best use of the nine-hour car drive to Northampton, Massachusetts for the wedding of my husband’s good friend, we leave at night so our daughter can sleep through the bulk of it. We listen to Tina Fey’s Bossypants on audiobook after she falls asleep.

We know we’ll need a hotel overnight, but since we don’t know where we’ll be when, we don’t book one. We stop around 1:00 AM at a Motel 6 and sleep for a little bit. It is impressive how messy we can make a hotel room even though we’re not awake while there for more than an hour. After breakfast, we’re back on track. Tina Fey has been fired up again, and our daughter dozes off.

July 2012

Previous long car trips taught us that leaving at night so that our child sleeps in the car generally works out, but even though she skips her nap that day, she is wide awake during our just under four-hour drive to a property in West Virginia for a weekend camping trip and family reunion. She naps for about 20 minutes, but otherwise she’s been up since 6:00 AM (which is the equivalent of two days for a toddler).

It’s dark when we get to the mountains, and we’ve both lost phone service. There are no street lights or road signs, and we lose our way eventually. I get a little anxious, recalling the stories that made me scared to walk in the woods when I was a kid and we visited family in the area, and keep imaging the ghosts of 19th-century Native Americans walking in front of our car.

Then our daughter vomits. It’s all over her and her carseat. We’ll never get that cleaned up outside in the dark. Defeated, we turn around and find a hotel. My dad has left a message that he drove out to find us, which is comforting.

My husband cleans the car and I get our daughter ready for bed. She stays up until after midnight, staring at me with her big, bright eyes. She seems deliriously happy to be next to me, and reaches out and pets my head. She looks crazy. She’s been up for so long.

September 2013

We hit the road on a Saturday morning after getting breakfast at Ellwood Thompson’s (again: all road trips should still start with a breakfast sandwich). Our daughter is wearing a helmet in the car but agrees to takes it off after breakfast. We’re travelling through the Outer Banks to catch a ferry to Ocracoke to visit a friend. Our kid is covered in dry erase marker before Norfolk. We’re in the car (or by the car on a boat) for about eight hours. We didn’t figure in that miles away don’t mean much when the route includes both a ferry trip and beach roads with low MPHs.

She doesn’t sleep that much since it’s daytime, and the piano we bought her to play with in the backseat takes up about five minutes of her time for every 15 minutes. It’s shaped like a cat, and has both a regular piano setting and a setting with pre-programmed songs with lyrics about cats that are set to the tunes of other songs. The “La Cucaracha” song about a lost cat is especially grating. But it keeps her busy. When she’s not playing with that and is bored with her other activities, we play “Mrs. Finger,” which is basically me talking to her through my index finger (my husband and I recently watched The Shining). Whenever I think I can turn around and zone out, she calls for Mrs. Finger to come back and talk to her.

After Ocracoke we travel another five hours to Topsail, North Carolina. We spend four days there with my family, head back for Richmond around lunchtime on Thursday, and Friday morning we’re up again to drive to my aunt and uncle’s, just outside of Ithaca, New York to stay with them for one night until we drive about 30 miles from there for a wedding reception for my husband’s cousins. Plus she’s potty-training during all of this.

We are pros at long car trips together by now. Although our kid doesn’t sleep that much in the car, she talks, plays, sings, tells us about what she sees, and happily accepts all snacks. We know now to stop at grocery stores for meals or use our phones to find a Mexican restaurant for something quick. She also likes it when I sit in the backseat with her. She could be fussy and complain often, but she is good at road trips, just like her parents.

During one week she sees all her grandparents on both sides of the family, lots of cousins, aunts, and uncles, and gets to feed chickens. She is in a bathing suit on Monday, and in long pants and a jacket by Friday. The drive home on Sunday is hard on all of us, and we have the cat piano to set the soundtrack for the ten hours in the car.

The cat piano, sadly, does not make it through the winter in the car.

April 2014

The 110 miles back to Richmond goes through Northern Virginia, so it could either take 110 minutes or four hours. Since it is a Sunday afternoon, it takes four hours. We haven’t planned for a long trip. Our daughter has my phone during the first part of the trip. I might eventually regret letting her play with it unsupervised, but currently all she does is edit photos using an application I have, and then she plays Tetris and shouts “I WIN!” every time a game is over. She wants to write her name, so I open a Notepad page and she types it and other various letters and emojis. After talking about how tired she is and asking if we’re lost, she sleeps for almost two hours and wakes up right before we arrive back in Richmond to pick up our dog (just 15 minutes before the place closes for pickups).

For most of the trip it’s just my husband and me. He either doesn’t want to listen to the podcasts I have on my phone or has already heard them. We settle on America’s Test Kitchen, and I doze off during the history of meat processing segment.

Afterwards we scan the radio. My CD player stopped working four months ago, and I am tired of the radio. Radio thinks we want to hear Katy Perry way more than anyone could possibly want to. He takes over scanning because I go too fast.1 It’s still fun to listen to dumb radio together. We have a history with the radio (the word is even etched into my engagement band). We were driving somewhere a few months after we started dating and heard Mike and the Mechanic’s “The Living Years” twice in the same few minutes, and he declared it “our song.” After years of protest, I have accepted this as fact.

We make it home with our dog, our daughter, and check on our two cats. We settle in from the weekend trip and get ready for the next day.

Photo by: brianhonohan

  1. When he read this he said, “this should read ‘He takes over scanning because I do it wrong.'” Marriage, everybody. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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