Sunday, October 30, 2022

Livingston Road Trip 2022: Second Leg Back to Missouri: The Bad, the Good, and the Grind


Rain and slow gas at the Flying J in Texarkana, off I-30. Arkansas. October 2022. Credit: Mzuriana.
Rain and slow gas at the Flying J in Texarkana, off I-30. Arkansas. October 2022. Credit: Mzuriana.

The Bad

It appears that it was my destiny to suffer a miserable rainy return to my temporary Missouri base. 

I thought I'd avoided that on the way to Livingston by postponing my westbound trip by one day. But no. The universe just tacked it on to my eastbound return from Livingston.

Furthermore, my departure time was delayed by a crazy wrinkle on Saturday morning: The Flying J gas pumps. 

My original plan: Gas up my car before wheeling out of the travel center. But.

The pumps inexplicably were on a slow machine protest strike, where each of us pumpers thought, "Is it me?" only to realize, just as slowly as the gas ticked into our tanks, "No, it's not me, it's the pumps," as each pumper individually experienced the same phenomenon, but which the staff inside did not yet know.

I didn't see this next thing happen, but one man was so frustrated, apparently he tore away from the pumps without having taken the handle out of his tank. 

This was relayed to me by a woman who pulled up after I had tried at two different pumps to get gas and she said to me: "Is it me? Am I doing something wrong? - or is there something wrong with the pumps?" I had just returned to the pumps after an unsatisfying conversation with one of the cashiers inside, during which I'd tried to explain that it took five minutes to put less than one gallon of gas in my tank, and the cashier just wasn't getting it. I was simply the first of what was to become many with the same complaint.

To the woman who asked me, "Is it me? Am I doing something wrong?" I replied with reassurance: "No, it's not you; it's the pumps. And now you can switch to being disgruntled."

Fortunately, there was a gas station across the road - the DK - where I did finally fill my tank successfully with gas. 

The DK in Texarkana, off Exit 2, I-30. Arkansas. October 2022. Credit: Mzuriana.
The DK in Texarkana, off Exit 2, I-30. Arkansas. October 2022. Credit: Mzuriana.


Afterward, I sat in my car, gazing contemplatively through the windshield at the rain. It was so gloomy outside and I dreaded getting back on the interstate, knowing that although the rain was relatively light where I sat, it would be amplified on the spray-spewing, semi-truck-laden highway, making for a miserably tense drive at a high speed. The weather forecast told me that I wouldn't be driving out of the rain any time soon.


Rain at the DK in Texarkana, off I-30. Arkansas. October 2022. Credit: Mzuriana.
Rain at the DK in Texarkana, off Exit 2, I-30. Arkansas. October 2022. Credit: Mzuriana.

We make small and large decisions all the time on a road trip. We plug in all sorts of algebraic variables into the decision equation, depending on our individual tastes, fears, time frames, and "shoulds." 

Like this "should": "You should buck up and drive on the interstate. Don't be a wuss. Be a warrior. A chingona."


The Good

And then I thought: "No. I'm on a road trip. A road trip is a pleasure trip, not a test. Take the blue roads. Relax. Be serene.

So I poked a no-highway re-route into Google Maps, decided I could live with the extra time slapped on to the trip duration, and hoped I'd eventually get out of the rain, at which point I could switch over to a faster track. 

I immediately relaxed. I felt good.

A bonus good:  Gorgeous fall color in the forest of the Oachita Mountains.

The Bad

Mountains + valleys + rain = mist. Mist is the romantic word, except for those of us who've read Stephen King's The Mist. (Trivia: And in the movie, seeing The Walking Dead's Carol there.)

Fog is the more pragmatic word. The Oachita fog was almost impenetrable. Around blind curves. Down steep inclines. Occasionally coming out of the fog for a brief respite and the visceral release of a held-in breath, then a plunge back into the white-out. The occasional oncoming idiot without their headlights on. The stoopids.

The Grind

Despite the beauty of the mountains and the forests, despite the relatively relaxed drive through the rain (once the fog was behind me), the distance still to go became a grind. 

I was prepared to spend another night on the road, but in one of those algorithmic equations that go into decision-making, I was not enthusiastic about pulling into a minimal-standards motel at a Saturday-night rate. My Google map told me that if I deadheaded it to my Missouri base, I'd definitely be rolling in after dark fell. 

The Bad

To my great consternation, a fairly recent development for me is difficulty driving at night, so it's a tense enterprise under the best of circumstances. The best of circumstance = clear weather, well-marked road lanes (i.e. fresh white reflective paint lines), not too many deep curves, and speed limits at 65 or less.

Another night in a truck stop would be fine, although the blacktops aren't known for many truck stops. It was a gamble. I started looking for a truck stop at 5:00 p.m.

The Good

Eventually, the rain seemed to have dissipated enough that an interstate - both for its faster track and more plentiful opportunities for a truck stop to overnight in - had me reroute my way back home. In theory, the new route sliced an hour off my time. 

The Bad

It looked like I'd still be driving at night, after all, unless I found that elusive truck stop or rest area.

Fortunately, as night fell, I was on a highway with the desired well-marked white lane lines and plentiful pilot cars that I could follow at a helpful, yet not too close, distance. (Don't want to scare my unwitting road guides by tailgating.)

The Good

In the end, I brought myself all the way back to my Missouri base, thanks to the unknowing kindness of my pilot cars.


Some other rainy times and places


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