We are too tame and sanctified to be Thelma and Louise, too low budget to be Oprah and Gayle. So a wild story of mishaps and tourists ventures this is not. This story is a tale of two women, a 16 foot moving truck with a car in tow and over 2,300 miles of road to reach their destination; beginning in Gaithersburg, Maryland and ending in Phoenix, Arizona.
For Pamela, the story began on January 20, 2015 when she received the news that her mother Merle Hopkins, was very ill. She stopped everything she was doing in Phoenix, Arizona to fly back to her hometown of Montgomery County, MD to care for her mother until her crossing over on April 1, 2015. Pamela’s original intention was to pack up her mother and belongings to take her back to Phoenix. However, Grandma Merle received the diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer that had spread throughout her body. Inevitably, Grandma Merle had her way: passing away in her one bedroom apartment home in Gaithersburg, MD. Tamika flew to Maryland on April 8, 2015 to assist her mother Pamela (an only child) with handling arrangements and business associated with their beloved matriarch’s death. The sadness of the funeral arrangements were overshadowed by the abundance of love, laughter and good times given to them by the surrounding family and friends during bereavement time. Pamela and I were fed every night by the generosity of others whether it was meals prepared by family, or lunch and dinner outings treated by friends. We attended an awesome birthday party cookout, hanging out and cutting up with extended family members in their homes, and church services at different local churches every Sunday. We didn’t have a choice but to have a good time, and celebrate the life of our beloved. Mom had seen family and friends that she hadn’t seen in decades. I’m almost forty years old, and was meeting cousins for the first time, or seen family that hadn’t been seen since I was a baby. To see my mother smile so much was healing to me too; however, beneath those smiles, we still had much to accomplish within a short time frame. Tasks that we both had been medically advised not to participate in had become the challenge. Having more faith than fear, Pamela and Tamika took on the challenge: the road trip from Gaithersburg, Maryland to Phoenix, Arizona.
Starting Point: Gaithersburg, MD Monday April 27, 2015. Shout out to my late grandmother’s neighbors and cousins who are real men. They loaded the moving truck with all the furniture and packed boxes before the sun went down without requiring monetary compensation. May the Lord bless them one hundred fold for their generosity. Pamela was struggling with going through the belongings of her mother, who was a very private person. As we sorted through items, my mother would recall memories from old photographs, and find sentimental items she believed were long gone. Cleaning out a loved one’s home after their demise is worse than a funeral in my opinion. The finality of it all can be overwhelming. We were behind schedule to begin our trip. It was supposed to start Monday afternoon, but didn’t begin until approximately 5 am on Tuesday morning. In the meantime, I’ve contacted a couple of family members and friends who have commercial truck driving experience. My anxiety about driving the moving truck towing a car had begun mounting since the week before we had to leave. I tried my best to get others to come along on the trip, but to no avail. I combined all the advice that was given to me in a “crash course for truck driving 101”, let Mom lead our prayer, and then we were off….
Maryland: I was born and raised in Montgomery County, MD. I had to get used to my hometown roads again after being away for almost four years (I’ve lived in Phoenix, AZ since 2011). I used to drive on I-270 and I-495 on a regular basis, so I thought this would be the most comfortable area for me to drive. Boy, was I wrong. It was raining a cold, steady, fast rain and high winds when we left. This did not slow down the Monday morning commuters taking advantage of the slightly open roadway before rush hour traffic truly set in. As smaller cars and bigger trucks were whizzing by us in excess of 65 mph, the moving van shimmied, shook, and hydroplaned a few times. The steering wheel was constantly going back and forth beneath my gripping hands. I had Mom on the phone calling my “truck driving instructor” before 6 o’clock, less than an hour of being on the road. The visibility was horrible. I was truly grateful that my mother bought me new prescription glasses before the trip, or this story would’ve had a different ending. And, we were quickly approaching I-66 in Virginia, the construction area nightmare that is known by the locals for long traffic jams and accidents. The constant prayer on my lips was: “Lord please help me. Please help us.”
Virginia: It’s still dark, windy, and rainy by the time we reach I-66. The construction hadn’t started yet, and the traffic volume was still light to moderate, so it was moving. We got through it to I-81 without any incidents, in spite of the hazardous weather conditions. I kept asking the Lord to keep watching over us. The winds died down. The sun was out and the beauty of this trip had begun.The sunrise over the Virginia mountains and hills were simply awesome. The lush of green trees, the blossoming of flowers and leaves, and the majesty of natural stone walls aligned I-81 to give visual appreciation of nature and God’s work. Friendly and smiling faces greeted us at our first gas stop. I wore a Redskins blanket around my shoulders to shield myself from the chilly air. The gas station attendant (a handsome man) playfully said: “If you put some stars on, I guarantee you’ll feel much better!” I laughed and said, “Yeah right! I doubt that!” to the obvious Dallas Cowboys fan. I had a friendly conversation with a patron who was hauling a vintage car from Tennessee to New York, a hobby he’s turned into lucrative retirement income. I told him our first stop will be in Crossville, Tennessee. He told me to expect a lot of trees and hills because it’s a mountainous region. This was our first encounter of several angels of mercy that the Lord placed in our path. I-81 in Virginia receives 5 Stars for cleanliness, comfort, and close frequency of their rest stops and scenic views.
Tennessee: We arrived safely to Crossville, Tennessee at my mother’s friend’s house on Tuesday early evening. Her name is Heather Roberts, and it had been more than ten years since we’ve seen her. Their friendship goes back to the eighties. Heather’s children were my childhood and neighborhood friends growing up. It was so good to see her and the beautiful home she has. The community is very close knit and watch out for one another. We had to turn the van around in a nearby cul-de-sac. Before Mom could make the turn, a neighbor asked if we needed help with finding something. Undoubtedly, we were the talk of the neighborhood for the next couple of days after our departure. Heather’s hospitality was over the top. We ate, showered, and slept very well. So well in fact, that we fell further behind schedule and left later the next morning than expected. But, the trip begins again with returning to I-40 West. Heather said we should be crossing the Tennessee border into Arkansas before nightfall. So, the long ride through Tennessee resumed. We made several stops for gas and other essentials. Nearby Nashville at an Exxon station is where we have our first snafu with the truck and trailer. Funny how the tables turn when circumstances are different. I became the back seat driver when Mom was behind the wheel. I kept telling her to make her turns wider because of the trailer, and to keep looking in the side mirror to make sure the back end clears. She turned in too tight and came dangerously close to hitting the concrete pylon and gas pump. I hollered for her to stop just in time. I jumped out and told her we’re going to have to back it up, something I was warned to avoid. Our angel of mercy’s name is John. He could clearly see what the problem was. I didn’t have to explain. The first thing he asks me is: “Can she drive?” referring to my mother. I told him this was the first time for the both of us to drive a moving truck hitched with a car trailer. He and another patron gave my mother instructions to unhook the near disastrous jack knife. John told me that he drove trucks for over forty years, and never has he hauled a trailer with a moving truck. “It’s very tricky. Not as easy as the big rigs. You ladies be careful,” he told us. We were able to get back to I-40 West without incident. We went onward out of Tennessee through Memphis. What I didn’t know then, but I know now and actually captured pictures of it is that it was the opening weekend for the brand new Pro Bass Shops Arena. We drove directly across from the beautiful structure that was surrounded by people having a good time with tailgating gear and coolers everywhere. The weather was lovely, so was the breeze from the Mississippi River nearby, and the sun glistened off the building just right to make it look like the biggest jewel I’ve ever seen. I was glad to be a witness to their grand opening weekend. Once we crossed the Mighty Mississippi River, we were in Arkansas. Tennessee gets 5 Stars for the frequency, cleanliness and comfort of their rest stops. 5 Stars for natural scenic routes including Indian land.
Arkansas: We could tell from Memphis that the westward sky was starting to look dark. In fact, I remember Mom saying: “Wow, somebody’s getting it right now,” referring to the intense dark storm clouds. As we got closer, we took pictures of the dangerous clouds that began to go into a slow circular motion. Heavy rain drops began to fall. We were no more than thirty minutes into Arkansas when Mom pulled rank and said we would go in for the evening. Therefore, we had our first motel stop at Relax Inn. The accommodations were very nice for their low rate of under $60. I was impressed with the pale mint green and dark chocolate brown decor. Very modern. It was during this time that I had first overheard strangers making comments about the riots in Baltimore. There were a few men outside, about 20’s-30’s that were talking very loud. I heard one of them say: “Wonder where that shit from,” talking about the moving truck and car trailer parked alongside several parking spaces in the lot. The other said, “That shit say Maryland. Ain’t that where Baltimore at?” The first guy says: “Hell yeah. They bet’ not bring that bullshit down here.” I had peeped out the window to see if they were messing with our vehicles. They weren’t, just standing adjacent to our doors among other cars. I told Mom not to go to the door when she woke up later. I told her what I overheard. She said she’d been overhearing negative comments about Baltimore too. Neither one of us had watched any news media regarding the event because we didn’t have the time; however, the breaking news on the radio stations (when there was reception) and the buzz of people talking let us know it was tragic. We decided to leave before the rising sun the next morning. It’s a good thing we did. Arkansas is getting a low rating; however, it’s not as impartial as the other states that I had seen in daylight. So, keep in mind this evaluation is based on an overnight visit. The roadway was filled with construction. Some of the cones weren’t placed properly, which caused some swerving in between. That would’ve been a disaster during the day. Also, there were plenty of four legged spectators alongside the highways. Their trees are not cordoned off with fences to keep the majestic deer from coming within inches of the highway. That made me very nervous because deer can be unpredictable. Thank God nothing happened. And just in case you may have forgotten what the smell of skunk is, this is the place to remind you. Skunk and dead animal odors were so atrocious that it has to be mentioned. I wouldn’t love you if I didn’t warn you. Arkansas may be a better place to visit during the day. The only thing stinkier than the wildlife was the State of Arkansas rest stops. They were not clean and had steel toilets. They were also too few far between. I waited for the next gas which made an uncomfortable ride. Also, Arkansas wins the award for the “Name of the Weirdest Place Seen on this Trip”: Toad Suck Park. No thank you. I had warts as a child. It was a tragedy that I’m not trying to relive, or especially give truth to the myth that playing with toads gives a girl warts. 0 Stars
Oklahoma: This state kind of appeared out of nowhere on us. It was still dark while making our way through Arkansas; therefore, I witnessed the sun rise in the Indian hills of Oklahoma. It was interesting to see cows eating in lush green fields that had pumping oil derricks just yards away from them. I had never seen an oil derrick in person. They looked like yard ornaments for over-sized yards. Oklahoma’s roadways were full of up-and-down hills and plenty of bumps. It was the state having the closest resemblance to a roller coaster ride for the entire trip. This state was very rural and friendly. We made our rest stop at Hinton Country Inn in Hinton, Oklahoma. I noticed Mom had not been feeling well, so I told her I would be taking over the driving duties for at least the next day. It turned out I would drive the remainder of the trip. She got our room and came back to the truck with the cutest all black Pug trotting along beside her. I was nervous about having to navigate all the way to Arizona until I saw our motel room number: #104. As I had posted, seeing the very same number for our motel stop that’s my apartment number at home gave me blessed assurance that we were going to be alright. The Pug’s name is Munchii (Munch-eye). She happily led us into our room, tail wagging rapidly, and jumping on the bed. Her owner told us that Munchii was found abandoned as a lone puppy in a box in a parking lot. She was just over a year old. The owner told us she’s not allowed in the rooms, but she followed us as if she belonged. And as you can tell by her pictures, she loves to pose. We got something to eat at nearby Subway. The clerk there was a real gentleman, asking us about our trip. I joked with him: “We’re here to take Kevin Durant back home to Washington, DC area!” The guy laughed and said, “I can’t blame you. He is a good player. We didn’t have a very good season, but he’s still a good player.” There were two casinos within a quarter mile of our location. Tempting, but we didn’t go. We got some good rest and hit the road in the wee hours of the morning again. We traveled into darkness across into Texas. Oklahoma gets 3 Stars. The rest stops were acceptable (not as nice as VA or TN, not as bad as AR), but too far between. The natural scenic landscape and friendly local people made it a nice visit.
Texas: Before I could see the “Welcome to Texas” sign, I noticed the synchronized flashing red lights that lay across the landscape in the distance. I’m not certain which city we were in, and I may do a Google search to find out what those lights are all about. Maybe. If someone reading this already knows, feel free to explain in the comments. As we got closer to those lights, we crossed over into rural northern Texas. We encountered the most powerful natural stink my nose has ever came across: herded cattle. The cows I saw were dairy cows. I didn’t see any longhorns or steer, but it was dark. It smelled like they were there somewhere. I didn’t think Arkansas would be outdone for bad odors, but Texas made #1 for that list. My mother had sprayed Glade Clean Linen air freshener to try to alleviate the smell. I said, “Now it smells like a cow wiped its ass with clean linen in here!” We laughed, but not too hard because our mouths couldn’t stay open. It smelled thaaat bad. We didn’t stop at any rest stops in the state. The first (and only) rest stop I had seen was just over the Oklahoma-Texas line. It was gorgeous from the outside, illuminating in red, white, and blue lights with the Texas star. Problem is, there weren’t any more rest stops after that. We traveled through Amarillo and stopped for gas. A very nice patron let us know how blessed we are for having a brand new Penske truck with unlimited miles and extended due date. Very recently, a friend of his was given a bad deal by that company. We wished each other well and went on about our trip. We were crossing into New Mexico within the next ninety minutes, which led to my post of Texas going by so fast.
New Mexico: We entered into New Mexico with the moon brightly shining in the sky. The moonlight across the valley and hilltops were a breath-taking view. I wish I had a better camera to take pictures. It was definitely a sight beautiful enough to share. During a gas stop, a friendly truck driver made a recommendation for what type of coffee I should get. I’m not a coffee drinker. I rarely drink it, but I was tired of Cherry Coke. He asked how I liked my coffee, weak or strong. I told him the weaker side. He pointed out the potency scale on the coffee pot. On a scale of 1-9, he uses 7, and warns about 9: “If you drink that, you can run where you need to go,” with a chuckle. I followed suit and got 7, with plenty of french vanilla and sugar. It was enough to get us to our next destination. Just as beautiful as the moonlight was the sunrise over the mountains as we were approaching Albuquerque. We decided to have one more stop for a power nap to finish out the trip by the evening. We helped ourselves to a hot breakfast provided by the inn, and got some sleep. After our stop, we got back onto I-40 West into the beauty of nothingness. My mother captured pictures of nature’s finest architecture: rock cliffs and walls, hills and valleys, the bright blue, white and yellow of the skies. We traveled through more Indian land. It was within Navajo Nation (I saw a Navajo Nation Police Cruiser!) that Mom had taken pictures with the large yellow orbs within them. They were not the sun. The sun was at my mother’s back when she snapped the picture. They are the only pictures that came out that way. I think I’ll have one of my paranormal scientist friends take a look at them. There were plenty of Indian cultural tourist attractions, natural parks, and casinos that are on my mental “must visit” list. However, the state receives 0 Stars for rest stops. There were none that were accessible or open, even in daylight hours.
This trip was more than a task. It was a journey of empowerment, conquering fear and anxiety, and going against all odds to meet a challenge. Thelma and Louise we are not, but we learned lessons to help us live happy, and die happier. Oprah and Gayle, no not yet. Glory be to God if we ever will be because our bond is even stronger than theirs. As I drove along in Tennessee, the Holy Spirit gave me divine instruction to accurately chronicle the trip. He told me to be a complete witness to His goodness. He promised I’ll have a better time and not have to drive the next time I need to go across country. I’ve tried Him before, and He’s never failed on a promise. I exist because of my obedience and His promise as my reward. There is so much further I have to go, and so much more to witness in the name of Jesus Christ. I pray that you all have enjoyed this short story with a happy ending. God bless.
Tamika Trammel is the author of two published novels: “18 Years of Grace and Mercy: A Teenage Mother’s Testimony, Vol. 1” and “The Pusher, the Prostitute and a Preacher” both sold exclusively online TamikaTrammel.com, Amazon, B&N, Google Books, AmericaStarBooks.com, any retailer can special order online and have it delivered. Available in eBook and soft cover.
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