I planned on taking I-95 all the way down to Myrtle Beach, but shortly after crossing the Connecticut/New York state line, an electric highway sign flashes, saying that the highway is shut down in New Rochelle. I take a detour onto Rte 287 to the Cross County Expressway, then down the Saw Mill River Parkway to the George Washington Bridge. I'm proud that I found my way around the accident, and I'm so busy patting myself on the back, that I miss the I-95 turn off and end up on The Garden State Parkway. I resist my wife's pleas to stop and ask for directions (after all, I am a man). I eventually stop at a gas station in Paterson N.J. where a Pakistani attendant tells me to turn around, drive eight miles back down Rts 46/3 and take a right at Giant's Stadium. On the way we pass a "Target"department store and my wife starts to salivate. She insists we buy a map and a few "necessities." Wrong turn ends up costing me $27 (after all, she's a woman.)
The ride is going smoothly, until we hit "The Woodrow Wilson Drawbridge" in Washington D.C. and the traffic begins a long crawl. I miss the sign for the high occupancy lanes, and stay in the truck/bus lanes. The missed sign costs me one hour of travel time.
I kill time by reading aloud the names painted on small white memorial crosses that dot the roadside. I tell my daughters that these signs were placed by the family and friends of those killed in car accidents along the highway. My wife asks me to "please keep my morbidity to myself." I try, at least till we pass several exit signs for Civil War battlefields, places like Manassas, Fredricksburg, Charlottesville, and Richmond. I begin telling my daughters of the thousands of soldiers that died on these fields, but then look in the rear view mirror and see blank faces. My history lesson has fallen on deaf ears.
After Virginia, we see miles and miles of trees and farmland, then some more farmland and trees. Occasionally a small house or trailer pop into view, sometimes cows, but then it's more farms and trees, trees and farms. The Northeast is densely populated, where the cities blend one into another. I can't believe there's so much open space down here. Where are the housing developments? Where are the malls? Where are the Starbucks?
We plan on stopping for the night in "The Royal Inn" in Selma, NC. A motel that a friend has recommended, saying it was only $40 a night and a "real bargain." I told him that a $40 motel scared me, but he assured me that the place was clean. "Not fancy...but clean." Boy, was he wrong.
It's 12:30 a.m. and we're beyond exhausted. We find the motel which looks like it was built sometime in the 60's and hasn't been renovated, or cleaned since. When I check in, I find the front door locked and a skinny man walks from behind the counter, and meets me at the door. I think he's going to unlock the door, but instead, he points to a small mouse hole opening in the Plexiglas (this should have been my first clue). I hand him my credit card and confirm my reservation, he then hands me the key, points, and in a thick southern accent, tells me that the room is 14 doors down.
As we step into the room, we're hit with the powerful stench of cigarette smoke. It's supposed to be a "non smoking room", but there are ashtrays on the bureau and night stands. The room totally reeks of smoke. My daughters walk into the bathroom and I hear them yell, "Yuck!!!" I go to check out what they are yelling about, and find them pointing at the shower, which has mold and mildew climbing its walls and the bathroom faucet is caked in soap scum.
I say that we'll only be here for a couple of hours, and we can live with it till morning. I climb into bed, and find that the mattress is ripped open on the sides, exposing springs and padding. I'm sure if I had one of those ultra violet lights, I'd find blood splattered on the walls and bedspread.
"I'm sleeping in the car!" my wife says as she grabs everything she can carry and starts heading for the door, with my daughters in tow.
"Yeah," I agree. "We're out of here!" I grab everything else they haven't already grabbed. We drive another 20 minutes to Dunn, NC, and stay in a Hampton Inn. The hotel is shiny,new and clean, and serves free hot breakfast in the morning. The first thing we do is take showers, trying to wash the imagined bed bugs, lice, fleas, whatever off our skin. As we climb into bed, my daughters laugh and ask what kind of friend recommends the Royal Inn? "What did you ever do to that guy?"
After a good night's sleep we jump in the car, and head for South Carolina. We start seeing those familiar (and
politically incorrect) "South of the Border" signs, which feature an overweight, mustachioed Mexican bandito named "Pedro." Apparently, Pedro wants... no insists, that we visit "South of the Border," because he has placed his billboards every 100 feet or so.
When we get near the South Carolina border, I see a giant Sombrero tower in the distance. I get excited, but my wife, who has visited "South of the Border" in the past, is less than enthused. By the 80th Pedro sign, my daughters and I are brainwashed and I can't help but pull off the exit ramp.
"South of the Border" is everything I'd hoped it would be. It's a tacky, kitschy, white trashy Disney World and reminds me of something right out of "Pee Wee's Big Adventure." It's gift shops sell South of the Border toilet paper, t-shirts, switch blade pocket combs, shot glasses, pink flamingos, sombreros, and every cheap little tchockes you can think of. I smile and proclaim Pedro "the man." Before we leave, my wife snapped a picture of my daughters and I posing before before his 30ft likeness.
We jump back in the car and drive, what is supposed to take two hours to Myrtle Beach. As soon as we leave I-95, we hit a wall of traffic on Rt 501, where roadside stands sell farm fresh Peaches and Watermelons and something called "boiled peanuts." We're definitely not in Connecticut anymore.
After four hours of bumper to bumper traffic, we finally reach our beach side condo in Myrtle Beach. It's owned by a coworker who proclaimed it, "not fancy...but clean" (where have I heard that before?) Thankfully he's right...it was perfect.
We spend the week shopping, sunbathing, body surfing, reading and eating everything in sight. It was a delightful week.