Keeping The Shotgun Awake


It was a pleasant drive yesterday morning (This was originally written a couple days after Christmas.) as we headed out to Florida.  (Pleasant assumes you believe good things can happen before 4:00.)  After fighting the kids into the car, turning down the thermostats, and going back to the house for the inevitable “I forgot to go to the bathroom.” or “I forgot my contact solution.” etc, we were off.  Once we cleared the worst of the vehicular stairsteps (i.e. north/south and east/west roads) to get the luggage-carrier enhanced van heading east on US 20, I slipped in and out of brief micro-naps until we hit the Louisiana border.  (somewhere near 3 hours.  It was somewhere between 7-8 at this point.) And, this is really where our adventure begins…

Just over the border (or border plus 20 miles), the dashboard trifecta occurred.  I was awakened by an “Oh, no.” and us getting off the exit of a perfectly good road to find out our dashboard was lit up with 3 extra dashboard lights (engine light, VSC, & Trac-off).  As my normally calm wife calmed down, I searched by phone for “sienna engine light on” and “sienna VSC light on”.  The answers were not completely satisfying, (it could have been an o2 sensor OR it could have been as simple as the gas cap not being on tightly enough.) but having just taken the van in for a 100,000 mile physical at the dealership, I felt somewhat reassured that the van was not about to turn into a huge pile of scrap metal.  Regardless, after a breakfast stop, I did earn the driver’s seat for what I anticipated to be just a couple of hours.

The dashboard “lights of doom” continued to stare back at me as the miles ticked by.  As my “shotgun” (aka “wife”) fed me occasional directions, I just kept plowing on.  I would sometimes hit the rumble strips on the side of the road as I was constantly checking all 3 mirrors for visibility. (Driving in the mini-van with our 4 bios and 2 exchange students made us a family of 8.  There were no options to leave the rear-view mirror with clear visibility.  Thus, all 3 mirrors were critical as my eyes were constantly checking one of hem..)  And, when the windshield got too dirty or misted over, I would turn on the wipers.  (The wipers never seemed to have enough moisture–they kept squeaking.)  When I was thirsty and my navigator was not available, I would yell to the back to get me a water.  And, when I saw hunter’s dragging a deer from the woods to their car, I had to tell someone what I saw. (I was informed later how hard all of my actions made it to sleep.)

As the first tank headed toward fumes, we found a much needed gas station, but we filled up and emptied the end of our digestive tracks on the eastern side of Mississippi.  We got all of our packed lunch items (my daughter made me an excellent sandwich of ham, cheese, lettuce and cilantro the night before.) out and I settled in for another period of unknown length in the driver seat.  The unexciting “Welcome to Alabama” sign greeted us as we dreaded any extended driving on a 2-lane road.  (It is hard to believe driving from Texas to Disney involves driving 20+ miles on 2 lane roads and quite a bit of small town and city driving.  Maybe Disney ought to pay for road improvements on all of the many roads leading to their Magic Kingdom.)[On the way back, we went a different set of roads where it was almost entirely 4 lane or more.  Despite these improvements, the deep south is not racing to become “super” accessible.]

After crossing the long bridge south of Mobile, I (yes, I am still driving.  And, yes, the dashboard lights are still bright.  At one point, I mentioned to my wife maybe she should find a Toyota dealership near our condo in Orlando.  I could try and take the car first thing in the morning to get the lights tested and see if it was a ghost or a REAL problem.  Somehow she never got to far with this project.  She took a picture of me driving and posted it on Facebook[see above] and she opened about every app on my phone while she was playing.) the Florida panhandle awaited.  If one is not aware, it is nearly 275 miles from the beginning of the panhandle to I-75.  I set goals of driving 50 miles, then 100, then 200 miles of this distance.  The distance kept increasing because the cities were not coming up anywhere near the desired mileage goals.

As I completed my second tank of gas behind the wheel, we confirmed the next exit would bring a gas station and a couple of candidates for dinner.  (I have called Mickey D’s “Yech-donalds” for years.) As we settled in after the fill-up and after the obligatory evening meal demanding by all growing children was purchased, I hopped in the passenger seat to rest my weary body.  My wife hopped behind the wheel and got us back heading to US-75.

We hadn’t driven too many miles before I realized all of the lights that had been on the WHOLE time I was driving were now out.  Either the gas cap miraculously tightened itself, the car used a seldom used “self heal” feature OR the van was ready again for a woman’s touch.  Whatever the cause of our now “perfect” looking dash, I was grateful for the van seemingly affirming my driving time was “up”.


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