The sun is shining in Montgomery. The river is a mirror. The sky is cloudless. The downtown couldn’t look better if it were gold plated.
I’m a sentimental little thing. I make it a point to visit Hank Williams at his perch, overlooking Montgomery when I’m in town. Today, there was a blue jay sitting on his head, that has to be a good sign.
My wife and I are only passing through town for an early supper. We are on the road for three weeks, living in our old Dodge Durango.
And I’ll tell you the truth, I’m in heaven. I could be on the road forever, eating from coolers, watching sunsets, making new friends.
We’ve had this Dodge for years. The old girl is running ragged, but she’s a special vehicle.
Long ago, I bought this old thing from a newspaper ad. My wife needed a car in a bad way. We’d been sharing my truck for a whole summer—which wasn’t all that bad.
Our workdays all went the same: she would drop me off at my job, then head to work. At the end of the day, I’d stand by the curb with a lunchbox. Mama Bear would arrive. I’d jump in.
Then, we would drive to the local Pizza Hut.
Pizza Hut was our place. Back then, it still had an all-you-can-eat grease buffet. My friend, Matt, worked behind the counter.
In another life, Matt and I were friends. As younger men, we would entertain ourselves by driving secluded beach roads after dark. We would search for stranded tourists whose vehicles were stuck in the sand.
We’d hook chains to their axles and save the day. Some folks offered to pay us, but we refused money. And we used unnaturally deep voices on the off-chance we might impress any girls in the area.
That’s how Matt met his longtime girlfriend, Dalene. We towed Dalene’s Subaru from a sand hole.
At Pizza Hut, Matt would load me with to-go boxes of buffet pizza, even though it was against company policy.
After a year of eating free pizza and sharing a vehicle, I managed to save enough money for a car. One day, I thumbed through the classifieds and saw an ad for a “BLUE DODGE DURANGO. LIKE NEW!!”
The price was right. And the ad had not one, but TWO exclamation marks.
I met the seller in a Walmart parking lot. I inspected the vehicle like a professional buyer. I glanced under the hood, squinting at various computerized slip-differential McNuggetron F-stop mitral valves. I kicked tires, I sniffed upholstery.
I paid full price. And when I drove toward home, I felt like king of the world. I couldn’t wait to surprise my wife with it.
When my wife saw it, she almost cried.
That same night, we took a drive on the beach road. We parked and watched the Gulf of Mexico do what it does best. And we sat on the bumper and dreamed out loud—we used to do that a lot.
“One day,” she said. “Maybe we’ll travel, you know? Maybe we can see this whole country in this car.”
It was a ludicrous dream. People like me didn’t get those sorts of opportunities. But somewhere along the way, it happened. I started telling stories, and one thing led to another, and we are seeing America.
Well. Sort of. We haven’t seen the WHOLE country. Actually, we haven’t seen much. But we’ve seen plenty of small towns, nursing homes, Methodist churches, Episcopal churches, breweries, livestock auctions, hospitals, high schools, and pound cake competitions. And if that isn’t America, I don’t know what is.
In only one year, my wife and I have visited every state in the South except West Virginia. And we’ve done it together, in this old blue Dodge.
Our dinner was good. We ate at Pizza Hut.
I told you I was sentimental.