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.
Leslie in NC - April 6, 2018 5:40 am
I’ve seen many a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico along the Florida panhandle, from Carrabelle to Pensacola. These days I see sunsets over the Blude Ridge Mountains in North Carolina and if you’re in the right spot, you can see the sun set over three states – NC, Tennessee and Virginia. But, a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico…there’s nothing quite like it. Thanks for the memories, Sean.
Lucretia - April 6, 2018 9:51 am
Thank you for the reminder, Sean, that life is people. I am so thankful for you, your wife, your dreams, and your stories. They always anchor me to my past experiences, my present, and excitement for what lies ahead. So glad you are sentimental. May you continue to see the WHOLE country. Lucretia
Gary - April 6, 2018 9:58 am
Your stories are so inspirational. Makes me want to live again. Maybe I will, someday.
Clay - April 6, 2018 11:03 am
My friend has a Durango with close to 300,000 miles on it! It just keeps chugging. Eat some pizza for me on your trip and enjoy!! (Double exclamation points intentional)
Howard Humphreys - April 6, 2018 11:08 am
Wonderful story..West Virginia will also be a treat..I lived for many years in the Tri-State area-Ky-Ohio- West Virginia. Ashland, Kentucky. Great people and nice scenery..Well worth a visit at some point in your travels….
Penn Wells - April 6, 2018 11:16 am
I’ve driven cross country (the “southern route”) twice, Colquitt, GA, to Portland, OR, in my version of your Dodge Durango. I was hauling stuff to my two Atlanta born daughters who live out there now and I was solo both times… which seemed weird at first because, like you, I’m pretty close to my wife. If you’re into to “spiritual,” I highly recommend doing it by your lonesome at least once. I didn’t turn on the talking heads once – just listened to a whole bunch of great cds that I hadn’t heard in a while (did I say “spiritual?”). And do as much of northern Arizona and all of Utah as you can. I know the Gulf is gorgeous, especially at sunset, but Utah….Cowabunga.
Sherry - April 6, 2018 11:27 am
Nothing better than road trips….as an Army brat, it feels like home.
Leia Lona - April 6, 2018 11:35 am
Judy ennis - April 6, 2018 12:19 pm
Safe travels! I’m sure the road ahead will lead you to many wonderful stories!
Carol ann ROTHWELL - April 6, 2018 12:39 pm
You know Sean,your living the good life!!!
More happy day’s & happy trails to you & your wife..
I hope one day…soon..see I’m 76…I get to see & hear you live…
Happy Trails,my friend!!
Pam - April 6, 2018 12:44 pm
Thanks for sharing your life stories with us ♥️
Joyce Bacon - April 6, 2018 12:50 pm
If you’re ever in Maryland, I’ve got the perfect little Baptist Church for you to see. Complete with little old white haired ladies (including me) to cook and serve a great dinner in exchange for some wonderful stories.
Dorothy Atchison - April 6, 2018 1:07 pm
West Virginia needs y’all & y’all need WV Good people, beautiful state !!
DotDot – April 6, 3018
Connie - April 6, 2018 1:22 pm
Sweet story this morning. Thanks for the smile. Looking forward to seeing you in Monroeville next week!!
Jan - April 6, 2018 1:28 pm
Sounds like a wonderful life to me! We drive the country in a 1997 Suburban that is on its second engine. What a blessed life and you spread the blessings wherever you or your stories go!
Greg - April 6, 2018 1:47 pm
I just came across your podcast and blog in the last week. Thank you so much for your stories that capture my mind and take me back to a simpler time of my childhood in the 70s and 80s in SC. My dad was a preacher so I lived the southern church life.
The line that hit me in your post today is: “And we sat on the bumper and dreamed out loud—we used to do that a lot.”
My wife and I did too… a long time and two kids ago. The dreaming sort of got lost in the raising of the kids. Time to dream again.
Wendy - April 6, 2018 1:57 pm
Sean, I love your comments, (as usual), but I feel I must correct you in your statement that “you’ve visited every state in the South” (capital S) except West Virginia.” Well, now you can say you HAVE visited every state in the South because West VA is not part of it. That’s why there’s a West VA and a VA. VA ceded with the other southern states to form the Confederate States of America. The most western counties of the state wanted nothing to do with the CSA so they broke off and formed what we now call West Va and remained with the USA. And that’s it for today’s history lesson from a born Virginian…just wanted you to know you’d already reached one of your goals!
Cindy - April 6, 2018 2:05 pm
My husband is from WV. Don’t miss Fall when the leaves are turning (beats New England) or Spring when the rhododendron are blooming. Both will knock your socks off! And that clean mountain air will make you sing. Safe travels!
Anne Godwin - April 6, 2018 2:11 pm
May you always keep dreaming…and writing. Thanks, again, for showing us the good things in life.
Steve Alberts - April 6, 2018 2:55 pm
So, you’ve never been to West Virginia. Think about this.
After reading an article in The Californian that was in my yahoo “keywords, news alerts” regarding my beloved state of West Virginia I whimsically decided to respond to Shari Crall’s column title, “Why Don’t West Virginians Drive To California “.
So, I stepped out of my little retreat / office in the garage, retrieved a WV license plate that I had placed on the wall when we moved back to TN from WV, took a digital photo of that license plate, sent it to Shari (she was trying to get a WV license plate “sighting” for the license plate game that she was playing), and wrote the following narrative regarding why, in my opinion West Virginians don’t drive to California.
Based on my personal life experiences I offer these answers to the question of why West Virginians don’t drive to California.
“Too dang far.”
It is 2337.16 miles from Charleston, WV, to Los Angeles, CA, and that’s a 4 or 5 day trip if you plan to actually enjoy the trip.
Airplanes can get you from Charleston, WV, to Los Angeles , CA, in the same day – so why drive?
From the Parkersburg, on the Ohio River, along the western border to the Potomac River at Charlestown, near our nation’s capitol, in the east there are venues and activities to satisfy our cravings.
On every trip within the state we, most likely, will encounter a relative, a former schoolmate, a neighbor, or a friend who will stop to take the time to talk about WVU football, their successful harvest the last deer season, or a good trout fishing hole.
On every trip along the winding mountainous roads we will have the opportunity to again appreciate God’s generosity at loving West Virginia so much that He tried to pile everything He could within it’s borders.
On every trip within the state memories will be stirred to further reinforce our bond to that patch of Appalachia that few outsiders would ever understand.
On every trip within the state we can see and understand the ungilded, comforting, practical simplicity of a small frame house, a few acres, a garden, and neighbors who will be there, not just sometimes, but every time that we need them.
Many of our relatives still live in West Virginia, but of those who moved away most can be found before you venture any further than Ohio, North Carolina, or, in my case Tennessee .
Much of the earliest history of our country is evidenced in West Virginia and nearby states. We celebrate, explore, and experience that history as a means of keeping grounded, knowing where we came from, and looking for wisdom that might apply to the future as we gain knowledge of the past.
Disney World and Epcot in Orlando, Six Flags in Atlanta, The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, The Smithsonian in Washington, the battlefields of Gettysburg, Broadway in New York, the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Ocean can all be reached in a day’s drive.
Oh, did I mention skiing at Snowshoe or Canaan Valley , horse racing at Charles Town, Mountain Stage in Charleston, whitewater rafting the Cheat or New River, trout fishing the Cranberry or Williams Rivers, smallmouth bass fishing the Gauley River, hiking, camping, biking in the Monongahela National Forest, attending the Forest Festival at Elkins or the Walnut Festival at Spencer… or just a simple Sunday drive through the country to gain insulation from the demands that the next week might bring?
Why don’t West Virginians drive to California ?
“Too dang far” isn’t the real answer… knowing that we are blessed with the things we have at hand just might be.
P.S. Why don’t you plan your next vacation there?
Mary From South Georgia - April 6, 2018 3:15 pm
In this fast paced world it takes a lot of effort for me to settle down and read an entire article. I’m always glad when I take the time to read yours. Thank you.
Jack Quanstrum - April 6, 2018 4:21 pm
Great story. It warmed my heart. Thank you!
Edna B. - April 6, 2018 9:05 pm
May your little car keep on rolling with you and your wife in it. Sean, I love your stories. Today’s story brought back so many wonderful memories from my youth. Thank you and God Bless you. Hugs, Edna B.
Mo Malphrus - April 7, 2018 12:09 am
Happy trails to y’all!!!
Jack Darnell - April 7, 2018 2:25 am
We’ve been gypsies for over 20 years. My wife of 61 years loves Pizza Hut. I like it too, but She loves it. I read your stuff because it is good. I also told stories professionally for many years. But you are right, you are seeing America and I love your view!
Sandy - April 7, 2018 12:51 pm
Who is watching over Ella Mae while you’re traveling or does she go with you? Love when you describe her snoring.
Ronda - April 7, 2018 10:56 pm
that name ‘Durango’ always makes me think of western movies … how adventurous!
Roxanne - April 9, 2018 12:37 am
Pizza Hut makes a good pie, after all.
Janet Tobin - June 14, 2018 10:57 am
Our blue Dodge Durango was purchased right after I married the love of my life and his three beautiful children. We were both survivors of really bad first marriages and although we both were gun shy, our hearts just “knew” that we should be together. It was a fresh start for all of us and that blue Dodge Durango carried the five of us all over the place as those three children grew up. The two boys learned to drive in her. We put many miles on her before the “blue beast” was handed down to the oldest boy and he is still driving her with over 300,000 miles. In the words of the Neal Young song,
“Long may you run
Long may you run
Although these changes
With your chrome heart shining
In the sun
Long may you run”.
I hope our blue beast and yours runs forever.
Kelly Emerson - June 14, 2018 11:25 am
Reminds me of the Eric Church song Give Me Back My Hometown, but with a happy ending.
Joy - June 14, 2018 6:32 pm
Once, maybe in 1996, my family went to Panama City. I drove my three children to the beach in my green van, and got stuck in the sand beside the parking lot. A couple of men in a truck who looked like they worked in construction, stopped and helped me get my van out of the sand. I didn’t have cash on me at the time and I could only offer to pray for them to receive blessings for their kindness. I call them my ANGELS. (I don’t remember if either were red-headed, but it would be cool if they were)