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I woke up from a deep slumber at 7 AM on Tuesday after about ten hours of much-needed sleep. Lucy and I said our goodbyes to our gracious host and continued on our final leg of the journey. We breezed through Ohio and hit some light rain in Wheeling, West Virginia. I had forgotten to pack my EZ Pass, so I decided to take I-68 through western Maryland to get onto 70 and avoid the tolls from the PA turnpike. This turned out to be the biggest mistake I would make.
For those readers unfamiliar with western Maryland, it is quite mountainous compared to central Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Growing up, I recall ski trips to Wisp resort, located there. The weather could be bluebird and sunny in Northern Virginia, but as soon as the front tires of our '94 Chevy Astro AWD chariot crossed into Garrett county, it would start snowing. I can count on one hand the number of bluebird days I have had at Wisp and I’ve likely been there over fifty times in my life.
I had forgotten about the weather and elevation changes along I-68, and Lucy hated the grades. I struggled to keep the throttle both steady and light so she wouldn't slip going up the passes. The clutch was starting to slip really bad and I wasn't sure if I would make it. I ended up having to downshift a few gears to keep the revs up higher where she wouldn't slip on me. Meanwhile, a light drizzle was turning into a downpour, and I had to put the wipers to the test. I began to fear crossing into Garrett county as my past experiences coupled with winter's approach started to stick in my mind.
I lucked out again, as the falling water stayed in its liquid state through the county. This was the most grueling part of the trip and my anxiety was peaking. Each mountain pass felt like it would be her last. Passing through Cumberland, I knew only had a couple more passes to make before it was smooth sailing on I-70 again.
Coming out of Cumberland, I came upon a yellow 370Z with the license plate "BUMBL Z". I passed him and he immediately pulled back up with me and gave me a big thumbs up. We cruised together the last few passes and worked together, whether he realized it or not, to help Lucy limp home. Merging onto I-70, a sense of relief washed over me. I was going to make it. I took the exit for I-81 South and flashed my lights at Bumbl Z to say goodbye. He tapped his brakes and the last 50 miles flew by. Years later, I randomly saw Bumbl Z on I-70 again while driving back from a work trip. I was in a work vehicle and he had no idea who the driver was next to him. But I knew who he was and what he had inadvertently helped with. I silently thanked him for his help.
At last, Lucy was home. I did it. I bought a 45-year-old car sight-unseen, flew out with thirty hours' notice, prepped it as best I could, and drove four days across three thousand miles of God's Country to bring her home. I sat in a terrible seat for over forty hours with zero padding under my tuchus. I turned my hooded sweatshirt into makeshift seat foam. I resorted to talking to an inanimate object to occupy my time.
Phone calls were nigh impossible due to the road noise for most of the journey. When I pulled into the garage, I immediately texted Pat "I made it, I ain't ever fucking doing that again." He responded with "Don't be such a pussy." Classic Pat.
I drove Lucy over to my father's house the following weekend. You could see the nostalgia coming out his pores as he sat in her. He felt like he was in a time machine. The nostalgia was thick and it was so cool, as a son, to see your father light up over something simple like a car he used to think of as trivial. A quick spin around the block and he was bracing on the dashboard as I was pushing Lucy through some spirited turns. I think at that moment, he finally understood. The car life was never really his thing, but at least he understood it now.
This trip was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The constant uncertainty, glancing every five minutes at the oil pressure and temperature gauges, the quite literal pain in my ass; all of it was worth it. I learned the journey is often much more interesting than the destination. So to all the readers out there: go out and find a car, a real car, not one of these consumable, trade-in-every-five-years appliances that they sell today. Something without traction control and these modern driver assists, and preferably far away from home. Get out there and go drive. Experience this country, the way it is meant to be experienced, on the open road. My only regret is taking interstates and not a more rural route. Discover those hidden gems littered across the country. Don’t worry about the destination, just live for the journey. You will thank me later, and if you purchase something with fully intact seat foam, your ass will thank me too.
Keep an eye out for future articles as I start painting my own Rembrandt.
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