10:29:22 pm on
Monday 06 Dec 2021

Carolina Catastrophes
AJ Robinson

I used to hate the Carolinas, both North and South. Before the citizens of said states launch a letter writing or Twitter campaign against me, allow me to point out the key phrase is “used to.” It was back in the carefree days of my youth when I lived with my dad in Venice, Florida.

Driving to the Vineyard.

Every summer we made the drive up to Martha’s Vineyard; in the fall, we reversed the journey to go home. For a few years, we pretty much stuck to the coast, meaning I-95 and, as a result, we spent a lot of time driving through the Carolinas. If you check a map (above), you’ll see that I-95 cuts through both states at very wide sections.

It wasn’t the time we had to drive through the states I minded; in fact, I rather liked it. Both are quite picturesque, nice motels and the food was always first rate. It was the fact we always had car trouble while passing through the Carolinas and I do mean always

Looking back, I realise the fault was my dad; the man almost never did proper maintenance on his car. Oh, he’d change the oil, but getting a tune-up or a check of all systems, nope. Those cost money and my dad was the king of the penny pinchers when it came to parting with so much as a nickel.

Oh, how I dreaded charting our course on the map and TripTic, both from AAA, and seeing the boundary of one of those states drawing near. I could almost see the Specter of Auto Distress laughing at us. For those of you of the internet Generation, people once went to an actual building wherein there was an agency devoted to helping drivers: the American Automobile Association.

We always picked up the latest maps of the East Coast, all the states we’d be driving through and what was known as a Trip Ticket or TripTic, which was a little flip-page booklet with our precise route highlighted by a real person using a real highlighter pen.

As a result, of all our driving, by the time we hit one of the Carolinas, our poor old car was feeling a bit stressed. So, something invariably went wrong with it. This was an old Volkswagen (VW) Squareback, standard transmission, so, much potential for mechanical difficulties.

Our VW conked out.

At some point, cruising on down the highway, VW would conk out.  We’d have to find a phone and call AAA for a tow to the nearest service station. Then wait until help got around to us.

That was when we typically got immersed in the local socio-culture. My dad was Mister Gregarious. He always struck up a conversation with the people we met.

One time, talked with a local timber cruiser. I had no idea what that meant. The man wouoldd go into the woods, make an estimate of the board feet of lumber a particular section of the forest could yield and then make a bid on harvesting it.

He made a good living at it. He was most definitely one of the Good Old Boys of his community. His accent was thick enough to sweeten a mint julep.

While the local mechanic fixed our car, we hung out at the guy’s house, met his family and had a nice time. Although, at the time, I didn’t particularly like it. Me, I was anxious to get on the road.

Looking back, I see where that and all our other incidents with the car led to great little adventures. One time, as we were leaving yet another local mechanic’s shop, we saw the main sign for the quaint inn where we’d stayed. At the bottom it read: “Rates for the day, week, month, forever!”

I pointed that out to dad and we both had a good laugh about it. We both said how the place had been wonderful; staying there forever would not be such a bad thing. As we were both good New England Boys, we needed the salt air of the Island to keep us breathing and living properly.

I’m also sorry that poor old car had to bear the burden of providing all those adventures. Then, as time wore on, we changed our route. As my dad said, “It was getting boring”; we needed some variety to our journeys.

We started going up through Georgia so we could drive through the Shenandoah Valley. The mountains were beautiful and there were many historical sites we could stop in to see. I enjoyed Gettysburg, Monticello and the caverns we toured.

Yet, I now admit to a pang of regret and not journeying through the Carolinas. The car trouble I could do without, but the sights, sounds and flavors of the area; ah, now they’re something special.

Ghost of Car Troubles Past.

This winter, we’re hoping to drive up to spend Christmas with Alexa in Massachusetts. We’ll probably take good old I-95. I’m okay with that because we will make a point of getting the car in for a checkup before we leave. Here’s hoping the Ghost of Car Troubles Past allows us to pass by without incident.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

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