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THOMPSON: The Grand Semi-Annual Adventure

November 11, 2019 - 12:00 PM

OPINION


Recently, we made the 3,124-mile journey between our horse farms in British Columbia and Florida - horses, dogs and cats - in a Ford F-350 dually pulling a 48-foot horse trailer, for the fifteenth time. We made the trip in five days.

We call our trips - and I have written about some of them here - the Grand Semi-Annual Adventure…and some have been, well, challenging if not catastrophic but they’re always an adventure.

We’ve had $7,000 diesel fuel pump failures, an entire wheel lost without knowing exactly when and where, enumerable flat tires…one 80 miles from nowhere, a chase by law enforcement officers for not stopping at an agricultural and livestock inspection station, a couple of medical emergencies…and a 13-day delay due to the worst Midwest Spring blizzard in American history.

In fourteen previous trips, in fact, there were always these…oh, let’s call them, major incidents. This trip…nothing happened…at least not what you’d call an incident. There were no weather delays, no flats, no lost wheels, no mechanical issues, no medical emergencies…nothing.

But it remains the Grand Semi-Annual Adventure nonetheless. Why? Because of interesting people we invariably meet…and the things we see and hear along the way.

We cross the border at Osoyoos in October…and re-enter Canada the same way in April. We never really know what weather lies ahead…so we watch the Weather Channel…and make our break South in October when it looks clear through the passes. April can produce tornadoes along the route back to Canada, too, so again we watch the weather.

In many ways, the trip goes faster than you might think. The fact is…we pretty much solve the world’s problems as we roll along. After all, you can cover a lot of topics in 48 hours of driving. Also, both my wife Bonnie and I tend to notice those small things in life that make us smile, laugh or sometimes just shake our heads.

For example, when we walk our two dogs - Borzoi or Russian Wolf Hounds - at truck stops and hotels…people are drawn to them. Our first night’s stop was in Missoula, MT, where a young man in his 30s approached, smiling, and said, “Hey, those are like long-hair Great Danes aren’t they?”

It must have been a rhetorical question…as he did not wait for my answer…which would have likely disappointed him. Instead, he pursued his monologue about dogs…of which he knew very little.

“I’ve seen them race Great Danes down in Florida,” he continued. “Yours are bigger…are they as fast?” Again, pretty much a rhetorical question…and he followed with, “My wife and I were going to adopt a Great Dane,” he explained. “After they race for a few years, you can adopt them.”

By this time, I decided to simply nod and smile…more or less in agreement as far as he was concerned. Of course, I knew he was confusing Great Danes with Greyhounds…but my normally gregarious, engaging manner had long since disappeared…and discretion being the better part of valour…I simply let it go. There is no telling what he later told his wife, friends or someone else walking dogs about our Russian Wolf Hounds. My guess is that it was very, very wrong.

We had a much different encounter the next night when we stopped in Buffalo, WY. Directly across the street from our hotel was a family-owned steakhouse that serves up slabs of meat bigger and tastier than anywhere I know. It was a Friday night, and apparently people travelling like us, and a fair number of local residents, were lining up for dinner.

The fireplace in the restaurant’s waiting area was blazing - it was minus-7 outside - and we had drinks as we waited with dozens of others for a table. I started chatting with three people seated near the fire because that’s what I invariably do…engage people.

All three were from upstate New York…Saratoga Springs…a beautiful area chock full of General Electric Company facilities. I had spent some time there, I told them, and mentioned I had once been the speechwriter for GE’s CEO.

The woman’s eyes lit up…she retired from GE and said her boss reported directly to the CEO… “Neutron Jack” Welch. Her travelling companions - her husband and her brother - had worked for GE, and knew the CEO, as well. Jack Welch was Chairman and CEO of GE for 20 years…and the company’s value rose by more than 4,000 percent during that time.

Shareholders loved him…but he was feared by most employees and was known for his personal tirades against executives or managers who could not answer his rapid-fire questions. I admired his intelligence…but didn’t really like the man.

“Small world,” I said. “People with a common past meeting in an isolated small town in Wyoming.” My wife, Bonnie, raised her eyebrows only slightly…no longer surprised at how people I meet often have some connection with my past.

We all laughed at a few “Neutron Jack” stories and lamented GE’s relative fall from grace in recent times as one of the world’s leading companies. The hostess announced our names and wished each other well.

Our steaks by the way - at least a pound-and-a-half each - were great at dinner…and at lunch another day….and for another dinner in our room yet another night. Better than fast food.

Anyone who travels with horses knows there’s some farm work to do en route. Feeding, watering and mucking of stalls are daily pastimes. Plus there’s feeding and watering the two dogs and the two cats.

The horses do pretty well on the trip…8’ x 10’ box stalls and air ride suspension make it bearable…you simply don’t ride them for several days after arriving. Likewise, the dogs get out three times a day on leashes…so, they’re relatively happy. The cats…well…they hate us.

Our third night found us in Council Bluffs, IA, where we once spent 13 days waiting for snow and ice to melt in April so we could return to Vernon. Nothing against the place…but I’m always eager to leave.

Our fourth day - a Sunday - saw us travel south through Kansas City and east through St. Louis. I’ve driven through St. Louis every day of the week…at all times…and the traffic is always ridiculously bad. Vancouver traffic looks reasonable in comparison. St. Louis makes me long for Council Bluffs. Traffic comes to a grinding halt 50 miles from the city limits…bumper to bumper…and you never pass anything that might explain the backup. We finally made Mt. Vernon, IL for our fourth night.

The last day we finally had to eat fast food…it was a McDonald’s at a truck stop in Tennessee. I was third in line and an older man with obvious mental limitations was trying to order…and it wasn’t going well. First one, then another Mickey D’s cashiers and a manager could not explain to the man’s satisfaction why he couldn’t get two McRib Meal Deals for $5. He had $6. What he wanted was $7.25…but the man couldn’t understand…he would order…then tell them no it was too much to pay.

This McDonald’s standoff went on for a few minutes. I was in as much a hurry as anyone in line, but that’s not what drove me to make a decision…it was seeing this man’s frustration…and realizing he had to deal with it every day…all the time.

I walked to the counter, spoke to the old man, and palmed a dollar and a quarter to the cashier as I said, “I have a two-for-one McRib Meal Deal coupon for $6…he can have it.” When I saw all the frustration leave the old man’s face…replaced with a smile…well, it was the best $1.25 I’ve ever spent.

The slow progress through St. Louis left us with a long, hard drive the final day…12 hours and 19 minutes of drive time (not counting stops for diesel, food, dogs)…819 miles. About one hour from the Florida farm - after 9 P.M. - I was awakened by Bonnie blowing the three train air horns on our truck…an 18-wheeler drifted into our lane…and missed us by a couple feet.No harm…no foul.

All in all, it was a good trip…no major incidents. It’s still our Grand Semi-Annual Adventure.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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