by Gene Owens
"He travels fastest who travels alone," wrote Rudyard Kipling, and the old boy's right. But traveling with a dog slows you down only a tad, and the company's worth the extra minutes.
Since Miss Peggy was minding our grandson Chase in Georgia and I was overdue a visit to my son Matt on South Padre Island, Texas, I decided to take advantage of her absence to drive to the Mexican border. My great-grandson, Kaiden, was 5 months old and I hadn't seen him.
"You're not driving down there!" said Miss Peggy. The assumption is that a 72-year-old man can't find his way across six states, even with a GPS to guide him.
"I'm not flying," I told her. I've never felt comfortable in the air, and the hassle of air travel, connecting flights, baggage claims, and car rentals negates for me the advantage of jet speed. I prefer to stay on the ground, faithful dog beside me, a rest area every 35 miles and a McDonald's, Hardee's, Burger King or Shoney's at every third or fourth exit.
I planned to stop overnight going and coming in Mobile, Ala., with daughter Cherie and her husband, Joe. Mapquest.com told me it would take me 13 hours to drive from Mobile to South Padre Island. I figured that 13 hours behind the wheel was no more exhausting than 13 hours in front of a computer screen, and I've pulled that off many times.
Miss Candi, my 14-year-old Peke-a-poo, would be my travel companion. I broke her in to car travel when she was just a few weeks old, and she accompanied me on many a trip around the state of Alabama when I worked for the Mobile Press-Register. Arthritis now makes her accustomed perch atop my shoulder uncomfortable, so I outfitted my Toyota Matrix for her comfort.
The back seats folded down to form a flat floor, and I placed her bed on it. I spread out a blanket and put her food dish and a water dish on it. She has a cushion to smooth her way across the console when she wants to move from the shotgun seat to my lap. And she could curl up for a nap in her own bed whenever she liked. We packed a supply of her favorite dog food in her travel bag, but she also got a ham biscuit whenever I stopped for breakfast. I would go through the drive-through and order my meal and hers. Then I would stop in the parking lot and we would share breakfast. She would eat the ham and I would dunk the biscuit in my coffee.
As I traveled across east Texas, I stopped for Texas barbecue in a town called Refugio, and ate in a hole-in-the-wall in a rundown strip mall that I wouldn't have taken Miss Peggy into. The ribs were good, even if they were taken from an animal that said moo "instead of one that said "oink." And I could go home and tell people that I ate in the town that gave the world Nolan Ryan. It says so on a sign at city limits. The only thing Nolan Ryan and I have in common is arthritis, but it felt good breathing the air that a Hall-of-Fame pitcher had breathed. By 10 p.m. I was pulling up to the LaQuinta Inn in Brownsville, where I knew from past experience that my 10-pound dog would be welcome.
I hooked up my GPS and let Gypsy direct me to Matt's front door. Gypsy is the synthesized woman's voice that comes out of the pathfinding instrument. She spends a lot of time telling me to make a U-turn at my earliest convenience, because I often ignore her directions.
I spent a couple of days with the kids, took them to Brownsville's zoo, ate seafood near the mouth of the Rio Grande, had a Presidente margarita at Chili's (they don't make them better in the local joints), and allowed Candi to bask in the attention of my grandchildren.
On Monday, I turned in early, determined to hit the road the first time I woke up. I awoke at 2 a.m., after six hours of sleep. I roused Candi, and headed for home. The Border Patrol stopped me between Brownsville and Corpus to allow its dogs to sniff my car. Candi tolerated them without a growl.
I spent the morning ignoring Gypsy's admonition to "execute a U-turn as soon as possible." Texas had built some new highways around Corpus and she didn't recognize them. I knew I was returning the way I had come. Somewhere before I reached Victoria, she figured out where I was and directed me on a route that allowed me to slide through Houston on I-10 without a single jam. I regretfully bypassed the town that advertised "the biggest squirrel in Texas." I was afraid it would take me for the biggest nut in Texas and Candi would be stranded a thousand miles from home with no driver.
I got back to Anderson ready for a good night's sleep and a weekend in North Carolina with Miss Peggy.
The pace may have been slower than it would have been aboard Delta. But my baggage got home the same time I did. I didn't have to put my dog in a kennel. I didn't have to pay an exorbitant fee for parking my car at the airport and I didn't have to rent a car to drive around the Brownsville area.
I still hate flying.
Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.
As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.
He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers
and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He is in
semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.
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Write Gene Owens at 317 Braeburn Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at WadesDixieCo@aol.com
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