The whole point of my friend Tim coming along on the trip was so that I wouldn’t have to drive the entire 825 miles from Atlanta to Burleson by myself. It’s a 13-hour shot down Interstate 20, and my butt is usually numb by Meridian, MS.
I had recently purchased a used 1995 Miata, and I had sold my 1991 Geo Storm to my parents, so I needed to drive my old car home to Texas. Since Tim had once lived in Dallas, too, I figured that he might enjoy seeing some old friends. When Tim agreed, I thought my problems were over, but they were just beginning.
We left at 6:00 a.m., so that we could arrive in Dallas to have dinner with a mutual friend. I had loaded up the CD changer with a mixture of music to keep us entertained and awake on the trip: rock, alternative, disco, dance, techno, and jazz. However, Tim brought some CDs of his own, and insisted that I hear a new song by a singer named Ricky Martin, entitled “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Looking back, it foreshadowed a much longer drive than I had imagined.
We stopped in Meridian, MS for an early lunch, and to give my blood a chance to return to my behind. The trip was off to a great start. Tim and I were having fun reminiscing about our hilarious adventures in Dallas. I should have taken note at how many of those memories were much funnier in hindsight than at the time they were occurring, as well as how many began with a phone call in the middle of the night that began with Tim asking, “Jef, what are you doing?”
After lunch I let Tim slip behind the wheel, and I leaned the passenger seat back for a nap. The last thing I remembered before I fell asleep was the CD changer flipping to the disco CD and Tim saying, “I’m going to take the next exit and use the restroom.”
When I woke up a few hours later, my body felt so relaxed and refreshed from both my nap and knowing that we she only be a few hours from our destination. I opened my eyes and saw a pelican sitting on a post beside the highway. I guess my mind was still dulled from sleep, because it took me a moment to question why a pelican would be so far inland. Then a sign whizzed by that read: SWAMP TOUR. I sat up. I never recalled seeing a sign for a swamp tour on my previous trips home. Before I could say anything to Tim, we drove out onto a long bridge that extended over one of the biggest bodies of water I had ever seen. That’s when I saw the sign that read: NEW ORLEANS 11 MI.
“Tim, what are we doing in New Orleans?” I said. “That’s not on on the way to Dallas!”“You know, I wondered why New Orleans was getting closer …”
I fell back into the seat and moaned. How could this have happened to me? I had planned so well! “Tim, you’ve driven between Atlanta and Dallas at least 20 times since I’ve known you. How could you possibly get lost?”
“It’s Donna Summer’s fault,” Tim said. “I guess I must have taken the wrong highway after I stopped at that gas station,” he said. “As I got on the ramp, I was searching for that Donna Summer song, so I could play it again. I like the way it goes duh-duh-duh-duh-duh duh-duh-duh-duh-duh at the beginning.”
In my head, I calculated the time it must have taken to drive from I-20 down to the coast. “Did it ever occur to you that the scenery looked different?” I asked.
“Well, I was enjoying singing along with the radio so much,” Tim said. “You really do have wonderful taste in music, especially–”
By the time I managed to stop and ask for directions, I discovered that the 13-hour drive had now been extended by eight hours. I tried not to be angry with Tim as we drove in silence along I-10 W, then connected to I-49 N, but I could not comprehend how this could have happened. Now, I would end up driving hours more than if I had just driven myself.
“Where are we?” Tim asked.
“Somewhere in rural Louisiana,” I said.
“You’re not taking me out in the middle of nowhere to hand me over to the Ku Klux Klan and watch them lynch me, are you?”
I sighed. “No, right now I would probably want to hang you myself, but that’s not going to accomplish anything.”
“Do you want me to dr–”
“No!” I turned on the radio and the gentle sounds of jazz filled the car. By the time we stopped for dinner outside of Shreveport, I was able to laugh about the situation a bit. I also decided that we were close enough to Dallas that there was no way that Tim could get lost.
Tim reached for the CD changer. “Where is that disco CD?”
“I’ll find it for you,” I said, putting his hand back on the steering wheel. “Just keep your eyes on the road.”
I settled back into my seat. I was exhausted, but I didn’t dare fall asleep. I had this eerie feeling that once the left shoe had dropped, it wouldn’t be long before the remaining shoe did, as well.
The right shoe dropped about 90 minutes later just outside of Longview, TX. As soon as I saw the flashing blue lights behind us, I realized that Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” was playing again. I told Tim to pull over. Tim kept on driving, his hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel, while he stared into the rear-view mirror.
“Tim, pull over!”
“Jef, I am a little black man in the middle of nowhere in the South! This is how we disappear!” I had never been confronted with this side of my friend before. I didn’t know what else to do, so I slapped him across the face. Tim let out a yelp and braked, while I grabbed the wheel.
We managed to pull over on the side of the road without wrecking the car. Tim fidgeted in the seat. As we heard the highway patrol car stop behind us and the door open, Tim turned to me and whispered, “Please tell everyone to remember me laughing, never the tears.”
“Relax,” I said. “The highway patrolman is black.”
“That’s even worse,” Tim hissed.
“Because they’re always trying to look good in front of the white cops,” Tim said.
Before I could argue with Tim, the highway patrolman was beside us and asked for Tim’s driver’s license. As Tim made a great show of looking for his ID, I now understood what that this was really about.
“Where’s your driver’s license,” I whispered.
“You know, officer, I think I may have left my ID at the club last weekend,” Tim said.
I rubbed my temples. Why would anyone knowingly agree to help someone drive a car 800 miles across three states if he knew he didn’t have a driver’s license, let alone speed!
I snapped out of my self-pity, though, when I heard Tim’s voice getting louder. He was arguing with a cop. My mind raced ahead and pictured Tim grabbing the officer’s pistol, followed by them struggling left, right, left, before the gun went off and shot me between the eyes. I realized that the patrol car probably had a video camera in it, and the last few minutes of my life would end up on COPS. I decided that I was not ready to die in an effort to promote bad television.
I leaned across Tim. “Officer, I apologize. I didn’t realize that my friend didn’t have his driver’s license, or I would have never let him drive. We’re on our way to drop my car off to my parents outside of Forth Worth. Obviously, I’ll take it from here.”
A few minutes later, after I managed to talk the highway patrolman out of giving Tim a ticket, I counted up the hours in my head that I had actually ended up driving with Tim helping me: 17 hours. That was four more hours than if I had just driven myself.
“Can we hear that Donna Summer song again?” Tim asked.
“No,” I said, brushing his hands away from the radio. By this point, I was pretty sure that Donna Summer shared the blame, too.