We spent the afternoon with our three children at the orthodontist.  He and his staff are lovely people.  And, given the amount of work needed on the road to beautiful teeth, we will see them more regularly than we see our family.  In fact, we invited them to supper next week!  We will also be giving them a lot, let me repeat, a lot more money than we give our family as we will soon have three children simultaneously wearing braces.

While scheduling the next visit, the assistant mentioned their office in another small city in Southwest Virginia and inquired if we had been there.  Oh, yes.  We know that city all too well as is it one to which we pilgrimage every December for a meal with friends.  The friends are dear.  The meal is wonderful.  The trip is not.

Every December our friend invites us to his mother’s home in Southwest Virginia for a professionally catered meal.  The invitation includes all of my husband’s immediate family and assorted mutual close friends.  Our friend and his mother are gracious hosts.  We have attended this meal since our children were infants.  Our friend’s home is elegantly furnished with luxurious fabrics and fine furniture, and decorated with expensive and fragile accents.  A delicious meal is served upon fine china, in crystal glasses, with silver utensils, and upon tables dressed in linen.  Imagine three toddlers rambling around while we anxiously hawk-eye them the entire time while we pray they don’t spill drinks or break a family heirloom. Until very recently, we were frightfully worried about the damage our children could inflict.

But, the true stress occurs during the drive there, through no fault of our friends, of course.  The journey over the Appalachian Mountain range is dark and curvy.  And, it snows every year, no matter what date the dinner is held.  The drive one direction under the best of circumstances is one and a half hours.  Unfortunately, a recent trip was far longer than that.

Dinner was to be served at six o’clock.  We left at a quarter after four.  I drove our brand new Suburban with Joel as my co-pilot.  An exceptionally heavy fog descended upon the mountain accompanied by a misty combination of snow and sleet.  The sky loomed grey and murky and gradually turned inky without any man made light sources along the route.

Suddenly, in the indistinct shadows ahead, I saw a white car stopped in our lane.  Instinctively, when the car did not move after blowing the horn, I looked to change lanes, and could not because the only other car we had seen the entire way was driving immediately to our right.  We veered hard left into the center grassy median to avoid the obstacle—which turned out to be a white washer and dryer set.  We drove out of the median astonished and thankful that we avoided an accident with household appliances.

Just as our nerves settled down, we approached a group of assorted emergency vehicles parked ahead in the roadway.  Blue and red lights blinked, flashed and rotated. State Troopers wearing rain slickers and clear shower caps over their felt hats waved yellow signal wands to divert us off the main route because a mudslide covered all four lanes of the road ahead, only minutes from our final destination.  The detour sent us off on what became an embattled debate with On Star and eventually between Joel and myself.

We turned onto the diverted route in the soupy blackness.  Unfamiliar with this detour route and with scarce roadway signage, and by following the defective On Star route downloaded to our car after a live chat, we found ourselves thirty minutes later back to the exact same point of our initial detour.  Optimistically delusional, we attempted the detour a second time with no better results.  A debate began in which driving and navigation skills, or perceived lack of the same, were hotly contested and unfairly criticized. After all, mine weren’t the only eyes that failed to see the critical turn, were they?

I impulsively threw the Suburban into park on the gravel shoulder, jumped out, offered Joel the opportunity to drive, and slammed the car door as hard as I could.  (Just for some perspective, I am 5’3” and the side view mirror on the door is dead even with my cheekbones, so it required a lot of effort to achieve enough momentum to slam that heavy door.)  It felt so good to hear the resounding “wham”, that I momentarily considered opening it again just to slam it a second time.  Instead, I stomped around the back bumper of the car in the wintry precipitation, marched along the side of the car, and climbed into the passenger seat.   Have at it.  Good luck getting us there.  Our third attempt at the detour met with success.  We arrived three hours after leaving home.  The party had saved our meals, although the caterers were already clearing the dishes.

Our tempers calmed, our stomachs full, and our patience restored, we struck off for home—after confirming the mudslide was cleared.  We stopped at the two pump local gas station.  Fifteen minutes later, a state trooper roared up behind us with the blue lights flashing.  (Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha’ gonna do?  Whatcha’ gonna do when they come for you?  Could this evening be any more bizarre?)  We prepared for a ticket although we believed we had not sped.  Noah began panicking in the back seat that we were going to jail.  Please, Noah, be quiet and calm.  Just let Daddy talk to the trooper.

The trooper cautiously approached Joel’s window.  Did we just gas up at such and such station?  Yes.  The trooper said, “Ah, well, the clerk reported you as a drive-away without paying.”  Bewildered, Joel explained how he paid with a credit card and the pump wouldn’t work if payment had not been authorized.  The trooper was extremely polite, but asked us to follow him back to the station to sort it out.  Fifteen minutes later at the station, the clerk sheepishly admitted to making a mistake.  All for a measly seven gallons.  And a lost thirty minutes of travel time.

Friends, we have traveled the road to hell.  And it is littered with appliances, mudslides, and a police escort.

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