TodayJuly 23, 2021

A road trip to beat all road trips during COVID

“You’ve got the clearest fingerprints for someone your age I’ve ever seen,” so said the pleasant young customs officer in New Orleans after she’d taken my prints for the interview for my Global Entry/Sentri pass. Now I’m ready for a road trip.

Yes, I had to drive all the way from Santa Barbara, California, to get my in-person interview done. Oh, and while I was there, I also got my second Moderna vaccine dose at a Walmart – no waiting and no reservation needed.

A few weeks previously, my neighbor, Elie, had asked me if I’d accompany him while he drove a rental truck to Flagstaff, Arizona, for a friend who was moving there and then go on with him for two weeks to help fix things up at his second family home near Houma, LA. I thought about it and said yes – luckily, since I’m semi-retired, going off on an adventure at short notice is doable.

From one road trip adventure to another

And boy, did it turn into an adventure. First, the rental broke down near Kingman with a bad ECU. Then, after several hours of back and forth on the phone, we got towed the last 150 miles arriving nine hours later than planned.

There was no drama in the next two days of driving Elie’s Chevy Silverado to his house. However, the next morning we awakened to his whole yard underwater as heavy rain had swamped the area, and the real swamp behind his yard had breached the levee.

looking for water moccasins

Luckily his house sits a couple of feet off the ground, so no water got in the house – just the garage. His outdoor pump wasn’t up to the task of clearing the water, so we had to wait a couple of days for the water to subside before a friend came over and used a backhoe to rebuild the levee and pump the water out before “mowing” the soggy grass. Oh, and he had to have his handgun ready to shoot water moccasins that appeared every now and again. We didn’t see any alligators, though.

Believe it or not, Elie is the second oldest of 17 kids – 10 girls and seven boys – so I met several of his brothers and numerous nephews and nieces living nearby. The lifestyle of people living in the swamps was pretty much what I expected – lots of abandoned trucks, swamp boats, motorhomes everywhere. Met tugboat operators, dredge diggers, fishermen, housewives, etc. I even met a guy wearing a Confederate T-shirt with a long “ponytail” beard. Certainly not an area for a Biden fan or a “Marxist” from California!

But the crawfish and fresh shrimps were tasty.

I helped repair sections of flooring where the 100-year old underfloor had rotted under the 10-year old laminate flooring. A day drama returned when Eli’s service dog-in-training got under the house with her long leash and managed to sever the main water supply pipe. I was not about to crawl under the house, so the fix was handed off to a pro plumber.

After ten days, we headed back home. Somewhere in the middle of Texas around midnight, we had trouble finding a room at any hotels. They were all full. Driving out of a side street onto a bigger highway in the pouring rain Elie did not see a water-filled ditch, partly because of the bright lights on a vehicle across from us. He drove right into the ditch – oops.

Despite 4WD, we could not back out. Within 20 seconds, a cop car was with us – it was his SUV that had “blinded” us. He’d watched the whole episode unfold. Once he determined Elie was sober, he called a tow truck that was there within 5 minutes. The damage was not too bad, just a flat tire, bent front bumper, and ripped inner fender. We were on our way and found the last room at the next hotel.

The next day we discovered the damage was worse than feared as the DEF tank had gotten punctured despite being located above the undercarriage. A bright dash warning appeared saying the truck could only be driven another 500 miles before shutting down to avoid damaging the emissions system.

We tried patching it up to no avail as no shops would take it on. We did make it to Killeen, TX, where Elie’s youngest brother (#16 of 17) lives. Elie didn’t want to risk driving it home, so after contacting an AAA insurance adjuster, we left the truck to be fixed, and we rented a car and headed back to Santa Barbara, with no more drama – I did all but one hour of the driving!

Overall it was an interesting road trip – the sort I can now take since I have no deadlines anymore – and it’s a change of pace to see real-life away from posh hotels, freeways, and airports.

About John Rettie

John Rettie eating crawfish and shrimp

After nine years at J. D. Power and Associates, John returned to working as a freelance writer, photographer, consultant, and analyst in October 1997. In 2000 he was briefly a dot-comer working as a content director for JDPowerClubs before the site ran out of cash and, like many others, John became a dot-goner!

Since 1995 he has penned articles for well-known magazines and been employed as a professional photographer, graphic artist, and technical editor of many publications.

John has contributed to many magazines and websites during the past decade. He was a regular contributor to Road & Track, Auto Express (UK), New Car Test Drive, and Autotrader.

He was a jury member for the North American Car and Truck of the Year Award (NACTOY) from its instigation until 2005. And he was one of only 13 US members of the 135-strong international jury for the Car of the Century contest, held in 1999. He was a jury member for the International Car of the Year and the World Car of the Year Awards (WCOTY).

John was president of the Motor Press Guild, based in Los Angeles in 1992, 2004, and 2005. While president in 2005, he started the highly regarded Automotive PR Survey sponsored by MPG.

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