Art & John's Excellent Adventure Print


On September 11, 2001 (which was also my birthday) I was among the 200 or so participants in the U. S. Customs Trade Support Network session taking place in the Hilton Crystal City, which is about a mile from the Pentagon as the eagle flies. The terrorist attacks left all of us weak in the knees and resulted in termination of the sessions.

With air travel suspended, and our wives in severe distress, my friend Art Litman and I decided to drive home. The thought of driving almost 2,800 miles was daunting, but we decided to make an adventure out of the situation.

The decision turned out to be a good one. We left Washington, DC on Wednesday morning, September 12th, and arrived in Los Angeles on the afternoon of Saturday, September 15th, long before air travel had returned to normal.

The attacks are terrible, agonizing and horrendous tragedies that have touched our entire country. This posting does not seek to deal with the attacks, its consequences or events. It is simply a record of our drive across the United States. The following chronicle documents Art & John’s Excellent Adventure.


Wednesday, September 12, 2001
I was able to reserve a car through Hertz for pick up at their Dulles Airport facility. We checked out of the hotel this morning and chatted with Janet Pence, whom we both have known for several years and who manages the TSN. Janet was incredibly kind in giving us a ride not only to the Hertz facility at Dulles, but in stopping at the AAA in Tysons Corner on the way so we could get a Triptik, overall route maps, and Tour Books. Thank you, Janet, from the bottom of our collective hearts.

Art had logged on to MapQuest and MapBlast for preliminary directions and they both suggested routes other than AAA. AAA routed us down Route 66 to I-81 across Virginia, then via I-40 (which traces the old Route 66) from the Tennessee border all the way across the country and we’re glad we followed the directions.

We saw some spectacular scenery along the way.

Prompted by Art, who noted that both of us are Hertz #1 Club Gold members, Hertz very kindly provided us with a Ford Taurus instead of the Mustang they had originally selected for us. It was a wonderful car for this trip. Being full-size, it had enough weight to make highway cruising pleasant, and it is a very comfortable car in which to travel. The air conditioning worked well throughout the trip, even in very hot weather, without ever cranking it up to maximum. The car never ran hot. The cruise control was particularly adept at maintaining speed—so adept, in fact, that Art described it as “relentless”, a name that we ultimately bestowed on the car.

We left Dulles at 10:00 a.m. We stopped in Marshall, VA for bottled water and some clip-on sunglasses for me. We also bought some home-raised apples that were quite tasty. At this point, I turned the driving over to Art and I settled into the navigator seat. We began our routine of Art handling the driving while I organized our itinerary and our plan to get home by Saturday night so we could enjoy dinner with our wives. I provided detailed directions to Art, along with commentary from the guide books and the Triptik. It was a good system that allowed us to drive without error all the way across the country, while enjoying the scenery and learning something all along the way.

Point Of Hysterical Interest: Going down Route 66, we drove by the town of Dismal Hollow and thought that name was worth recording.

We proceeded west on Route 66 to I-81, which we took south and southwest through Virginia. After driving 145 miles, we stopped in Staunton, VA (birthplace of Woodrow Wilson) for lunch and ate at The Beverly, a charming little place in the historic district. We also bought disposable cameras so we could record our adventure.

Virginia has some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. We drove through the Shenandoah Valley, with the Blue Ridge Mountains on our left, and went through the Cumberland Gap. After crossing the state line into Tennessee, we drove through the Great Smoky Mountains and watched the sun set behind them. We got to Nashville at 9:00 p.m. and spent the night in a Days Inn close to the airport.

Note to Joan and Bill: Sorry we didn’t call—there just wasn’t time.

Thursday, September 13, 2001
We ate the free breakfast at the Days Inn at 6:30 a.m. and moved out. We got to the outskirts of Memphis at 10:30 a.m. and noticed an outlet mall so we stopped for clothes. We found a G. H. Bass store where I bought two pair of pants, two Polo-style shirts, and some casual socks. Art bought clothes, too. We were now set for the rest of the trip and wouldn’t have to wear dress shirts any longer.

We decided that we could not spend the time searching out interesting little diners in towns. There is a dearth of decent places to eat while one is on the road, in case you didn’t know that. So, we decided to determine which of the places that frequent the primary travel lanes in this country were the least offensive.

Being unfamiliar with the chain, we tried a Cracker Barrel restaurant for lunch just outside Little Rock, AK. It was unusually good. Art had the meat loaf dinner, which included a large piece of meat loaf that he said was excellent, plus mashed potatoes, plus a biscuit and corn bread, plus two vegetables, all for $6.99. I had the roast beef dinner, which was excellent (cooked pot roast style) with brown gravy, mashed potatoes, a biscuit, cornbread, and two vegetables for $7.99. You could do much worse than confining yourself to Cracker Barrel lunches all the way across country.

Having determined that we would have to cover 700 miles per day in order to get home Saturday night, we decided that today was the day to cover great distances. Initially, we thought that driving to Oklahoma City made sense as this day’s goal. As we drove on, we began to think that we should extend our goal.

Point Of Hysterical Interest: We passed a direction sign for Toad Suck Park just outside North Little Rock. There’s one worth remembering!

The roads and scenery in Arkansas were the worst of the trip.

The roads in Oklahoma weren’t much better, but the scenery was.

In Shawnee, OK, just short of Oklahoma City, we stopped for a brief dinner at McDonald’s at 7:30 p.m. We decided to drive to Amarillo, TX, even though it meant driving another 250 miles. We arrived in Amarillo at midnight, after driving almost 1,000 miles in one day, and spent a few hours in a Homegate Suites facility close to the airport.

Friday, September 14, 2001
We ate the free breakfast at the hotel at 6:30 a.m. and moved on again.

The roads in the north Texas panhandle were OK but we didn’t think much of the scenery. We were glad to cross into New Mexico’s high desert, where the scenery instantly became better and the drive became more enjoyable. Having driven the huge distance we did the day before, we felt that this day could include a little sightseeing and that we should proceed to Flagstaff, AZ for the night. We upgraded our room requirements by making reservations at the Hilton Garden Inn in Flagstaff and reservations for dinner at the Down Under Restaurant, where the AAA TourBook said they serve New Zealand rack of lamb and venison and have specials of kangaroo, rabbit and the like.

What did we ever do without cell phones?

At about noon, we reached the Continental Divide in New Mexico (elevation 7,245 feet). We stopped at another scenic point for pictures and bought some silver jewelry for our wives and daughters from a Navajo. We proceeded to Gallup for lunch, seeking to find a more traditional meal and to experience the Navajo crafts shops. We enjoyed a delightful lunch at Maria’s Café, a local Mexican restaurant, but found more pawn shops than craft shops. We fled.

We stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park and drove through several areas to view the Painted Desert and see the petrified wood. We took more pictures. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring.

We stopped at the meteor crater in Winslow, AZ, which I had seen twice but which Art had never seen. I enjoyed it again and Art really enjoyed seeing it. We took more pictures.

We arrived in Flagstaff at 6:30 p.m. and checked into rooms that were much nicer than our previous evenings. We went to the Down Under, only to discover that the game menu had been replaced three days earlier. However, dinner was still terrific, preceded this time by martinis. It was all so much more civilized…

Flagstaff is a wonderful little town, in the Arizona mountains (elevation 6,894 feet) with clean air and cool temperatures. The restaurant is in the Old Town area. We wished that we had more time to explore.

Saturday, September 15, 2001
We spent $6.99 for the buffet breakfast and found it was (1) worth the money and (2) a vast improvement over our previous breakfasts. Shortly after leaving Flagstaff we crossed the Arizona Divide—elevation 7,335 feet. We drove through Williams, AZ, turnoff point for the Grand Canyon. We stopped in Kingman, AZ for a break and decided that we shouldn’t go to Bullhead City to find out where the hell it is. (It’s about 25 miles from Kingman.)

Note to Cousin Joe and Marion: Sorry we didn’t call. As I said before, there just wasn’t time.

We crossed into California and drove across the Mojave Desert, stopping for lunch in Barstow. We chatted with our waitress about our adventure and noted that the people in the booth behind us were driving back to California from Atlanta. From Barstow, I resumed driving and pointed Relentless toward home. After a half-hour delay outside Victorville waiting to pass a car fire, we arrived at our place at 4:18 p.m., having driven 2,776 miles. I told Sue and Ellen after we were here that we drove all the way across country in a car with Firestone tires...

It’s mighty good to be home. God bless America—and perdition to our enemies.

Here are photos from our odyssey.