I’m pretty excited about the trip we’ll be taking next week to see son Patrick and his family in North Carolina. Of course, there’s the joyful anticipation of seeing kids and grandkids, including the youngest, John Patrick Sloan, who Paddy recently referred to as “Sir Edmund Hillary,” which would, I imagine, mean he’s started climbing everything in sight, as his dad did at a similar age.
Plus, it’s a great time of year to head for the southeast, as the off-and-on winter/spring weather we’ve experienced here will, no doubt, be transformed into a true spring scene, complete with green, rolling hills, warmed-up beachfronts, budding blossoms and a whole host of twitterpated beasts, birds and bees.
But there’s another reason I like long drives through out-of-town territory:
The free stuff.
You know the stuff I mean. It’s the wild collection of pamphlets, brochures, maps and other touristy flotsam that can be found in virtually every gas station, restaurant, welcome center and wide spot in the road between here and there, no matter where here or there are located. While I’m always quick to grab a free state highway map, it’s the more exotic offerings that really catch my eye, a habit that clutters both our car and our lives.
Of course, I don’t actually read much of the stuff I’ve collected. Nobody does. But there’s something about the word ‘free’ that really trips my trigger, plus it makes me feel good to know that some optimistic folks are still out there reaching for their share of the American Dream via attractions like the GIANT SKINNY INDIAN in Kingsport, Tennessee or the late, lamented SHOE TREE in Shaniko, Oregon. And who knows? We’ve got to stop once in awhile, anyway, so it might just as well be under the shade of a shoe tree.
We have a “new” (to us) car, and its interior is still in the pristine condition that existed when we bought it. And while I might think that means more room for free stuff, the other passenger is less enthusiastic about my packrat ways.
She: “Do you really need that brochure about the World’s Largest Statue of a Muskrat?”
Me: “I just want to look at it. I’ve always liked Muskrats.”
She’s right, I know, because, after every trip, I glumly sort through the piles of free stuff I’ve gathered, wondering why in the world I wanted it in the first place. Somewhere, in the background of my mind, I can hear the sound of chainsaws and printing presses, revving up to cut more trees and spread more ink, just so I can regretfully toss my treasures at the end of each journey.
But not this time.
You see, some good friends of ours will be traveling through the Carolinas in a few weeks. They’ve never been there before, so they’ve asked, yes, asked, me to bring back some information on the area. So, while I’ll be sure to return with some useful items, like area maps, and beach and shopping info, who could blame me if I also include valuable reference material concerning Croatan’s SELF-KICKING MACHINE or THE WORLD’S LARGEST CHEST OF DRAWERS in High Point?
It’s the least I can do.
And so, dear friends, when you hear a loud thump on your porch late one night after we get back home, don’t worry. It’s not home invaders or even Santa Claus.
It’s just me.
And the free stuff.