On the fateful day, the car is loaded and every space is jammed with the materials required for a long stay on a desert island. Packing light for this crowd means that you won’t use a U-Haul trailer. As the kids “mount up” you feel a small tug at your stomach. Then, the trip begins. At the end of the driveway, you begin to receive the first questions:
The youngest inquires, “Are we there yet?”
The middle son inquires, “Where are the mountains?”
The oldest son inquires, “Why is he looking at me??”
And you? You inquire, “What in the hell was I thinking????”
This type of banter is going strong as you clear the city limits heading “Nawth”, and continues for the first hour. Then you notice a strange banging. Great that’s all I need, for the car to break down. You are now really nervous, so you stop at the first rest area, and let the kids run while you look under the car for what, based on the noise, must surely be a broken axle. Nothing is wrong, so you mount up again, and the trek continues. Approaching Charlotte, N.C., on I-77, you notice that the knock is steady, rhythmic, and continuous. The kids are fairly quiet for once, as they look around the city in awe. They point out buildings and passing cars. Excited at their enjoyment, you begin to feel that it wasn’t such a bad idea. Fool!!
As the trip continues, you are still befuddled about the noise. Over the bridge at Lake Norman, up the road, and all the way to Statesville, the knock is steady. Stopping to eat, you again examine the car from top to bottom. Has something come loose?? You can’t eat because this thing has got you spooked. After lunch you move on, and while the noise isn’t as loud, it persists with a vengeance.
Out ahead of the car, the foothills are beginning to rise, and the kids are getting more excited. Growing up in the midlands of South Carolina, they have never seen a good hill, much less a mountain. Their activity in the back seat approaches frenzy as they try to comply with my requirement to stay buckled up, while still being able to see what is looming ahead. With each mile their excitement grows, and so does that damn knock. Stopping several more times as we move up the mountains, I am still unable to determine just what that knock could be. Still fielding the bizarre questions, my Wife looks at me with worry, as I strain to hear the pattern of the knock.
I am working on several theories about the noise, since it was steady in its repetition, and because I was a maintenance test pilot of helicopters, I was convinced that it must be a rotational knock. What could be rotating at that speed??? Further into the mountains, the kids are beyond frenzied in their new discoveries. Not wanting to stifle this, we only passed one simple rule. NO MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT WHEN OR HOW FAR! Somewhat quieter now, we are passing through the first of two tunnels, where the real ooooh’s and aaaaaah’s begin. Having never seen one of these, the kids were truly impressed. Noting that these are the same kids who aren’t impressed with much unless it explodes, I felt really good about the trip. (Grab and relish these moments, since they usually don’t last long....).
On the approach end of the second tunnel, my bride announces that she too had never been in a tunnel. Now I was really impressed, I was able to accomplish a bunch of firsts for this crowd, and boy did I feel good. Then as we exit the other side and start looking for our motel, the knock returns and is louder than ever. Terror strikes my heart, but we pull in to our motel and prepare to set up our base camp for the evening. Now this also happened to be my old hometown from my boyhood, so there was a desire to see a place I hadn’t been in years. After checking in and unloading the car, we set back out to see the sights. I showed them my old childhood home, my high-school, the place where I worked as a policeman in an earlier life, and finally my old college. With a dogged determination the knock continued, as did my burning desire to revisit my old haunts. Finally, exasperated at the thing which was clearly busted, but didn’t inhibit the function of the car, I took the mob back to the motel.
Mom gathers the mob and to the indoor pool they scamper. I am still worried about the car, so I offer to go get dinner and meet them back in the room. With great trepidation, I start out to go to a local fast food joint which caters to the kind of food most worthy of tired kid travelers, you know, sawdust on cardboard with a side dish of “what the hell is that?” As I start the car, there is no more knock! I drive for several miles, and still no knock! I am really bumfuzzled. How did it heal itself? Was the car a secret graduate of an Oral Roberts Repair course? Yet, here it was, operating as a perfectly functional, quiet, non-knocking car. Thrilled, but still nervous, I gathered our sawdust burgers and returned to the room. Little did I know, this would be my last night of sanity for at least a week.......... ~ Michael S. Pauley