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By Staff | Nov 26, 2010

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” – Mark Twain

My wife and I recently completed a week-long journey that took us across the Three I’s: Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. We also went through a bit of Missouri and flirted with the idea of a quick jog into Nebraska, but decided that this would be more excitement than we could bear.

We have become furious vacationers since exiting dairy farming some years ago. We take our vacations seriously, packing in as much as possible into the allotted time.

Spending an uninterrupted week with someone can strain even the best of relationships. Tiny flaws that otherwise go unnoticed can be magnified into glaring defects. Conflicts arise; harsh words are muttered.

None of this has happened during our voyages, a testament to the solid relationship my wife and I have forged in the crucible of 30 years of marriage.

What I’m trying to say is: we haven’t killed each other by now, so spending a week together is a snap.

My main goal when traveling is to make as many miles as possible. A crucial component of achieving this goal is my patented fluid management system. The core tenet of this system involves avoiding fluid intake when traveling and even when anticipating future travel.

My wife, however, has a drinking habit that involves Diet Coke. She continued to consume Diet Coke as we drove along, despite my broad hints that doing so flouted the principles of my fluid management system.

Using my system, it logically follows that liquid output will be reduced. This decreases the number of stops needed for bathroom breaks, which equals more miles per day. This would probably also work for solids.

“So if it were up to you,” said my wife after I explained my system, “We would be on vacation, but could die of thirst or starvation!”

“Well, yes. But we would make incredibly good time!”

The downside of ignoring my system is the need for frequent stops at service stations. Such stops are actually necessary when the car is low on fuel, so I try to calculate the ratio between the emptiness of the fuel tank and the fullness of the bladder.

It gets rather complicated when one factors in gasoline prices.

Service stations that tend to have low gas prices also tend to have low standards for their bathrooms. This matters not a whit to me, but is a major consideration for my wife.

In fact, she judges a service station based solely on the cleanliness of its bathroom – with no regard for the price differential between regular and premium!

In the end, we compromised. Specifically, my wife compromised by totally ignoring my system and I compromised by being OK with that.

One day as we motored meanderingly along the Mississippi, it occurred to both of us that we could use a cup of coffee. We randomly pulled over at a small town coffee shop, planning to get some hot joe to go.

The coffee shop was ramshackle and worn, with a thick patina of age. Or maybe it was dust. Its proprietor, who also looked somewhat ramshackle and worn, informed us that yes, he had coffee, but no, we couldn’t get it “to go”. He prevailed upon us to roost in a booth and enjoy our caffeine break.

There was just the three of us in the shop: the proprietor, Greg Pelo, my wife and me. It wasn’t long before we saw why Greg had cajoled us into staying.

Greg is a master storyteller who loves nothing better than spinning a long-winded yarn. There must be some connection between storytellers and living alongside the Mississippi.

Mr. Pelo certainly seemed to contain a touch of Twain.

Greg told us that a famously large elm tree once stood beside the river. Back then, green-as-grass farm boys would come into town to look for riverboat jobs. The town had a plethora of saloons and dance hall gals, and it wouldn’t take long for these distractions to extract the farm boys’ cash.

Not wanting to reveal the truth, the farm boys would write home to say that they were comfortably billeted at the Green Tree Hotel – meaning that they were sleeping beneath the boughs of the giant elm.

Greg reeled off story after story as an hour slipped away. Strangely, I wasn’t upset about not putting any miles under our wheels during that while.

My wife and I agree with Twain’s thoughts regarding travel. Nothing beats a full stomach, a full tank and an empty highway on a sun-soaked morning.

“Where to?” I’ll ask my wife.

Waving her hand indistinctly, she’ll reply “I don’t know. Thataway.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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