Lisa (me) – 23, going through a messy divorce. Working on a Master’s in Counseling and trying to singlehandedly change the world.
C – 17, runaway, escaping from an abusive home.
B – 19, single mother, there primarily for moral support.
We filed a temporary injunction against C’s father early that morning, which was good for two weeks. After it expired, we would have to go to court for a permanent restraining order. We were really afraid of what would happen in court, as C’s father was extraordinarily well-connected in our community. So we wanted to go out and have some fun while we could. Under the terms of the injunction, C was effectively on his own for the next two weeks. We spent the rest of that day at Disney, but were still restless at closing time. So C came up with the idea of driving to Atlanta to visit Six Flags the next day.
We didn’t even stop by our place for a change of clothes. We were still wearing what we had worn to the lawyer’s office that morning. We just piled into the car and headed for the highway.
One complicating factor. I was driving a car that belonged to my parents. And had a severe oil leak. They had given me permission to take it to Orlando for the lawyer’s appointment, but out of state? Not a chance. Another complicating factor, between us we had almost no money. We figured we could get gas there and back, and a tiny bit of food. But hotels? Forget it. No big deal, there were three of us, we’d just sleep in shifts, and drive straight through there and back.
We stopped at a rest area in Wildwood, about an hour north of Orlando. B called her boyfriend, our other roommate, to let him know we wouldn’t be home. I called my parents and started the string of lies about where I was and where the car was. On our way at last!
Atlanta is about an eight hour drive from here. We left around 11 pm, and C decided to drive. B curled up in the back seat and was out for the duration. We did fine most of the way. About an hour outside the city, we stopped at a Waffle House for coffee. It was then that we realized we had no clue how to actually get to Six Flags, so we asked locals at the restaurant for directions.
Back in the car, C said he was okay to keep driving, so I fell asleep in the passenger seat. C woke me up a little while later, we were almost there but he wanted help finding the place. By this point, neither C nor I had slept in over 24 hours. We were both exhausted and more than a little cranky. We started arguing. We also got lost and ended up circling Atlanta on the stupid Beltway for another two hours, both too tired, cranky, and confused to figure out where to exit.
At last, we finally spotted a sign. At this point, Six Flags had become like a weird mecca. We HAD to get there, HAD to justify what was now seeming like a stupid and pointless exercise. We took the exit, Six Flags at last looming in front of us like the Promised Land. We woke B and made our final approach. Entering the parking lot, a strange feeling of excitement and purpose filled our souls. We looked around, surprised at the oddly empty lot. We continued driving to the very front of the lot. A fence? What’s this?
Imagine our horror upon reading the sign affixed to the fence: “CLOSED FOR SEASON”!!!! What?!?!?! We were from the Orlando area. Our theme parks are open 24/7, 365 days a year. What do you mean “Closed for Season”? Shock quickly turned to anger and despair. We had driven all this way, we were exhausted, starting to smell after 24 hours plus in the same clothes, and apparently it was all for naught.
Always the peacemaker, I suddenly piped up, “Okay, no problem. We’ll go to Stone Mountain instead.” This was the plan we decided to follow. A couple of hours of wandering around Stone Mountain Park, then on the road again for home, blessed home, where we had beds and showers and food.
On the road again, C insisted on continuing to drive. By this point, he was slightly crazed, the combination of sleep deprivation and frustration locking him into this task. He was the driver, it was his responsibility to get B and myself to someplace entertaining. I didn’t argue too much, since the only sleep I had had in the past 24 was a half hour or so immediately following Waffle House. B fell back asleep immediately, again curled up in the back seat.
C woke me with a yell about an hour later. Apparently he had fallen asleep while driving, and woken up on an unfamiliar road. We figured out later, in order to get onto that particular road, he had changed interstates three times!! Miraculously, we never had a wreck, but at this point my foggy brain began to realize the danger of our situation. I saw an Econo Lodge up ahead, and told C to head directly for it. We pulled into the Econo Lodge about 3 pm, 32 hours after we had originally left our house. We went into the lobby and inquired about the price of a room. “Seventy-five dollars,” said the man behind the counter. “More than we have,” I said sadly. At this point C caused a slight disturbance by falling soundly asleep with his head on the counter. “Forty dollars,” said the clerk, looking at C with a combination of shock and pity. “Sold,” I said, producing cash. B and I dragged C to the room and all three of us were sound asleep within moments.
We awoke at approximately 10 pm, feeling remarkably refreshed. We decided to spend our Six Flags admission money on a good dinner, and after showering, headed out to Dante’s Down the Hatch. If you’ve never been to this restaurant, definitely check it out. The atmosphere is themed and incredible, and the food to die for.
After dinner, we returned to our hotel for a much needed night’s sleep. The next day we visited the World of Coca-Cola museum and Stone Montain park before returning home. We had salvaged our trip. Everything we went through on the way up was finally worth it.
We headed out at about 6 pm. All were in a great mood, relaxed and happy with our vacation. Then trouble started. Remember the oil leak I mentioned earlier? The car had done fine all the way to Atlanta. But on the return trip, the oil leak reared its ugly head. An hour outside Atlanta, we were forced by an oil light and ticking noise to pull off the interstate. We added oil. Another hour down the road, a repeat performance. The eight hour drive home turned into a 14 hour nightmare, as we had to stop at progressively more frequent intervals to add oil. Compounding the situation was the fact that it was getting harder and harder to come up with excuses to give my parents as to why the car was not yet home.
At last we made it home. We scoured the car, looking for any trace evidence as to our trip, then I returned it to my parents. Everything was fine.
A week later, my father caught a glimpse of a piece of paper tucked into the far reaches of the dashboard. Lifting it up, he read the words “Stone Mountain Parking Pass.” Busted! I confessed all, and braced for the yelling. My father sat deadly silent for a few moments. I cringed. My mom even cringed. Next thing I knew, my father burst into the loudest……LAUGH I have ever heard. He told me that was one of the coolest things I had ever done in my life. Too bad he didn’t think it was so cool when I made an encore performance a few weeks later, driving to Nashville to see the opening of my cousin’s play. But that’s another story.