If life's about the journey, does it matter how many bathroom breaks you take along the way?

During a Christmas break sophomore year in college so lame it seared a slow burn straight through the shelf, my mother released me from the death-grip of boredom and into the open arms of memories being made. The call to adventure went something like this:

Susie, college friend from not-so-sunny Cleveland: “Hey Stacie, wanna go to Florida?

Me, stuck in sucky Louisville: “Totally. When?”

Susie: “Tomorrow. We’ll pick you up at 9:00 a.m.”

Me: “Awesome!”

I had no idea who Susie was with, where we were headed, or how long we’d be gone. And I didn’t care. All I knew was that Florida, surrounded on three sides by the ocean, was a hell of a lot warmer than Kentucky, and there was a hot pink, strapless bikini with the tags still attached suffocating under a pile of long underwear in my drawer.

Susie and Rob picking me up in Kentucky where everything was...cold.

The only barrier between the freedom I’d come to take for granted while away at college and the freedom I desperately missed from…being away at college?

My Mom.

In high school, I didn’t call her Big Bad Brenda because she was particularly mean. She earned this nickname because she appeared, in 3-D technicolor megapixels, right in the middle of every lie, plan to lie, or daydream of lying that crossed my mind.

Here’s a parenting tip for anyone lucky enough to have spawned a teenage daughter. When she tells you she’s going to the youth group lock-in at church but is really planning to sneak over to Jenny Clark’s house because her parents are out of town? Don’t believe her. In fact, follow her not-so-subtle scent straight to Long Run Park, post-football game, where she’s hanging out on the hood of Will Anson’s red Camaro with the sole purpose of getting a ride to school on Monday because the bus is for losers.

Watch where you walk. The air is so thick with humidity, heat, and hormones that you can hardly elbow your way through the haze. But please. Persevere. Move to the dead center of the crowd and pull out a bullhorn. That’s right. A bullhorn. Something to amplify your voice above the fully synchronized, eight-speaker, subwoofered surround sound stereos blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd, because by now your daughter has been alerted to your arrival, and she is hauling it toward the woods in her Dr. Scholls. Which is fun to watch if you happen to see her stop, drop, and roll into the dense underbrush for cover. Put the bullhorn to your lips, and with the best mom stare you can pull out from under your sensible shoes, scream the following,

“If anyone has seen Stacie Whitten tonight, please tell her that her mother is looking for her.”

And then leave.

The utter humiliation your daughter will feel as she frog-hops fallen trees in an attempt to escape her now not-so-cool life is more effective than any corporal punishment you could inflict.

I know. I was there.

With that small incident (and it wasn’t the only one), burned into the folds of my impressionable brain, I couldn’t quite figure out why Mom said yes when I casually asked the next morning, after getting up early to clean the house, fry her some bologna for breakfast, and hum Kumbaya under my breath whenever she passed by, if I could go to the beach with my friend. But she did, so before her pre-caffeinated mind had the chance to catch up with her mouth, I was out the door, and into this:

Image via my cool friend Matt, who posted this on Facebook.

There is nothing that screams road trip like the faux wood-paneled siding of a Jeep Wagoneer, so as Susie, her big brother Rob, and his friend waved to Mom from the curb, I slid into the plush, pleather middle row, took in the Waxman-like scent with a deep breath, and settled in for the ride.

Still pasty, but happy.

Still pasty, but happy.

These are the things I remember about that trip:

  1. Rob drives really fast, but in a safe kind of way.
  2. Rob has a lot of spendy friends. We couch-hopped for over a week in some of the most expensive real estate on the planet.
  3. Drinks taste better by the ocean.
  4. Susie doesn’t just sing karaoke. She sings karaoke to win.
  5. Susie’s favorite thing to win, while singing karaoke, is free drinks.
  6. Free drinks also taste better by the ocean.
  7. If you’re not by the ocean, it’s perfectly acceptable to down your free drinks while playing pool.
  8. I look older in Florida than I do in Kentucky, which is a bonus when you’re 19.
  9. If Susie just won another karaoke contest and everyone’s downing free drinks by a pool table instead of the ocean? It’s fun to share them with some random dude named Enis who looks like he could use a free drink.
  10. Getting a free ride, free drinks, a free place to stay, and a free tan in December is awesome.
Me, Susie, and Enis.

Me, Susie, and Enis.

For me, there was a time when “road trip” simply meant getting in my car and going…with a Big Gulp, mix tape, and limitless possibility staring back at me through the rearview mirror. But now I map directions and time my ride, living a life so synchronized to the tune of obligation that an open lane has become nothing more than a means to an end.

When did taking the road less traveled morph into plotting the easiest path?

I was thinking about this as I touched down in Atlanta last week and made my way to the rental car counter to pick up the Ford Focus I planned to drive to my Dad’s farm. But the rental agent, who is now officially my new best friend, gave me the keys to a brand new, black-on-black BMW 528i instead. I am not lying. Go ask my mom.

As I slid into my practically self-propelled, fully loaded, freaking awesome ride with a Big Gulp and my mix tape (O.K., iPod), I realized that if life is really all about the journey? It looks a lot sweeter from behind the wheel of a $60,000 car.

I can't drive 55 in a brand new BMW 528i

I can't drive 55 in a brand new BMW 528i

75 thoughts on “Coming of Age in a Jeep Wagoneer

  1. ahhh 19…sigh. When you could take off on a whim with your friends and not know where you’d stay but you’d figure it out when you got there….I remember that. Great post! What was on your mix tape back then? Me: REM, Kate Bush, Tears for Fears, U2…

    1. We were definitely channeling the same vibe. “Running Up That Hill” still gives me chills and I had a recent U2 concert shirt on just the other day. =)

  2. Laura says:

    Nice! Love this post, Stacie! I’m not sure which I like better, the image of you dropping ‘n rolling in the woods, your mom with the bullhorn, or the open road with limitless possibility staring back at you. Very funny, poignant, excellent food for thought all the way around.

    1. Thanks for your sweet words, Laura. I felt the same way when I read your posts about your road trip with your daughter. Crossing my fingers that mine will like me enough to hang with me when they’re teenagers. =)

  3. pinkagendist says:

    “there was a hot pink, strapless bikini with the tags still attached”—– were you really planning on returning a bikini AFTER wearing it? Hmmmmmmmm…. very suspicious 😛

    1. OK, that’s totally gross. Poor word choice?

  4. crubin says:

    First of all, I’m beginning to understand some of your past behavior now that you’ve described your mother’s parenting style (which I find hilarious–she’s badass!). Second of all, do you plan on returning that magnificent car or will we be seeing your lovely face on a most-wanted poster in the near future?…

    1. You’re right, Carrie. My mom probably saved my life more than once. But don’t tell her I said so.

      Re the car: I almost cried when I rolled into the parking garage. For me and my 2004 Yukon XL, “performance” means turning the key and hoping it will start.

      Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

  5. i mayfly says:

    My husband used to affectionately (I’m positive that was his intent) refer to me as Inspector Clouseau when our kids were teenagers. I always took that as a compliment to my sleuthing skills, finding the forgotten can of beer in an obscure place at the back of the frig or finding other contraband in the trash. Now that I reflect upon it, Clouseau was comic relief, right? H-m-m-m.

    1. I’m beyond positive that my kids will have horrendous nicknames for me, and they won’t be as nice as “Big Bad Brenda.” =)

  6. Susie Lenahan says:

    Stace, you brought tears to my eyes. Tears of happiness because I am laughing hysterically and because that truly was one of the best damn trips I have ever taken! I must say, I also have tears of sadness thinking about all of the spontaneity we give up as wives and moms where everyone else comes first. Spontaneity is truly why our trip was so special. A nomadic week without any real plans but to be crazy and free. I am so thankful we shared those moments together, friend. xoxo Susie

    1. I miss you Sus! We still have a chance though…Oxford, OH in the middle of June. No beaches, but we’ll have access to a lot of back country roads. Can’t wait.

  7. You are awesome and I love you 🙂 And your badass mom.

    1. You know the love is mutual. Thanks for stopping by. Looking forward to you posting my crock pot full of awesome dinners and the stories that go with… =)

  8. Anonymous says:

    Stacie….I love ya! So many things in common in our past…Dr. Scholl’s (perfect for running!), fried bologna (sadly!), Big Gulps and a love for free drinks! This brought back so many great memories of fun, spontaneous road trips…thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for commenting, although as “Anonymous,” I unfortunately don’t know who you are. =(

  9. WSW says:

    I just want to know one thing: what did you say or do to get the Beemer? Were you brandishing the Big Gulp? Did you make up a story about attending a 20th high school reunion? Perhaps you cried a little? I want to know because when I get to the rental counter they always seem to be out of what I reserved but loaded to the scuppers with minivans. Sigh.

    1. I sold my kids on the spot. The back row was pretty small, so given the choice, I went with air conditioned seats and complete control over my iPod. Too bad we weren’t at the same airport…they would have been perfect for your minivan.

      True part of the story that seemed a little boring for the blog. Avis brought in a fleet of Beemers the week before for the Masters golf tourney in Augusta. Like you, I had NEVER driven anything nicer than a Toyota off the lot, so I was shocked when they asked if I wanted one…for $100 a day more. An hour’s worth of back and forth, talking to “the man” behind the swinging double doors, and a boatload of tears because I was missing happy hour at my high school reunion, and it was mine.

      1. But not for $100 a day. Even a $60K car can’t entice me to part with that much cash.

      2. WSW says:

        You rule.

  10. peterdavey2 says:

    I love this post, Stacie – a completely individual yet universal experience, (although we never quite had the ‘open road’ thing in a teeny country like England, and the car was only a Mini, not a thumping great Jeep Wagonner). But we had moms (though we called them mums) but they were just the same, and the prospect of ‘breaking out’ still gave you the same tingling down the spine. Your style is funny, sharp and evocative – The air is so thick with humidity, heat and hormones that you can hardly elbow your way through the haze – pure poetry. Great!

    1. When a fellow writer calls my work poetry it’s goosebumps all around. THANK YOU for such a supportive comment. Just checked your site…when am I gonna see your next post?

      1. peterdavey2 says:

        You’re welcome. There’s a v. silly story on there about dysfunctional wannabe writer Jeb taking a package trip to Spain on a budget airline with a rude name (do you have budget airlines in the US?) Tweet me if you can’t get it and I’ll email it ti you.

      2. Have read it. Hilarious. It’s fun to have this circle of writers who run into each other every now and then. Like me and my extended family. Close. But not too close.
        Thx Peter!

  11. inphiluencer says:

    Road trips are the best. My faves: Montreal – Boston, to visit with my high-school buddy, Alain. Montreal – NYC for SHOPPING (!!!) at least twice a year. And, all-time fave, Montreal – Fort Lauderdale Florida with wife and kids several years back. Love the road, ideally with AC/DC or Van halen pumping through the speakers (but Lynyrd Skynyrd will do in a pinch).

    1. Montreal – Fort Lauderdale is a HAUL. Are you sure you didn’t try to kill each other by the time you got to Georgia?

      Glad you’re here. As I told Madame Weebles, I’m a normal human being on my own blog as opposed the raging, alcoholic freak I play on Le Clown’s.

      PS, Was Le Clown telling the truth when he claimed you lived in his basement? I’m getting the vibe that it’s just wishful thinking on his part. Clowns can be soooo territorial.

      1. inphiluencer says:

        Nah, he just wishes I lived in his basement. (Actually, I probably wished I lived in his basement to.) Le Clown is a very special dude (please don’t tell him I said that) it’s just.. he’s got something, you know? Not sure how to describe it… let’s just call it mojo for now.
        As for you, based on my very limited experience, I think you also have something special. Keep doing whatever it is that you are doing, and I’d like to be on the advance purchase list for your upcoming novel, thank you very much. Signed: A new fan.

      2. It’s so much more fun to give Le Clown a hard time than be sincere. But for the off-the-record-super-secret-don’t-tell-a-silly-clown-the-truth? He can bring it.

        As for me? You’re too kind. But I’m not gonna lie. I love it. =)

  12. This story makes me desperately wish I had a driver’s license so I could just get in a car and go somewhere at random. So instead I’ll just live vicariously through your experience. It sounds like it was tons of fun!!

    1. Wait. Madames don’t drive? Do you have a chauffeur? The only thing better than a road trip is a road trip with a dude named Giles to make sure you don’t get a ticket. Or drive drunk, which I’m completely opposed to for the record.

      So happy you’re here. I’m a little more down to earth on my blog than Le Clown’s. =)

      1. I get road rage as a pedestrian so it’s probably best that I not drive… I never needed a license since I’ve always lived in a big city with public transportation, and Mr. Weebles takes the wheel for road trips. He drives, and I take care of snacks and navigation. I figure that’s fair.

      2. Having a Mr. Weebles is even better than a Giles. Giles won’t trade pillows with you in the middle of the night. Well I guess he could, technically, but then he’d be an entirely different type of employee.

  13. Simon says:

    So I totally came here expecting some kind of Strawberry wine loss of innocence story. Sorry, my mind doesn’t have to pay out of state tuition when it is in the gutter, it has residency. Though not a mom, your advice is sure to be valuable as I get to spend 8 straight years with a daughter in high school (2 daughters , not one really dumb one. I hope.). I wish Enis had a blog. Because he probably has mad stories to tell. Great post as always and God Love ya for taking a pic with your phone while going over a hundy! (auto correct tried to make that handy, glad I caught it). hope you enjoyed your time down here in the peach state.

    1. Simon,
      I LOVE “my mind doesn’t have to pay out of state tuition when it’s in the gutter, it has residency.” I feel like I owe you an apology. That title was a total hook. Sex sells, right? Now I know what to print to get you to visit my blog. Next week will be a mud bath cage match between Kim Kardashian and Megan Fox. Are you in?
      PS – An Enis blog would get off the charts hits. That dude was a trip. =)

  14. Stacie, you are hilarious and your mother was a real gem! I have a 15 yr old daughter and the only thing she ever lies about is her homework. “No Mom, I don’t have any homework” and later that night, I find her in her room quickly finishing up the homework she didn’t have. Sounds like you had an awesome time in Florida. 🙂

    1. You’re the one who has the gem. My mom was just mean (kidding…she saved my ass more than once). I was by and large a good kid, but I had my moments. And a lot of them. Which you may hear about from time to time. Happy to have you here where I speak in my adult voice and not the petulant, spoiled, daddy’s girl who doesn’t want to grow up I channel with Le Clown.

      1. I love your writing on Le Clown’s blog. People have referred to me as being funny in the past, but you and he are real comedians. Both of your comment replies make me laugh. Oh…and I’m a spoiled daddy’s girl as well, with an addiction to sarcasm and sex. Not necessarily in that order. 😛

  15. wwwicabullets says:

    My mom was a ‘badder ass’ than your mom so I was held in tow. 🙂 I’ll come to you for advice when my girls are teenagers!

    1. We’ll have to join forces and swap stories. Maybe between our two moms we’ll be able to cover our girls, who appear to be attached at the hip. =)

  16. Susan Francke says:

    That made me cry I laughed so hard. I don’t remember Brenda being all that bad – but I was the good friend, right? It’s funny how your blogs bring back so many memories for me. Though I will admit you remember a lot more than I do. Not going to reflect on why that might be. The blog really wanted me to get in our RV. I think my love for our RV (there is a sentence I never thought I would utter) comes from a need to slow things down and just go where the road takes us. Even if the trip includes all freaking 6 of us.

    1. You’re right Sus, Mom wasn’t bad, just ballsy. And always in my stuff. Between you and she, I used all of my cat lives…you both kept me sufficiently grounded, whether I liked it or not.

      I love the romance of the RV, especially if you’ll add my three to your four and take all seven. Scot and I will follow you ANYWHERE you choose to go…in the 528. =)

      Miss ya lots!

      1. Susan Francke says:

        How about Scot and Chris take all seven and you and I can follow behind in the 528 with some good 80’s mix tapes.

      2. That is a PERFECT plan! I have all of my mix tapes in a box in the basement. I even saved my yellow walkman as a back-up. Where are we going this summer?

    2. PS, I was looking for a picture of Will Anson and his Camero and I couldn’t find one. =(

  17. Beautifully written. Dang it, I want a road trip so bad right now, I can taste it. I miss them. I also miss getting free drinks in a bikini.

    1. I didn’t even MENTION that we were wearing bikinis in the bar and somehow you figured it out. Smart girl.

  18. billmcmorrow says:

    Talk about memory lane. Mom with a bullhorn, too funny. Fantastic post, Stacie. Do you still keep in touch with Enis? Hahaha

    1. Thanks, Bill.
      It’s been suggested that Enis get his own blog. I would follow him anywhere. =)

  19. Posky says:

    Driving, and not owning, a nice car is the greatest feeling on earth. Especially if you can return it nearly destroyed.

    1. Bite your cartoon gravatar tongue, Posky. If it was a Ford Focus? No problem stripping the gears. But that ride was the sweetest car I’ll ever fake-own for five days. Taking it over 100 mph was awesome, though.

      Thanks for the visit and comment. Next time you’re at Avis, drop my name and see if they’ll hook you up.

  20. Anonymous says:

    OK….this is “the” what has been termed as “badass” mom. Everything she has said is close to true and I could actually share more…,but I won’t!! Stacie was a wonderful, caring, beautiful but sometimes unpredictable child!! With that said, I wouldn’t trade her at all. She morphed from this teenager who headed for the woods…into a wonderful mom (with two beautiful daughters) and you know where I am going!! They will also each puberty and go beyond!! Just to clarify one thing which occured after her scenario described within her blog…..her daddy Doug NEVER went to bed until she came home….highschool, college and even recently when she visited us as a mom of three!! Yes, he stayed up until she got home! And he says…..that’s the way it will continuue to be!! So there could be a “badass” dad too!!
    “The” mom!!

    1. Mom,
      1) You are awesome.
      2) There has been a run on bullhorns as all of my friends now own one.
      3) It is a compliment to be considered a badass.
      4) I’ve never heard you swear so that’s awesome too.
      5) Dad is also…awesome.
      6) I love you.

  21. Fred says:

    A free tan in December? Being from the Canadian prairies originally, this is unknown to me!

    1. You need a road trip Fred. =)

      1. Fred says:


  22. I really love this post. So universal. So funny. My mom is still keeping me safe; I can hear her voice, see those eyes narrowing, and feel that turn in my stomach when I think about doing or saying something I shouldn’t.
    Side note: my 1988 Chevy Celebrity just died (I truly contemplated a memorial service because I loved that car so much–3 weeks on a tank of gas!), but I would have loved the BMW for a work week. Imagine my teenaged students seeing me roll up in that!

    1. It was a trip, Marilyn, and yes, your students would be trampling each other for a ride. I hope your Celebrity rests in peace. Sounds like she had a long life. Thanks for stopping by!

  23. bronxboy55 says:

    You were doing 100 mph and took your eyes off the road to get a picture of the speedometer? I hope your car rental friend doesn’t read your blog. But I’m glad I get to read it. Can we all take turns going to your Dad’s farm? It seems to have worked wonders (not that your writing wasn’t excellent before).

    Amazing post, Stacie, especially this: “But now I map directions and time my ride, living a life so synchronized to the tune of obligation that an open lane has become nothing more than a means to an end.”

    1. Thanks, Charles. Your feedback always makes me smile. As for the farm? My dad loves visitors and I can give you step-by-step instruction on how to get that BMW for the price of a Corolla when you get to ATL. And yes, I took that pic going 100, but I positioned my phone at about 70 and eased into it. =)

  24. I LOVE road trips!! Sadly, I never got to take one in a car with faux wood panels 😦

    1. Jen, since you only appear to be like, 15, you’ve got time. =)

      1. PSSSSSH. I’m old enough to have a fifteen-year-old child.

      2. Not possible. Unless you were a mail order bride.

      3. If I had been a very promiscuous 15 year old (I tried, trust me- I had no takers) it would have been possible.

  25. This is why you’re my bestie. But now I will never trust you again totally because you are apparently quite skilled at LYING! And Big Bad Brenda rocks! So hilarious.

    “When did taking the road less traveled morph into plotting the easiest path?”

    When you signed on the dotted line for your first mortgage. Arrrrggggh! Growing old sucks, but I just love how you wrapped it up into one neat and tidy package. It would have taken me 1,500 words to say that single sentence.

    And a Beemer? Seriously? I’m sure it had nothing to do with how pretty you are. Just sayin’. Bitch. Oops, did I say that last part out loud?

    1. I’ve only lied to my mom in moments of selfish abandon. And to my kids in moments of self-preservation. And when I want to get off the phone. But never to you, BB. Your 1,500 words make my eight pale in comparison, and your gravatar pic? Please. You would have gotten the 7-series. =)

      1. The 7 Series…I didn’t know they made a 7-speed bicycle. Makes sense. I don’t even rate a 10 speed.

  26. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that Jeep Wagoneer is parked in my condo parking lot. Faux wood is peeling like a four day old sunburn. Nasty.

  27. Cynosurd says:

    This was great!! There’s nothing that beats an old-fashioned American-dream-y road trip. Some of the best times in my life have come from road trips with friends. Once they invent the solar powered car (don’t worry, its right around the corner), maybe we’ll be back to the days of carefree road tripping.

    I used to always fantasize about having a Jeep Wagoneer–no joke. That thing probably comes in right behind an old VW bus for greatest road trip car ever made. Well, or, I suppose a 5 series beamer isn’t too bad either!

    1. For a road trip, I’ll take either. Or both. Because that means two trips. =)

  28. creeped says:

    It’s funny, as we get older we tend to plan everything so far in advance. Particularly holidays. But, there really is nothing quite like jumping into a car, cranking the tunes and seeing where the road will take you.

    And if you can do that in a BMW (or my favourite, an Alfa Romeo) then all the better!

    1. I will take a BMW or Alfa Romeo and an open road any day of the week. Thanks for the comment and follow…I think I’ve seen you around Cristy Carrington’s brillian site. =)

      1. creeped says:

        No problemo, great read. Yes, Cristy has been a supporter of my Creepy Pants blog, which has fallen by the wayside lately. I will post again soon!

        But thanks for checking in on my new(er), more self-indulgent blog! It’s nice to have an actual reader!

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