The drive through America is long – painfully long

Author’s note: This is the second in a short series on an Offutt summer vacation.

The United States is ridiculously big. I knew this, of course, but in theory, not in practice.

In theory 38 United Kingdoms could fit into the landmass of the United States. That sounds impressive, but the only part of this fact a normal human can comprehend is that with so many U.K.s in our midst Americans would drink lots more tea.

In practice, driving puts the size of our country into perspective. It takes longer to drive from Missouri to the Gulf Coast in Mississippi than it does to get to Berlin from Paris – and that includes going through Belgium and The Netherlands.

I found this out in June when my family and I went on vacation to Long Beach, Mississippi. We opted to drive instead of fly because we’re fiscally responsible (by which I mean we’re way too cheap to buy airplane tickets for five people) and we apparently love long drives on roads we’ll never want to see again.

“We’re in Mississippi,” I said when we crossed the state line. We’d just finished a brutal seven-hour drive through Missouri, what seemed like a seven-hour drive through Memphis traffic and finally we were in Mississippi. It was like we were practically on the beach.

“We still have nine hours to go,” my wife told me, completely crushing my spirit.

Nine hours?

Time in a minivan with three children is different than it is at home when you can send the kids to their room. Much like “dog years,” “vacation hours” are measured in multiples of seven. Ten if the kids start fighting.

Driving through some states, it’s obvious you’re no longer home. Colorado has mountains, Minnesota looks like a Christmas tree farm and Iowa is more corn than state. Mississippi fooled me because in the northern part of the state even the trees seemed familiar.

However, four things tipped me off we were in the South.

1) Kudzu.

2) The accents.

Stopping at Walmart in Pass Christian, Mississippi, my daughter told the cashier, “I love your hair.”

The cashier smiled and said, “Well thank you, darlin’.”

My daughter wrinkled her nose at the strange words. “My name’s not Julia,” she told the woman who had no idea what my daughter was talking about.

People who don’t live in the South are generally only exposed to southern accents through reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show.” They don’t realize most southerners are not all mechanics named Goober. For example, Dr. James D. Hardy of Alabama performed the world’s first lung transplant, the first heart transplant and the first transplant of a chimpanzee heart into a human, all while serving at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. OK, so he was kind of like a blood mechanic, but that’s still impressive.

3) The word “magnolia” appears in southern writing more often than “a,” “the,” “I” or “grits.” It’s like everything’s named Magnolia. In Mississippi, I saw Magnolia Realty, Magnolia Lane, Magnolia Avenue, Magnolia Lighting, Magnolia Shopping Center and I drank beer made by Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company. Heck, even some of the flowers are called Magnolia.

Oh, wait.

4) Waffle House. There may be more Waffle Houses in Mississippi than residents of the state. More on that in a couple of weeks.

Nine hours after my wife told me my day in the van wasn’t over we were finally at the beach.

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