When I was about seventeen I worked with a bunch of happy-go-lucky people [Read: Hippies] that enjoyed beautiful weather in the summer time and sloshy snow and ice in the winter. What better solution than a Jeep? There was a time when the parking lot was littered with roughly four to six Jeep Wranglers and almost as many Volkswagens. Damned dirty Hippies.

Editors Note, added after completion of the entry: Grab a snack and get comfortable.

Never being one to lash out against peer pressure, I done bought myself an ’89 Wrangler (this was around ’99). It had the decals on the side and across the front windshield, one which read “It’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand.” How ghey is that?

ghey (adj.) – please refer to Jonny Vincent‘s Blog for a great definition/explanation. Also, an excellent source of random eye candy and side-splitting humor.

Fast-forward a dozen months or so, me and my now estranged buddy Matt Whipple and our friend Lauren Williams went on a random road trip from outside Philadelphia, PA to the strange land known as UWF. Matty had some friends down there that said they could put us up for a few days over spring break.

This was long before I ever considered the possibility of living in the DC/Balt area. If I remember correctly, on our initial southbound journey during the wee hours of the night, I think I got on I-95 southbound, made it on to 295 around the start, in Baltimore, got on to the bottom of the I-495 beltway, then incorrectly followed some signs back to the top of the beltway, got on 295 S from there, and after seeing the Washington Monument for the SECOND time, realized I had made a bit of an error.

After roughly twenty hours of driving, stopping only for gas and driver changes, we were on I-10, west bound. This was long before the “just mapquest it” days. True, people still had maps, but using them was such a bore. Who had the time to research and plan a 3500 mile round-trip excursion? When you’re 18, you know everything, anyway, why be bothered with details.

We weren’t complete morons. We brought maps along, just failed to refer to them until the eleventh hour. Florida, aka “America’s Penis,” is not a small state by any measure. It’s deceiving, with all that coastline. I can’t remember the exact mileage, so let’s ask Google!

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Did I mention that while the guy who sold me the ’89 Wrangler was putting on decals and pimping-out mine Auto, he was also tearing out the factory engine and replacing it with a beast of his own creation, never designed to fit under the hood of said vehicle?

The Jeep started “making funny noises” around the GA/FL border. I knew we didn’t want to try to make it all the way to Pensacola. We came up with the bright idea of stopping for rest along the way. It was spring break season. In Florida. I couldn’t bring myself to check into a non-coastal hotel. Even back then, wasn’t my style. I didn’t hate money nearly as much as I do now, but we were fairly spoiled working six nights / week in the restaurant during the summer and staying somewhat responsible in the winter time.

I’d like to blame Matty, but it was probably my dumb ass who suggested Panama City Beach. Referring to the map above, it is just about the only coastal city that jumps out at you and says, “come crash here for the night!”

But… referring to the map above, isn’t it well over half-way to your final destination? Fuck it. Decision was made. Grab the AAA TourBook, find a nice place to stay.

I’m positive we picked the most expensive one in the book. Why be thrifty when you’ve got credit cards and acne? It was posh, Lauren was impressed. The spring-breakers were out in full force. Just thinking about it makes me want to party all the time and not have a “real job.” Oh wait, I do, kinda.

For the record, I don’t think any of us were having sex with Lauren, she just happened to be the only person on the trip without a penis. Friends since seventh grade, also worked at the bar with us. And yes, that is the second time I referred to the male anatomy in this single blog post.

After a little crowd-gazing we grabbed some rest, spent some time on the beach the next morning, then headed west. PC Beach is pretty far off the beaten path that is I-10. Seemed thilly to go all the way north to the highway just to get back off it and come back down to Pensacola once we approached our goal. So, we took the coastal [Read: Painstakingly slow] road.

What felt like 93 hours later, we arrived. The Jeep needed a hearty nap. Not sure where all the booze came from, but there was plenty of it. Matty, the master planner that he is, arranged this trip so that we could come enjoy while the girls at UWF were also enjoying their own, “… NOT!” News to me and Lauren, of course. So now we’re left with just the three of us to hang out during the day while the girls are at class. Bummer.

Tell you what, though, they had a hell of a set-up. Their housing on campus was a model for what the Air Force considered adopting as their “two plus two living standard.” Being out of the general loop, best article I could find on short notice to explain their current outlook on living situations was this one. The girls had what was essentially a 4BR/2BA apartment w/ a small living room and kitchen area. Can’t remember if they had washer/dryer, or not. I do remember each one had their own room and they only shared a bathroom with one other person.

I never was victimized by the dorm life of college, I let my Uncle Sam take care of that one. I did date a girl after college who went to Elizabethtown, spent a few nights in her dorm room. Two-people to a room, bathroom’s down the hall. Fuck that. Call it the Chair Force all you want, we were spoiled and knew it, and liked it.

But I digress. Who am I kidding, this whole story is a tangent from the first paragraph.

After a few days of binge drinking and somehow not lighting the apartment on fire, Matty and Lauren and I decided we’d take our hosts out for a feast. Went to a fun restaurant somewhere on the water, many a crab was devoured, our bellies were made full, and the poor college kids almost cried when Matty and I footed the bill. Lauren either chipped-in or we wouldn’t let her, she was off the hook, either way.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, long before I knew what a gambling problem was or had one, I had friends that went broke. Matty was short on cash, I knew he worked in multiple bars and could pay me back in short time, so I loaned him some cash. Alot of it. About a $1,000. When you’re 18, unless you’re an actor, stripper, or poker player, that’s no small amount of money. I was none of the three at the time.

No less than three years later, I did receive a $500 money order in the mail while stationed at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS. Still waiting on that other $500; Much more about the principle than the money. While I was in basic training I learned that his dumb ass had up and joined the Army. Seemed to be working out fine until he did dumber shit than I did. Yes, I went AWOL for days and days and what was at one point a day-shy of desertion… but this kid…

Last rumor I heard was that he was caught trafficking controlled substances across international borders. In the words of Worm from GAE Greg’s favorite movie, “It’s Highway Time.” Maybe one day he’ll Google himself, find this post, and drop me an e-mail. Maybe I’ll never hear from him.

Most likely event, I’ll run into him Vegas, or Machu Picchu, or something.

His original excuse for not paying me back right away, he lost his job before we even made it home. Why? Because we didn’t make it home on our originally scheduled day. Why?

Hungover, enjoying the breeze with the top down, Matty was driving, Lauren was riding Shotgun, I was curled in the back seat, sleeping. I was brought back the world of the awake by an all-to calm voice of reason saying in plain English, no exclamations, no expletives, just rather nonchalantly, “Trav, your engine is on fire.”

Um. Serious? Good thing Too bad we had some Gatorade handy. Used that to put the fire out. For future reference, if you’ve got a lick of insurance, and your engine catches fire, let it burn to the ground. It’ll sting a bit in the immediate sense, but in the long run, you’ll be much better off.

Within minutes, uncalled, a police officer pulled into the median from the opposing lane. I played a life-sized version of Frogger across I-10 just so he could say, “Is everything all right?” and roll out as soon as he realized no was dead or dying. Bastard.

I had my own version Zack Morris Cell Phone, used that to try to call the friendly people at AAA. I’m not sure how, but while I was from PA, stranded on along a road in FL, I was originally connected to the local branch of roadside assistance in California.

Again, this was just before the turn of the Millennium, long before GPS was mainstreamed and available to all, but … whatever.

A few connections later, and we heard word that a tow truck was on its way.

Thank god, Lauren brought a Hackey Sack. We used it to kill time at UWF while the girls were in class. While we were stranded in the middle of only-god-knows-where, FL, we worshiped yon Footbag.

Holy fuck, am I ever long-winded when I’m hungover. There’s a bright side to being this hung over, and the brightness is making me squint. I’ve got to get dressed and leave PA shortly so I can be dealing a $5/$10 NL game in Baltimore this afternoon. I’ll finish the story later.