TGIF: Enjoy summer travel time, but know new rules of the road

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

If you’re keeping score at home — and even if you’re not — we’ve just finished celebrating the second of the three major holidays of summer. I can’t believe it myself. We still have hotdogs in the freezer that were grilled over Memorial Day.

It wasn’t lost on me that the calendar put July Fourth on a Sunday this year, so the day off was observed on Monday for many Americans. That means most of us were able to celebrate a genuine three-day holiday weekend this month, exactly as it happens for Memorial Day in May, and Labor Day in September. What a disappointment when July 4 falls on a Wednesday.

I’m out of practice planning vacations. I’ve not given any consideration to an actual summer vacation. The pandemic put so many trips and gatherings on hold, it seems I’ve developed a sort of sluggishness when it comes to getting out of town. My sofa is comfortable, the refrigerator is nearby, and I’ve grown accustomed to the joys of streaming movies and programs.

Little by little, however, my wife and I are venturing out. We spent a weekend with our daughter’s family in Hays County last month, entertaining the grandson while his parents attended a friend’s wedding. A couple of days later, we ventured west to oversee some professional repairs after the February freeze damaged indoor pipes at a family cabin.

That journey — a two-day jaunt covering about 700 miles roundtrip — showed me that several things have changed since before the pandemic when Texans took authentic vacations. So, with apologies to Blackie Sherrod, let’s shattershoot:

HAULING STUFF — Summer has always been the best time for pulling up stakes and relocating. Parents with children in school often time their moves when school years end. Such moves involve hauling stuff in pickups, vans, and trucks on the highway.

Securing those loads is apparently a lost art. Depression-era households who went west knew how to do it. The Beverly Hillbillies knew how to do it. Americans in 2021, not so much.

On the Interstate highway, an 18-wheeler in front of us suddenly veered left while passing a slower moving 18-wheeler, and almost created a third lane in the median. The driver successfully dodged a large Igloo-type cooler someone paid a handsome price to acquire. We managed to dodge it too.

About an hour earlier, we were been surprised by someone’s washer and dryer on the shoulder of a two-lane highway. Fortunately, the lost load had bounced clear of traffic.

Then, on a freeway in a larger city, we watched a pickup carrying a new, still-boxed refrigerator shift backwards and land at a 45-degree angle against the truck’s tailgate. Unlike the roadside washer and dryer, this appliance was probably none the worse for wear.

Summer drivers should be careful out there. It’s not just other vehicles that are coming at you.

EMPTY TANKS — You expect fuel prices to rise in the summer, and especially as holidays approach. Fortunately, supply doesn’t appear to be an issue, but it seems other factors are at work. Bright and early one Thursday morning, I filled up the car before going into town. Five hours later, I drove past the same station, and the price per gallon displayed on the sign was up 9 cents.

EMPTY STOMACHS — If you’re a creature of habit on your summer travels, as we are, you have favorite places to eat. You look forward to this. However, do your homework first. The combination of COVID-19 and labor shortages have combined to shorten many restaurants’ hours, assuming they’ve managed to avoid having to close permanently. I read that one of our favorite stops in New Mexico finally opened this month. The silver lining here is that you might be forced to try something new.

MOTEL MORNINGS — Then there’s this. If you’ve grown up being accustomed to preparing your own breakfast at the motels where you stay, you’d better observe what other folks are doing first. That delightful waffle device that lets you fill a plastic cup with batter, pour it on the grill, flip it over, and wait until the beeper sounds? It could be missing. Enjoy serving eggs, sausage, and pastries from the buffet? Motels may not want your dirty hands picking up their utensils or your hot breath blowing over their food. Extra staff has been hired to fill up plates, and barriers have been installed to keep you away from the chow.

Whatever you do, don’t jump those barriers. They don’t like that, even if it’s just to pick up a plastic spoon. Just saying.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at