Chapter 11 – Y’all Come Back to Jena, LA, Unless Your Names are Frank J and SarahK
we woke up really late Sunday, after our adventurous stressful day in Texas traffic. i don’t think we even got out of the motel until 11ish. so we gassed up the big monster U-Haul and hit the road. we had planned to cut diagonally down Louisiana so we could hit I-10 around Baton Rouge and drive the coastal route; however, we decided that we didn’t want to go through any large cities that we didn’t have to, so we were going to head farther east and hit I-10 at Mobile.
this plan worked fine, and then we realized that if you’re in Louisiana and you’re not on a big road that has a blue sign or a big state-shaped white sign… well, we were glad that Frank was carrying dual .45s (on his person).
around lunchtime-ish, we hit Jena, Louisiana. there i was, driving down the main road in Jena, and this man in a pickup truck was parked on the side of the road, waving at me to stop (as he sat in his truck). um, ok. so i slowed down, and then i realized what he was on about. apparently, there was a funeral, because i saw people driving out of the funeral home parking lot and entering a long line of cars headed up by a police car. so now i was in the middle of this procession. nothing to see here, folks, this isn’t a U-Haul, really. it’s a hearse.
we stopped in at a grocery store to see if they had sandwiches in their deli (it was Sunday, but by our wonky trip clock, the deli should have been open!!); when that failed, we hit the bathrooms and then bought Frank some ointment for his injured pinkytoe. yes, it was 2 days after the stabbing, but we figured better late than never on the antibiotic ointment.
we were hungry, so when we saw the McDonald’s / Sonic small-town strip (in Texas it’s a Subway / Sonic / DQ strip), we were most happy to stop at Sonic for lunch. just before we pulled in, i said, “i’m not sure we can get out of the Sonic parking lot in this thing. maybe we should pull in close by so we have enough room.”
Frank said, “good idea.”
i said, “hey, there’s an Auto Zone, what about there?”
Frank said, “yeah, it’s a big parking lot.”
then once we got into the parking lot, which is on the main two-lane “highway” in town, i said, “um, are you gonna be able to back this thing out of here?” because i’d just noticed that there was only one entrance/exit. Frank said, “uhhh… sure.” by the way, i had a migraine at this point, and we were right next to a Wal-Mart; we decided that after we left we would go there and pick up some migraine patches for me.
so we went and had a nice lunch sitting at the tables outside at Sonic. Minerva stayed in the truck, and no, it wasn’t hot outside. so we sat in the nice breeze, chatting, talking about how glad we were that we were finally making progress on our trip. now that we’re out of Texas, i know it will be a lot better, i thought.
then God laughed at us. laughed HARD. we went back to the U-Haul, and Frank started the truck. as soon as he shifted into reverse, this nice man pulled up directly behind Frank, parked and got out of his truck. wha?? did he not see us??
so i got out of the truck. i was going into the Auto Zone to find this dimwit and ask him politely to move his vehicle. as i was walking by, i noticed a passenger in the truck. i flashed my sweet t-shirt babe smile and asked if he had keys to the car. no, he didn’t, so i said, did your friend go inside Auto Zone? yes, he did, and his name is Leon. i don’t remember if that’s the name, but it sounds familiar, so i might be right. i walked in and asked, “is there a Leon in here?” “yeah, that’s me.” “um, nice man, hey look how pretty i am, um, you parked right behind us, would you mind moving your truck, and i’ll smile real sweet like this as your reward?” of course, he obliged.
after the nice man moved his truck, Frank started to work his U-Haul magic. shortly after this began, we realized that we were either going to have to 1) turn the U-Haul and trailer in reverse into the part of the parking lot that runs in front of the store or 2) back this baby up onto the highway. as backing up onto the highway so we could shift in to drive would require stopping down traffic, we went with the first option.
not so easy as it sounded. see, when you back the U-Haul up and turn the butt of it to go into the other parking lot, the trailer with the Explorer turns in the exact opposite direction. the engineer and the CPA couldn’t quite master this concept, nor could we see any way out of this stupid parking lot.
fifteen minutes later, we were still trying. a nice man in a tiny white pickup came over and offered to stop down traffic for us so we could just back up onto the highway without turning and be on our merry little way.
ten minutes after that, we were still trying to keep the stupid Explorer straight in line with the U-Haul so we could even back the U-Haul up onto the highway. the man in the tiny white pickup gave up and drove away.
after ten more minutes and several collisions between the Explorer and the U-Haul, we were thinking that Jena might be a nice place to call home, and the creek next to the Auto Zone might be a nice place to ditch the U-Haul. a kind gentleman, at least 65, parked across the highway and came over and asked, “you want me to give it a shot?” to which i (standing in the parking lot trying to direct Frank) replied, “can you make this horror stop?”, or i might have just said, “sure!”, i can’t remember. so we walked to the cab of the U-Haul where the gentleman asked Frank the same question. Frank said something like, “well, you don’t look like you can handle such a piece of machinery, ol’ fella.” just kidding, Frank just looked relieved and said, “sure!” Mr. Helper Man then informed us that our jobs would be to stop down traffic so he could back the U-Haul onto the highway.
so there we were in Jena, Louisiana, on a Sunday afternoon around 2 or 3, right next to the Wal-Mart where everyone in town does their Sunday afternoon grocery shopping, Frank stopping traffic coming from the east, and i stopping traffic coming from the west. i stood in front of my line of cars and just smiled real pretty and said “sorry, teehee,” over and over.
after about five minutes, Mr. Helper Man was still working the U-Haul, but he was making significant progress; cars on the highway decided that they had plenty of time before Mr. Helper Man made it out onto the highway, so they just started driving around me and Frank. i was doing my best not to bust out in a fit of laughter or tears or both. finally, the cars on my side stayed put, and on Frank’s side, there was a public safety something or other truck with lights that stopped and put on his lights so the people behind him would stop.
most everyone still waiting looked very sympathetic. some of them looked annoyed but amused, but no one started cursing at us or flipping us the bird. about five or ten minutes later, Mr. Helper Man was on the highway in the U-Haul, his sweet wife standing by and smiling. me, i was almost crying out of exhaustion and joy. Frank shook Mr. Helper Man’s hand and we both jumped into the truck. i was shouting, “go go go!” and Frank said, “um… do you think we can wait and stop at Wal-Mart in a different town?” to which i responded, “oh yes, please don’t stop here, i’m not sure they’ll let us leave.”
as we drove out of Jena, Frank said, “i sure am glad this happened in the South where people are so nice.”