Sheets of rain bathed the van. Windshield wipers chased each other back and forth across the window in a hypnotizing rhythm. The kids complained when I turned up the air conditioner to help revive me.
I moaned. This is supposed to be an adventure! Cold, rainy weather in August is WRONG! Hrmph…Gotta love Michigan!
A midnight express across southern Michigan was not part of our plan. We should have reached Sheboygan, WI by now; our tent erected and a campfire ablaze to warm us. Aren’t vacations a time for relaxation? What did we know? This was our first family camp trip—ever!
Saturday, while inspecting the van, Dan noticed our license plate—EXPIRED.
Someone told us of a 24-hour automated machine at the Secretary of State (SOS). “Just go there, it’ll spit out a tag for you,” they said.
We found the nearest location. It rejected our card, saying, “System error--” We found another location. The machine offered the same hopeless message. We drove to another location then another … until we had covered most of the 24-hour machines in the metropolitan area—no luck!
Our next option: drive through the night, Sunday—tonight—for Benton Harbor. There we would wait for the SOS to open and get the tags before crossing into Indiana.
So there we were at three a.m., hoping to use the cloak of night to cover the offensive plate. The rain helped that; but lulled my eyelids into a state of heaviness.
I glanced over at my husband. “Dan…wake up! You promised to help me stay awake!”
He snored. I reached for the CD case, fumbling through a mountain of chips, cookies, candy, and water, until my hand made contact. Eureka! I tugged on the case, creating a landslide of snacks across Dan’s feet. Serves him right!
I pulled a CD from the case and plugged it in. Some fire-breathing preacher I liked bellowed through the speakers. I fidgeted with the knobs, need more volume!
He failed to boost my energy level. “No sleep—not now!”
Then I saw them—my orange and white friends—the Barrels. Summer time in our fair state brings out the whole family. Some had reflectors, while others carried signs.
“Hi guys!” I waved. “How’re ya doing? Where are your umbrellas?” The most thankless job in the state and no one even offers them shelter in the rain.
“Oh no!” Bo-Barrel was lying on the side of the highway—crushed. “Looks like they left you there to die ol’ boy.” I had a moment of silence for my dear friend. There was no chance of survival—he had been pretzelled!
I nudged my sleeping husband, “Hey, meet my new friends.”
He said nothing, but that didn’t stop me. The signs say, “Kill or injure a worker, blah—blah—blah-- and a fine.” What about these guys?
Soon we were through the construction zone and I saw the signs for Benton Harbor. Aaaah nearly time to rest! I felt such relief!
I found the next rest area, parked the van, jarring the family awake. “Mommy, I need to go to the bathroom.” Ugh, figures! I waited, hoping the rain would let up, but it poured harder; more like an army of fire hoses aimed directly at me.
I hurried the boys across the parking lot and back. Impressively, I was able to keep them dry while I returned soggy, with no way of reaching dry clothes.
Wet, chilled, and unable to sleep, I sat behind the steering wheel listened as my family, snug in warm blankets, settled back into their blissful slumber. The dashboard clock counted away the minutes, finally welcoming sunrise. Eight o’clock arrived. I shifted into reverse, and backed out of the parking spot and aimed west, towards I-94.
I parked in front of the SOS office at eight-thirty. I prayed hard as police toured the parking lot, Please God, I’ve made it this far. Hide that plate from them.
The lineup began at the doors; I jumped out of the van to stake my spot. A lady came, unlocked the door then we rushed the desk.
Within minutes a current sticker was affixed to the license plate and I was back in the van, ready to continue our journey around Lake Michigan into the Upper Peninsula.
Dan stirred, opened his eyes, and smiled at me. “Good morning honey. Are we almost to Benton Harbor so we can begin our adventure?”
I chuckled. “I’ve already had mine.”
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