Cold Fusion – Cross Country Road Trip Edition

I have always wanted to drive across the great land we call America. Don’t know why, just have always thought that I need to see and feel just how big this place is as well as soak all in the differences. Vive le difference!

The opportunity came when my sister Betsy’s Navy husband, Marc Orgain, was scheduled to once again transfer  – this time to Norfolk from San Diego. She lamented hauling all their stuff across the country again and so I offered to drive her car.

Betsy thought I was (and am) crazy but after all of their moves, readily agreed. Then I asked our boys, William (20) and John (14) if they wanted to go. Initially they agreed with not a lot of interest, (“yeah sure”) but their excitement grew. Then I asked Dad if he wanted to go and as usual he said, “let me think about it”  – which means yes – eventually. He’s very deliberate.


– picture from FAME Recording Studios Muscle Shoals, AL – Me, John, William, and Dad (Bill)

So I called Dad when airline tickets needed to be locked in to see if he wanted to go, “Do the boys want to go?” he asked.

“yeah, they’re looking forward to it.”

“Okay – then I’ll go. I mean I would have gone with you, but…now this is going to be pretty cool!”

“No worries Dad. We’re all looking forward to it.”

We met up in the Charlotte Airport via Charlottesville for Dad and Richmond for the three of us.

We landed about 5 hours later in San Diego after an uneventful (yay) flight – got a quick cab to the hotel which was brand new and just on the other side of the airport. Hilton Garden Inn. Nice. New. Very new. They had three times the number of people preying on…I mean helping people unload their cars …than they did checking us in. Which we did. Then we went to the San Francisco Giants – San Diego Padres game.

The excited, but tiring group arrived just as the National Anthem started  which was 10:45 EST. GREAT ball park that Petco Park –  it just hosted the All Star Game that previous Tuesday. We got tickets as we walked up since we didn’t know if the flight would get us there in time.  So why book ahead, right? At that point, we were at the mercy of the Ticket Gods and did ok.


Petco Park

Gorgeous, right? A couple of hot dogs, cheese steaks, big beers, and a Padres 4-1 win over the Madison Bumgarner led Giants later left us with body times of 2am EST as we hit the sheets. Exhausted. San Diego has a Gas Lamp District near the stadium but we were too tired to notice beyond “oh, hey…look at that.”

Woke up and cabbed over to Coronado Island to pick up Betsy’s Toyota Highlander arriving back at the hotel by 6:30am. We departed San Diego at 7am hoping to make Phoenix for lunch with Mom’s sister Marty around noon at The Duce near Chase Field in Downtown Phoenix.

The Duce is one of those quirky, awesome joints on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives show on the Food Network. John likes visiting those joints. And so do we  – but that’s really his thing. Great food there.

Oh and yeah Phoenix is mucho caliente throughout the year. In July, it’s just below surface of the Sun kind of hot. While it’s a dry heat – 108 is still 108. Mango Foxtrot was it hot. We had a really nice visit with Marty who has been battling cancer for, gosh, six years now – but as soon as we saw/hugged her she cried about missing her older sister – Mom – who passed three and a half years ago.

“I still cry!” she said shaking her head.

I replied, “That’s because it still sucks…” She laughed. Marty has always had a great laugh. Super neat lady.

She ordered a Hamm’s Beer with lunch! HELLO? Hamm’s ?! Cool chick. We had the DDD menu items – chicken pot pie (RIDICULOUS), the sliders (AWESOME) and mac & cheese muffins (must try) – but that chicken pot pie stole the show. Quirky, fun place  – highly recommend. John highly approved.

Oh and you park in back. That way you don’t drive around looking for another restaurant, then call The Duce and actually ASK if they are open to which they reply “yes, park in back…” That way, you won’t feel like or look like to your sons – a total moron. But I managed. Dad picked me up with a timely, “Nice going, butthead.”


SOMBRERO NIGHT! And against the L.A. Dodgers.  Only 20,000 sombreros are given out. Yes, we made the cut. HELL YES we went right when the gates opened!!! (Shhhh…sombreros made in Vietnam, don’t want folks to think trading with former adversaries is good for living standards and the whole peace v war thing)

Four Amigos

The game went to extra innings so we left  after 10 to make the drive to Flagstaff. Diamondbacks won 2-1 on Jake Lamb’s  12th inning triple AGAINST the Dodgers’ shift. Gotta be honest  –  Dodger RF Yasiel Puig was awful. Not impressed. Dodgers need to trade that guy….AWFUL.

Woke up in Flagstaff – scarfed down the Hampton Inn breakfast and made tracks for Monument Valley, Utah. If you haven’t been – make plans. GORGEOUS part of America made famous by filmmaker John Ford. I’d always wanted to go – so, we went. Monument Valley

The drive up to this part of very Southern Utah was incredible unto itself, but being there with my Dad and sons made the entire trip worthwhile. And this was just day two! Great gift shop there – bought my first cowboy hat. Because. It’s. What. You. Do. There is a hotel at Monument Valley as well. Next time.

Hit a Sonic in Kayenta, AZ and made out for Albuquerque. The one in New Mexico.

That was a long drive through pretty country. Pretty but also very poor Native American reservation land. Which was sad but also encouraging. But I don’t know why exactly. Maybe it’s the limitless sky that just gives hope and optimism. Anyway…off to Albuquerque. No, New Mexico.

Got into ABQ just in time to shower up and get picked up by our dear friend whom we have known for well over 20 years in the bottled water business  – Jeff Vinyard. No relation to Martha. (rimshot)

Jeff owns Crystal Spring Bottled Water.

Vinyard - Topes

Jeff took us to the Albuquerque Isotopes vs the Memphis Red Birds game. Fantastic AAA ball park where the dessert of choice is….Bananas Foster

Right – single batch made Bananas Foster.

Flambé and everything! That’s William’s hand. My attempt to taste was way too late. Thankfully, the bar had no such problem serving Lagunitas IPAs. They even run tabs.

And the ‘Topes won! 7-6  – very windy start with a LOT of home runs. The wind died down and so did the scoring. BUT – we did bring three consecutive home teams wins to the Padres, Dbacks, and Isotopes all of which are having terrible years. So…yes – it was us. Obviously.

The Isotopes name comes from ONE episode of The Simpsons  which helped explain why Homer Simpson greets you on the door to the men’s room. Don’t freak out, it’s a poster – not a guy in a Homer Simpson’s outfit. That would be creepy. Right?

In the morning, Dad wanted to see Jeff’s bottling operation which put us on the road to Oklahoma City at 8am. That’s actually 9am OKC time. If you have the chance to drive from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City  – fly.

After you get out of the Sandia Mountains east of ABQ – it’s dead flat until the Oklahoma border. That’s not exactly true. There is a slight bend in the road as you come into Amarillo. Oh and the 30 miles of commercial wind mills that make you say out loud, “DAMN, that’s a lot of windmills!”

Arrived OKC by 5pm having lunched at Whataburger in Amarillo. They load up the fixins there at Whataburger – I pressed my luck with green chilies and won.

Some of our dearest friends, Steve Raupe and his sister Karen Hanstein, are in Oklahoma City.  OKC could be almost a second home to me -absolutely love it there.

Fun fact – Oklahomans eat beef.  Pictured below is said beef.

Can you say, “Primal?”


Allegedly there was salad, too. And I think someone said something about asparagus. There are no pictures of the lamb chops that came from Steve’s sister – Karen Hanstein’s kitchen/outdoor grill.

Some foods never, ever leave you because they were able to find uncharted areas of your brain. Those lamb chops made a final resting place in my Lobus Ganglia Delecti – or OMG for short.

Karen’s house is a naughty, food porn emporium and she’s a great hostess. Honestly, if you recorded the sounds of us eating that night and cut out the actual words then played it back it would have been rated X. Wait, are there X ratings anymore?

Oh, here is Steve, my Dad, and yours truly at the Eureka Water Company the next day. We survived dinner. And the bourbon. But we tried…we really really tried.


Again after hitting Sonic – drive thru this time – we targeted Tulsa for lunch with Dad’s sister Ann, my cousin Heather and her son Ian, as well as Ann’s other grandson Noah.


We managed to try just about every burger Red Robin offers, but I went deep on the veggie burger and lettuce wrap. (Please see meat explosion above for Exhibit A) Ann looked great, Heather was spooky WAY too much like my sister Kate in her mannerisms. We told old family stories and learned about Noah (lacrosse ) and Ian (visual arts). Ian has Asperger’s and has authored some incredible sayings “Mom, sometimes life is just loud” “the strongest survivor is the one who survives himself” (WOW) and “I have never ceased to let bubbles excite me.”

Off to Memphis for….barbecue. Oh by the way, if you can’t tell the theme changed from baseball to food. GREAT food.


YUP! Made it. Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous. If it’s old, down an alley across from the Peabody, and you go down a flight of stairs…well, you have a legend.

Sampler Platter with meats, pickles, peppers, and cheese? Yes, please.

Brisket?. Yes. Pork shoulder? Duh. Ribs? Best rub ever. Chicken? Nailed it.

We all shared/tasted each other’s dinners. Thus the faces you see above in the After picture.

Also recommend the Wiseacre IPA. Local brew apparently – lovely compliment to the meal. Served in a pitcher. Thankfully.

The kicker? William and John both agreed the Rendezvous has the best Sweet Tea. EVER. Now, if you aren’t from the South, you don’ t get that. If you are, you have already Googled the address and recipe.

Onto Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Muscle Shoals

More to come on Muscle Shoals and why. Watch the documentary “Muscle Shoals” on Netflix. Life changing for me. Had to go. Did. Loved it. Gift shop made quota.

Then found a great Mexican place  – Rosie’s Cantina in Florence, AL. Good Mexican food, but the kicker? Vanilla Soft Serve Ice Cream for dessert.

Sax, that’s not really a thing.

It is when it is FREE.

HELLO! bring four!

Next stop – drinking with Jack Mitchell in Murfreesboro, TN. Thankfully, he’s a lawyer. Criminal defense. Which helps when your son John is kicking back Cream Sodas. Deep South Growlers, good to see you again.


But OH THAT DINNER AT THE MITCHELLS. Mother of God. THAT was good eating.

All honor and praise to the cooking duo of Jack and Sandy Mitchell of the Murfreesboro Mitchells.

Two of the finest people I have ever known. Dad, “Does Jack have a mean bone in his body? He is so nice.”


Menu if memory serves –

Fresh catfish marinated in buttermilk delicately fried to perfection. (which was enough but…)

Mac and cheese….Boy, don’t you even think Kraft. Green beans…yes, bacon included.

TO DIE FOR Cole Slaw – William said best ever. Dad was unable to speak due to the catfish.

Then Pina Colada Cake for dessert. Naughty, naughty, naughty….

Neighbors Marty and Wendy laughed graciously at the stories Jack and I told from our collegiate years at Washington and Lee while agreeing there is NO WAY IN HELL we would last in today’s ultra PC campus non reality living. NO WAY IN HELL.

Oh, yeah….apparently Dad had never heard ANY of those stories. But he laughed like all get out.

Got up the next morning – how I have NO idea – and the Mitchells welcomed us to the counter with eggs, bacon, and yes biscuits. I lunged for the water. Did you know bourbon has been known to dehydrate? It’s true. Another fun (not so fun) fact.

Drove Dad back to Staunton via I-40 (YES STILL) and then I-81 in Virginia – which was the worst driving but prettiest section of the trip.  It really is pretty. Then the boys and I drove to Richmond.

2,958 miles later.

Worth every single one of them.

Dad said it was one of the Top Ten events of his life. That moved me greatly. Still does. Probably always will.

No better exclamation to one amazing, fun, crazy food filled, long drive across our Great Nation with family and great friends along the way.

There is no place better on Earth this awesome country of yours.

Go see it.

And do what we did  – leave the radio off – just talk.

A lot.

Or not.

But do it.


p.s. I forgot to mention we also drove through Arkansas. But there’s a reason I forgot – they didn’t put ANYTHING near I-40. That’s not true – they have trees.


Chris Saxman

About Chris Saxman

Father of four, small business leader, retired politician, and Executive Committee member and former Chairman of an international trade association, Chris Saxman delivers strategy and insight as a political coach and keynote speaker. Contact Chris.

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