A Final Thought: The Best Laid Plans


By Mitch Allen

My wife is a strategic planner by both vocation and genetic predisposition. She’s always ready with a Band-aid or one of those tiny screwdrivers to open the battery compartment of a grandchild’s toy.

So I was shocked when she agreed to drive south with me for a belated spring break vacation with no plan—not a single hotel or dinner reservation. On the morning of April 23 (the 40th anniversary of our first date) we just hit the road like Thelma and Louise.

We did have a general itinerary: spend the first night in Birmingham, Alabama, and have breakfast the next morning with my wife’s cousin before heading down to Columbus, Georgia, our hometown, to visit her parents for a couple of days. Then we’d scoot across the state to Savannah, up to Charleston, South Carolina, then back to Northeast Ohio.

It didn’t happen this way.

On the way to B’ham we realized we’d be passing through Nashville, which seemed like a much better place to spend the night, so we booked a room at a swanky hotel featuring a pink interior, a giant Minnie Pearl rug hanging above the front desk, chandeliers made of hoop skirts, and a rooftop bar with a 7-foot tall bust of Dolly Parton serving as a selfie backdrop. In our room, a portrait of Dolly overlooked our four-poster, pink-curtained bed.

Most of the guests were twenty-something young women in miniskirts, cowboy boots, and midriff tops exposing diamond-studded belly buttons and more ink than the local library, so I asked a woman at the front desk if this was some kind of Dallas Cowboy cheerleader convention. “No,” she replied. “Why do you ask?”

That evening a Lyft driver took us to a hip oyster bar. He was from Poland via Turkey and was doing a culinary internship at a restaurant in the city. His school gave him the choice of Miami, Nashville or Denver and, like Goldilocks, he thought one was too hot, one was too cold and Nashville was just right. When I told him he was welcome to join us in Cleveland, he asked, “Is that a state?”

I wanted to laugh, but quickly realized there are 50 states in our great nation and learning them all is as difficult for him as it would be for me to learn the 44 countries of Europe. To the untrained ear, Iowa and Mississippi—both Native American names—sound just as strange as Moldova and Liechtenstein.

That evening my wife’s cousin called to say her daughter’s softball tournament in Atlanta was running long and she would not be able to meet us in Birmingham as planned, so the next morning we drove to my wife’s parents’ house where we enjoyed my mother-in-law’s famous Sunday pot roast dinner.

The next night we were supposed to meet my Uncle Ray and a few cousins for dinner in Phenix City, Alabama, but a sinkhole appeared in the middle of Crawford Road and closed down traffic. My cousins saw the sinkhole as further evidence that we are indeed in the End Times and canceled our dinner in order to stay home and prepare to be raptured.

The next morning after visiting my uncle, my wife’s recently paid-off German luxury sedan died in the middle of an intersection and I watched as it was hauled away by a tow truck. A service manager called later to say a bolt holding up a transmission cooling line had fallen out, causing the line to drop against the axle, which rubbed a hole in it allowing our transmission fluid to leak out all over East Alabama.

The repair took three days and cost two mortgage payments. It turns out transmission fluid in said German luxury sedan runs $93 a quart, so I suggested they fill the transmission with Moët & Chandon. It would be cheaper.

I saw the car trouble as a blessing, however. We had broken down in front of our former high school, a mile from my in-laws’ house instead of on a mountainous Kentucky interstate beside a runaway truck ramp.

Rather than hanging out for three days, we decided to drive to Ft. Walton Beach in the panhandle of Florida. My wife’s parents graciously loaned us their car and four hours later we were drinking margaritas on the beach. It was late-April—after spring break and before summer vacation—so it was easy to get a last-minute, ocean-front room. And because of the timing, there were few kids. The beach was dotted only with the middle-aged and moderately obese, so we fit right in. We could struggle to rise from our beach chairs with no fear of judgement.

Two days later while sitting on the beach contemplating our departure, my wife held my hand and said, “This is not the plan, but I’ve seen enough antebellum stuff in my life. Can we skip Savannah and Charleston? I want to stay here on the beach with you.”

In that moment I fell in love with her again. I texted my father-in-law to ask if he would mind driving the newly repaired German luxury sedan a few more days so we could stay in Florida. He texted back, “Sure. Stay as long as you want. Y’all have fun.”

And we did.


Categories: Smart Living