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Planes. Trains. Automobiles.

In the most recent installment of this very column, you may have read some very positive things about Delta Airlines. Well, in this issue, I come not to praise Delta, but to–oh, you know what, tweren’t none of them there’s fault. Honestly, they probably had a worse day than me.

Here’s the deal: On the way back from a recent trip to the lovely burg of Traverse City, Michigan, some serious weather got between me and a ham sandwich–a ham sandwich located at my home in the equally lovely burg of Palm Coast, Florida.

My flight plans had me going from Traverse City to Detroit, Detroit to Atlanta, and then finally from Atlanta to Daytona. Of course, there’s no way not to go to Atlanta if you’re going to Daytona. The smallish Daytona Beach International Airport is primarily served by Delta Air Lines, and Atlanta is their main hub. They say if you die in Daytona, you have to go through Atlanta to get to heaven. Of course, even if you ended up in hell, it would still be better than your stopover at the Atlanta airport.

I got my first whiff of trouble barely an hour into my 25-minute flight from Traverse City to Detroit. My perceptive skills are keen like that. Bad weather had closed the Detroit airport, and we’d have to go back to Traverse City to take on something called “fuel,” which is apparently important to modern aircraft. After another hour on the ground back in Traverse City, it became clear that my options were beginning to limit themselves. See, although it may sound like a cosmopolitan destination, there simply aren’t that many flights a day to Daytona Beach. Miss a connection and your chances of making the next one are about as good as not regretting eating at the Popeye’s at the Atlanta airport.

As time wore on, it appeared that the smartest thing to do would be to cut my losses and spend another night in beautiful Traverse City, perhaps visiting National Geographic’s Birds of Paradise exhibit at the Dennos Museum Center, or enjoying a refreshing Pepsi Max® on the shores of Lake Michigan. [Note to Pepsi and National Geographic: Please forward free product certificates and photos of naked tribeswomen to jg@grassrootsmotorsports.com.]

But fate is cruel, especially in Northwest Michigan.

The day I was leaving Traverse City, the annual National Cherry Festival was beginning. For those of you unfamiliar, cherries are a BIG DEAL in Northwest Michigan. Such a big deal that each year they hold a huge festival. This year’s featured the likes of Styx and Foreigner, a kids’ pet show, and a euchre tournament. In fact, the National Cherry Festival–celebrating the harvest of the cherries in Northwest Michigan–is such a big deal they have it nearly a full month before the ACTUAL CHERRY HARVEST. Tens of thousands of pounds of cherries are flown in from the Pacific Northwest, because of some reason that apparently made sense to someone at some point. Maybe Foreigner has some answers.

Anyway, the NCF meant there were no rooms to be had in Traverse City, so leaving town was my only option. Once I got to Detroit, the weather got worse, and airport closings in New York, Boston and D.C. meant that air traffic all over the country was in full Mongolian Clusterbang mode. Long story short, I finally arrived in Altanta just in time to see the last flight to Daytona parked in my arrival gate. So they took off the bags with the plane still on the ramp—my bag naturally making the connection—pulled the Daytona-bound flight from our space, and let us into the airport.

Trust me, I’m actually getting to the point here.

Because of the earlier weather-related chaos, the Atlanta airport looked even more like a refugee camp than it usually does. A couple of quick checks of airport hotels showed that unless I was willing to pay the cost of a running Miata parts car, I’d be sleeping on the floor of the airport, where I’d likely stick. And because of the massive number of delays during the day, the earliest Delta could guarantee me a flight was at 4 p.m. the next day. Of course, I could hang out at the airport and fly standby, which sounded like so much fun I nearly missiled a log into my shorts.

No, I had only one real choice: a car.

And the truth is, as soon as I slid behind the wheel of an automobile, I was as good as home. Cars may not be as fast as modern jetliners or trains, but they’re ever so much more personal. And even though this rental car wasn’t “mine,” my name was on the contract, so it was my personal space for the 6-and-a-half-hour drive home. Even if this Dodge Avenger were the most exciting car on the road—if it were an actual Avenger, it would totally be Hawkeye—it was my car. My space. My personal bubble away from crying babies, crowded airports, and the living nightmare of being at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. Although I was going home, just knowing I could go any-the-hell-where I wanted just by turning a wheel and hitting some pedals gave me the energy for an all-night drive home to see my honey–and that sandwich. I had a giant bag of beef jerky, 30-plus hours of Phil Hendrie on my iPod, and a full tank of gas. I was ready to make I-75 my jail girlfriend, and do what so much mass transit had been unable to.

And it went pretty well for about an hour, until I decided it was time to stop for some fresh underwear at Wal-Mart and a room for the night. Hey, I’d still be home before Delta said they could get me there. On the next morning’s drive through southern Georgia, I realized that traveling by car was the only way to actually see America. Planes may get you from Point A to Point B, but you’ll never know what’s between the two. And, okay, even if the scenery in South Georgia on I-75 mostly consists of Zaxby’s franchises and billboards for tug joints, you still get plenty of time to think.

And you really get plenty of time to think when traffic was as bad as it was on this particular drive. Okay, fine, I got to the Daytona airport to claim my suitcase about 15 minutes before the rescheduled flight arrived. No, I didn’t stick around to rub it in the faces of the great unwashed masses who had left their destinies in someone else’s hands.

So while my trip may not have been as miserable as Steve Martin’s adventure from which this column borrows its title, it was certainly not the finest 30 hours of my life. I mean, I didn’t wake up with a portly man’s hand stuffed between my butt cheeks (unless we’re counting my own), but it wasn’t exactly a vacation. It did, however, reaffirm my love for the automobile. Just getting behind the wheel makes you feel free, even if it’s just a pleasant illusion.

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