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The Yankee Express

Sisters Take 5,500 mile Mid-America Trip

By Janet Stoica

This summer had to be hotter than Hades but when Brenda Pepka of Charlton and her sister, Jean, retired from their jobs recently and decided to plan a trip to visit their (now former) company acquaintances in the northern and southern parts of the USA they certainly had no way of knowing that they’d be traveling during the hottest summer on record. Their trusty vehicle’s air conditioning never failed them, thank goodness, and they managed to cover 5,500 miles in two-and-a-half weeks.
They planned their own routes and began their adventure on July 4th by driving over 600 miles from Charlton MA to Niagara Falls NY. “We had both already seen the Falls on our individual previous trips,” said Brenda, “but our first destination was Detroit, Michigan and going through Canada by way of Niagara Falls saved us a good amount of time and mileage. For the record, it saved them five hours of driving time and several hundred miles. 
“In our company positions, we both travelled extensively to various business locations,” said Brenda, “but when COVID came along, our traveling came to a halt. We had already met and worked with many of the people we hoped to see on our car trip so we expected this to be quite the adventure driving to locations we had flown to in the past.” Brenda’s work position involved software training and her sister Jean’s job was sales estimates and quoting. Their company’s home office was in San Jose CA and specialized in private-label contract manufacturing in the areas of medical, automotive, and home appliances.  The organization also had a very large regional office network. During the course of their employment they had befriended and developed a large network of great acquaintances. Their “retirement tour” included visits to many of their long-time associates.
“The temperatures were unbelievably high even in the Niagara Falls vicinity,” Brenda stated, “you would’ve thought the cool water of those thundering cascades would’ve absorbed some of the nearby heat but not so. Our hotel’s air conditioning took better care of us!  From Niagara we crossed the border into Canada to save time and mileage. Crossing over the majestic Blue Water Bridge was a beautiful ride despite waiting in the long lines of traffic that included tractor/trailers and lots of buses.”  Reconstruction of the bridge began on July 5 so it must’ve been unnerving waiting in those long traffic lines. The ride usually takes no more than 30 minutes even in rush-hour traffic but Brenda and Jean’s journey took twice as long. 
Onward to Detroit where they actually stayed in Livonia MI about 20 miles outside of Detroit. Here they met up with a good friend who was a Romanian immigrant along with her husband. “Oh my gosh,” said Brenda, “she and her husband invited us to their home for a nice visit and brought out appetizers. We thought the appetizers were delicious and way more than enough but then they said dinner was ready!  We were surprised about having dinner when we had already enjoyed delicious appetizers but the main course was some of the best baked chicken with garlic and olive oil that we’d ever tasted. Such a very nice and generous couple. They spoke about their Romanian homeland and also about the land of opportunity right here in America.”
The sisters next made their way to Louisville KY for one quick night and then it was on to Nashville TN. “Nashville was by far my favorite,” Brenda explained, “there were so many beautiful parks like Bicentennial and Centennial that had so many events and interesting sights to see. It was educational for sure. So many music and art festivals, it was wonderful. The architecture was amazing. The Parthenon replica was the exact size of the original structure in Athens, Greece. Amazing for sure. Dedications to Tennessee history had a lot of civil war information as well as World War II and Industrial Revolution facts.”
Next stop, Texarkana, which is an eastern Texas city with its counterpart across the border in Arkansas. “We were focused on getting to Waco TX at this point,” said Brenda, “about four hours of driving time away. We had another friend who grew up in Waco which is also famous for being the home-base of Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of the HGTV show Fixer Upper who now have their own TV network, Magnolia. There were visible landmarks from the Gaines’ which were so very obvious when we saw the huge silos/storage facilities with their names emblazoned on their sides. They also have their own shop of products there.”  On to Austin!
About 100 miles to the south is Austin, the capital of Texas and known for being the “live” music capital of the world as compared to Nashville TN being the home of “recorded” music according to Brenda and the Texas website. “We took a duck-boat tour expecting to cool off,” said Mrs. Pepka, “what a mistake that was! The average temp there was way more than 90 degrees. As a matter of fact, we casually tracked the temps we experienced and in Louisville KY the average was in the 80’s, Nashville 90’s, Waco 100’s, and Austin came in at 107.  I have to tell you though that we did enjoy the Austin vibe. It’s an old city for sure but with really beautiful architecture and many musicians’ studios. Also, our former company’s operational center was there with many employees whom we had worked with. We stayed there for two days and had great fun. We were invited out to some clubs to experience the Texas Two-Step dance. We declined going out on the dance floor but enjoyed watching others have fun with it. And, Texas barbecue!  Wow, just amazing for sure!  We went to a recommended place, arriving at 10:30 a.m., only to find the waiting line queued down the long sidewalk. There must’ve been 70 people in front of us. We did wait and ordered up barbecued turkey, brisket, and pork with a sauce variety and sides of cole slaw, salad, and mac ‘n cheese. We were not disappointed!  Everything was excellent!”
“Atlanta GA came next for us where we met up with old friends and a former Massachusetts’ supervisor. Basically, we chilled here as we’d already been to and seen the local sights previously. Chattanooga TN was our next one-day stop where we visited an art gallery that had indoor/outdoor exhibits. Sorry, too hot for outdoor strolling. We then drove to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge TN. By the time we parked our car and walked over to the entry gate, we were heat and humidity-exhausted so opted to leave. There weren’t many people entering the place so we felt the heat and oppressive humidity were the culprits. Besides, it was $25 to park your car and $90 for a Dollywood ticket so that was that. We made a side trip to Sevierville TN, where Dolly Parton grew up. Of course, the town is very built up now but it was still interesting to visit. 
“After making a few other side trips, we headed for home and stopped in Martinsburg, West Virginia for an overnight stay. We’d had it by that time but I have to say that Yes, I’d do this trip all over again. We should’ve taken more time. Originally we’d planned to be home on July 25 but the intense heat was truly way too much. We made it home a few days earlier than the 25th. I’m glad I did it though. Definitely got to a lot of places that I never knew I’d ever visit. I would’ve enjoyed staying in Baton Rouge LA and also Louisville KY. If I did it again, I’d stop at more cities and towns off the beaten path. Next time maybe a trip down the West Coast. I’ve flown out to Seattle WA, Portland OR, San Jose CA, and San Diego CA but driving would be so much more interesting!”
Contact Janet: [email protected]