Hermit Crabs are not good with Ketchup.

I am sitting beside my mom and my little brother, listening to them discuss his math lesson.

“X minus 43 equals 75 right?”
“Caleb, HOW do you read your handwriting?”
“Well… it IS hard.”
“Uh, YEAH! Your x’s and your plus signs all look alike! You have to be very precise.”
“Mom… just, mom. I have it. Don’t worry.”

I always had the same problem. I remember being very small and confused about the state of my math book. I hated math, and it never went well. I tried to do 2 years of math in one in the seventh grade, and I’m pretty sure there have never been more tears shed over numbers.

I did Switched-On Schoolhouse math, Saxon math, and ACE math. There was A Beka math, some interactive math curriculum I watched on TV, and then math at the community college I attended.
And people wonder why I’m bad at math.

At the very beginning, I did ACE math. I sat in a little desk in the front room of our house and drew circles in my little yellow math book. Then I learned 2 + 2 = 4. I remember taking a standardized test in the first grade, and they had a problem I didn’t understand: 6 ÷ 2 = ?  This posed a problem, because I had never seen the symbol “÷” before. Frustrated, I chose a random answer and hoped for the best. I shocked to learn later that that meant “divide.” Such math issues have plagued me my entire life.

Math was a small part of my education, of course. There was also Science (which I somewhat enjoyed), History (which I hated, but did okay in), English (which I loved), Creative Writing (which I ADORED), and Spelling (which I had to BEG my mother to let me take in high school, just so I could do really really well at something and feel good about myself).

Little did I know, when I was seven and marching in Atmore Christian School with my purple and pink backpack, that it would last until I was 21. It would all culminate on May 7, 2011, as I marched across the stage at Asbury University and collected a purple (empty) diploma case from Dr. Sandra Gray, a black (fancy) padfolio from a representative of the Asbury Alumni Association, and an orange (delicious) M&M from my brother, Tyler.

And then, I would pack a whole bunch of my worldly belongings into the Klunker (including, but not limited to, a box containing 2 hermit crabs, a naked half-mannequin named Phillipe, a lot of coffee mugs, 2 bottles of de-icer, and my camera). The next step was conquering the trip home.

Quite the caravan we were, as we drove my car, my mom & dad’s car, and Jonathan’s car in a long line down I-65 South early Sunday morning. We quickly learned who were the fast drivers, and who were the slow drivers. After making this trip at least ten times by myself in the past, I had to adjust to the idea of stopping four times before we ever got into Alabama… I mean, really, how small can a bladder really be?!

We swung by Tuscaloosa, AL, to drop Jonathan off and plunder through his trailer to assess the state of his kitchen appliances (for those of you who are not sure what to get us for a wedding gift… MEASURING CUPS).

And then, back on the road we were. Tyler & I in the Klunker, and the rest of the family in the Suburban. Making our way home from an unfamiliar destination, we did battle with the GPS as we tried to follow Jonathan’s directions back to civilization. We hit Highway 82, not realizing the long, treacherous, empty, bleak, dull path we were about to follow.

What to do on this bleak, empty road? Bored, we utilized what was around us, and began to compile a list of the Klunker’s ailments. The passenger seat does not lay back, the ceiling is falling apart, the cruise control does not work, and the window roller-downer falls off.

Next, we set out to solve all the problems of Tyler’s life. We discussed his career opportunities, using apps on my phone to help compile a list of possible jobs he should pursue (a surgeon or lawyer, to be sure).

Bored with that, we were left with nothing to do. And with empty minds, we suddenly realized that we had empty stomachs as well. Pulling up a handy-dandy app on my phone designed to help me find food, I stared at the screen in despair as many restaurants came up, but all of the arrows beside them pointed back, behind us.
“Tyler! There is NO food in our foreseeable future.”
“You’re kidding!” His face sagged in despair and his stomach growled in anger as he clutched the steering wheel and stared at the road.

Passing an incredibly slow vehicle on the road, he stared in surprise as the steering wheel began to shake violently in his hands. “Lacey! What is happening?”
“Oh, that’s normal.”

The road continued on… and on… and on… and then there was more road. I stared in fascination at the many sights to see around us. There was a tree, and then a pothole. And then another tree.

We tried to listen to the radio. Country music? No.
Tyler tried to change the station, but the radio turned off.
“Oh, that’s normal. The radio has a short in it.”
Turning it back on, he tried to turn the volume up… and it turned off again.
“I hate your car,” he told me.

“How far are we from I-65?”
“Ask God, he’s probably the only one that knows.”
Closing my eyes in reverence, I asked. “God, how far until food?”
All we could hear in reply was the growling of our stomachs.

Paul and Phoebe (the hermit crabs) were starting to look appetizing. As visions of hamburgers and french fries danced in my head, even Phillipe’s plastic torso was in danger of being chewed on.

But suddenly, there was a light at the end of the tunnel (or the trees were thinning ahead, and we could suddenly see the sun).
We emerged from the darkness of the woods and found ourselves in a wide, open space, surrounded by places of business…. businesses designed to serve FOOD!

And then, a particularly bright beacon of hope caught Tyler’s eye, and a joyous song burst out from the depths of his soul.
“STEAK ‘N SHAKE!” he sang triumphantly, “STEAK ‘N SHAKE!”
Realizing that Steak ‘n Shake was getting closer and that he was losing his window of opportunity, he tried to get the attention of the driver in front of us (mom) in order to indicate his desire, nay, his NEED to visit that black and white striped awning.

Careening back and forth across three lanes of traffic, he started to blow the horn. Back and forth we swerved, yelling and honking.
“STEAK ‘N SHAKE!” (honk) “STEAK ‘N SHAKE!” (beep)

I grabbed my phone and tried to call mom, but unfortunately my desperation prevented me from TALKING after she answered.
“Hello?” she said.
“Steak-” I wheezed.
“-shake! Shake! Stop!” I croaked out.

I handed the phone to Tyler, who screamed inaudibly into the mouthpiece.

Drivers around us stared in fear at the sight of us, eyes glazed over, car flying around the road, horn blaring.
“STEAK ‘N SHAKE!” Tyler aimed for the left turning lane, in hopes that Mom would see him and follow, but instead she headed for the RIGHT turn lane.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!” Tyler cried in despair, laying his head on the horn (HOOOOOOOOOOONK), and turning back into traffic. Darting BACK across the three lanes, we made it into the gas station she was heading for, barely alive and still very hungry.

“Food…” we cried. “food…” crawling across the pavement in front of the BP, we moaned. “Must… have… nourishment…”

“What on earth is wrong with you guys?” asked Josh, completely unaware of the drama that had been happening on the highway behind him.

“Food!” I cried.
“STEAK ‘N SHAKE!” Tyler howled.

(Caution: if you do not like sad endings, do not continue, for this story has one).

“We can’t eat at Steak ‘n Shake,” Mom said, “because we have to eat on the road.”

The look on Tyler’s face would have made a kitten cry. “But… ” he whimpered, as visions of milkshakes melted out of his mind.

So, McDonald’s it was. And while I discovered a new addiction to frozen strawberry lemonade, Tyler choked down his McChicken and sadly wished the Steak ‘n Shake farewell.
“Goodbye, Steak ‘n Shake,” he whispered, as the tiniest of tears rolled down his cheek.
“Tyler,” I patted him on the arm, wishing for the right words of comfort in this difficult time. “There is a Steak ‘n Shake in Pensacola.”
Nodding bravely, he grasped the vibrating steering wheel and pulled back onto Highway 82.
And then we rode off into the sunset, radio flickering on and off, passenger seat in the upright position, hoping that I-65 was not far.



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