This is a series of updates on our projects and personal lives. It's a break from writing about painting furniture and making lamps out of teapots, and - while mostly factual - isn't totally factual. The part about me being an ax murderer DEFINITELY isn't true. Or is it?
We drove for 45 hours and put some 2,700 miles on the car last week as we headed to Charlotte, NC to meet with one of the manufacturing partners of our furniture company. The decision to drive halfway across the United States and back within a work week made plenty of sense before we actually did it. After the fact? Did I mention that I did all the driving? And that it rained most of the drive home? Yeah.
As a kid, road trips were THE BEST. They meant:
- a refreshing departure from the familiarity of my hometown
- a glimpse of the majestic and varied scenery that comprises our nation (I'm not being snarky - this is the best thing about U.S. road trips)
- and the chance to spend an entire week with my family in motels, campgrounds, and cabins, which, to a kid, is totally rad
As an adult, road trips mean:
- forgetting at least one critical item at home, which is why we have a dozen iPhone chargers
- searching frantically for a clear NPR signal as semi trucks fly past at eighty or ninety thousand miles per hour1
- choosing where to stop for lunch: a McDonald's-that-is-also-a-gas-station or a Subway-that-is-also-a-gas-station
So when, three weeks ago, Roger and I decided we needed to visit North Carolina, and that we had to do so the following week, and that I had take along a bunch of video gear, and that because airlines aren't exactly cool with me stuffing 15 pieces of equipment into the overhead bin we were going to be forced to drive rather than fly...well, I was just ecstatic.
Allow me to break down each day of our trip for you, because this is fascinating, right? Right?
Drive. Drive. Drive. Dart into the left side shoulder to avoid running over a piece of semi trailer tire that I'm pretty sure I saw a dude try to flip on an episode of The World's Strongest Man. Watch as life flashes before eyes. Drive. Stop for some kolaches in West, TX, which I attempt to eat while driving and immediately drop onto my pants. Drive. Skirt around Dallas, a city whose drivers take Austinites' trademark inattentiveness and add a heaping helping of recklessness. Drive. Enter Arkansas, land of pine trees and markedly nicer rest stops. Stop at a Subway/gas station for a turkey sandwich with extra petroleum. Drive. Arrive at Roger's parents' house.
Oh, yeah. We planned out the trip to stop over in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a charming little resort town nestled in a national park with natural springs bubbling up everywhere. It was a favorite vacation destination of Al Capone. It's where Bill Clinton went to high school. And it's the home of Roger's parents John and Mary, not to mention Roger's sister Robin and her husband John. Lots of Johns in this family.
The Hazards are all wonderful and bright and accomplished and unfailingly kind to me. Also, they have a cat. She's very pretty, and less mean than our cat. So, yes, I was totally down for spending the night in Hot Springs.
Drive. Drive. Look at the GPS. Realize we're only 3% of the way to our destination. Stop to refuel car and google "how many cups of coffee can you drink in one day without dying?" Drive some more. Enter Tennessee, where every radio station is religious, country, or religious country. And one that plays The Dave Ramsey Show on a loop. Drive.
Tennessee is a cruelly-shaped state; cruel in that I always find myself driving across it (which takes forever) rather than down it (which is a cake walk).
Did I mention that we were driving across Tennessee on Super Tuesday? Which explains why the "Newt 2012" bus was Super Tailgating us. If he'd gotten to Nashville just a few minutes earlier, Gingrich probably wouldn't have come in third.2
Smoky Mountains? Beautiful, and less smoky than anticipated. North Carolina? Also beautiful. I presume. It was very late by this point, so I couldn't really see from the Interstate. Are we near Charlotte? Can I stop driving now? I'd really like to stop driving now. Can I take this exit? How many more miles? Really?
Pulling into the driveway of my sister-in-law's house - Roger's other sister Tracy and her husband Jim (not named John, thankfully, for ease of differentiation) - was A VERY NICE THING. Their house is lovely, set back from the street in a heavily-treed neighborhood, and is decorated in a way that lets you know that talent for design is at least partially genetic. (Robin's Arkansas house is also rad.)
Tracy and Jim greeted us, offered us refreshments, and helped us unload the car. I'm afraid that, due to SuperExhaustionTM and clinically-diagnosed please-can-i-stop-driving-now-itis, I was unable to contribute my urbane, hyper-literate wit to the conversation.3 It was late, we'd had a very long day, and I was demolished. And I still had to catch up on some work before sleep. If you were a recipient of one of the emails I sent out that night, I truly apologize. I may have just been randomly mashing my fingers on the keyboard. I really don't remember.
Awake. Breakfast. (Thanks, Jim!) Pile equipment back into the car. Drive an hour or so to meet with our furniture partner at their storefront. Immediately drive another hour or so to visit the factory. Woodworking. Sawdust. Frames. Sinuous springs. Pocket coil springs. Robotic CNC equipment. Foam cushions. Down cushions. Foam/down hybrid cushions. Tufting. Folding. Welting. Twill. Denim. Linen. Leather.
North Carolina has historically been an epicenter for furniture manufacturing in the U.S., made ideal by an ample supply of lumber and nearby textile mills. Thousands of skilled tradespeople from the area worked in factories of all sizes, manufacturing sofas, chairs, and case goods. Then furniture retailers started hunting for bigger profit margins. Consumers got hooked on the cheap and the disposable, even for large pieces of furniture. Many of the furniture retailers moved their manufacturing operations overseas, leaving skilled North Carolinians out of work.
Well. All things are cyclical, no?
The furniture industry in North Carolina is seeing a resurgence. Companies have rediscovered the logistical advantages of working with manufacturers based in the U.S. Consumers appreciate the quality workmanship and tougher regulations on what chemicals are allowed in and around their new sofa.
Besides, maybe we don't need to buy furniture that only lasts four years. Maybe we should spent a little more for quality, fill up our landfills a little less aggressively, and be happy with something that endures.
We will have a lot more to share about this in the very near future, so I'm not going to spoil it. But all of Wednesday was spent hammering out the details on our line of sofas and chairs, selecting construction details and fabrics. I'm biased, but I think our combination of high style, comfort, and quality materials will be very hard to beat at our prices. More details very soon.
Thursday and Friday:
This post has gone on far too long, so I will reduce it to one word: Rain.
We're very happy to be home. I'm so glad that we don't have to travel for...uh...okay, we're actually probably going on another road trip in a couple of weeks, but I'm trying really hard to pretend we aren't.
- How's my driving? Press 1 for "terrifying," 2 for "horrifying," or 3 for "C'MON, GUYS, I'M IN A MINI COOPER HERE!"
- He still would have come in third.
- A hyper-literate wit which I do not actually possess, as reinforced by the fact that the last novel I read was a graphic one.
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