Remember that scene in the film Star Trek III: The Search For Spock in which the Starship Enterprise returns to Earth, and the officers on duty at Spacedock gaze sadly upon the sight of the battle damage that was inflicted by the villainous Khan in the previous movie? 

I thought of that scene this past Saturday as my wife Melissa, son Joshua and I pulled into our driveway at the conclusion of our annual two-week vacation.

No, we didn’t find ourselves in mortal combat with an evil, genetically enhanced would-be tyrant while we were on the road. We did, however, run into a spot of trouble - literally - courtesy of a one-way street in Louisiana that everybody who was in the vehicle at the time STILL maintains was not properly identified as a one-way street.

We had picked up Chuck Loridans in Shreveport just a couple of hours earlier, and the plan was for the four of us - Chuck, myself, and my wife and son - to spend the weekend in the company of our mutual friends, award-winning author Win Scott Eckert and his wife Lisa, at their home in Monroe, La. That is, Chuck was to stay with the Eckerts at their residence; my family and I had made reservations at a nearby hotel, not wanting to burden Win and Lisa with too many house guests at one time. 

At the time the plans were made, I had been under the mistaken impression - my fault, not his - that Chuck had been to visit the Eckerts at least once since they had moved to Monroe from Colorado back not quite a year ago. Turned out I'd had it backwards; it was Win and Lisa who had gone to Shreveport to visit Chuck. So this was to be Chuck’s first time in Monroe, as well, but we were not overly concerned because (yay!!) Chuck had gotten directions.

Unfortunately I got off Interstate 20 at the exit for Business 165, not Highway 165. Melissa noticed my mistake right away, and Chuck quickly advised me to turn around and go back so we could proceed to the correct exit. So I slowed down and began to make a left-hand turn to go around the block - promptly moving right into the path of another vehicle that none of us had seen come up from behind and move into my blind spot. 

And THAT'S how we learned that we had been on a one-way street. Talk about finding out the hard way... 

(On the other hand, it could have been worse. If I had gone around the block like Chuck and I originally planned, I could have hit someone head-on. Yikes!)

Fortunately nobody was hurt, and both vehicles were still drivable. Luckily I'd had the good sense to have my only traffic accident in 36 years of driving directly in front of a fire station, so a team of firefighters came rushing out almost immediately to make sure everyone was all right. One of the firemen called the police, and the nice police woman who arrived at the scene a few minutes later admitted while she was taking down my license information that the road was not marked as well as it should be, and that accidents of this kind happen along that stretch of road all too frequently. 

I noticed that didn’t stop her from giving me a ticket, though. Oh, well...

It was kind of a rough start to what eventually turned out to be a quite enjoyable vacation. Win and Lisa were perfect hosts, even bringing us to visit several local attractions such as the Poverty Point World Heritage Site, the location of one of the most important Native American archaeological sites in North America; and the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which is practically across the street from the Eckerts’ home and boasts some of the loveliest scenery I’ve seen in some time.

Win and Lisa also treated Melissa and I to our first-ever sampling of Indian cuisine - India Indian, not Native American Indian. I can’t remember right off the name of the lamb dish I had, but it was quite tasty indeed - and far different from anything you can order in Tishomingo, Oklahoma.

Win and I drove Chuck back home on Sunday, July 19, then returned to Monroe where we all spent one last evening together. The time spent with Win, Lisa and Chuck was all too short, naturally; these people are like family to us... and if anybody ever has anything bad to say about any of them, I have little doubt that it will be Melissa who will hunt that person down and make him sorry!

The Small Clan hit the road again that next morning and, more or less on a whim, decided to continue east as far as Pensacola, Fla. - a state none of us had ever been to previously. Melissa had fun at the beach (that was the whole reason she wanted to go, and who am I to deny her?), and we all went on a “dolphin cruise” into the Gulf of Mexico that was both fun and entertaining. It was a fun couple of days, despite the fact that the combined heat and humidity was pretty much unbearable most of the time we were there. 

Listen, any time the heat index is hovering near the 130-degree mark, it’s time to start seriously thinking about pitching a tent in front of the nearest air conditioner!

As usual, we also had the chance to visit several used book stores during our travels. In fact I probably came home with more additions to my personal library this year than the last time I went to PulpFest in 2013, thanks to our visits to two different bookstores in the Monroe area with Chuck and Win and three more in the Houston, Texas, area during the return trip. In all I came back with a total of 26 new books for my collection, the crown jewels of which were a 1968 British hardcover edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Refugees; and a 1963 hardcover collection of six of Street & Smith's original "Nick Carter" detective pulp novels published between 1886 and 1902. (And those 26 titles don't include books that Melissa and Joshua both bought, or the Classics Illustrated comic book adaptation of Frank Buck's Bring 'Em Back Alive that I picked up for $3 in the one comic book store we visited in Monroe.)

Unfortunately we hit another sour note during the trip back home, when we reached our motel room one night and learned about the theatre shootings that had occurred earlier that same day in Lafayette, La. We had made a gas stop in Lafayette just a few hours before that senseless tragedy occurred. 

Overall, though, it was a fun trip which gave me the opportunity to cross off two more states (Alabama and Florida) off my “Never Been To” list. Only 10 more states and I will have been to all 50.

And thus does the long, slow march to Vacation 2016 begin...

(Copyright © 2015, by John A. Small)