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Cruise of a Lifetime
The internet, a hotrod and a journey

The Cruise of a Lifetime
by Terry & Kathy

This is the story about the magic of the Internet, a hotrod Chevy, a 2,700-mile cross-country trek and the girl that said ‘yes’ to a sky-high proposal. My wife Kathy and I own a 1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air, 2-door post with a 427 Corvette “Big Block” and T-10 4-speed. I purchased this classic beauty in April 2004 on an Ebay auction from a couple in southern Georgia.

Our story begins with EHarmony.com, as that’s how Kathy and I met. Kathy lived in a cute little condo in Citrus Heights close to most of her family (she’s one of six children) and her nursing administration job in Roseville. I was in Pleasanton were I had lived for almost 30-years.

Kathy was a single mom with three grown children, one 16-year old teenage daughter and one 18-month old grandson. I was a recent widower with two grown sons and two young grandsons. Kathy’s friends at work encouraged her to try EHarmony while it was my younger son, Mark, who pushed me into trying this 21st century marvel of computer science.

After going through the prescribed, very formatted EHarmony introduction process and exchanging a whole string of emails, I finally got the nerve to ask Kathy for her phone number. I think it was during our 5th phone conversation that I suggested that we meet for dinner. She agreed and we had our 1st Date at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Stockton.

At the time, I had a 55 Chevy big window pick-up that I had purchased from a young man who was getting married, moving to Oklahoma and needed cash. It was a nice ride, but not what I really wanted - 55 Bel-Air. I kept promising Kathy that I would bring the truck out to Sacramento and take her on a cruise up Highway 49, but before she got her ride, I sold the truck to a guy from Hawaii. This was on Saturday.

Kathy was a little upset that she didn’t get her ride, but what she didn’t know was that I had been tracking a beautiful 55 Bel-Air that was offered on Ebay. I called her the next day and told her that she was going to get that ride after all as I had just purchased a Chevy 2-door hotrod from a couple in Georgia. At that point I think that she was beginning to have 2nd thoughts about our budding relationship, not being familiar with how rodder’s do things. We were talking about how I was going to get the car shipped to California, whether I should go with a closed or open trailer and how long it would take. Suddenly I got the crazy idea about driving the car from Georgia.

I asked Kathy if she could get a weeks vacation and if she would like to take the ‘Cruise of a Lifetime’ with me in a real 50’s hotrod. She got really excited about the idea but then her voice changed. She told me that she couldn’t go until after the State performed the required yearly inspection of the skilled nursing facility where she worked. She added that the inspectors were due to arrive any day but it could be another 2 to 4 weeks, so we agreed to table that idea and I continued with planning the shipment of the Chevy from Georgia to Pleasanton. This was on Sunday.

On Monday morning I got an early morning phone call from a very happy sounding Kathy. The State inspectors were at her facility and she had already asked and received approval from her boss to take the following week off to go to Georgia. THE TRIP WAS ON.

The following Thursday I drove to Citrus Heights to pick up Kathy and start an adventure that lasted just a few days but one that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We drove back to Pleasanton where Mark was waiting to take us to the Oakland Airport. After stopping for dinner, he told me to be careful driving that ‘old rickety car’, gave us both a hug and we were off.

The first leg of our flight was from Oakland to Las Vegas that took about 90 minutes. After the usual coke and peanuts had been served and the cabin lights were dimmed, I reached in my jeans pocket and pulled out an engagement ring. Before Kathy knew what hit her, I put the ring on her finger and asked her to marry me. At that moment, Kathy and I had been dating for just over one month. To my surprise and amazement she said, “Yes.” Needless to say, neither of us got much sleep on our redeye flight from Vegas to Atlanta.

We landed at around 6:00 AM, rented a car and drove the 150 miles from Atlanta to the little southern Georgia town of Aribi. Along the way we stopped at a Waffle House for breakfast and Kathy got her first taste of grits. This was Friday.

The Chevy’s owners, Glenn and Kathy, insisted that we stay with them instead of renting a room. They put us up in a 100-year old hunting cabin that was next to a beautiful pond on land that has been in Kathy’s family since before the Civil War. Talk about southern hospitality, these folks took us to dinner at their favorite restaurant where we had the opportunity to meet the Governor of Georgia. After dinner, they lead us about 40-miles to the Albany Airport to return the rental car and then drove us back to the cabin. As it was raining hard that night, Glenn suggested that we stay another day and offered his pick-up for us to drive as he and his Kathy had to work all day on Saturday.

On Saturday morning it was still raining but not as hard. We had breakfast and came back to the cabin just in time for the rain to stop and sunshine to break through. After writing a big thank you note to our hosts, Kathy and I took off and spent the next 6 days driving our hotrod Chevy across this great land. Our cross-country trek took us through the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona on our way home to California.º Along the way we visited Elvis' birth place in Tupelo, Mississippi and his Graceland home in Memphis; crossed the mighty Mississippi River; was surprised with the beauty of the southern Ozarks; purchased Indian souvenirs in Oklahoma; were serenaded by a county band in Amarillo; climbed the majestic Rocky Mountains; survived the Arizona desert heat (no air-conditioning); and witnessed the dawn breaking over the Colorado River as we entered California.

Everywhere we stopped for gas and that was a lot of stops at 10 MPH, the Chevy drew a crowd. Kathy was amazed at how total strangers would walk up to the car and start relating stories about how their dad had a 55 Chevy or that they remembered getting their first kiss in the backseat of a 55 or their brother, who was killed in Vietnam, had a 55. To Kathy, our Chevy became a magical mirror that allowed people to see back over the years to the happy days and times of their youth. But regardless of their age, where they came from or where they were going everyone wanted to see and hear the roar of that Big Block engine.

The first night out we spent in Knoxville, Alabama. While we were eating dinner it started raining again, really hard. The Chevy has the original vacuum windshield wipers that work OK, but not so good in a driving rainstorm. On the way back to the motel, 1st we hit an armadillo that caused a huge thud and scarred us both and then a train came at us out of nowhere. Apparently we had crossed an un-signaled set of railroad tracks and the rear of the Chevy was only 15 or 20 feet from that fast moving train. The combination of the rain; and not being able to see more than a few feet in front of the car; and seeing the train’s headlights bearing down on us; and then having the train’s whistle going off practically in our back seat; we both let out a scream and thought that we were dead meat for sure. Looking back now, it’s funny … you had to be there!

The 2nd night we spent in Russellville, Arkansas. The innkeeper told us to eat at the bar-b-que place next door, as it was the best food in town. As usual, Kathy ordered a glass of wine. The waiter gave her a shocked look and said, “Miss, this is a dry county and TODAY IS SUNDAY.” Kathy had never traveled in the South before and was unaware of the Blue Laws that still exist down there. She was able to get all the wine she wanted in Amarillo the next night.

At a gas stop in Oklahoma, the owner of the station invited us to take a tour of his private auto museum. This guy buys old cars and trucks that he finds parked in barns, garages and under trees all over Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. He tows them back to his station and restores them to like-new condition. He then puts these beauties on display in his showroom like convenience store at his gas station.º He told me that he has restored over 50 classics. He only buys, he never sells.

When we crossed the Colorado River and entered California, Kathy and I both wanted to turn the Chevy around and drive back to Aribi. But Kathy had to get back to her job and I needed to get home too. It was so hot on that Wednesday that we had to stop in Needles until after sunset. The Chevy only had a 3-core radiator at that time and she was really heating up. That was the only nighttime driving that we had to do. We spent the night in Barstow and the next day drove up Highway 99 to Citrus Heights.

The Chevy did fine and passed everything on the road but numerous gas stations. However, when we pulled into Kathy’s daughter’s driveway, the clutch bracket broke. only a mile down the road from Sara’s house and just around the corner from Kathy’s condo.

On March 12, 2005 Kathy and I were married at an outside ceremony at the LOP Clubhouse. It was a crystal clear day with no wind and the bluest sky that we had ever seen. Polished up for the occasion, the Chevy was parked in front of the LOP clubhouse and it drew almost as much attention as the bride and groom did. Kathy still complains that our photographer took more photos (27) of the car than he did of her and her attendants (15) before the wedding started. My oldest grandson carried a model of the Chevy with the rings carefully tied to the roof. The top of the cake was decorated with a bride and groom riding in a hotrod and, of course, Kathy and I drove off in our hotrod Chevy.

Our Trek across America may have been over - but ‘our ‘Lifetime Cruise’ is just getting started.
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