DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: A road trip in the right direction

I was at work when the phone rang. The caller was my daughter Annie, then nearing her 14th birthday. She sobbed loudly.

"Annie, what's wrong?"

"Zayn," she cried.

I could barely understand her words amid the sobs but finally caught this sentence, "Zayn is leaving One D!"

Zayn Malik was one of five members of One D, short for One Direction, then a wildly popular boy band that I knew way too much about for a woman my age.

Zayn said he just wanted to be "a normal 22-year-old." Complicating matters, of course, was the recent stripper scandal he'd faced.

Having grown up with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, I had been among the few teenagers who cared little about rock music. I had owned a vinyl record player, which I occasionally played because I knew that was what teenagers were supposed to do. I had been to only one concert while in high school and college--a John Denver performance at Arkansas State University.

Beyond Denver, the Beatles and Elvis Presley, my musical heroes over the years had ranged from Billie Holiday to Brenda Lee and the Beach Boys.

So, as Annie sobbed and I listened, I was facing one of the first tests of my teenage parenting skills.

"Wow! I just don't know what to say," I told Annie more than once.

Then I told her things would get better with time, that maybe Zayn would change his mind and return to the band. And even if he didn't, I said, there still would be the other four, including the group's Irish member, Niall Horan--the one Annie adored, the one whose picture was on her pillowcase.

"At least I got to see all five of them at the concert," she said sadly.

And she had. So had I.

It had been less than a year earlier. Annie had saved her money--and some of mine--to go to One Direction's concert at the Astrodome in Houston. Somewhere along the line, my then-86-year-old dad, aka Papaw, decided he should accompany us on the 460-mile road trip to "help out."

So, with me at the steering wheel, Annie and her earbuds to my right, and Papaw in the back seat, we departed Conway late one afternoon to the sound of not one but two GPS systems. Mine was in the front near the radio. Daddy brought one for the back seat, too, and apparently programmed it differently.

Just as mine would tell me to turn left or go straight, Daddy's would instruct me to turn right or make a U-turn. The GPS devices also talked at the same time, confusing my already aging ears and fragile nerves. At times, I decided to block both voices out since I was familiar with the first part of the route. So I put on my earphones and listened to my favorite podcast, "The Splendid Table."

I sometimes wonder why I didn't opt to listen to the more appropriate Beatles song "The Long and Winding Road."

Daddy stayed awake and alert as we drove south on Interstate 30 then west on a couple rural roads in Texas. He monitored my driving and asked me more than once if we were going in the right direction, which would be the One Direction, or maybe the two directions if I listened to both GPSes.

A long ride and a one-night roadside motel stay later, we hit the Houston freeway during afternoon rush hour. As cars rushed past us, I told Annie to pay attention for the exit to the Astrodome.

I then realized Daddy hadn't said a word for a while. I glanced back to see he was sound asleep as he lay on the back seat. I asked Annie to check to make sure he was still breathing. He was. I told her to be very quiet as I did not want to awaken him or his GPS, whose battery had conveniently gone dead somewhere in south Texas.

I decided we'd stay at an overpriced Econo Lodge within walking distance of the Astrodome. By the time we got there, Daddy was awake again.

A couple hours later, Annie and I walked the few blocks to the stadium and then what seemed like a few more blocks inside it to find our seats amid the almost entirely female crowd. The lights, the acoustics, the crowd were far more impressive and high tech than that relatively somber John Denver concert I had attended decades ago.

The stadium was packed, and we had a better view of Niall's blond locks on a huge screen than we did of him on stage. But that didn't stop Annie and thousands of other teenage girls from screaming, swooning, and occasionally singing along.

I, meantime, began a mini quest--for ear plugs. I walked throughout the entire concession area and then some looking for them. I'd have paid a mighty sum but found none for sale. After so much walking, I was thirsty. A plastic bottle of cold water cost $10. A Diet Coke was about the same, so I opted for it.

By the time we left the concert and walked back to the motel, I noticed my phone was ringing. Daddy wanted me to find the nearest pharmacy and buy him a blood-pressure monitor. He wasn't having any problems, but he liked to check his blood pressure the way some people pop pills. He did that several times during the night, finally falling asleep with the monitor lying on his left arm.

The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful. At one point, Annie shut the door on one of Papaw's fingers. Papaw survived, as did his finger.

Annie went on to survive Zayn's departure from One D just as she would later get past her first breakup with a boyfriend. I've no idea what happened to the Niall Horan pillowcase.

Email Debra Hale-Shelton at dhaleshelton@gmail.com.

Editorial on 11/10/2019

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