Mark Ballard

Road trip to friendship

Mark and Debra Ballard went recently with group of friends to a Master Gardeners’ Conference in Fairhope, Alabama.
Mark and Debra Ballard went recently with group of friends to a Master Gardeners’ Conference in Fairhope, Alabama. Special to The Telegraph

If you want to have lots of fun with a group of your friends, all you have to do is take a road trip.

That’s exactly what Debra and I did last week. We rented a 15-passenger van, gathered a group of fun and feisty friends and headed to the beautiful city of Fairhope, Alabama, where I had been hired to speak at a large Master Gardeners’ Conference.

Early one morning everyone gathered at our house and the fun began. I loaded the van, barely saving room for the eight travelers to sit. Into the van went eight overpacked suitcases, two hang-up clothes bags and multiple tote bags in various sizes stuffed to capacity. A loaf of banana nut bread I baked the night before and a large square cooler filled with a variety of drinks joined in.

Also tucked under the van seats and any other space available were all the supplies, tools and ingredients I needed to perform on stage including a pan of brownies I mummified in plastic wrap to insure freshness and to keep out greedy hands in search of chocolate.

We took our seats in the van with most of us sitting basically on top of each other, closed the door and, with Debra behind the wheel, began our six-hour journey.

A road trip is unique because it offers the perfect opportunity to capture a group of friends under one roof in a confined space. The rolling van of friends had barely left our driveway before the conversation became lively and, at times, loud. So much to see! So much to do! So much to hear! It reminded me of the field trips I took back in grade school. Even though we are adults, we were just as excited!

As the miles ticked by and scenery outside our windows changed, the various conversations, many of which were going on simultaneously, featured a plethora of subjects. No subject was off limits — although there were some we did attempt to avoid. Politics was at the top of that list because, as we all know, it has the power to induce rage and test friendships. A couple of times we unintentionally started down a path leading to current controversial campaign issues but just as quickly backed away. We all knew we were seated way too close for that!

We chose to keep our conversations positive and informative. The road trip was an excellent opportunity to catch up on what had been going on in each of our lives. Some stories turned into laughter and other sagas ended just shy of tears. There is just something about being crammed in a vehicle that makes you become a little closer and, therefore, share a little more. After all, we had a rule: What was shared in the van, stayed in the van.

Our mobile therapy sessions were certainly beneficial to all and, most of the time, everyone chimed in their opinions without hesitation. Since the van contained people from various stages in life, the younger of us were able to benefit from the wisdom of the older travelers. What we found out on our journey is that although we all came from different backgrounds and professions, when we chipped all that away, we were all more similar than different.

With each day came a new adventure. The more we experienced while riding around in that van, the more we learned about each other. There are so many levels to a person and a friendship. Just when you think you know everything about someone, you realize you really don’t.

When you share personal stories with a group of friends, you create a very special bond that makes you feel like you can share anything without judgment or betrayal. We all need special friends around us to whom we can go in times of joy and celebration as well as in times of darkness.

Five days later, Debra drove our van back into our driveway. The van must have strained on the long trip home. It brought home all the extra bags of mementos from the various places we visited, but also all the new revelations and memories of time well spent with close friends.

Although exhausted, each of us stepped off that van with a closer bond than we had when we left. To me, that’s the definition of friendship.

More with Mark

Visit Mark at his booth at Christmas Made in the South at the Macon Coliseum next weekend. Show hours are 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 11, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 12 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 13. He’ll have all his new holiday merchandise and much more. Tickets are $7 for adults; children under 12 are free. Parking is free. For more information, visit

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.