PART IV: The Long Journey Home:
There's no good way to say goodbye. I am widely known, and likely reviled, for my militant insistence on departing no later than 6:00 am. But on this Tuesday, which greeted us soggy, soon-to-be-travelers, ironically, with brilliant sunshine, my entire body had turned to lead and I couldn't get going. We missed 6 o'clock, 7 o'clock, and soon Donna was calling to ask us to stay put so she could hug us and wish us farewell. She may as well have invited us to dinner, for we were apparently never leaving. Maria had a couple patients that morning (did I mention she too is an acupuncturist?), and was already home, and I was essentially etching our names onto her mailbox. There comes a point at which you just stop hurrying, not that I was hurrying. We'd get there when we got there. Hugs and pictures are more important anyway.
Quinn and Reilly really wanted souvenirs so Maria drew one of her famously life-saving maps, directing us to Capitola, where she alleged there were thousands of shops in which to waste, er, spend our money. It was 1 o'clock, almost time to go to the DMV and get our addresses changed. I choked up as I backed out of Maria's driveway, but was also eager to be on an actual freeway, as I was beginning to think I had fabricated the existence of a place called Oregon. We got to Capitola, and found Santa Cruz's brilliantly-disguised version of an outlet mall. A nice little village in which I could feel the cash trying to jump out of my wallet. Since we had eaten Maria out of the three things in her refrigerator, we were famished. We decided to take her tip and eat at the cafe Maria suggested. The menu was promising and soon my persnickety kids, Mom, and I had ordered. The bill was shockingly inexpensive, $24.50, for all four of us. Upon entering the cafe, I had in my wallet a $100 bill, a $50 bill, and a $20 bill. Obviously I paid with the fifty. After gathering our beverages and finding a table, I looked in my wallet and was aghast to find only the hundred and the twenty. Where had the change from the fifty gone? I was owed, and presumably paid, $25.50 right? Okay, well, I had entered with no change, because I had to feed our meter, but further inspection revealed two quarters in my coin pouch. This would seem to suggest that I was given my change, but there was no $25.00 to be found. This was most alarming. As B can attest, I keep my money in separate compartments depending on what it's intended use is. My discretionary cash goes in one slot, gas money in another, money Todd gives me for taking the kids out yet another slot, money for co-pays, money I've saved, money I hope to save, etc. I will admit to a certain degree of absurdity to my method, especially since I will absolutely never borrow from one fund or even make change between funds. But it works for me, and it is this rigid system that alerted me to the fact that I was missing $25.00. After exhausting all possible explanations, I decided the beautiful, friendly, and deliciously British cashier had given me my coins but not my cash. I'm not exactly famous for mincing words, but I was admittedly daunted by the prospect of approaching this lovely, albeit semi-stern-looking woman to essentially accuse her of failing to give me my change. But I had to or it would eat away at me until I was in a straight jacket somewhere, drooling, uttering only "twenty five dollars" for the rest of my natural life. Mom and I rehearsed what I would say and I mustered enough pluck to talk to her. I tried not to fall at her feet and apologize for being a dumb American, and for being born, and managed to spit out my dilemma. She was exceedingly sympathetic, and said she swore she gave me my change but to be sure, let's balance the till. I was at once relieved, and closer than ever to burning myself alive for even thinking she may have been derelict in her duties. Come to find out, she is the owner of this brilliant shop, which, loosely translated, means she knows what the fuck she is doing and I really do deserve to die. Suddenly, I began using every British phrase I know (which happens to be a lot, thank you), and lamented the fact that I couldn't produce a spontaneous document proving to her that I use the British spelling in all applicable -or words. I tried not to be pathetic by limiting my apologies to roughly 800. I explained that my kids love Charlie and Lola, a smart little British cartoon, that Quinn often speaks with a flawless British accent, that their dad had been to the UK, that my dear friend lives in the UK, and proceeded to pepper our entire encounter with whatever Britishisms I could scrape together. Unfortunately, the lid to the pepper fell off and I actually buried her instead. I'm not sure if my reprehensible, ingratiating manner was meant to somehow make the $25.00 materialize, or to impress her into giving me $25.00. I still don't know, but it was one of the most pride-swallowing experiences of my life. Alas, she accounted for every coin and note (see? I can be British), and was so humble and magnificent as to thank me for basically shutting down her business for twenty minutes, question her capabilities, possibly her ethics, and then insulting us both with my shameless attempt to more or less convince her that we were sisters via Charlie and Lola. Oh my god. I tried to rectify my mess by complimenting the food, which was exceptional, and to ask her how she came to move across the pond, as we say. She charmed, and intimidated, the socks right off me, but I believe we ended on good terms. I asked for her business card, so that I could blog about her establishment. That part wasn't a lie at all, as you will see, but I did embellish the, um, significance of my blog? It's all foggy now but it's possible that I led her to believe that my viewership is millions wide, and that, you know, one word from me would send a surge of Oregonians to her shoppe that could only be likened to a mass exodus. Christ, is there no stopping me? In any event, we left. I was short $25.00, and a cool million in pride.
This is what a wonderful, nonplussed British cafe owner looks like when you ask her to prove that she gave you your change:
(Yes, once you've sunk this low, you may as well take a picture for your blog.)
And this is her business card. I'd appreciate it if you could head down there, maybe mention me, and how British and honourable I am. Not to mention influential. Okay? Thanks.
We slunk to this gimmicky little mercantile the kids wanted to explore, and, while they were too sensible to waste their money there, I, recently out $25.00, forked over some serious coin for a necklace everyone back home hates, and a hat about which I was uber-excited, and upon my return, instructed never to wear more than three times in one month. Sam, on the other hand, threatened to steal it, but as you know, I will always align my opinion with those which make me feel the worst about myself.
See for yourself:
We went from the mercantile to this egregious Build-a-Bear knock-off. I mean, I don't even know how this place isn't being sued everyday. But their logo has an ocean's crest on it, so perhaps Build-a-Bear is too intimidated by the inherent coolness of Santa Cruz to kick up a fuss? Anyway, Rei bought a ridiculous lamb for a lot of money, and some pajamas, and named her Abby in the car.
At long last, and with 2010 fast approaching, we set out onto the perilous Highway 17. It was past 3 o'clock. The return trip, with all those fucked-up highways, was much easier in the sunshine. The only tricky part was an oncoming toll lane, which was divided into ten lanes. The two on the far right were for paying the toll, and, seemingly veering off to the right, presumably to get on a bridge or something. The other eight lanes were express bypass, and 90% of the cars funneled through them, as did we, for Mapquest instructed us to stay straight. Before we knew it, we had made it to I-5, which, despite being eight hours away from home, seemed like a monumental event. I just hoped Shasta would have mercy on us this time, considering we'd be approaching circa 2:00 am. We drove, we laughed, I sneaked texts, I pretty much owned the road in my hat and necklace. I was practically getting salutes from fellow drivers.
For several hundred miles nothing remarkable happened. Aren't you glad? Then we started getting hungry. Reilly was downright ravenous. Those who know her know that somehow she subsists on a daily bite of cheese, possibly some bread, and a frappucino if she can get her hands on one. But ever since we left Capitola, her hunger has emerged, ready to make up for nine years of lost time.
In searching the vast wastelands for any familiar logo promising food, we had the bizarre, and sometimes scary opportunity to acquaint ourselves with these extremely disturbing little worlds-unto-themselves known as T&A truck stops. These are places that have a gas station, and upon entering, you'll discover a a strip of fast food places, a formal, yet disgusting "actual" restaurant, a lounge, a store, with aisles that feature Levi's, bongs, Bibles, canteens, books on tape, books on cd, porn, tapestries of Jesus, tapestries of naked women, your standard shit like aspirin and Hostess products, but also bullets, goldfish for 10 cents each, and rotisserie sausages that, to borrow from an exhausted cliche, looked like penises with the worst case of a) herpes, and b) rigor mortis you could ever imagine. And no, I have seen neither a herpes-riddled penis, nor a dead penis, praise be to God, so you can thank Google for the accuracy of my description. One of the T&As had an arcade, and that was the one I had to take Quinn into because he wanted to try Popeye's for dinner. Okay, I don't usually generalize but every single man in every single T&A was not only a pedophile, but I knew all their penises must look like the rotisserie herpes sausages. It's the only explanation as to how they could be desensitized enough from such a sight as to be able to eat it. So I bought a pair of handcuffs, near the crucifixes, and cuffed my son, who was drawing leering gazes from every direction (I'm not kidding), to me, and practically carried him into the women's restroom, where I forced him into my stall, all the while cautioning him against touching anything, pedophiles, hepatitis (we washed with extra vigor), strangers, just pretty much everyone who doesn't live inside our house. As we got back in the car, an old-ish, weaving, leathery, obvious regular, approached my car in such a way as to make all four of feel like he was going to open my door. I do believe, I do, that I ran over his foot as I sped off, and I could see in the rear view mirror that he was watching us. God only knows which of my children he wanted to buy. It still sends painful chills. Obviously we talked about that for hours. I swear to you, he really was going to open my door, and yet, he was like 80?
We left on Tuesday afternoon and anticipated arriving home in the wee hours of Thursday, lol. However, my superhuman driving, at 100mph, seemed to suggest that a Wednesday arrival might be possible. We crossed the Oregon border around 2:00 am, still flying. One of my tricks is to spend as much time in the "slow lane" as possible right? But occasionally a stealthy speeder must use the fast lane to pass. It was just a moment when, to my horror, I spotted the silhouette of a trooper in the median dirt strip, partially obscured by some shrubbery. Now, I've passed a lot of cops speeding, and have never been pulled over, and I have no tickets. But I knew. The chasm in my gut, where the missing $25.00 sat, widened to include the imminent approach of this trooper. It took him 2.5 seconds to get behind me, during which time I told my kids I was going to lie and say I was speeding to the upcoming exit because Reilly was sick, and needed to throw up. This wasn't borne of sheer imagination and/or desperation. Reilly had gotten a migraine, necessitating one of the T&A stops for baby aspirin. Anyway I told them it was okay to lie to get out of being cited, and that they had better corroborate anything I said. It went something like this:
"Ma'am, my name is (very long and Polish), and the reason I stopped you is because you were going 73mph in a 55 zone."
"Only 73?" I thought. "Wow." But what I said was:
"OMG we're coming from Santa Cruz California [and I have this really awesome hat] and it's been 65 for a long time, and I didn't notice it change."
"Yes ma'am, it changed at the border, and 73 is still pretty fast for a 65 zone."
"Well you see officer, my daughter has a migraine and needs to throw up so we were rushing to that exit yonder...oh here honey, do you need a bag? Oh honey, it's going to be okay...Officer, do you need my license [which will show you what a bloated bleached-out failure I am], registration, proof of insurance [please be impressed that I have these things readily available, particularly in view of the fact that you will soon see that my DMV record literally squeaks]?"
"Yes ma'am." He returned to his car. Mom assured me he'd let me go, I knew I was sunk, and thanked her for not speaking because she is incapable, like, in her cells, of lying.
"Ma'am I'm gonna let you go with a warning tonight, but slow down and watch for the signs."
"OMG thank you Officer. I was just...it was just...my daughter...I didn't know...I would never put anyone's life in jeopardy...I'm British..." Or something like that.
After that there absolutely zero percent chance of my falling asleep on the drive home. This is for another blog, really, but I have an irrational fear of the police. I assume they're all watching my car, that I have bundles of meth falling out of my open windows, that I forgot I had stolen the Hope Diamond and it's in my trunk, that I will have needles hanging out of my arms when they pull me over, that my registration will evaporate when I try to hand it over, that I will forget proper English, or worse, slip into this inexplicable southern accent I use with professional strangers when I'm trying to be persuasive and/or manipulative. Okay yeah, I'll write about that another time. Suffice it to say, I had grace to thank and nothing else.
When the fervor subsided I noticed by gas light was on. I sort of forget about gas on long trips. In town, when the light comes on, I know exactly how many trips to Fred Meyer or B's I can make before I run out, but on the freeway, going 54mph, thank you, I have no idea. More importantly, we were suddenly in that stretch of Oregon, after Ashland, and Medford, where there is mo'fo' nothing but thick blackness for an hour. Mom and I shot each other a glance. The needle was slipping below that E much faster than it does around town. Soon I was in a dead panic. It was 3:00 am, pitch black, no signs, no exits, barely a shoulder, and I had my kids. I prayed hesitantly for a smidge more of that grace, for my kids. I did not want to be waiting on that shoulderlette for AAA at 3:00 am with my kids. Finally we saw an exit, but it looked awfully dim. At this point, even applying the brakes was costing us serious petrol. But we had no choice. We veered off, and the station was closed. We had to drive uphill to merge back onto the freeway. In fact, we'd been going uphill since we crossed the border. Mom and I were making a plan for how to run out of gas safely in the middle of nowhere, with no shoulder and two kids, at 3:00 am. Just then we saw another exit in the distance. The faaar distance. We were sputtering by this point. Th exit was on the right but the station was on the left. We were never going to make it. The car was gasping, as if it had seen the sausages. Then we ran out. Yep. Empty. Just as I was about to use the rarely-heard f-word, I noticed we'd hit a descent in the road. We were coasting downhill. Fresh out of fumes, we coasted on gravity and grace into the ricketiest gas station you have ever seen, situated in front of a mini T&A. The guy wrote me a receipt on the back of a KENO ticket. No I'm not kidding.
We were a little speechless, but wide awake, when we hit Salem at 5:00 am. We dropped off Mom, and headed home. I have this idiosyncrasy that compels me to unpack the entire car and vacuum it before going to sleep, even when it's 5:30 am. Unfortunately, Quinn and Reilly have adopted similar trademarks. They will not, under any circumstances, go to sleep without a) pajamas, and b) brushing their teeth. Furthermore, Quinn needs his stuffed mushrooms and Rei needs her veritable zoo before sleep is even remotely possible. So colour me surprised when they walked into the living room, fell on the floor in their jeans, and passed out. No blankets, no brushing, shoes on, no passing go, no collecting $200, OUT! I covered them up, hopeful that OCD might only be a mild nuisance for them rather than a mind-numbing curse, as it is for me. I schlepped in our luggage, cleaned out the car, put our laundry in the laundry, and set the suitcases out in order of size, to be unloaded when we woke up, which I assumed would be around 3:00 pm. I flopped my lucky ass onto the couch, and smiled at my babies sacked out a few feet away.
"This is going to be one long-ass blog," I thought. And that's an understatement.