Tag Archives: road trip

I-80 Essentials

Music:

Brand New, Modest Mouse, Taking Back Sunday (4 songs tops), Slayer (2 songs), Tegan and Sara, Motion City Soundtrack, Straylight Run, any soundtrack or mix cd made in college, Mmmbop.

(No matter the cheese factor, sing-along music is a stay-awake must)

Foods:

Doughnuts loaded up on at hometown bakery. Nothing compares. Nothing. Also: apples, bananas, and carrots for good energy (confession: health nut, apart from homemade pastries).

Drinks:

None! Don’t drink anything! Why would you make the trip take any longer than it already is?!

Topics of Conversation:

How much we’ve become like our parents, How much we differ from our parents, Who looks different/graduated/got married/had a baby–babies? Sucks to be them. Monsanto. Capitalism. American education. These are all acceptable.

Activities:

License plate game, napping, reading aloud (so the driver knows why you keep laughing, of course), air drumming.

 

Good luck, and may the state of Nebraska never consume you.

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Vacation ’96

Blood-spotted bedspread. I’m nine years old.

Barred windows; bullet holes in the glass.

This is Nashville.

The woman behind the counter at our Days Inn is way taller than my mom. Maybe even my dad. Maybe she’s the first black woman I’ve ever seen. Two of her long fake fingernails are pierced with a tiny silver hoop. I wonder how accurate her typing is as she checks us in.

Music City, USA.

I’m hoping to see Shania Twain. Or even Deana Carter. I can’t get Collin Raye’s song about that 8-year-old out of my head. I hope I don’t mess up like those women in the video. Like the women I see on COPS—my dad’s favorite show that he watches from his recliner after work. My mom wishes he wouldn’t watch that trash around me, but it’s his nighttime version of coffee. I like when he lets me watch Power Rangers. My mom hates that show, too.

But we all agree on country music and it’s cool to stand peaking in from the entrance of The Ryman. Though it’s not very interesting without a star on stage. Maybe the janitor, when he’s mopping the stage floor, imagines a live audience and a different career.

Maybe my dad pictures me on that stage.

This is the farthest I’ve been away from home. And for the record, the Bluegrass State does NOT have blue grass. But it does have a converted rest stop mansion.

Our first day driving from Iowa we stopped in Hannibal, Missouri. In the cave where Jesse James graffitied his name, a tour guide turned off all the lights to show how scary it was for Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher way back when. My dad likes to kid around and he clicked on his green watch light. Everyone laughed and then the tour guide gave an okay, that’s enough look.

Somehow we keep getting lost in this city.

Through my backseat window in a dirty gas station parking lot, I see a brown-skinned man talking to my mom with his hands. Back in the car she says he kept saying, “You listen to me!” when giving her directions. We all laugh, but I think my mom’s glad to be back on the road.

I like the Bobby Bare Trap store and get my picture taken with the world’s largest teddy bear. Something to write home about, as they say.

My mom and I buy matching Nashville t-shirts and I wear mine to bed that night. I like staying at motels, but I’m ready to be back in my bedroom where I can be alone and write. Two more days still. I wish we could fly.


Street Mama

Amarillo, TX

“Name’s Pixie. Friends call me Street Mama. Ise raised forty miles southa Dallas.”

It’s impossible not to overhear other people’s conversations in the compact Amarillo bus station. Standing by the bathrooms near the only vent that’s pumping cool air is a woman whose little finger wouldn’t fit the description of a Pixie. Summertime is Street Mama’s time. Her leisurely confidence while wearing a snug spaghetti strap tank top, sans bra, gives her away. This is the type of woman who doesn’t keep secrets.

“My mother was a real piece-a work,” she says to a group loitering under the vent. “I use ta be called Samantha Lynn, but I been Pixie for over ten years now. The first guy I been with called me that and it stuck. But my baby daddy thinks it’s too girlish, so he jus’ call me Mama.”

Street Mama turns her head and gasps. “Ethan Daniel! Get over here! You hear me? You stop that, right now!” She grabs what must be her son and sets his diapered bottom on a covered trashcan. She gives three sharp, quick raps to the toddler’s bony hand. The child is frail and doll-like with a complexion like dishwater. Ethan Daniel wails, inciting three more raps to his other hand.

“Ethan Daniel, can’t you see I’m talkin’ to grownups? Apologize to these people! Apologize!”

Ethan Daniel can’t yet be three years old. His face is a contortion of pain from the striking and confusion as to why he’s being punished.

At the drinking fountain stands a line six people deep. There’s been a lot of recent rainfall, and everything in the station is sheathed in a thin layer of dew. Even the walls are sweating—years of condensation having warped the paint. The bus driver is late.

In a rage, Ethan Daniel strikes out at Street Mama, and she in turn scolds him for hitting.

CNN drones from a TV in a corner of the station’s waiting area, lulling entranced travelers into lethargic, shell-shocked expressions. But Street Mama’s voice carries over it all. She’s on the phone now with her mother.

“He won’t listen to me! Mama—are you listenin’ to me?! Goddamnit, he won’t fuckin’ listen to me! I’ll use whatever language I wanna use!” There’s a pause, then: “Little shit. He’s so filthy. I know that, Mama. What do you think I been doin? Here—I’m passin’ over the phone so you can talk some sense into ‘im.” She holds the phone at her son’s shoulder. “Ethan Daniel, take the damn phone!” The child cries and knocks the phone to the ground.

The line at the drinking fountain dissipates, and in the corner of the waiting area a man reaches up to raise the volume of the latest news report.

Summer 2007


Squatting in the Wrong Decade

The first time I saw a horse on a rooftop was in Lexington, Nebraska. It wasn’t a real horse, but I’ve never seen one, alive or otherwise, on a roof since. Coming from a packing plant town, the familiar Tyson aroma of seared hog flesh filled my nostrils and gave me a sense of home as we drove into Lexington. Barmore Drugs could’ve passed as Storm Lake’s Ressler’s. All these small Midwestern towns resembled each other in the details.

Down a residential street, two young girls in oversized T-shirts helped their mom rake the lawn. I pictured my childhood self and friend jumping into leaf piles at my grandma’s house, then heading inside for a snack of apples with caramel.

I was with my dad, spending two days driving to Broomfield and stopping here for the night like two road-weary truckers—a bed and a clean bathroom our main requirements.

On the outskirts of town a giant plum-painted water tower sat, like an industrialized Jack Horner, squatting in the wrong decade. Front lawns along residential roads were spotted with rusted truck beds filled with such things as wood, torn-out carpet, and empty bottles of engine oil.

Sticking out like Jack’s thumb on the edge of town, an African restaurant and a huddle of tall, well-dressed black men talking and laughing in the parking lot.

In its prime, the heart of this town must’ve been the railroad. Two spiral ramps supporting a footbridge over the tracks–for the days when it was needed to cross without danger–stood as the town’s most notable landmark.

Our motel parking lot was strewn with semis, and as we walked past them to the office my dad straightened protectively. In our motel room, we opened our paper Sonic bags to find cold fries, a chicken sandwich coated with black lettuce, and no appetite.

My next meal came as a Styrofoam cupful of Froot Loops, dry, the next morning. I frowned at the assortment of O’s, but kept any complaints to myself. I couldn’t wait to get to Colorado and the well-stocked cupboards of my uncle’s house.

March 2007


Locks

The woman’s hands were in my hair before I could stop her.

I was sitting on a bench outside the Grand Junction bus station, piecing together a Lunchable before my next transfer, when she walked up behind me–her skin tanned and leathery, her breath warm and pungent–and grabbed hold of my hair, twisting it between her fingers. Tangling it into knots.

She was a beggar, this woman. Her own hair stringy, dreadlocked. I turned and looked her in the face. My heart sped up and I dropped a cracker.

“Such pretty hair,” she drawled. “My mother had red hair.”

I stammered a thank you and made to stand up.

“I wish I could just—ha!” She brandished the air like a pair of scissors and made a mocking hack at my hair. “–Snip it off and sew it onto mine.” She smiled devilishly and fondled her dreadlocks.

I excused myself and walked to the nearest trash can as if to discard my lunch. I would walk around the entire station to get back in before I’d invite any more attention from outside.

June 2006


Rainbow Warriors

Teenage flower children, their long hair strung with beads, play handclap games in front of me at the Amarillo, TX bus station. They tickle each another and make googly eyes despite the presence of the girl’s mother. This petite woman–a hippie hangover–smiles at them, her thin lips stretching to meet a smattering of pale freckles.

They’re headed to the Rainbow Gathering in Arkansas, held annually in a National Forest since 1972. Hippie Mom asks my friend where we’re headed. “Twin cities,” says Emily. She’s returning to her nanny job, and I’ll be headed five hours south from there once our two-day bus trip concludes.

Next stop: Oklahoma City, where a one-hour layover turns into six, then seven. An MIA bus driver means we’ll be spending the night on the most uncomfortable metal mesh benches ever designed for extended public waiting. If it weren’t for the obscene hour and lack of cell phone service, I’d call my boyfriend to pass the time.

Grumpy from lack of sleep, and anxious to get back on the road–a trip that would take over 50 hours between Phoenix and Minneapolis–I look to Emily for support. She’s given up on sleep and stares down at a book, her eyes unmoving. She feels my gaze and scrunches her nose in commiseration. There’s no denying the mid-summer stench of road travel. If our bags hadn’t disappeared with the driver, we would’ve changed clothes hours ago. I look down at my grubby t-shirt and feel depressed. The rainbow gatherers still appear fresh–the women in matching striped skirts and the boy in a Hawaiian shirt with his thin brown hair tied back in a low ponytail. A cool, airy skirt would be nice about now. I scrounge through my purse for a hair tie, but come up empty.

With nothing better to do, I watch the teenage couple paint glitter on each other’s faces, then braid the other’s hair. Hippie Mom sits knitting with a peaceful expression as though she were home and life couldn’t be sweeter. A soft hum rises from her throat. The teens get up and spin while holding hands, repeating what sounds like a tribal chant:

“When Earth is ravaged and animals die

A new people shall come

Many colors, classes, many creeds

Who by their actions and their deeds

Shall once again make Earth green

And be called

Warriors of the Rainbow.”

I lean forward and ask Hippie Mom what they’re singing.

“It is an old Native American prophecy.” Her eyes brighten and she looks at the kids. “The Rainbow Gathering, where we’re headed, has no leaders. We commune non-violently to celebrate peace and love on our planet. All are welcome. It’s a transformative and empowering experience. Here…” She pauses to retrieve a crumpled scrap of paper from her knitting bag. She scrawls two words on it then hands it to me.

The scrap was torn from a flier advertising free community basket weaving classes. I scan for her handwriting and read aloud the two words, presumably a name: “Art Penny.”

“If you wish to find him, he will be found,” says Hippie Mom’s daughter, smiling at me encouragingly. I give a polite nod, but I’m too tired to inquire further.

“Thank you,” I say, and dismiss myself from the conversation by extensively folding and slipping the scrap with Art Penny’s name on it into my purse.

The next day, near Topeka, Emily asks me what I talked about with the rainbow family.

“I can’t be sure,” I say, “but they were very friendly.”

July 2007


Albuquerque to Phoenix

bus-seats

The Greyhound permeates an undefinable smell–a sweaty blend of passengers and stained seats, all in varying states of cleanliness. Some of us have been traveling for four days. My trip should be over in two.

Across the aisle is a longhaired man wearing a borderline-pornographic T-shirt. He’s in his late twenties and clutching the hand of the woman beside him. They don matching track marks and speak to each other in hushed tones.

An hour later I wake from a half-nap to the sound of a low, agonizing moan and the stomping of feet. I look over at the longhaired man whose head now rests in his hands. His knees bounce rhythmically as if propelled by tiny trampolines–the apparent signs of withdrawal–and I hope, for his sake, that his trip is shorter than mine.

July 2007