In September of 2005, the first September we were no longer in school, Ryan and I drove across the country, only about two days after Hurricane Katrina. We were skeptical to even drive (what with gas prices threatening to tip over $3 a gallon...) but alas, Ry needed to begin his new job/life in Arizona, and my life was in a holding pattern. So we went.
Ry’s car was a Honda civic, and a stick at that. I feigned confidence, saying sure, I felt confident driving; in reality, I was scared shitless and had only driven a stick on the Neck: a place in my hometown with no stop signs or lights, just a continuous track. Think Mario Kart. But with mansions.
We departed mid-September on a Monday morning at 5am; at 10am driving through Bristol, CT, our conversation became as mundane as this: Ry: a friend of mine on my floor lived in Bristol. Me: Oh. Our topics were losing steam. By 1pm we had just finished our first third of Pennsylvania; have you ever driven through that fucking state? It lasts forever, and has the worst road kill of any highway anywhere.
Ryan was fried and we pulled into a BBQ place and he resolutely said I’m not driving anymore. I’ve never gone past second in a stick shift, and now this prick expects me to reverse, then MERGE on to the I-80? I managed to get us on the highway, thank jesus, each moment almost needing to breathe into a paper bag. The poor kid was trying to take a nap in shotgun all the while my face and neck are breaking out into hives and I’d proclaim at the top of my lungs: I’M GOING INTO FIFTH! ok, fine Margaret he’d say, clearly annoyed at the fact that the thought of napping was now a distant memory.
Ah, the open road...so many mystical cities, so many wonders...like, DeBuque.
The first morning waking up in Indiana, we discovered that our free spot to sleep in Chicago was no longer an option. Fine. It's cool! Whatever...but like, where the eff were we going to stay that night?? At a rest stop on the border of Illinois, we pulled out a map, trying to figure out our next move, when Ryan exclaimed as he looked at the state of Wisconsin: Adrienne Tack from Fond Du Lac! And there was Wisconsin all bright and shiny, a beacon of hope shaped like a mitten, inviting us up for the evening. It should be noted that my mother was born and raised in Fond Du Lac Wisconsin and her maiden name was Tack, hence the crazy ass nick name. A few phone calls later, we were headed to my Aunt Jen and Uncle Jeff’s house in Milwaukee for the night.
They warmly welcomed us and we spent a wonderful evening laughing and chatting with my Fargo accented relatives. I slept in my cousin Laura’s room whom we would be driving to the next night at Drake in Iowa. Oh Laura. She still had a Britney Spears poster on the wall circa Hit Me Baby One More Time. Ry slept in my cousin Phil’s room with the primary colors as wall paper with a crucifix staring him down as he closed his eyes.
The next morning I woke up and spent some time with my Uncle Jeff in the kitchen--uncle/niece time, if you will. He was asking me about New York City and my time there; I said I think everyone should live there at least once to experience it, and toughen up a bit. Uncle Jeff raised that midwestern forehead of his and said, You Knoo? I think Sex and the City really liberalized our Laura. I just about snarfed my coffee.
When it was time for us to depart, we were learning the easiest way to Drake, where we were to be staying that evening with Phil and Laura. Uncle Jeff was giving us land marks to guide our way there when he said, And aftrrr that, it’s a straaet shat frum DaBuque. Ry and I looked at each other, then back at him; Uncle Jeff said: Yah knoo, DaBuque! He said it as if it contained the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower and the Rocky Mountains all in one city. Uncle Jeff: I love you. Those words will be sound bites I’ll use until I die.
In the middle of Iowa (and corn) we drove past a huge boulder with spray paint on it that said: 9/11: We ain’t scared....seconds later Ryan shouted OF WHAT. I had to laugh. The person who wrote it probably hadn’t even been to New York; but hopefully by now they have.
When we were at Drake, my cousin Phil was bar tending at the local watering hole for students; I met all of his friends while Ryan was sitting alone at the end of the bar enjoying the free popcorn the bar doled out. He was happier than a pig in shit; his two favorite food groups are bacon and popcorn, so he sat there with a beer and popcorn all night. The next morning we were getting directions to the one Starbucks in the area, and when we missed the exit, neither of us spoke to each other for the next 4 hours.
We lasted all the way through the Salt Flats in Utah (in the dark, I might add...no one would have noticed us crash and die) and at times, 110 mph seemed like only 20. I met a woman named Wanda who was a cashier at a Nebraska rest stop that had a lifetime of memories on her face; her skin was like worn leather with blue eyeliner.
This country is full of ironies; liberalism and fear, beauty and ugliness, accents and corn...lots of corn. The magnificence of the Rockies is the same to me as the beauty of China Town in San Francisco; all a part of this huge vast collective country.
I’m lucky to have had that experience; I managed to survive with Ry in one car across thousands of miles, and I gained a deeper more profound appreciation for the space America. And I can drive stick now.