Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Why Am I Single? Let Me Count The Ways

Three: Wild Thing

So, there I was, driving down I-70, headed east on my great adventure. I was free. I had the windows down and the radio blasting Poison:

She's my cherry pie
Cool drink of water, such a sweet surprise.
Tastes so good, make a grown man cry,
Sweet cherry pie.

I'm banging on the steering wheel to the beat, doing about 80, drafting off the back of a diesel as if I own the passing lane. Then the diesel gets over and I flash him my lights to say, "Thanks" and he flashes his lights back.

I start noticing the diesels pulling over in the slow lane before I catch up to them. I'm disappointed because I can't draft anymore, but it's cool, because I've got open highway ahead of me. Just as I pass the tenth trucker, I look up. I can't see inside the cab because I'm in a car that only sits about a foot off the ground, but I can see his mirror and it's reflecting him, looking out the window towards my car. He's talking on the CB and I look ahead to see three more trucks getting in the slow lane.

Aha! I stick my left hand out the window above the roof of my little car and wave. He pulls the chain on his air horns...hooonk, hoooonkkk! Wooohooo! I push the accelerator down some more. My hair is whipping around and the wind is beating into the car. I feel like I'm flying.

It goes on like that for several hours until I'm right outside of St. Louis.


Oh, shit! A state trooper is behind me and the odds are he doesn't know that my dad's a cop and probably doesn't give a shit. I turn the radio down and start pulling over. I'm shaking a little bit because I'm coming down from the adrenaline rush and this is my first time experiencing adulthood without the safety net of my parents. He walks up to the car and all I can see is his crotch. The car IS only one foot off the ground and that puts my head at about three feet tops so it stands to reason that's the only thing I would see.

"License and registration please." In a really deep voice that seems to come from way above me. I lean over to the glove compartment that's blocked by the guitar and struggle to get my papers out. Then I fumble around in the purse for my license and hand them to him. My hands are shaking a little. "Do you know why I pulled you over?"

"Umm...I was speeding?" Yeah. What was I going to say, "I dunno"? Why do police officers ask you those questions?

"You were doing 90 in a 70."

Oh, shit. That's 20 mph over the speed limit and that's reckless driving. They can tow your car for that. It's a huge fine and a court appearance, too. I push my sunglasses up to the top of my head and lean forward so I can see out of the window and see more than his crotch. The seat belt pulls tight across my chest opening the V on my unbuttoned shirt a little bit. This better work, dammit. "Was I going that fast?" Blink, blink, blink.

I can't see what he's looking at because he has those mirror tinted sunglasses that all cops wear. He's holding my license and paperwork in front of him for what seems an eternity then he says, "Stay here. I'll be back in a minute."

Well, crap. That didn't work. He walks back to his car and I see him in the rearview mirror talking on his radio, checking me out. I'm resigned now to my fate. I'm wondering how the hell I'm going to pay this ticket. Finally, he gets out and comes back to the window. "I'm going to give you a break." Oh, yeah. "I'm going to mark this down to 85 in a 70." Then he shows me the info on the back of the ticket where I can send the payment and has me sign the ticket. "Slow down."

"Thank you, officer." Well, that was better than nothing I suppose. I pull out and do the speed limit for a bit as I notice that he's following right behind me. I turn up the stereo a little and Poison is crooning:

ev'ry rose has its thorn,
just like ev'ry night has its dawn.
Just like ev'ry cowboy sings his sad, sad song

ev'ry rose has its thorn.

Just as we get to the St. Louis city limits, he pulls off an exit. I cruise through St. Louis, hit the other side and...BAM! Down goes the accelerator. I toss the Poison cassette and pop in a home made tape with some hard driving songs:

I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel
There’s a voice in my head, that drives my heel
It’s my baby callin’, says: I need you here
And it’s half past four, and I’m shifting gear
When she’s lonely and the longing gets too much
She sends a cable comin’ in from above
Don’t need no phone at all
We’ve got a thing that’s called Radar Love
We’ve got a wave in the air
Radar Love

Now I'm watching the diesels to see if they slow down. That's the sign of the "smokey", the state troopers are up ahead. Finally, I pull into a truck stop to get some gas. Inside one of the cases is a hand held CB: $39.99. I buy it because I'm more than positive that it will be cheaper than the half dozen tickets I might get on this trip. I plug it into the lighter holder (I didn't smoke yet so it was completely unused), put the antennae on the roof and I'm gone.

It saves me at least three times between St. Louis and Terre Haute, Indiana. I drive on past Terre Haute, but I'm starting to drag. It's dark now and the white line is all I can see. All the excitement is draining away as the long drive starts taking it's toll. I have the windows down, even though it's cool out because I want to stay awake and the cold wind is helping some. Twenty-eight miles to Prairie City. That's where I'm going to stop. I have no idea if they have a decent motel, but I know I can't go on any further. I reach into the cooler and pull out another coke and some ice. I rub the ice on my face and eyes trying to stay awake. I feel a little refreshed. I see the sign: 12 miles Prairie City. Maybe I can make it to the Indiana/Ohio border?

A few minutes later I jerk awake as I drift off on the shoulder. Shit, shit, shit. Ok. Prairie City it is.

I pull off and see a Knight's Inn. Another car is parked in front and a man is ringing the bell at the little "after 10 pm" window. I get out and walk over to stand behind him. He glances at me, but we don't speak. The night manager comes to the window and then buzzes us in. The man ahead of me signs in and gets his room. I wasn't paying much attention, but I heard the manager ask the man how many keys he needed. The man tells him "one" and the manager directs him to the room. The man moves off to the side, putting his credit card away and I walk up to the counter. The manager had turned away and was doing some things on the desk behind him. It seems like he doesn't notice me, "Excuse me." The manager looks up. He's about fifty and looks just like you'd imagine the manager of some little backwater motel. He's wearing tan polyester slacks, brown orthopedic shoes, a red and plaid shirt with a bulky brown sweater. "I need to get a room."

"You two aren't together?"

Uh...I look over at the other man at the counter. He looks over and is smirking a little. I laugh a little nervously, " I need to get a separate room." The manager looks a little confused, but he finally comes over and gives me some papers to fill out, hands me the key and directs me to the room.

When I get in the room, it's freezing. I dump all of my stuff, go over to the little metal box on the wall, lift the flip lid and mess with the controls until heat comes out. Finally, I look around the room. It is as cheap as cheap can get. Orange blackout curtains on the windows, brown carpet, plastic covered chair in the corner and the bedspread is right out of your worse nightmare from the 70's. I was so damn tired I really didn't care. I throw off my clothes and jump in the flannel pajamas I brought then snuggle under the blankets. It's still so cold that my teeth are chattering so I pull the blankets up near my head and I can smell the mustiness of disuse.

I still don't care. I'm so tired. The adrenaline is all gone and I'm just tired.

I wake up in the middle of the night and I'm sweating. I've kicked the blankets back and the room feels like a sauna so I go over and turn the heat down two clicks, jump back into bed and I'm gone again.

I wake up at 6:30 AM and the room is freezing again. Damn. Why don't those stupid heater units have a decent thermostat? It's either freezing or burning. Finally, it's so cold and I can't go back to sleep so I get up, take a shower and get dressed. Tight jeans, white button down shirt with constellations printed all over it and my favorite, pointy black cowboy boots.

I check out and head over to the McDonald's across the street where I get an egg and sausage biscuit and a cup of coffee. I sit in the parking area of the gas station across the street, eating my biscuit and waiting for a decent hour to make some phone calls. I call my family. Yes, yes. Everything's fine. No, I didn't have any problems. Yes, I had enough money for the motel. Yes, I'll call you when I get into Philadelphia. I hang up and call my friend, Lisa, who is waiting on the other end. I'm sorry, did I wake you? Oh..yeah, yesterday was Saturday. Sorry. I just wanted to let you know that I'll be there this afternoon. I'll call when I'm closer for directions.

I'm on the road and it's not even 8:30 AM. Now I'm starting to get a little nervous. I'm way out here. I can go on or turn back. Screw that. I'm going on. It's not quite as exciting as the day before, but as I drive into Pennsylvania the scenery is beautiful. It's October and the trees are gorgeous colors of red, orange and gold over the little remaining green. The sun is shining, glinting off the leaves and throwing the colors in my face. It almost takes my breath away.

I stopped on the toll road at a little rest stop and called my friend for directions. It was afternoon and I wanted to get there before night time so I pushed it a little harder. I got into the Philadelphia area around dusk. It was strange how dead the highways were, but it was Sunday and everyone was probably glued to the football games. When I topped the hill outside of Conshocken (pronounced conch -o-hocken by the natives), I could see the city below me and it seemed like it went on forever.

I found the bridge my friend told me to take off of I 95. The Ben Franklin. When I get over to the New Jersey side it seemed more like what I was used to: suburbs. Little towns with houses one right after the other. There's no break in the housing, just signs that say: Riverton, Riverside, and on and on. The only thing that throws me off is that there are no turning lanes for left hand turns. You actually have to get in the right hand lane and take a "jug handle", as the locals call it, because it's a half loop attached to the side of the road which you have to turn on to and wait for a light to cross the main road.

Finally, there I am, twelve hundred twenty six miles away from home pulling up in front of this gray, two story, clapboard house with a porch in front and a little drive that's already taken up by a car. It's got about a six by nine patch of grass in front of it that serves as the front yard. Two girls are sitting on the porch as I pull up and try to parallel park for what seems to be the first time in my life. A van is behind me waiting impatiently for me to get it done. I'm in and the van drives by. The passenger sticks his head out the window and yells, "Go back to Kansas Toto." I'm a little taken aback, but it's the new me so I don't resist the urge and I flip him the bird.

The two girls on the porch put their drinks down and come down to greet me. One is Lisa. She's about 5'8", 180 lbs. She's got masses of blonde hair and smiling blue eyes. As I come around the front of the car, she comes over and gives me a big hug, "Oh my God! You made it!" Yes. I made it. She turns to introduce the other girl who is 5'6" and 150 lbs. She has short brown curly hair and brown eyes. Her face is round with a pointy chin and round cheeks. She's wearing shorts and has very muscular legs. My first impression was "tough broad" and it's the right impression, believe me. "This is Tracy. She lives down stairs and says she'll take you for a roommate."

No hugs happening there. I stick out my hand and she squeezes it like a wrestler assessing her opponent. "Hey, Kans-ass. What's up?" She has just given me the name that will stick to me the entire time I live in Philly. Kansas.

Lisa's all smiles, "What do you wanna do first? You wanna put your stuff in the house, get something to eat?"

I've been driving for hours and it feels good just to be standing, "I'd really like to get a pop. Is there a place I can get a pop around here?"

Lisa is laughing and Tracy looks a little bemused, "A pop? What the hell's a "pop"?"

I'm getting my first lesson in cultural differences between the mid-west and the east coast, "A pop. You know? A coke or a Pepsi."

Lisa is still laughing. "Ohhh. You mean a soda. Yeah, there's a Wawa around the corner."

"A what-what?"

"A Wawa."

I'm confused as hell and Lisa finally stops laughing long enough to explain that it's a convenience store. "Wawa" is Delaware Indian for "flying geese" or something of that nature and it's what the local, popular chain of convenience stores are called in the region. We walk down the two blocks to the corner where I get a coke and I tell them about my drive out, laughing about the truckers and the cops and the little episode at the motel. When we get back, Lisa tells me to come upstairs and meet her sister Becky and her six year old niece Rachel whom she lives with.

We go into the house and immediately to the left is a door that leads to the downstairs apartment. The apartment where I will live for the next two years. To the right is another door that goes into a hallway. A set of steep stairs with a carved wooden banister leads up to the second floor apartment. We tromp up stairs that open directly to another hallway on the left and the kitchen on the right. Becky is sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. She's like twenty eight or something. Tracy walks in and grabs a beer out of the refrigerator, turns to Becky and says, "This is Kans-ass."

I'm a little embarrassed, but Lisa jumps right in after giving Tracy an admonishing look, "No. This is Kat H.... The girl I told you about? She's gonna stay with Tracy. This is my sister, Becky."

Becky is leaned back in the kitchen chair with her feet up on a chair across the table. She's like 5'9" and 140 with wavy, dirty blond hair that is partially curled in the back. The bangs are curled under in front with some of it teased to curl back on the top and the old sausage roll wings on the side. Typical New Jersey hair do and very popular in the late 80's early 90's. After the introduction, she stands up and puts out her hand. I'm starting to feel like a munchkin in the land of giants, "Howdy, Kans-ass. You wanna beer?"

" thanks. I just got this soda." Yeah. I'm still a square. Now I'm just a square twelve hundred miles away from home.

"Suit yourself." She sits back down and we all sit around the table for a bit while I recount, again, some of the funny and cool things I saw on the trip.

It was getting dark. Tracy and Lisa came out and helped me unload the car and put it in the downstairs apartment. The apartment was laid out on a long rectangle. When you first walk in, you are in the living room which has a bank of three windows facing the front porch and one across from the door on the side of the house. The floor was old, dark wood with a cheap throw rug. The furniture was garage sale cheap as well. All brown and tan and nubby cloth. The coffee table was dark wood as well with an almost three inch plank top and heavy carved legs. I would grow to hate that coffee table after many nights stumbling into the dark room and into that table.

You walked though the living room and through an archway into the kitchen/dining area. To the left is a breakfast nook with bow windows that have stained glass and a bench seat around the bottom and a round table. To the right is a stove, a refrigerator and the phone hanging on the wall. Then you walk back through a long hallway that leads to the bedrooms. Mine is on the right. The bathroom is on the left and Tracy's room is in the back.

The girls knew I wouldn't have any furniture so they had ran out and bought a massive old iron bedstead at a garage sale for $25. Including the mattress, the bed stood about three feet off of the floor. It will be a source of pain and humor in the coming years. Let's just say that it is very difficult to get in and out of in certain conditions.

They also bought a metal shelving unit. The industrial variety, for me to put my clothes on.

I didn't care. It all looked grand to me. It was the big adventure.

I ate with the girls upstairs. I don't remember exactly what it was, but it was some sort of casserole. We were all going to be living on a shoe string budget and casseroles were going to be a mainstay for awhile.

When I lay down that night, in the big bed that creaked whenever I turned over, I was super tired, but still a little strung out. I was going to report to the office in the morning after driving for two days straight. It was nerve racking, but exciting.

I was thinking about my new friends and how nice everyone seemed to be. This wasn't an armpit like my Dad said it was. It was nice. It was normal.

Uh-huh. I didn't know it yet, but I had just opened a can of "Oh. My. God."


Michael_the_Archangel said...

Kat, this is really coming along nicely. I hope you are keeping an additional copy or two someplace so if you so desire, you can reprint someday, someway.

Jason Rubenstein said...

Yeah, what he said!

Now, re: 'Pop'. Ohhh boy, I know that one. Same thing in Cali... "You want a *what*?" Like I'm the first midwesterner to come to CA and say that.. well, whatever. 'Roof' is another one. We pronounce it "rewf" where the 'o' sounds like the 'e' in 'certain'. They pronounce it "roooooof" with a long 'o'. Caught grief for that one. Still do, that and 'root beer'.

But god help the Wisconsin kid who calls a water fountain a 'bubbler' out here or in NYC. Like they think they're all Shakespeare out there er' somethin'??