The Days Crawl Along As The Years Fly By
December 31, 2009 in Shut Up 2009
It had its moments.
2009 began for me with a road trip from Oklahoma to California with my youngest sister, Talia. The reverse trip roughly a week earlier had been something of a nightmare, but we’d had a relatively good Christmas with the family, no major breakdowns or crises, and we packed up the car and heading back on the road only two hours later than originally planned. The tension was that I had decided to take the southern route and Talia wanted the northern.
It was December 30 and she was hoping to get back to LA for New Year’s Eve with her new boyfriend, but had refused to leave a day earlier. The drive takes roughly 24 hours, so we planned to stop halfway and reach LA late afternoon or early evening of the 31st. the southern route add a few hours to the drive if you’re looking at straight mileage but coming out we had hit snow in the mountains, which my little car did not handle well. I preferred the extra hours of speeding through desert to crawling along in the tracks of semi, clutching the steering wheel with white knuckles. Talia had not driven more than one hour on the first trip due to an eye infection that forced detours in Flagstaff, to pick up a prescription and in Albuquerque for an emergency clinic, so I felt justified in dictating our return route. I took the first shift and got us on the turnpike.
Just before the Texas border, we stopped for gas and she took the wheel. As we got back on the road, heading south, I settled down to grade some papers. Grades were due January 2 and I was about two-thirds of the way through my final exams. We drove without talking for maybe half an hour. Music on the stereo was a mix CD our brother had made with everything from The Carpenters to Kanye. I only looked up when I noticed we were dragging through a one-lane construction zone.
“Where are we?”
“I’m not sure. Are we supposed to go through Paris?”
“Um, no. Why are we heading east?”
She had for some reason turned off the turnpike. We were still in Oklahoma, headed for Arkansas. I put away my work and kept my eyes on the road from there. We reversed directions and got out the map. We were so far off course that we went ahead an detoured through Paris, Texas for the hell of it – a few small brick building, railroad tracks and a warehouse, if you were wondering – and hit Dallas-Ft. Worth just in time for rush hour.
Interstate 30 takes you diagonally through Texas, Dallas to El Paso, the oil field route, The scent in the air is pure petroleum by-product. We stopped to eat south of the Dallas sprawl. Earlier in the day when she was bitching about heading south, I’d said lightly, “Well we could drive all night.” When we got back on the road it was already dark and she started in again passive aggressively about how much longer this route was. She had been texting the boyfriend intermittently and gave off waves of restlessness. This time I was serious when I said, “We really could drive all night if you’re up for it. We would be back early tomorrow.” I meant it as a challenge and a fuck you, and I was happy to trade an all-nighter for getting rid of her. She went for it and almost immediately the tension in the car dissipated as we looked forward to the long night.
We reached El Paso around 1 a.m. and did one last gut-check before deciding against a hotel. We’re both night people and were feeling fine. All I needed for a second wind was to change my contacts for glasses in a gas station restroom, pick up some sweet cheap coffee, a new infusion of surgary, high-carb snacks. I think she took the wheel there.
Talia seemed personally offended by the immigration checkpoint outside El Paso but they waved us through. I don’t even think they looked at our licenses – two white girls and a poodle – the bored young guard just asked where we were going.
Time dilates here.
At some point on the dark Texas highway, I played The Frames Set List and blew her little mind. The first track exploded out of the dark in the small car between two people who weren’t entirely happy with one another: “Sometimes I need a revelation/ Sometimes it’s just too hard to take.” As soon as the song ended the first time, she asked if she could replay it. Then we listened to the rest of the album and she asked if could play the first track again. Through the rest of that night and the next morning we must have listened to that song a dozen times.
We started taking shorter driving shifts in the small hours. Earlier we went for three or four hours at a stretch, but as the night wore on we took an hour or ninety minutes. Once, when I was driving, a coyote ran straight across the highway a few yards ahead of us and on into the fields. I said, “Coyote!” and pointed, but I think she was asleep. We got a speeding ticket in New Mexico at 3:30 a.m. She was driving but I felt partly responsible since I had scoffed at the reduced speed limits near towns.
Sunrise in the desert is spectacular even if you are facing the other way. That’s about the time my eyelids started falling like lead weights. I pulled off the highway and woke her up to say that either she could take the wheel or we could stop and sleep in the car for a while. We walked the dog. I hopped up and down to try to wake up. Off to the south a nuclear plant towered steam into the sunrise. We tried to take a picture but the glare was too strong for a tiny digital camera.
Around 8 we stopped for breakfast at a diner near Joshua Tree. In the convenience store across from the diner I ran into a Buddhist monk in saffron robes. A family of motorhome people stood in line for the bathrooms, pale and disheveled, the tween girls in pajama pants and t-shirts. Talia was annoyed that the diner wouldn’t let us eat on the patio so that we had to leave the dog in the car. After an omelet, toast and good coffee, I felt like a new person and took the wheel for the final descent into the San Gabriel valley.
The carb high started to wear off before we reached our destination but we did it in one shift. We got to my apartment before noon, feeling proud of ourselves and then my door wouldn’t open. Did the management change the locks? I had never locked the front screen door, but they had done maintenance while I was gone. I went around to the back and got in but still couldn’t open the screen from inside. While I went to check with the office, Talia huffed about wanting to get back on the road. She still had 2 hours to drive. She had left her car at my place and we needed to transfer her luggage and dog to the other car before she could get home. She refused my offer of tea or a snack before she took off. We made the transfer within half an hour, and I was alone in my own space. I found my mind spinning, unable to wind down for hours but I crashed long before midnight.
My New Years Day 2009 began with me sleeping 14 hours, blearily eating whatever I put together from the cabinets, and falling asleep again. Talia and I texted sometime in that day. She did not go out for the evening. I spoke to other members of my family briefly that day, and took a two-month hiatus from calling Talia. Somehow this experience has turned into a positive memory.
2010 will begin with me on a plane.