The kids and I took a road trip last weekend to visit my parents and my sister who was in town with my luscious new niece. A good time was had by all, and John and Maia could not have behaved better during the nine-hour drive we did twice in four days.
We played some Alphabet Game, sang some songs, listened to "The Silver Chair" by C.S. Lewis on CD, told riddles, and if things got obnoxious, I rolled down all the windows until they were done complaining.
It wasn't my ideal road trip. When I travel, I like to get very quiet and go into a kind of trance. I've done the Minneapolis-to-Omaha drive many, many times, and each time I let my thoughts unwind like the interstate I'm driving on, owing nothing to anybody, and let the memories of other times on that road, and who I was then, come crowding back at me.
On a night only hours before the U.S. invasion of Panama, I took a Greyhound home from college. I switched buses in Des Moines, and found that the bus heading west on I-80 was full, and I mean every seat was taken, of U.S. Marines. God bless America! I spent the trip reading Stars and Stripes with my seatmate, and talking about Panama, and the military, and so on. I never knew his name, though.
John has been asking us lately for embarrassing stories. There are only so many I can come up with that are appropriate for his age, but as we were driving, we passed a place on the road where I could tell him about something that had happened more than 10 years before.
During the summer after I graduated from college, I was driving back up to Minneapolis from Omaha to start looking for an apartment. The weather was fine, I had my boom box in my 1980 Mustang (I was just like Mary Tyler Moore! Driving to Minneapolis in her Mustang!), I had no job, no place to live, and no sense of concern. I had just stopped for lunch, I was making good time, and I had my best tunes with me.
These consisted of Uncle Tupelo, Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, the Beastie Boys, Bob Mould...but right then, what I wanted to listen to was Public Enemy.
Yeaaahh, boyeeee! As I was rocking out mega to "She Watch Channel Zero?!", with the windows down, and the sun shining, and my fist pumping in the air because I was all about Channel Zero at that moment, and I was so into the music I practically was Chuck D himself, I hit myself in the face and my glasses flew out the window onto I-35.
It is not an exaggeration to say that when I don't have corrective lenses on, I cannot see. To read a book without glasses or contacts means I would have to hold it so it was touching my nose. My eyes are that bad. I realized just how bad when I was flying north at 70 mph.
I started laughing -- because, seriously, what else could I do? I squinted, and pulled over to the shoulder. I was in the middle of nowhere, that stretch between Ames and Mason City that's just a little bit scary because it feels like it will never end. I was at a complete and total loss.
I got out of the car (after turning off the PE) and tried to wave somebody down. A man in a van stopped. I was nervous -- even though it was the middle of the day in a pre-cell-phone world, you don't just wave anybody down on the interstate. From what I could see, he was in his mid-50s.
"This is going to sound really, really stupid, but my glasses fell off and I'm sure they're smashed but I'm wondering if you could drive back a little ways and see if you see them? Maybe there's enough that I can make it to the next exit or something." And do what, I didn't know, but I had this vague idea of having my mom fax me my prescription while I waited at the Manly, Iowa, Pump'n'Munch.
"All right," he said, and for all I know he rolled his eyes right at me, but I couldn't see. I did see the van-shape drive the wrong way back down the interstate, though, as he looked for my glasses.
When he came back, he was laughing in a way that was almost hysterical. I tensed, because obviously I'd stopped a crazy man, and now he was coming back to get me. But no. What he did was hand me my glasses, intact, with only a tiny scratch on the frame.
"I don't believe it!" he giggled, as pleased as if they were his own. "I don't believe it! They were in the middle of the road! No one ran over them! There they were! I don't believe it!"
Needless to say, I didn't either. I thanked him profusely. He told me that it must have been God, because God rules in all things, and then he said, "You know, when I saw you waving, I almost didn't pull over, because you know what they say about young women pretending to have car trouble at the side of the road. But I did, and I'm glad I did."
I was too. And that was it. I got back in the car and headed north again. That was the story I told John as we were driving.