Thursday, December 31, 2009

I knew something was wrong when the car started making that noise--like the lovechild of a bobcat and a Philip Glass concert. Then I noticed that despite having the accelerator pressed to the floor, I was only doing 50, and the car was bucking like a bronco, and suddenly there was a smell somewhere between skunk and burning Barbie hair (I wasn't a tomboy, per se, as a child--it was just that some Barbies were for dressing up, and others were for impromptu incendiary devices. By the way, I hope mentioning 'incendiary devices' on here doesn't get me put on some sort of government list). Luckily, I was right near the Sedalia exit off I-70 (Don't know where Sedalia is? Don't worry, almost no one does, and many who do wish they didn't). And as I switched lanes, trying valiantly to avoid the cars rushing around me, and rode past the rumble strip onto the shoulder, it came to me: with the utmost clarity, the result of years of contemplative study of both Western (Christian, Jewish) and Eastern (Buddhist, Taoist) religions and philosophies: Holy Fucking Christ, I Am Going to Die. Panic, in a word.

To make a long story ever so slightly shorter, I waited for an extended period of time for the tow truck to arrive. This included calling the Lafayette County Sheriff's department, walking about a mile back to the nearest sign to determine where exactly I was (with a wind chill in the single digits--swell!! Thank Goddess I was accompanied by Crazy's Little Helper, the panic attack, which gets the blood flowing beautifully), and an hour waiting in my car. I tried to remember everything I'd ever heard about surviving when stranded, and stuck with putting on more layers of clothing, wrapping myself in the electric--but un-plug-inable--blanket I'd gotten for Christmas, and trying to determine at what point rebreathing the air in the car (which must be almost all carbon dioxide by now, right?) was a greater threat than sacrificing a few degrees of warmth by opening the car door for a few seconds. Luckily, before I completely lost my mind--and I realize this is a relative measure--I was ferried (with my car) back to Betty's Garage, Truck Stop, Restaurant, Convenience Store, Gas Station and Motel (no kidding).

I had called my parents, as I was a mere ninety minutes outside of Kansas City, and they were driving there to meet me with their two cars--one in which I would continue on to St. Louis, the other to take them both home (any ill will I have ever felt toward either of my parents has been canceled by this act of love, in the same manner as Zen Buddhism allows lifetimes worth of karmic detritus to be cleared away in one moment of satori). In the meantime I went into the convenience store to look for a magazine, reasoning that I could read that while enjoying, say, a cup of coffee from the restaurant. Perhaps I am--comment se dit? Prejudiced--but I wasn't expecting to find Scientific American or anything. I would have settled for an US, hell, even a Woman's Day. I looked all over the convenience store, which was dark and wood-paneled. What I thought was a magazine rack was revealed to be a rack of signs, among them "Redneck Parking Only," "Parking for World's Greatest Beer Drinker," and a delightful line drawing of a woman who, right side up (and with the words 'Before Beer' painted over her head) appeared quite homely, but when flipped upside down (with the phrase 'After Six Beers' now emblazoned above) bore a striking resemblance to Trisha Yearwood. There were many other signs of this ilk (one featuring Barack Obama's face with a 'NO' sign through it, whose semiotic depths I did not dare to plumb), an entire aisle devoted to light beers and various jerkies--but no magazines. This was evidently not a reading sort of joint. Add the set of antlers mounted behind the cash register and the folksy wood plaque in the restaurant reading "Lord, bless this mess," and you've got the feel of the place. I skulked near the Corn Nuts, hoping the cashier couldn't smell the pinko-lesbo-hippie fumes that were undoubtedly wafting from me. Finally my parents arrived, and after much fussing, my things were loaded into another car and I set off again.

I should say that it was getting late by this point, and that I had only an hour or so of daylight left--but what an hour! Against the colors of mid-winter sunset--that cool rose, the wan yellow, the icy blue--I saw endless groups of geese flying in scraggly Vs across the floodplains of the Missouri river. After a brief stop for dinner, the sky was completely black--or so I thought until I reached the top of the nearest hill and saw the full moon (Her face shockingly large, as if near enough to touch) just over the scrubby horizon. She watched me the whole way home.

The only other kink in the works was halting at a rest stop around 7:oo. Normally rest stops don't bother me--yeah, I don't actually sit on the toilets, and I don't touch any of the doorknobs, and I slather myself in sanitizer afterward--but I basically feel safe, at least from things large enough to be seen with the naked eye. After dark, however, they all look like the Creepy McRaperson Memorial Rest Stop, now even more poorly lit, with even more trees to lurk behind and convenient E-Z-Dump ditches in back. Obviously I have survived to tell the tale, and there wasn't anything eminently creepy--but still.

Anyhow, I made it door-to-door in a record-setting eight hours. The experience was priceless: now I just have to decide whether it was priceless like a collection of Faberge eggs whose worth could never be counted, or like a losing lottery ticket that isn't worth a damn thing.

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

I hear tell that the Amtrak route is running more reliably these days, getting you there in 5 hours or so, for around $25.