Ridiculous (w)Riters

August 30, 2004

All I have to say is that I better get mad points for the trip because I wasn’t compensated with ducats or sleep. Early last week, I talked to my college friend and fellow writer Jeremy who was temporarily in Texas. He had a plan to drive from Lubbock to New York City in his newly-acquired 1986 Volvo wagon packed with all his stuff. (Three weeks ago, he moved back to New York City after an absence of several years. I am, needless to say, very, very jealous.) At the end of our conversation, he asked if I wouldn’t like to join him. Sure, why not? We all know that there’s almost nothing I love more than the middle of this great country of ours with all its indistinguishable flatlands and numerous cultural hotspots.

Just back from a mind-cleansing trip to Europe and eager not to lose that 1000-mile stare you get on a diet of jetlag, high-carb foods and bold perspective on your life, I started checking Expedia. Turns out Jer was kidding about the offer, but he carved out a “slot” (his word) for me in the front seat and set off on Friday morning. Based on airfares, we settled on the northern route and a rendezvous in Indianapolis. I would have preferred Memphis or somewhere closer to the location of the butter Last Supper sculpture, but it turns out you have to fly through Texas and Cincinnati to get there, so we went with Indiana. (For future reference, if you have a free weekend and a hankering to go somewhere but no one to meet when you get there, you should try booking your way from San Francisco to Springfield, Missouri, and back without repeating the same leg twice. Trust me: it’ll take you the entire weekend and then some. No need to make pesky and time-consuming plans for while you’re there. Just skip `em and fly all weekend. Fun for the whole family.)

The plan was to drive from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh on Saturday evening and from there to New York on Sunday. I’d fly back on Sunday night or Monday morning. So the ridiculous plan was hatched and became ridiculous reality.

Saturday, 5 AM – San Francisco

In my paranoia that the alarm wouldn’t go off, I woke up at five. I had checked and re-checked the alarm clock to make sure I had set it for AM and not PM, as I did last year before a flight to Europe. Good thing: despite the double-checking, I had done it once again. Go me. Good start.

Fact-a-Minute Feature: With the exception of a trip home last Christmas when R. was in Switzerland, this was my first solo trip since I started seeing R. three years ago, a sweet and surprising detail.

Saturday, 8 AM – SFO

I board the plane to Denver, determined to get some work done on the plane, which I never do these days. I read the Times, wrote part of a review of The Manchurian Candidate and shuffled things around a lot.

Saturday, 11:25 AM, first time zone shift – Denver Airport

I am eating massive quantities of sugar, an illogical and ineffective coping mechanism for dealing with the flying experience when I refrain from taking dulling Xanax. If I can’t be relaxed, I may as well be hyper. I spread out everything in my backpack on the seats and floor. Now we’re talking. Make yourself at home.

Saturday, 2:30 PM, second time zone shift – over the midwest

I give my laptop and its handy DVD feature over to the two kids next to me (12 and 14) who are bored out of their minds. I wasn’t getting much done anyway outside a financial review in preparation for leaving my job. I feel generous and my faith in kids is redeemed, as these two are both clever and polite.

Saturday, 3:45 PM – Indianapolis Airport tarmac

We are stranded on the runway because the ground crew has retreated from excessive lightning to the safety of the hanger. No worries about us out here in the plane. Really, I’m sure we’ll be fine.

Saturday, 4:30 PM – Indianapolis and beyond

Jeremy does not recognize me. He has never seen me blonde. He, on the other hand, looks exactly the same although, and I remember this too, he is always taller than I remember him. The 1986 Volvo wagon is impressively packed with no obvious gaps for air or my bags. My admiration overwhelms any discomfort at joining my bags in the front seat. I assure Jeremy that this car will be a chick magnet for northeastern women like me who remember it from their elementary carpools and will assume that he played lacrosse and is therefore virile.

Indiana and Ohio are being battered with impressive lightning storms which we drive through for the next several hours. At a gas station, the cashier asks me abruptly and very seriously if I have a “convenience card.” I don’t know if it’s the lack of sleep or her accent, but I momentarily misunderstand this to be a reference to some sort of life-wide program of which I have been unaware. Her inflection said “convenience card” not “Convenience Card (TM).” I look puzzled and she looks annoyed. I pull myself together and reply, discouraged, “No.” To comfort us for the loss of this nirvana card, I introduce Jeremy to Munchies cheese snacks. Like me, he has a sensitive stomach. I assure him that we’ll be fine.

Saturday, 8 PM.er.9 PM – further beyond, Zanesville, West Virginia

We decide to look for dinner. We don’t find it til what we think is 9PM but is actually 10PM. We are now officially on east coast time and all the towns have closed, including the treacherous donut shops. Correction after a few miles: Olive Garden remains open. Before our drink order, we have been brought up to speed, twice, on our waitress’ drive in the snow one night last year from Indiana to this very town of Zanesville. Her husband is in the reserves in Iraq and she says that he and all other troops are clear that they are not there to fight for the Iraqis but to defend “the vice president’s oil.” (I’d have said, “The President’s oil and the Vice President’s business interests,” but whatever.) Despite this, she will not say that she is voting for Kerry. Amazing. To her credit, she doesn’t say that she IS voting for Bush, but it still blows my mind. Her husband hasn’t called in two days.

Saturday, 11:15 PM – somewhere in WV or PA

We call On-Star back home (a.k.a.. R.) and sort out our location, the location of the closest Motel 6 and our likelihood of making it to New York in time for my Sunday flight if we call it a night in West Virginia. I am flagging and begin to forget things I have just said. The conversation turns into what seem to me like non sequiturs from Jeremy. They are actually just his side of the conversation interspersed with my brief naps.

Sunday, 12:45 AM – Washington, PA

We check into the refrigeration unit at Motel 6, otherwise known as Room 326. The place is about 15 degrees and the heat setting blasts distinctly urine-tinged air. I put on all the clothes I have brought with me and get into bed. Like me, Jeremy grinds his teeth. Unlike me, he chews through mouthguards to save his teeth. I just hammer away at my enamel. He says I started in about 20 seconds after the light went out. Great.

Sunday, 5:30 AM PST, 8:30 AM Washington, PA time

I wake up exhausted and immediately begin multiple mathematic calculations in my head to see if I can sleep more. I suck at math and am nearly asleep, so I assume these are all wrong, but I go back to sleep anyway.

Sunday, 10:00 – 3:00 – southern Pennsylvania

On the road again. We convince a McDonald’s employee to hand over their last Egg McMuffins since it’s 10:58, not the dark breakfast cutoff hour of 11 AM. We talk about his ex-girlfriends, my ex-boyfriends and dogs. (Jeremy’s, not the McDonalds guy. Actually, the McDonald’s “guy” was a girl, sympathetic giver that she was.) We discuss Jer’s prospects in the art world of New York. We discuss our mutual prospects of overcoming our parental legacies of religion and emotional dysfunction.

We stop in Valley Forge to recover from deja vu. This is our old college stomping ground to which Jeremy has not been back since graduation. I have spent far too much time there for a far greater portion of my life (my mother’s family spreads across the region, as does a particularly unpopular ex-boyfriend and a highly effective stalking episode which we won’t discuss here) and most memories are not welcome, at least not today. We discuss my stalled fiction class and decide that I will write about Jeremy’s worst ex.

Sunday, 3 PM – Philadelphia and New Jersey

I am driving now, recalling all the multiple routes, signs, turns and previous frequently made errors in getting to New Jersey and New York from southeastern PA. Finally, we hit the awful Goethels Bridge, the hideous and narrow trick mechanism to keep people out of New York, at least people in cars. It’s clearly not working, as proven by the dead stop on the other side of the bridge. Staten Island traffic. Welcome home. The RNC is in town with its hundreds of thousands of protestors in tow. The trek through the boroughs promises to be punishing but is offset by the prospect of seeing the soaring Verrazano Bridge for the first time in four years. The Verrazano is my favorite bridge of all bridges. I take a couple dozen photos of it from the car, a couple of which are pretty good.

I used to drive back to my place in Park Slope following this same route. No matter where I was coming from, it was always faster to come across Staten Island than cut across and down Manhattan. Then and now, I am aware of how I am never sorry to be back in New York. It made no difference if I had had a good time or an awful one while I was away: crossing into Brooklyn, seeing the Verrazono’s blue-grey towers ahead of me and then the skyline of lower Manhattan always gave me a happy thrill to be home.

(Sadly, I have never felt this way about San Francisco. My heart sinks when I think about San Francisco when I am away. I love my life there with R., but, after four years of unhappy flights “home”, I can say with certainty that the city will never have a hold on me.)

Sunday, 5:40 PM – JFK Airport

We have driven directly from the Indianapolis Airport to JFK and have arrived within 5 minutes of check-in. Sweet. I bid Jeremy a rushed farewell and snake through the Delta terminal. When I was booking my flights, I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t taken Delta in three years. At the sight of the check-in billboards, I remember why. They are disorganized, late and generally suck. True to form, the plane is delayed by an hour and a half. I begin to panic, as I do in airline terminals, and then fall into conversation with Tom, a distinguished-looking New Yorker of 22 years who appears to be an executive of some kind. He is headed west on business, ostensibly, but really to escape the Republicans. He begins to explain why he doesn’t get California, San Francisco in particular: “The city’s so spread out. They all surf.” he starts. I interrupt, “Right?! Everyone who lives there lives there to do things that have nothing to do with the city itself: surfing, hiking, skiing.” A fellow thinker, he replies, “I’m so gratified to hear you say that. I’ve always sort of thought that – that’s exactly it.” Tom has no idea how glad I am to hear that someone else, a sympathetic bona fide New Yorker no less, who agrees with views no San Franciscan I know will admit.

Monday, 12:40 AM – SFO

40 hours after I left, all but eight of them spent traveling, I am back at SFO. The plane trip home was predictably awful, but R. greets me with open arms, a ginger ale and a cookie which soothes my frayed nerves. Jeremy was very glad I went, saving him from four days of solo driving and post-break-up wallowing between bouts of regional NPR. I am glad I went, if only for those reasons. I am glad I went for the glamour points too. And I am glad to have seen Jeremy after all these years. I wish I could see more of my writer friends, but there you are: it’s a solitary profession and, as we get older, we are all focusing our lives more on output than on cross-country jaunts. Silly writers. Perhaps I will outgrow that attraction to sudden adventures, but I doubt it. They are the stuff of which books are made.

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Categories: News, Nuisance, Miscellany

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One Comment on “Ridiculous (w)Riters”

  1. jeremy
    September 7, 2004 at 9:54 pm #

    it’s all true and then some. maybe I should try this blogging.

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