Janet Sheridan: Car sick
I spot them as soon as they enter a restaurant: weary, shoes untied, crumbs littering their clothing. They remove their sunglasses, rub the bridges of their noses and order with little interest; then they smooth out a wrinkled map or peer at a digital version on their cellphones. Road trippers.
Grooming goes first. I start a road trip freshly showered with brushed teeth, styled hair, accessories and clean clothes. Though I do nothing but sit all day, by the time we pull in at night, I look like hell.
The car deteriorates with me. We set out in a spotless vehicle with everything in its place: purse at my feet, cooler back-seat center where I can access it with a minimum of acrobatics, Joel’s briefcase carrying technology and 36 chargers on the left, coats on the right, everything else in the trunk.
By trip’s end, we sit in bedlam: stray bits of food in odd places, water bottles rolling and clanking, empty coffee cups mounting to the windows, purchases from outlet stores stuffed here and there — more madness than method in the placement of anything, so its every man for himself when it comes to finding Joel’s sunglasses or my sanity.
My husband doesn’t suffer from my hell-in-a-hand-basket syndrome, perhaps because he drives and I meet his every whim: More air? You bet. More heat? Of course. Turkey sandwich? On the way. Help you take off your coat? Certainly. Scratch your back? With pleasure. Find the atlas buried under the fishing supplies you bought at Cabella’s? No problem. Use the atlas to calculate the distance between Denver and that little Kansas town you can’t remember the name of? Sure thing.
Much of the scruffiness I feel when traveling comes from using public restrooms where happiness is finding a hook for my purse, a stall that locks and a toilet that flushes. The facilities at roadside rest areas vary from clean and welcoming to questionable and waterless; and when watched by a worker at a convenience store or fast-food chain, I feel I should pay rent by buying something I don’t want.
I enjoy the on-the-road conversations I have with my husband, rambling discussions punctuated by laughter, but silence sometimes descends as we mentally and mournfully compute the number of miles remaining. Even during these non-talkative times, however, one comment comes along as regularly as a slow driver in the fast lane: Joel says, “Look at that!” Then, while I search for a wondrous sight, adds, “Unbelievable, gas was only $2.35 back there.”
When Joel and I realized we no longer possessed young, resilient bodies, we vowed to stop and walk five minutes every hour, every trip. We figured that between Craig and Illinois, where our children live, walking would cost us 90 minutes of travel time, a small price to pay for not exiting the car looking like corkscrews.
On the road, however, our good intentions dwindle as quickly as our gusto for restaurant food. The rhythm of the road overtakes us, and we invent reasons to keep going: There’s no good place to pull over; we’re almost there; I just took off my shoes.
Our road trips pose new challenges when we stay with others along the way. We’ve driven all day; we’re tired, disheveled and moving like arthritic aardvarks. But can we give in to our weariness? Oh, no. We plaster smiles on our faces and act thrilled with everything: the twin bed in the basement, the plans to eat dinner at a restaurant a short 30-mile drive away and the dog that drops dripping chew toys in our laps.
The nightmare worsens in the morning, when I’m expected to respond. I don’t do bright-faced, chipper, and chirpy before 8 — especially after a road trip when I know that two days or two weeks hence, we’ll crawl back into the car for the tortures of the return trip.
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