Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day 5: Kansas City, MO – Columbus, OH (657 miles)

Departure time: 8:30am CST
Arrival Time 12:30am EST
Penske trucks: 7
Dead deer: 2
Wish I had could've brought: Mom

Our alarms went off at 6:00. I had showered the night before so I went right back to bed, waiting until Traci showered before getting out of bed.

When she woke me again, it was 7:26 and she was still sitting in the chair by her bed with her laptop on her lap, talking on the phone. While she was on hold, she explained that today our reason for leaving late was so she could set up her appointment to get cable/Internet/phone in her new apartment.

She couldn't do that from the road? I thought and said. But this was her trip and I was just glad for the extra sleep. As much as I loved the idea of getting on the road at 7:00am so we'd have a decent amount of time to relax in our new city, it also required getting up before 7:00am. We've never been morning people. But she had specifically said she wanted to start early today so we could see the arch in St Louis and get to Columbus in time for her to visit some college friends.

I hadn't even thought about the arch, but once she mentioned it, I thought it would be totally cool to see. We could at least stop and see one really cool landmark on this trip...and besides, after leaving at noon the day before, I felt positively accomplished about getting out before 9:00.

Our free breakfast was right in line with the rest of the accommodations at the 'Quality Inn,' which is to say, severely lacking. No hot food, some boiled eggs I didn't trust and tiny dry looking muffins. We both went for the relatively safe Fruit Loops. At least the milk was on ice. I got a Styrofoam cup of orange juice, and longed for my environmentally friendly familiar surroundings. The OJ was sour and I nearly spit it out. We took 2 minutes to finish our cereal and I took a yogurt to eat in the car. Traci reminded me to grab a spoon.

“We have spoons in the car,” I reminded her. Lovely, New Seasons biodegradable spoons made from corn. I couldn't wait to go home.

What we didn't have was water, since our gallon from the previous day had gotten a leak in it. I knew we needed gas though and the station just before the freeway said $2.99 so I figured we'd stop there on our way out.

This was the start of the day's mis-communications. Traci passed right by the station and hit the highway. When I asked why, she said she'd wait and get gas down the road. “Well, I need water,” I told her. Sometimes I can't figure that girl out. It made absolutely no sense to me to pass up perfectly cheap gas at the outset of the day in favor of having to stop less than 15 minutes later. When the next station came along, she was all set to cruise merrily past it as well and I had to tell her to pull off. I was sick of dehydration headaches.

With three full water bottles, some Tang and a full gas tank, we got on the road for real and I passed the time until my drive shift reading Mixed by Angela Nissel, a book about being biracial in America and the funniest thing I've read in a while. We stopped at the rest stop just past the Missouri border. Not only did the toilets flush automatically (of course) but the sinks were fully automated. All you did was stick your hand under the appropriate spot and soap squirted into your waiting hands, followed by a stream of water and then a blow dryer that actually lasted till my hands were dry. “A no-move, no-touch experience!” boasted the sign above the sink. I would've been more impressed if I hadn't turned around to find a door handle waiting to be pulled. All that, and they couldn't reverse the entrance to push on the way out? At least then you can use your foot, if you're that paranoid about germs.

I took over after a couple of hours, with 129 miles to St Louis. We agreed to stop there, see the arch and have a real lunch since breakfast was so bad. Once we got into city territory, our Ipods became useless because we couldn't find a dead radio station for the radio receiver adapter. Traci thought a new adapter that worked with any station instead of our current four preprogrammed ones would work better so we looked at our Rand McNally Atlas from Wal-mart which helpfully lists the location of every Wal-mart in the country. There were stores available at three of the next seven exits.

We got back on the road and straight into the worst traffic jam I've ever seen. Three lanes of traffic and the only one moving was the one on the right and only because those people were headed towards the exit. We did see a group of six guys on motorcycles and they were all black, so of course we took pictures. Poor little deprived Oregon girls.

I thought I could finish the drive to St Louis before handing over the wheel, but the traffic jam did me in. The boredom of sitting in one place and inching forward was too much. I could barely keep my eyes open. I figured if I did hit someone at least we were only going 5 mph, but decided there was no point in risking it. I put it in park and we switched seats without getting out. I thought about making a movie of the traffic jam with some commentary, but I was too sleepy. I rested my head on my balled up shirt and promptly fell out.

Some time later, I woke up to Traci hitting me on the leg. Apparently, it had taken a few tries. I jerked upright, still woozy and half asleep, but I saw immediately why she was hitting me. We were approaching downtown St Louis and the arch stretched up magnificently in front of us. I snapped out of my fog enough to grab my camera and take a few pictures. Traci said there was an elevator that went to the top or close to it. Now that I'd laid eyes on it, I couldn't wait. For an hour or so we could feel like we were on a real road trip.

St Louis ArchWhen the arch passed out of view and we crossed the Mississippi, still moving away, I spoke up.

“I'm confused.”


“We seem to be going away from the arch.”

“Oh, did you think we were going to stop?” She looked stricken. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean I wanted to stop—I just wanted to go through downtown so we could see it. I want to get to Columbus.”

I got terribly upset when she said this and she could tell. “Do you want me to go back?” she asked.

“Well, yeah!” I said, knowing we probably wouldn't. She went on to explain that she didn't know where we could park the truck downtown and how we'd end up in Columbus really late, etc. I could've pressed the issue, but I knew she was right.

None of it made me feel any better. For some reason, I had been focusing on that arch as the only thing I had to look forward to all day. My feeling of disappointment magnified all out of proportion as the miles ticked on.

Before we left Portland, I called my grandmother to check in. I usually call her before a big trip, cause I know she likes to schedule her praying and worrying time. We talked about the trip and things in general. She asked how I was doing in a way that I knew really meant, how's the grieving? I told her what I tell everyone, that I'm generally fine until I'm not. I told her about going back to the beach where I took mom this time last year. She asked how that was and I said it was fine. The things you would expect to be hard (like mother's day) don't really seem to get to me.

“So what does trigger you?” she asked.

“I don't know until it happens,” I said.

Apparently, this was the new trigger. Steer clear of aborted trips to the arch of St Louis. But it was too late. The disappointment caused the wave of grief I'd been holding off for two days to swell up and cover me completely.

I tried to go back to sleep, but instead just sat there with tears streaming down thinking about mom—how she should have been doing this trip instead of me, or we should have all been on it together or at least Traci and I should have been able to call and tell her to watch some cheesy movie we'd made of our trip to see the arch and posted on the Internet.

After a while, I reached for my book again, hoping to distract myself from having a full scale meltdown in the car. It sort of worked. I still had to wipe my eyes and nose with a napkin every few minutes, but I wasn't a total wreck.

Then Traci asked if I need the rest area that was coming up.

We pulled into it, our little truck dwarfed in a row of five or six semi's. Traci stayed in the truck while I got out and made what seemed like a mile walk to the bathroom/visitors center. When I got inside, there were two open stalls and two women waiting in line. “No toilet paper in those,” I heard one of them say.

Great. I can't even wipe my eyes
, I thought. I kept my shades on and tried to breath deeply. I could just imagine what I looked like to strangers, 'cause when a stall finally opened, the older woman who'd been waiting said, “You go ahead honey.” I must've looked as on edge as I felt.

So I went in and peed and cried in peace. Sobs wracked me but I kept them silent except when the noise of flushing or blow drying gave me cover to wail in peace. The last thing I wanted was to have to explain to some nice traveler that no, I was fine, just my mom was dead.

But I couldn't really take up the stall for too long so eventually I pulled it together long enough to wash my hands and go outside. I took a big wad of the coveted toilet paper and continued my breakdown at a nice shaded picnic table, undisturbed by other travelers.

When I was finally done, I walked back to the truck, where Traci was still waiting. When I opened the door, she said, “Thanks for not ditching me and hitching back to Oregon.”

I assured her that I wasn't mad about the arch incident and I wasn't going to ditch her. “Mom already ditched us both.”

Not only did we not stop to see the arch, but St Louis was now well behind us and no lunch had been had either. Traci had assumed that the row upon row of suburban exits containing endless food choices would be repeated on the other side of the city, but that was definitely not the case. Now we were both starving and I had a headache from crying.

We finally stopped at some tiny podunk—I can't even use the word town-- and ate at the Red Apple family restaurant. The floor was dirty, our table hadn't been wiped and I sat gingerly on the outside of the booth to avoid the crumbs and what looked like a smudge of Crisco on the inside. At least I didn't see any roaches. I had encountered my first one at a Taco Bell a few hundred miles back and I was just a little freaked out. “Welcome to the east coast,” was Traci's response.

What the Apple lacked in cleanliness, it made up for in the one waitress on duty. She was friendly without seeming fake—the total picture of a small town cliché. She asked if we were ready. I had been studying the menu trying to find something that might be safe to eat. I hadn't quite decided, but thought a salad might be OK so I said I was ready, even though I had no clue what I wanted. When Traci ordered a BLT, I decided to follow suit. On this trip I seem to always end up ordering something different and then wishing I'd gotten what she ordered. My instincts were correct. The BLT was surprisingly good and so were the fries. We made short work of them and got back on the road.

We saw this cross, the largest I've ever seen, in the town of Effingham, IL.

My next drive shift came up at the Indiana border. Depression makes me tired and after 30 minutes, I was struggling, but Traci had been driving for hours, so I felt bad giving up so soon. I pulled into a Flying J and bought a couple of iced bottled frapuccinos and jumped up and down for a minute. After that I was fine.

Once again, near the border of Ohio, where Traci planned to take over, we hit (almost literally) another ridiculous traffic snarl. I had to change lanes to avoid hitting the car in front of me the change in speed was so sudden. After that everyone started merging into the left lane, so we followed suit. After crawling along for 20 minutes with no idea why, we finally passed two cars pulled over on the side of the road. They didn't look like they'd been in an accident, but there were two black, shaved headed monks standing outside the cars wearing long flowing bright pink and purple robes. Sadly, I could not get my camera out in time for that one.

Traffic picked back up after that and I was relieved from driving shortly after we crossed into Ohio. Traci graduated from OSU and even though it was late, we stopped to see her friends J and D and sat visiting on their porch for a half hour. Under the circumstances, I thought I displayed great patience. Finally we went to the hotel, another Comfort Suites that was much cleaner than the Kansas City Quality Inn. There was no Internet signal though and I had been assured hotels with wifi on this trip. A quick reading of the information card revealed that access could only be had through the wired Ethernet system. If you don't have a cord, one can be purchased at the front desk, the card said.

What kind of primitive crap was that? We weren't even going to be there a full 12 hours. So annoying. Traci went to check it out and the front desk clerk offered to loan it to us if we brought it back by the 6:30am shift change. But in the end, we needed the sleep and Traci just bought the cord. I spent an hour or so catching up on mail and fell into bed.

One more day of driving to go.

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