Notes From The Road.
Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelll

Today I drove 40 miles south, then a few hours later I drove back. I saw at least ten cars pulled over, but only got a look at four of the drivers. Two black; two white. I wish I could say I believed there’s a chance the six drivers I didn’t see were white.

Christians, if you’re going to drive like assholes, maybe don’t have those WWJD bumper stickers or icthyses placed prominently on the rear end of your car which I will undoubtedly see as you cut me off.

Brokeass white people with Romney Ryan stickers left over from ’12, one of these days I really will rear end one of you. Know how I know your asses are broke? You drive Jeeps and Ford Escapes from ’89 that almost look lacy for all the rust. Your cars make more noise than semis, and not cos you installed a muffler enhancer. And at least half of you drive around shirtless.

Anybody reading this have any experience with 4th graders and pickup lines? Asking for a friend.

Thinking about law school and getting a PhD with equal lather lately. Anybody know the starting salary for a social justice lawyer? HAHAHA.

Sometimes, I eat onions then I smell really bad.

Nobody in my family loves the Green Ralph Lauren cologne the way I do. Anybody who wears that wanna follow me around so I can inhale deeply your delicious odor like a sweaty perv?

My student’s incomplete is due on Monday. I will turn in his grade on Friday. Don’t know why I feel so anxious about whether or not he will actually turn in his incomplete. Maybe it’s related to the fact that I haven’t been brave enough to view my scores on rate my professor dot com.

Finally, I’m 34. It’d be really unfair if I were really perimenopausal. If, in fact, I am, I am looking for a gynecological surgeon for some pro bono work on my uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. You may keep them for study. Say you found them in a dumpster. I don’t care.

I picked up a hitchhiker once.

Public Domain Image

I did.  At a gas station just above Harrisburg.  I was 20 or newly 21.  I was on my way from Carlisle, PA, visiting my folks, to New Haven, CT, where I lived.

I stopped at one of those rundown places with a massive parking lot in the distance where rows of semi trailers parked, and if you looked hard, you could see the shimmer of silver sequined halter tops sliding from one tractor bed to the next.

There was a defunct diner in an adjacent parking lot.  I did not feel safe.

The store itself, where I stopped probably for cigarettes or to pee, was highlighted in a circle of yellow light–like something out of an indie horror movie, or if the moon was a big, yellow spotlight.

It was on the cracked sidewalk outside where Dan the hitchhiker (that’s his real name) stopped me.  Dan was a short, skinny man with short, black hair and 36-hour shadow.  To my inexperienced eye, he could’ve been anywhere from 30 to 50 years old.  He said, “Can I get a ride?”

“Um, where?”  I said.  “I’m headed north.”  So I was stupid, but not THAT stupid.  I was also wide open to the world, having recently discovered that it was mine for the taking.  I was interested in new people, new ideas, in the beyond-reasonable benefit of a doubt.  I wanted to have faith in my fellow humans.  I still do.

“I’m trying to get to Boston.”  He said.  He must’ve seen the doubt in my eyes, because he said, “I’m a healer, not a killer.”  He shoved this plastic handled bag at me, wide open, said, “Look.”

I looked, mostly for the darkness of a gun.  My naivete told me that I could only get hurt by the man if he had a gun.  The stuff inside his bag was normal.  A bar of soap, a hand towel, a little bottle of shampoo, a notepad. He wore an unwashed, woven poncho, like the kind tourists bring back from New Mexico.   It was a gray that I assumed had been white and black striped.

“I don’t think so.” I said.

“Please?” he said.

I was a small woman when I was 20.  Toned and slender from youth and waiting tables, and I had a very short hair cut.  I did not have the self confidence or widsom to say “No!” and run.  So I said, “Sure.  Why not?”

Dan never smiled.  The whole time he was in my car.  He had at best a neutral expression, but more often a frown.

Whenever I reflect on this endeavor, which fills me with embarrassment and gratefulness that I escaped the situation utterly unharmed, it seems to me that I would now find Dan to be a completely harmless, but pompous, doofus.  I would not invite him into my car or my home.

Dan stank.  I kept my window open.  I remember wishing I could open his, but I drove a 1996 Saturn with manual windows, and I didn’t want to lean across him.  Apparently it’d been a while since he used his hand towel and soap.

He slept intermittently.  He told me vaguely about having split with his wife, and having been on the road for 7 or 8 months.

“What do you think of the death penalty?” He asked me.

“I hate it.”  I said.


“Who are we to kill people for killing people?  It doesn’t make sense.”

“Your ideas on this mean you are evolved.”

I remember that I worked through my reasoning as we continued the conversation.  I did that  a lot back then.  I had less well-rehearsed logic, I hadn’t made up my mind about much.  I was eager to wear another’s shoes, to experience empathy and excuse poor behavior.

I stopped in Bridgeport because Dan asked me to find a phone.  We found one.  I was annoyed because I was eager to get home.  My intention was to drop Dan at one of the giant, well-lit, rest stops along route 95 just above Bridgeport.

He’d become more aggressive and demanding in the way disadvantaged strangers do upon being shown a kindness.

“Won’t you please just take me to your place?  I’d love a shower.”

“No.  I can’t.  I have a roommate, and I don’t have his permission.”  The truth was that I knew that S, who was–in many ways–more mature and responsible than I was, would’ve been livid if I took Dan to our little apartment and offered him a shower.  It was before widespread cell phone use, so I couldn’t call to ask.

When Dan got out of my car to make his phone call, he left his door hanging wide open, which struck me as reasonable and clever, given his strange state of living.  It occurred to me to drive off anyway, but his more aggressive behavior made me concerned that he was volatile, and we were nearly to the well-lit rest stop.

Between Bridgeport and the rest stop, Dan babbled on about his shower.  I’d stopped talking, and was feeling extremely nervous.

Before exiting my car, Dan made one last plug for continuing to my residence for a shower, and, he said, “who knows.”

When I was steadfast in my refusal, he insisted on an address and phone number–I gave him fakes–for the purpose of he said, “repaying kindnesses.  I will drop you a note in the future.”  There were tons of other addresses and phone numbers there, most of them were–I imagine–false.

Even at the time, I was acutely aware of my luck, which was about 330% better than my management.

And now, friends, you have a secret I kept from most everyone until about 6 years later when I was a mom and I admitted doing this to my mom who said, “Oh, April!” In the way she does when my behavior confounds and distresses her.

I’m practicing facing hard feelings from the past, admitting stupidity/wrongdoing.  This is one of the hardest-to-reckon, most embarrassing events of my life thus far.  I still can’t fathom what I was thinking, doubly so as a parent, and probably won’t let Child go anywhere by herself until she’s 30.

On Recovery, Holidays, and Work Schedules

this is from The Worldwide Gourmet (.com)

Until almost bedtime last night, I had not done a lick of work since Wednesday the 23rd when I drove to NYC to pick up my little sister at Penn Station.  That was an 8 hour day in the car.

Driving in NYC is not like other driving, and being a good city driver is a skill set that makes you suck at driving in, say, Williamsport, PA.

I love Williamsport, but this town is full of deeply defensive drivers and SUVs and Fracking trucks which is a recipe for total frustration and potential disaster.  There are also too many blue hairs driving Chevy Cavaliers, ancient Buicks, and Cadillacs.

In an unrelated aside: Child is watching a cartoon on Netflix that has a theme song by The Cure.  Catches me off guard every time.

Back to driving: going because you have to, and driving at the maximum possible speed are invigorating habits, and ones I forgot I had.  Driving in NYC was illuminating.  I acquired city (and New England) driving habits when I was a pretty young driver.  These habits are why Fella (and others) say I am a bad driver, and why people in college used to talk about what a good driver I am.  I am not a bad driver, I am a misfit driver.  This place isn’t city enough for my driving habits.  Realizing this, however, has made me cognizant of the different driving behaviors I need for Williamsport, and I’m working on it.

In another unrelated aside: Child is reading now.  She has shut off the TV of her own volition and is reading to herself.  Every fifth word or so, she shouts in here, “What’s K-N-O-W?”  I am totally proud. (Before you judge me, it’s a sick day, too.  She’s got a fever and a cough.)

So Child is home today because it’s the first day of Buck season.  Another thing that is silly about PA that is not silly about other places I have lived and visited.

Fella and I had a lovely long weekend of cuddles and beer and too much eating and breaks for coffee and kisses.  Child was visiting Grandma.

Thanksgiving as a vegetarian is only nice if you have an accommodating family.  I happen to be lucky in that way.

I am tired but renewed, and glad glad glad the holidays only happen for 1/12th of the year.


Do I have “Can’t Say No” tattooed on my forehead?

I’m too nice.  I’ve known it for years.  Also, I am a little bit of a magnet for wacko people.  Perhaps it is my superior intellect.  Perhaps it is my warm smile and familiar face.  It may, too, be my surpassing sense of face fashion: my carefully selected piercings & swell spectacles.

I was kind of hoping my wacko-magnet powers ebbed a bit as I matured, but I’m afraid my wacko-sniffer got a little better, and my wack0-magnetism became a bit more pronounced.

Let me preface this with I dig the hell out of people who’re not quite right, people who ruin the cookie cutter.  I love people from other places, with strange obsessions, wild desires to know everything about something nobody else has ever heard of, people who have marginalized music taste, people who wear funky clothes and can’t be bothered with some of the commonly accepted–but unnecessary–elements of basic hygiene (leg shaving, eyebrow waxing, etc).  I would probably confess to being not quite right myself if it didn’t have a pile of stigma attached, especially for a woman.  As of this blog post, I will only confess to being utterly average in every way.  (But I’m a damn fine editor and writer.  You should totally hire me.)

The wackos I’m talking about are people who have really absurd notions about what is polite and acceptable to ask of another person.  People who think that eye contact = death bond.  That a “hello” means, “Let’s be bestest friends forever, okay?  OKAY?”

I’ve been kind of mulling this one over.  I’m not sure whether it’s okay to post about it or not.  Indecision probably means I shouldn’t, but it’s such a great little parable.  Such surpassing evidence of my ability to ace the sucker quiz.  And maybe writing about it will reveal some particular insight that I’ve missed.

So one of the ankle-deep rain days last week, I dropped Pearl off at school in my car because I’m on my way somewhere, and it’s raining, and it just seems like a driving day, even though we live like 1 block from school.

I’m hustling my pudgy little body back to my pudgy little car, carrying my new age umbrella with the astrological signs inside, and this woman yells across the sidewalk, “Ma’am!  MA’AM!”  I whip around thinking my cell phone is back in one of the puddles and am surprised to note that a young mom–no telling how young, really, but I think younger than I am–is standing close enough to be under my umbrella.

She’s wearing a velour jumpsuit, and hair extensions best as I can tell, and her teeth are distracting because they are GOLD.  All of them are gold.  Perhaps her teeth possess hypnotic power.

She says, “Do you want to be my carpool?”
“Well, we walk most days.  I just drove today because I’m off on an errand.”
“Could you give me a ride to school tomorrow?  We live like 17 blocks away.  I am soaking wet.”
“I walk most days.”
“Well I mean just if it’s bad.  Could you come get me?”
“Um, we walk most days, but I can give you a ride home now.”

Aside from the fact that carpool is a term that typically denotes a give and take, somehow, on the way home, I get cornered by my inability to say no, especially if doing so has the potential to make me seem racist.  And the woman, who does not reveal her name until we’ve stopped at a stop sign (with no space to get around us), and she wants for me to assure her that I will bring and take her and her kindergartner to school on bad weather days as reliably as the mailman, and for me to assure her, too, that I will remember where she lives.

Reluctantly I write down my number and tell her that I’ll drive her if the weather’s really, really bad, but that we’ll be walking if the weather is even remotely passable.

She introduces herself as DeeDee, as if knowing her name is a privilege of being beholden to her, and I drive off, finally.

She calls me that afternoon to confirm that I’ll pick her up in the morning, and to test the phone number and give me hers.  She leaves a message and I call her back.  She asks me three times if I’ll come get her and she asks me if I remember where she lives.  She does not say thank you.

So the next day school is cancelled and DeeDee leaves a message on my phone asking me to call her back, even though she knows that school is cancelled.  I do not call her back, because I see no reason to do so, and frankly, I am chagrined. And my impulse when chagrined is to be passive-aggressive.  And when it matters, I try like hell to curb the desire, but sometimes, I just can’t.

The next day I call DeeDee in the morning, which is refreshingly not-raining and even edging toward sunny, to tell her that Pearl and I are going to be walking.

She says, “Why didn’t you call me back yesterday?”
“School was cancelled.  I didn’t see a reason to.”
“I wanted you to call me back.  People call other people back when they call them.  How am I supposed to get in touch with you if you don’t answer your phone.”  Here, DeeDee’s tone is annoyed and demanding.
“I wasn’t near my phone when you called, I didn’t see a reason to call you back, since school was cancelled.” My tone is incredulous and defensive.
“Well I wanted you to call me back.  I don’t know anybody here.  I want to be friends.  Can you still take me if the weather’s bad?” Now her tone is kitten-soft.
“Sure, as long as you let me know by 8:00 a.m.” Because I want to help people and I really have no reason to say no, and it’s not that far, and good karma, and all the other ways I justify doing things that are too nice.
“How about 7:30?”
“So you’ll answer your phone?”
“Yes!” I think she can hear the agitation in my voice.
“I’m really happy you’re helping me out, but I need to know you’ll answer your phone.”
“Okay, DeeDee.  Bye bye.”
“Bye.” (a millisecond passes) “Hello??”
“Can you take us this afternoon if it’s bad?”
“If it’s bad.”
“Do you remember where I live?”
“Okay.  I’ll be waiting on the porch.”
“Okay, but if it’s not raining, we’re going to walk.”

Please note my spinelessness with special glee.  Not a single time did I answer in the negative or point out to her the fact that accosting people in the rain and then demanding they call you back under the (insane) pretense of wanting to be friends is not a good way to make friends.

Dang.  I have no new perspective.  I still feel like a spineless idiot.  A well-intentioned one, true, but one who is too ruled by guilt and wariness of being thought of as a racist to be effectively assertive and have boundaries about strangers and fuel and time.

Anybody else have any perspective?  Any insight?  I’m resolved to drive DeeDee when necessary, but I’m interested in avoiding these kinds of events in the future.  Without being a jerk who just turns around and runs.