In which a cosmopolitan never tasted so good.
Although it felt like the back side of a century, our little misadventure into Oh-shit-ville really only took about an hour and a half. I waited until I was securely within the city limits of Albuquerque to get gas, bringing us perilously close to running out on the side of I-40, and then made a beeline for a Target that I had seen while exiting for the gas station.
We needed to go to Target. We needed bottled water and actual bottles of Tylenol and ibuprofen for the Ogre instead of those little two-pill packets they had at the hotel gift shop. But there was something else pulling me toward all those red balls.
I’ve never been one to shop for relaxation. I actually hate shopping. The only time clothes really ever fit me like they’re supposed to is when I’m pregnant, because that’s the only time my stomach is supposed to be as…ahem…not flat as it is every day. I also have a schizophrenic sense of style, despite my best efforts to streamline my look. Half of my clothes are 50’s housewife, the other half are Veronica Mars, and then the ones I wear are composed entirely of jeans and t-shirts which I’ve had since college. So trying to find things that I can mix and match with my unbelievably un-versatile wardrobe is fairly impossible, and I usually just end up buying one outfit which fits and which doesn’t go with anything I have, and then wearing it once or twice before a child poops on it and I’m too distracted by my blog to get to the stain right away, thus rendering it unwearable.
But today…today was different. I was so shaken by my recent brush with a potentially macabre death, so distressed by my husband’s untimely illness, and so emotionally overwhelmed by a cross-country move, lack of a home to call my own, and the pressures of starting a business that I found myself taking refuge in the familiarity of selecting and trying on clothes.
I have never found such peace and serenity in shopping. It was like an out-of-body experience. Liam babbled happily in the cart, Sienna and Charlotte bobbed along beside me, darting in and out of clothes, and I threw every pair of comfortable-looking road-trip-appropriate yoga pants I found into the cart, followed closely by tank after tank after tank.
I ended up with an adorable pair of capri-cut yoga pants (with a slit in the back of the calves! I can’t describe how much that slit heightens the cuteness factor, you’d just have to see it), two burnout tanks, and two t-shirts. Then I wandered over to the shoes and purchased my very first ever pair of ballet flats.
|Aren’t they adorable?
On the way to the checkout counter I picked up a few shorts and t-shirts for the kids, seeing as how I had only packed a limited number of road-trip-appropriate clothes and our two-day trip had already become three and we were still only halfway there.
As I walked out of the air-conditioned store and into the blazing New Mexico sun, I was overcome with the most wonderful sense of well-being. I felt that in spite of everything, in spite of our move, in spite of the rocky and possibly bleak times ahead, in spite of the fever that had struck my husband and in spite of my woefully inept sense of direction, still life would always be okay, as long as we never moved too far away from a Target.
I felt so much better, in fact, that I decided to renew my search for an Olive Garden. I was determined that my husband would have Zuppa Toscana, so I doggedly followed the GPS locator on my little Droid to not one, oh no, not one, but two closed Olive Gardens. On opposite sides of the city. And Albuquerque is no a small town, y’all.
As I sat in the car and idled outside of the second one, cursing it’s shuttered windows and the innocent vines still climbing the walls, reminding me of what it wasn’t, I spotted a Chili’s on the other side of the street. By this time the sun was descending and it was long past time for the Ogre’s next dose of Tylenol, so I knew I needed to get food and get back. I stomped on the gas and sped across four lanes, pulled wildly into the To-Go parking, gathered my minions around me and entered the To-Go entrance with the perhaps the slightest air of desperation about me.
The girl behind the counter looked a little stunned when I walked in, carrying one child in each arm and with Sienna clinging to my leg. “Um….hello. Can I…help you? Are you picking up?” she asked warily. “No, I’d like to order some food to go,” I said, “but first, can I please have a cosmopolitan?” The girl carded me, of course, and then handed me a menu and turned to put my drink order in. “Wait…” said I. “Could you…could you please make it a very stiff one?” She raised one eyebrow and then looked pointedly at my children, as if to imply that my imbibing of a stiff drink could somehow hurt them. What she didn’t know is that my imbibing of a stiff drink has repeatedly saved their lives, so I was not to be deterred. I stared stonily back. “They’re already pretty strong,” she said. “Yes, I know,” I replied, “but I’d like it to be even stronger.” She gave a noncommittal jerk of her head and walked away, while I fervently hoped that the bartender possessed a more understanding soul.
A few minutes later she returned with my cosmopolitan, the maker of which most definitely did not understand the meaning of the word “stiff”, and a chocolate shake for the girls. After she took my order we all sat on the uncomfortable benches, slurping happily and waiting for our food. My girls looked as beat-up as I felt, with dark circles under their eyes and their hair wild and falling across their faces. Charlotte had a dirt smear across her forehead and Sienna’s shirt was torn. I felt like we had gone twelve round with life and lost.
By the time we returned to the hotel, the Ogre’s fever had receded to normal. He was able to sit up, eat a bit of soup and drink some Gatorade, and then everyone went to bed. I slept fitfully and awoke early, anxious to either get on the road or get the Ogre to a doctor. He still had a slight fever and still felt lousy, but we both agreed that we needed to at least try to make Amarillo by evening.
But as we drove out of Albuquerque, it became clear that this was not going to be an easy day of driving. The winds….the winds were insane. If you’ve never driven across the plains in high winds, you won’t understand just now intense the winds can be. The Ogre was using the full strength of both his arms, his fingers clenched tightly around the wheel, his forehead creased with concentration. Even small cars were being blown around inside their lanes. Every once in a while a big gust would sweep across the highway and an unprepared driver would be swept out of his lane, rapidly overcorrecting and shooting into the other lane. We held our breath when we had to pass big rigs, speeding around them at speeds as high as 90, riding the far left line and occasionally taking to the shoulder for added safety. Our plan to switch off driving went out the window. There was no way I could hold the car steady in winds like this. The Ogre loaded up on Excedrin migraine and coffee and plowed through the day with a constant low-grade fever, hacking cough, raw throat and sinus headache.
It was not a fun day, but we made it to Amarillo before the sun went down. We finally found an Olive Garden right on the edge of town, got some food, and headed straight for our fifth night in a hotel.
As we approached the hotel, we noticed a huge cloud of smoke off to the east. A wildfire was raging just outside the city limits. After we unloaded and got settled we sat down to eat and flipped on the TV, which informed us that the city of Amarillo was on alert for evacuation, particularly the exact area we were in.
As luck would have it they managed to contain the fire just before midnight, but it made for a few tense hours. The Ogre went out to get gas and came back with Bluebell ice cream, the lack of which has seriously jeopardized my happiness these past three years, and when the girls had trouble sleeping I climbed into the sofa bed with them, the ice cream, and three spoons, and we ate ice cream in the dark, at midnight, until their little tummies were full of sugary, creamy goodness and their eyelids were heavy and drooping.
The next morning we were out of the hotel quickly, all of us feeling the proximity of our goal, all of us anxious to get going. As we drove away from Amarillo I watched the Ogre carefully. The winds were just as high as they had been the day before, and he was slightly less in control. His face was pale and his cough was worse. He drove valiantly, though, until we got to Childress, at which point I insisted on taking over.
Let me tell you, I have never driven in winds like that before. After twenty minutes, my biceps were shaking from the effort I was having to exert to keep us in our lane. Every time we passed a big rig, I held my breath, said frantic prayers in my head, and stomped on the gas. Eventually I found myself doing 95 out sheer desperation. The faster I went, the easier the car was to control, and the faster I went, the quicker we would be out of the winds and safe at my parent’s house.
As we approached Wichita Falls, the winds finally slackened a little. I stopped for gas and pried by white-knuckled fingers off the steering wheel, flexing and unflexing them. The Ogre woke up and we switched again for the last leg.
Just as we were entering the outskirts of the Metroplex, just as I was beginning to recognize things, to feel that we were home, we crossed an unfamiliar intersection. We were going the speed limit, and there were no signs, and as soon as we saw it we were upon it. A deep, sharp dip. We flew over it, cringing, and felt the car launch upward and snap back down. We heard a sickening crunch, snap, creeeeeaaaaak.
By that point in our journey, we were too exhausted to even talk about what might have just happened to the car. We looked at each other, sighed deeply, and hung our heads. The car loped along on the highway, steering weirdly and braking badly, and we made for my parent’s house like a dying person makes for a mirage in the desert.
But it was no mirage, and at last we made it. My parents had steak and potatoes and sweet, glorious wine waiting. We ate and drank and bathed the children and slept, and even in the ensuing two weeks that have been filled with bronchitis, a broken car, bumps, bruises and tantrums, we still look at each other and say, “at least we’re not still on the road.”