Sunday, August 19, 2012


I mentioned a few posts back that I am an awesome driver. I am also an awesome traveler, except for planes. The whole flying thing just sucks, in my book. This going up, then down thing, does not one whit for me. The fact that I have done so much of it does not familiarize me with the process and soothe me. No, I am certain we are going straight into the ground like a lawn dart on the next take off. I leave that shit alone. The fact that my parents were both pilots just speaks to their particular derangements when it came to any type of travel at all. I’ve already mentioned my mother’s spectacular driving abilities. Well, my father was no slouch either. Between the two of them, they produced a driver of epic proportions; a true Cossack, a veritable Taras Bulba. All I lacked were Mongol Hordes. Alack, and alas.

Such epicness is not solely born; it is inculcated over years. One of my earliest memories is a strange and deranged car trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to visit my Mad Scientist Uncle, who worked at Area 51. The trip was supposed to take 4 hours. It may have taken 4 minutes, or 40 hours. Time had no meaning on this trip. I was about 9 years old and it was late fall, or early winter, as I remember. The tumbleweeds had dried up and were racing along the road, pretty much keeping pace with my father as he drove. He was driving about 55 miles per hour. Actually, knowing him, it was probably more like 85 miles per hour, so the tumble weeds were a tumblin’ along. Keeping pace with the car. One of those Santa Anas, in reverse, I guess.

My mother starts to make up one of her “stories.” My mother was a huge Harlan Ellison fan. She pretty much mainlined him. “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” was one of her favorites. The fact that I had read that book at the age of 8 doesn’t really say much for my folks’ sense of what was considered “age-appropriate.” I also read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” before I was 11 and had regularly read James Thurber, so I was pretty prepared for all the shenanigans that my parents conceived and performed.

Ma doesn’t disappoint. “Okay, so, there’s this little innocent tumbleweed tumbling down the road. It’s a cute little tumbleweed. All the cars are driving by. The kids are pointing and laughing and enjoying this sweet tumbleweed.” My father joins in, “Pretty soon, some teenage tumbleweeds join in. They’re a little bigger and they’re like D.J. tumbleweeds; they have duckbill haircuts and camel cigarettes and stuff. The kids in the cars don’t think this is so funny.” Well, we’ve been down this road before, literally and metaphorically. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to figure out that by the end of this story, there is one giant tumbleweed that has eaten all the cars at the terminus of this freeway and the kids are all bloody and broken. But the thing that to this day just cracks me up. My parents. The glee. The hellish, screechy laughter. You would think you had Lilith and Beelzebub in the front seat. Beyond hilarious. Broaden your horizons with reading.

Well, so some of my most amusing times were had in cars and while driving. I had my mom in the passenger seat once on the way from Tampa to Detroit. I was bringing her up for a visit. I had a concert, and I had driven down to get her, so she could visit me in my environs. The afore mentioned flying thing wasn’t happening and I had some extra time. I also loved, loved, loved to drive. Serious road trips. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people that gets behind the wheel and drives from point A to point B, non-stop. We were somewhere in Georgia and just kind of cruising along. The weather was overcast, kind of misting and mysterious, but pleasant. A sign said “Unadilla, blah-blah miles.” Ma launches into this story, “Once, there was this Armadillo. Now you know armadillos always have 4 babies, but this one only had 1 baby, so, they named the town Unadilla.” I said, “Okay, that was sweet.” She continues, “But, did you know that there is this other town, farther on, they named it Quadradilla, for all the other unsung armadillos that had 4 babies?” I said, “What the fuck, Ma?”

She was getting dozy. She wasn’t in the greatest of health at the time. I asked her if she wanted to take a rest. She said, “No, let’s ride a ways.” She dozed off. I drove on for about an hour, lulled by the road. It was peaceful. No distractions. No music. It’s calm and quiet. The sun has set. It’s still misting and the mountains are pretty. All of a sudden, she lurches up out of her sleep and barks at me “Pink socks!” I almost drove off the damned mountain.

She was so embarrassed, for all of about 2 seconds and then just thought that was hilarious. It was. Of course, that went right into the family annals.

Ma liked to “navigate.” It was preferable to her driving, but was still not the best of options. Once, back in August, 1987, shortly after my father died, she came to take a “tour” of Michigan, as she called it. She was living in California at the time. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years, and I think she just wanted to make sure I was doing well. Our “tour” ended up being the “Iliad”, or the “Odyssey,” I’m not sure which. It seemed we were gone that long and we went to some strange places. It was during my summer break. At one point, we decided to visit some old friends who might, or might not have still lived or didn’t live in the Upper Peninsula. I wouldn’t let her drive. At the time, I was driving an old Datsun B-210 that had a suspect manual tranny. 4 gears, 2 of which were really iffy, those being 2nd and 3rd, which meant, neither of them worked. As a matter of fact, I think the whole electrical system died in it during this trip, and she and I had to sleep on a train trestle at some point, but that’s not the story I’m going to tell.

No, the story I’m going to tell is the one where she had the map. We had crossed the Mackinac Bridge and were looking for US2 to go west. I’m driving and she keeps telling me I haven’t gone far enough. She keeps staring at that map. I finally look over. The mitten is pointing downward. “Gimme that goddamned map! No more navigating for you!” I yell, and snatch it from her and throw it out the window. I make a U-turn in the median on I-75 and hot-foot it south to US2. She starts to laugh.

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