Sunday, July 23, 2006

i'm going home! to tara!

parents and responsible drivers everywhere: please be warned that the following post is intended only for those with nerves of steel.

it was a beautiful, bright, sunny day. a sunday, in fact. what, you think, could go wrong on a sunday? a cool front had moved through. i had a new job offer- one that paid well and at no point in the foreseeable future would require me to scrub any more desks. and perhaps best of all, my parents were taking all of the kids out for the day, leaving me - alone - with a car at my disposal.

(cue ominous music)

now for those of you who are not on the cutting edge, i actually passed my driver's test a couple of weeks back, and have executed small skirmishes throughout the city with - as bill and ted would put it - the greatest of ease. admittedly, said skirmishes all involved places well within my frame of reference, but c'mon - it's a small town, right? it might not be organized on a grid like manhattan, but i was sure i could figure it out.

my mission, in theory, was simple. after the fam packed off for their long-lined, heat-dripping, overpriced amusement park, to which they were completely entitled, i was to take the car and drive out to the vague borders of a small town north of milwaukee to visit my great grandparents. after that i was to head slightly southeast (even now, i am STILL not sure) to my new place of work to go over the particulars of my working hours and duties. the real clincher? work is in the same building as my old high school, ie, the place i was shuttled to and from everyday for years. it was a bullet proof plan. my mother even drew me a map on the back of a notebook, and i could tell she thought that was a little superflous. after all, we visit my great grandparents every week, and for crying out loud, if i didn't know how to get to my high school after all these years, i deserved to be lost.

which is entirely possible.

so, the morning started and i was a-feelin' high. made it to the nursing home with no problem whatsoever. admittedly, i was creeped out by the increasing spaciness and rural appearance of the landscape around me, but then there was the nursing home in big flashing letters, and i clearly was where i was supposed to be. i got out and spent an enjoyable hour with great-grandparents, basking in praise from my great grandfather such as: "well, you're all grown up now! if you can find you way all the way out here, you can find your way anywhere! what a smart girl you are! good for you!"

this is what is called 'asking for it.'

smiling smugly to myself, i hopped back into the car, glancing at the clock. it was ten minutes to twelve, and i had promised to be at the work building at twelve. well, i might be a little late, i figured. oh, also, i had no food on me, and hadn't eaten since eight in the morning. not that i was thinking about that on the time.

i curved right onto the road and started humming, going about my merry little way, my directions carefully reviewed at red lights. i did not see the street i was supposed to connect to, but then i figured i had gone an awfully long way out into the middle of nowhere in the firstplace. the road suddenly turned sharply, and i found myself driving parallel to The Lake.


i immediately swerved the car onto a gravel side street, staring in disbelief at the street sign. lake shore drive? how the hell did i get onto lake shore drive? i didn't turn anywhere!

i think that i called my mother at this point.

"you're going the wrong way," she said, over the noise of roller coasters. "turn around. go back."

i closed the phone and shrugged. well there are only two ways to go on a road after all. as i set my phone down, i glanced at the dashboard, where the needle of the gas gauge was hovering precariously over the 'E', and thought absently, 'that's funny - i don't remember turning off the engine.'

when i reached for the gear shift, i discovered that this because i never had, in fact, turned off the engine. there was simply no gas in the car.


at all.

'AAAAAHH!' i said.

i called my mother again.

'what do you want from me?' she said. 'go get gas.'

i had never gotten gas before, and i had a secret fear of blowing up the car in a tragic accident of clumsiness. nonetheless, i was more afraid of being stranded in the middle of a dirt road with cars hurtling past me at sixty miles an hour in all directions, so i did a k turn and started back the way i had come, chanting a little prayer through my teeth as i drove: 'G-d, please let me make it to the next gas station. please let me make it to the next gas station.'

a couple miles later, with the car making strange shaky noises, i located a gas station. my own hands were shaking as i tried to remember all the steps to filling up my father's car correctly. as i got into the driver's seat, i said another little prayer before i turned on the engine, which was, 'dear G-d, please do not let the engine explode.'

the engine did not explode. i laughed giddily. then i pulled right out of the gas station and onto the road.

a couple blocks later, i glanced at a street sign and realized with a shock that it was the name of a street that was supposed to run parallel to the one i was on. which could only mean...

i winced.

flinching, i looked at the sign of the street i was merrily barging down. it was not the street i started off on. i must have gotten turned around in the gas station.

tired yet?

i glanced at the clock. 12:30.

well, alright. so i got turned around. nothing for it but to turn back around and head back to the gas station!

sure enough, i found the street i had been puttering down and executed a smart turn onto more
sketchy rural highway. i watched the street signs like a hawk to make sure they were not familiar (ie leading onto the dreaded Lake Shore drive) and, satisfied that i was headed in an entirely different direction, i sat back to wait for my connecting street.

sure was taking a long time though.

well yeah...but i went down this road for a long time to get here...

with increasing unease, i watched the lanes narrow and disappear. the patches of grassy parks around me grew wider and deeper. the cute little suburban houses began to look less like houses and more

'oh no,' i whispered to myself.

and as i sailed past a herd of grazing cows, i could've sworn one of them waved its tail, friendly-like, at me.

'hello there!' it seemed to be saying. 'welcome to canada!'

'ignore it,' i thought to myself. 'everyone knows the townships get a little shaggy on the edges. i'm sure if i just keep going straight on this road, which must surely be how i got here in the first place, i will eventually hit civilization.'

that was when i saw the sign. a simple road sign, easily missed. it proclaimed, in small, fading letters: 'welcome to washington county.'

this is the point at which i began sobbing hysterically.

at the next dirt interesection, some three miles or so in, i promptly pulled over, put my head down on the steering wheel, and cried some more.

at this point it was one o'clock, and i was an hour late. i called my mother.

'what now?' she said.


'you're WHERE?'


i would like the record to state that she laughed.

after forcing my mother to repeat her instructions at least six times, while trying to salvage what little dignity i could muster, i hung up, got out of the car, took a deep breath, and cried a little more. i stared at the cows.

'cows,' i remember thinking. 'who do they think they are?'

i looked at the premium countryside.

then, as i'm sure you've witnessed in all the action movies, my eyes narrowed. i got back in the car, clenched my hands around the wheel, and did another k-turn, glaring at the miles of peaceful, wholesome farms in front of me.

i found the highway my mother was talking about-- cautiously approached that connecting street i had missed an hour and fifteen minutes ago -- and slowly zeroed in on my high school. at this time it was 1:30 or so. i was very hungry. luckily, however, the only kosher bakery in town was across the street.

unfortunately for me, it had just closed forever last week.

never minding that, and feeling much as though aliens had abducted me and then rudely thrown me off the ship when they noticed my probationary license, i pulled myself together and went into the office. again i was lucky in that the man i am working for is jewish and thus slightly oblivious to the effects of time.

now remember, the office was in the same building as my old high school, which i had been driven to and from every day of my life for years. so now you are thinking, well, the worst should be behind her. after all, she'd have to be an IDIOT not to know how to get back from her own high school.

i missed my turn-off.

'ok,' i thought. 'don't panic. after all, i'm sure you could turn onto any of these streets and they'll take you the same way. at least you're going in the right direction! you can always catch capitol drive. that'll take you right where you need to go!'

and i kept going in the right direction, until i sailed right past capitol drive. it's not true. i actually saw it coming. my eyes went wide. i was not in the correct lane. there was no way i could make it to that lane before the light changed. and worst of all, there appeared to be no convenient parking lot or street where i could execute a proper k turn, which was of course fast becoming my expert move.

it was 2:20.

i pulled over.

i looked right.

i looked left.

i looked behind me.

and i can almost swear this thought went through my head: 'i don't care, i don't care, i don't care! i'm going HOME! i'm going BACK TO TARA!'

and then, somewhat hazily: 'AND I'LL NEVER BE HUNGRY AGAIN!'

thus boldened, i pulled a u-turn and glided gleefully all the way home, nonsensical thoughts such as, 'toto, we're going home! home! back to tara! look, toto, it's home again at last!' wreaking havoc on my exhausted brain. finally, i pulled up to my house, collapsed out of the car, fought the resistance to dig around for carrots in the yard, and glanced behind me at the car, my faithful companion, my horse, so loyally accompanying me to the brink of the abyss and back.

it was parked too far from the curb.