She is home.
My baby girl is home.
Hard to say which was the harder route getting her here: When she first entered the world 20 years ago after almost an entire day of labor and two hours of pointless pushing that resulted in her getting Hoovered out with a shop vac specifically for babies OR last week — after an 11-hour, 683-mile (one way) solo car ride through torrential rain, road construction and a mountain pass that Evil Knievel would have taken one look at and said, “Eh, no thanks.”
I was the driver in both cases and the second one? Definitely worse.
If you wanted to torture me — and really, why would you because I’m a decent person — you would force me into a car and make me drive. Alone. For half a day. If you really wanted to guarantee my complete mental breakdown, then you’d also force me to be my own navigator (I’m directionally challenged) and then throw in bad weather and treacherous mountain roads just because you’re a big jerk. The only thing missing from such a sucky ordeal would be eggs, my food nemesis.
But I was in Mama Bear mode and doing what I needed to do so no matter what was chucked at me, I was gonna get ‘er done.
No. 1 was already supposed to be headed home for spring break on a plane that week. But the vacation took an ominous turn as her college campus — like others across the country — shut down because of the pandemic. Students were to go to their permanent home and wait for further instructions. I needed to get her — and all her stuff — fast before the world completely shut down.
It wasn’t a good sign that only 15 minutes into the solo voyage, I was asking Siri Hemsworth — as my Siri is known because I opted for the male Australian voice because it’s the least annoying — to sing to me.
“Uhhhh, ahem, just a minute,” he stammered. “Singing is harder than I thought.”
So I was forced to listen to the news because I couldn’t fiddle with Spotify and that just got me more spun up with all the Coronavirus stories.
By the time I actually pulled onto Interstate 10, I wasn’t sure I could do this after all. It didn’t help that the night before I left, No. 2 hugged me three times and told me she’d miss me.
“I’m only going to be gone for a day!”
“I know.” She hugged me yet again.
This scene was what I thought of as the miles flicked past on the odometer way too slowly because in the movies, those innocent good-byes always turn out to be bad omens. This could be the last road trip I’d ever take. Gulp.
“For 448 miles, keep right.”
Oh, dear God. I will NEVER be done driving. Thanks, Siri Hemsworth. Bastard.
By the time I finally reached Blythe, Calif, and stopped to get gas — after only one pee break — I was having actual chest pains from my heart slamming into my rib cage. I had to do some Lamaze breathing to try and calm myself.
Hey, homestretch, I thought. The sky was gray but clear yet the Subaru insisted on flashing this irritating “winter weather advisory” repeatedly. Maybe it would be just like the flash flood warning I’d received in Arizona, which affected me not at all. Maybe I’d get lucky again.
No. Not that lucky.
As I joined the 12 lanes of traffic through Los Angeles, the sky was beyond ominous and the first few, fat raindrops fell, slow and steady. I can handle this, if it doesn’t rain harder. I’ll be OK. Please just stay like this.
Nope. Mother Nature is such a bitch.
It poured. Hard. But I discovered a cool feature on my car — the windshield wipers adjust to the amount of precipitation. It’s a miracle they didn’t fly off, they were swiping so fast. My heart, at this point, could have used a defibrillator. I slowed down, way down, and figured my Arizona license plate was the equivalent of hazard lights. Go around! Go around! I’ve got problems! I settled in behind a big truck marked JBS because then I had an excuse to go slowly. We had a good thing going, JBS and me. He was my interstate “beard” — everyone would assume I was just poking along because I was behind a big-ass truck and not because I was petrified.
The rain would let up only to pelt down even harder. This happened at least a few more times, and just when I thought I’d have to pull off and wait it out, the rain stopped. I felt brave enough to leave JBS’ shadow. Thanks, big fella, I said — more proof that my IQ now had dropped to match the speed limit — and scooted over to the middle only to have JBS cut me off. I braked as he broke my heart. I thought we were friends! (See how your mental state deteriorates when you have to drive by yourself? I even asked Siri to tell me jokes.)
On to Santa Barbara and the home, home stretch. It was just a few more hours now. I could make it.
“Proceed right onto Highway 154.”
Little did I know that Apple Maps, in its attempt to gift me with the shortest route was sending me through a mountain pass that took minutes off my trip but years off my lifespan. I like flat, straight roads. I don’t even like driving up Mount Lemmon. There are some people who can look out and appreciate a sweeping mountain view. I am not one of them.
That right there is Chumash Highway, which is known as a “scenic bypass,” because that it what your heart needs after driving it. I dubbed it Death’s Road.
At the beginning, traffic was down to one lane and 15 mph, which was great for me because that was my preferred speed through that entire horrible stretch. When we could go 55 again, I pulled off so I could putt-putt along at a snail’s pace and not make anybody mad. The Subaru was quite annoyed on that two-lane bridge because I kept veering out of my lane. Yeah, I did. I could see there was no one coming so I drove as close to the middle as I could because it was farthest from the edges where I could plunge to my death. I was starting to feel like road Job. What more was going to get thrown at me?
Turns out nothing. I’d gone six hours without stopping (new PR!)* and needed to get gas again, but then I could proceed to the route and finally get my kid. Just half an hour left.
When I finally reached her, I hugged her tight after stiffly climbing out of the driver’s seat. My ordeal was finally over. Or, so I thought.
Turns out, the worst was yet to come because she was the last of the four roommates to leave, all of them gone for good for the rest of the school year and so after 11 hours of driving, I had to CLEAN.
* That would be Pee Record, not Personal Record. Yup, I went six hours straight and was so dehydrated that I looked like Benjamin Button at the beginning of the movie.