The year I graduated from college, I took a road trip with two of my housemates and wonderful friends, Sue and Gail (names changed to protect those who are hardly innocent). The objective of the road trip was to get Gail to her parents’ house so she could spend the summer in sunny California, visit Jane, another friend who (quite conveniently) lived fairly close to Gail’s folks, and have a great time seeing the country.
Starting point: Edison, NJ, home of the Edison Lighthouse and…a…ummmm…hmmmmm…oh! Home of Middlesex County College, where I started my college career in the first place. End point: San Jose, CA, home of the aforementioned friend, Original Joe’s Italian restaurant (have the piccata), the San Jose Sharks, and every tech company you could ever imagine. (Actually, I think Gail’s parents lived in Fremont at the time but I don’t remember for sure and Jane certainly was in San Jose, so I’m sticking with that.) Time limitations: we had to be there in four days, because Sue had a scheduling conflict and had to fly on day five. This was why we made the very practical decision to hop on Rt. 80 and ride that all the way to Cali.
Across the entirety of the US. Four days. We can do this.
A few things about Day One: Yes, we really made it that far. No, I don’t have a lot of pictures from this day, unfortunately. We were driving primarily across Pennsylvania during the daylight hours and it’s not that Pennsylvania doesn’t have its charms but they were charms we were all familiar with, and I was not yet a camera junkie. By the time we got to the (relatively, to us) unfamiliar charms of Ohio it was getting dark and by the time we got to Indiana, it was well into the night. Things might have been different if we’d left a little earlier in the day BUT, we had to recuperate from my graduation party the night before, where the beer did flow like a mighty river. From what I remember, it was a good party that was not without its moments of WTFery. For a variety of reasons. Moving on.
So we drove and drove and drove. Through Ohio. Through Indiana. We got to the Illinois state line and kept going, but when we rolled into Joliet at two in the morning we stopped. For gas. Not for sleeping. For gas, and coffee. Gail was wired and ready to go another couple of hours. I was exhausted. As for Sue…
…then it happened.
She must have been more tired than she realized, because she bent down to get something out of the car, misjudged her distance and BOOM. Whacked her face right into the frame of the car. By the time she stood up–a mere second or two later–her eye was already black and swollen.
Note: the above photo is my equivalent of the witness protection program. I was looking for a pirate eyepatch for Sue’s other eye and had to settle for a googley instead. C’est la vie.
We took it as a sign that we were becoming a danger to ourselves and others, and checked into the nearest hotel.
The next day, we went to breakfast at Bob Evans. We walked in a little grungy, a little sleep-deprived, in need of food and coffee. With a friend with a fantastically blackened eye. The table of eight or ten church ladies there for a breakfast meeting fell silent. They shifted uncomfortably in their dusty lavender or country-duck-blue pantsuits and cream-colored mock turtlenecks, though I don’t think it had as much to do with us as it did that those clothes are fricking uncomfortable. I mean seriously, the materials don’t breathe so they trap every molecule of body heat one can exude, and they’re scratchy. I have no real love for petroleum-based clothing products, as much as they had no love for three grungy women, one of them with a black eye, walking in for a late breakfast when we should have been busily doing the Lord’s work.
But the person I remember most from the Bob Evans was our waitress, an adorable little midwestern blonde who thought three women, a black eye, one car, and a California destination were the coolest things she’d ever seen. I’m not assuming that was her evaluation of us; she said to me, “Omigod, you girls are, like, the coolest people I’ve ever seen.”
Seems we can really bring down the house in Joliet.
I talked to her for a few minutes. She said, “I would love to do what you’re doing, just get in a car and GO! And out to California? Wow.” I said she should do it and we had a few moments of conversation that went like this:
“Mmm-mm. Nope. I can’t.”
“Sure you can.”
“No I can’t.”
“But you can!”
Finally I asked her why not. She looked right at me–I’ll never forget this–and said, “I don’t have friends. Not ones like you have, anyway.”
What do you do with that? Other than appreciate the marvelous creatures who enter your life and agree to spend time with you out of joy and interest rather than duty or to alleviate boredom. Thank you, friends.
And to that waitress whose name I don’t remember, I’ve been wishing you well since the day I met you. I hope you make it out to California with a few good friends along for the ride.
As an added bonus, here is the band Edison Lighthouse (ironically, not named for either the inventor Thomas Edison, the town of Edison or the art deco lighthouse found there) with their one and only hit, Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes. Enjoy!