Almost-Perilous Road Trip

I recently took a road trip with a girlfriend. Technically, she’s the mother of one of Jane’s girlfriends. She’s still in my phone as “Alison’s mom, Sue” even though we know each other well enough that I no longer have trouble remembering her name.

The road trip was to a town about four hours away in another state so that we could see our daughters in a Robotics competition. We hit the road mid-afternoon in my little Prius. The conversation and laughter started as we pulled out of her driveway and never stopped. My mouth was dry. My throat even felt a little raw. I was having a blast.

There is something exciting about getting to know someone that you have interacted with just enough to anticipate that you will thoroughly enjoy the person’s company. We talked about our children, our family histories, sixth grade drama, parenting, siblings, love, marriage, divorce, religion, politics, the workplace, race relations, weight loss, and so much more.

The talking didn’t slow once we arrived. It just encountered more interruptions as we made phone calls, checked on the girls, and prepared for bed. We sat on our beds as if we were about to retire any minute. Sometime after midnight, we reluctantly turned off the lights and went to sleep.

The next day was long and exhausting. At the end of it, the girls didn’t want to ride home with us. They wanted to ride the bus. On the one hand, this meant we’d have to go pick them up since it’d take longer for the bus to make the trip than us. On the other hand, we’d get to continue our carefree conversation if the girls were not in the backseat. The girls rode the bus. We left town extremely tired, armed only with caffeine and conversation.

Eventually, we found ourselves on a stretch of highway that had no towns, a very long stretch of road, when the car beeped at me. We were nearly out of gas! It had not entered my muddled mind to fill up before making the return trip.

To compound the situation, my phone was so close to dead that it could not access the internet and Sue’s phone was not far behind. I slowed down and we started discussing our options if we didn’t make it to the next town. The options were bleak. Some fellow parents were making the drive too and I had their number but they were probably an hour ahead of us. We were well over two hours from home. The school bus full of children and very tired teachers was behind us. I couldn’t fathom asking them to bring us gas.

The car was starting to hesitate like it was going to die so Sue used her phone to find the nearest gas station. She found one 9.5 miles away but it involved getting off the highway we were on. We passed a sign that showed the next town was 16 miles away. Conveniently ignoring one of her earlier tales of OnStar leading her to a closed gas station, we opted to trust the phone app.

The new road was even more deserted than the last. The seriousness of our situation was starting to sink in. We were on an empty road in a car about to run out of gas with two nearly dead cell phones, heading to a gas station that might not exist or might not be open. And we had just left the road that the school bus would be traveling on.

“We can never tell the girls about this,” Sue said. “Just imagine how mad at them we’d be if they were 16 and did something this stupid.”

“At least they aren’t in the car with us.”

“Very true.” We laughed. The conversation died down as we traveled along holding our breaths.

The road went around a bend and we could see lights. Soon, a bar came into view. Sue laughed that at least we could get a drink while we waited for AAA to arrive. After passing by a couple more streets, we found the gas station.

These pumps were old. I mean, really, really, really old. Forget pay-at-the-pump. These still had those little metal number plates that flipped over as you pumped the gas. We had now dissolved into a fit of laughter.

She tumbled out of the car to go ask if we needed to prepay and I began to examine the pumps. I tried to lift the handle and it wouldn’t come up. Feeling around in the dark, I found a padlock! Now nervous about whether they actually had any gas, I checked the other unleaded handle. No padlock. Relief.

Nerve-wracking adventure concluded safely, we returned to the highway and our conversation and eventually made it safely home, full of fond memories of a fun and almost-perilous road trip.

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1-10, Honestly

I volunteered to mentor my daughter’s Robotics team this year. This means I spend an hour and a half in a room full of noisy, energetic preteens three nights a week. It has been… an education. To say the least.

One of the interesting aspects of this age group (sixth grade) is that they are on the balance point between childhood and the teenage years. Some of them, mostly girls, look – and act – very much like teenagers. Some of them, mostly boys, look – and act – very much like my third grade son. Most of them are caught in between. They are exploring the brave new world of teendom in a distinctly childlike manner.

One example of this was on display tonight. The other girl on Jane’s team began to ask one of the boys on the team a series of questions. Actually, it was the same question asked repeatedly but with a different girl’s name substituted in each time. Apparently, this is a regular team pastime.

“1-10, honestly. How pretty do you think Rachel is?”

He would turn and look, I presume at Rachel, and respond with a number. She would move on to the next girl. And then the next. He kept most of the numbers low, less than 5. Eventually, she spied Jane. “1-10. Jane.”

She was across the room behind him and as he turned to look, I gave a mock warning, “Now, remember. Her mother is sitting right here.”

He paused for another second and responded, “7.”

She accepted the answer and moved on. Once all the girls in the room had been covered, she changed the question. “1-10. How annoying do you think Rachel is?” Not surprisingly, the numbers were higher for this question.

Eventually, the question was applied to Jane. Without hesitation, he said, “2.”

WHAT? Are you kidding me?” I asked. “This is ‘annoying’, right? Do you really think Jane is only a 2?”

“Well, her mother is sitting right here,” he responded in a dead serious voice.

I have to say that I’m truly growing to love these kids. He seemed a little bit surprised that I would recognize that my daughter contains great capacity to get on people’s nerves. He and Jane had butted heads the previous week while I was helping another team. I looked at him and asked, “You certainly would have ranked her much higher last week, wouldn’t you?” He agreed.

The game went on among all four team members present. It even included hypotheticals, like this one, addressed to a boy, “If you were a girl, who in this room would you score a ten?”

Jane jumped in before he could answer. “Me, of course!”

“I said if he was a girl!”

“I know. I’m just so awesome that he’d be gay so he could still pick me.”

Everyone laughed, including the one young man who actually happened to be working on the robot at that moment. Tonight I saw clearly what my greatest blessings will be for this year of my daughter’s life. One is to see her “in action” with her peers, to truly see her social circle, not just listen to her talk about it. The other is to find my place as a parent who is comfortable interacting with my daughter’s peers. And to think I almost passed up this opportunity as too much of a time commitment. 1-10, honestly? This experience has been a ten.