Friday, June 19, 2009

Spin Cycle: That One Time...

When I was 17 or 18 years old, my mother asked me to drive my two younger sisters to our grandparents' house in Milwaukee, WI. Mind you, we'd made the 5-7 hour trip hundreds of times as a family, and I think that by that point I may have already made the trip once myself. Mom would be joining us on vacation one week later. No problem, right? Yeah, right!

Almost immediately, the situation Did Not Bode Well. As we drove out of Minneapolis on 94, the heavens opened in a rainstorm of epic proportions. Sheets of rain blinded drivers, and traffic all but stopped for an hour. Somewhere in that hour, our windshield wipers must have gotten tired, because they decided to take a siesta for the rest of the trip. I will never forget the chaos of my sister Lisa, crying and clutching our barking black lab mix ,Brutus, in the back seat or Natalie's long hair streaming with rain as she hung her head out the window, guiding me as I inched the car forward. We would've quit then if we'd been able to turn around, but we couldn't and when the rain stopped we thought our troubles were over and continued on, looking forward to seeing our Nana and Grandpa.

It didn't take long to determine that something was definitely wrong with my car...I called it my Chevy 'Ebrity (the "C-E-L" had fallen off sometime in the distant past). The lights, the radio (and of course the windshield wipers) worked intermittently, if at all. In Eau Claire, we stopped at a gas station to call my dad for advice. He said that it was probably the alternator, and that since we were already at the halfway mark we should continue on to Milwaukee. He gave me two instructions:

1) Whatever you do, don't turn the car off because it probably won't start again, and
2) Do not run more than one electrical thing at once. Since the sun was going down, that pretty much meant nothing but the headlights, and we were mad that we couldn't listen to the radio.

The whole "leave the car on" also concerned us because we had to fill the gas tank. I made the girls take the dog away from the car to stand on the grass just off of the gas station's property. Oh, the copious tears and pleading! They were sure that I was going to explode, and I wasn't too sure that they were wrong. Drama Queen that I am, I bravely told them that I was the big sister, and if anyone was getting blown up, it would be me because I was in charge. Needless to say, no-one blew up and ,despite our disappointment, we managed to press on.

All went fairly well until we discovered that our exit (you know, the only one we'd ever taken, the one that our mother WROTE DOWN FOR US) was closed due to construction. This was before cell phones, I suck at reading maps, and my alternate map-readers were 11 and 14 respectively ( and Brutus wasn't much help, either.) We got horribly, terribly, awfully lost. Driving around in circles until we're almost out of gas and all of the gas-stations are closed and we're on the Wrong Side of Town and we're too scared to ask the pimp and the hookers on the street-corners for directions lost! Driving the wrong way on a one way lost! Oh my God we're going to die and it's all my fault lost.

Just when we were about to give up and write our last will and testaments on the backs of gum wrappers, I saw a police cruiser pulled over on the freeway. The police officer was writing out his paperwork for the night with his interior lights on, and I can't imagine what he thought when I parked in front of him and came flying at his window tear-streaked and babbling. I gave him my Nana and Grandpa's address and he began to calmly give me directions. My face must have blanked, because he paused, smiled and said, "You know what? Why don't I lead you there?" I nodded like an idiot bobble head and that good, good man drove us right to Downer Ave, where we belonged. It was past midnight, but my Grandpa was sitting out on the front steps waiting for us. He hugged us hard and I think my sisters may have actually kissed the driveway. Our car had made it just barely there, dying as I pulled in, never to run again.

I remember that my sisters and I crowded into one bed that night and prayed for that good cop before succumbing to the cool sheets and soft pillows. To us, we had survived an adventure filled with drama and danger and emerged if not victorious, blissfully intact.

I have no idea why this is one of my favorite memories. Maybe because I can see my sisters stamped so clearly in my mind's eye, or because it comforts me to remember that kind police officer and how safe I felt in my grandfather's arms and under my Nana's clean, bright sheets. Good times, good times...