Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 3: Twist Ties, Tiaras and Tuberculosis

Click Here to read the previous entry in this series…

  So there we are, at a convenience store in Tumbleweedville, with a possibly-jacked hoopty and people having digestive issues in public facilities. Not a very promising start to our journey, although my mind is already calculating the potential number of blog posts I can get out of this mess. (Silver lining where you can find it, right?) To make things even more fun, local farmers are now arriving in the parking lot, peering over their worn steering wheels at the obvious city-folk who clearly have issues.

  Time to at least pretend to get organized and back on the road, if at all possible.

  Some of the folks head inside to attend to Mom and her apparent need to become a human lawn sprinkler, some of us head to the tire-walloped vehicle for an update, and the rest remain in the little cluster on the sidewalk in front of the store, because you always need a contingent of inactive people to stand there and answer questions from passersby like “What’s going on over there?”, “Is anybody hurt?”, and “Is this what they mean by letting the dogs out?”

  I’m in the investigative committee checking on the vehicle status, mainly because it’s my vehicle and I should probably be aware of whether or not I should have a small psychotic breakdown. (You have to carefully plan these episodes to properly align with developments, otherwise you just look like a drama queen with focus issues.) I squat down and survey the activity beneath the truculent SUV. Not that I would be able to assist in any way, but squatting brings me closer to the ground in case I need to pass out from the overwhelmingness of it all and I won’t have as far to fall.

  Terry and Crispy have purchased some cute little bungee cords and managed to strap the mysterious hanging thing closer to the undercarriage. (I don’t know if this is even an appropriate word, but it sounds good and I’m too lazy to look it up.) This temporary rigging would get us on the road again, barring any additional damages to the vehicle that we hadn’t yet joyfully discovered, but we really needed a more permanent fix to get us all the way to Galveston. Assuming we would even be allowed in the city limits if word of our clattering arrival got there first. We had to find something more reliable, pronto.

  The Rescue-Mom-from-the-Toilet Brigade came marching out, with her weakly smiling and saying she felt a bit better. (Of course she did. Any time you suddenly lose a few pounds, you always feel more slender and pretty. Once you stop dry-heaving.) They heaved Mom back in her van, and Launa stepped up to politely shove some medication in her mouth so she would settle down and quit trying to steal the spotlight.

  I didn’t even bother to ask if anyone had cleaned up Mom’s redecorating efforts in the lavatory. Some things you just leave behind and move on.

  So we all start piling back into our respective vehicles, with me racing to claim my seat in the bandaged SUV instead of running off into a cornfield and burying myself in the anonymous soil like I really wanted to do. As I’m sitting there, clutching the engaged seatbelt like it’s a gift from Heaven while the rest of the clan slowly finds their own seats, a truck pulls up next to our car. The driver looks at me expectantly.

  I don’t know why he’s doing this. I’ve never seen the man before in my life. I glance around at my fellow passengers as well as the other family members as they lumber back to their respective cars. None of them show the slightest sign of realizing this man wants our attention for some reason. Am I having a vision?

  I reluctantly hop out of the car and mosey toward the strange truck, while dueling banjos play in the background and I briefly wonder how cute my victim photo will be on America’s Most Wanted.

  The man rolls down his window. “That place you need?”

  Well, I need a lot of places, all of them not here. But I play along. “Yes?”

  “Just stay on the service road until it dead-ends. Then turn left. There’s a truck stop right there. They should have what you need.”

  Okay, so this man takes one look at me and thinks I can find personal satisfaction at a truck stop. Great. There’s a good boost for the self-image. But hopefully, it’s just a matter of him having talked to another member of my family earlier and he just thinks he’s talking to the same guy. (Which means that we all look alike, and that I should probably check into plastic-surgery options.) “Got it. Appreciate your help.”

  He kind of nods his head, slightly, then rolls up the window and drives away. Off to plow a field or build a rocket, whatever is popular around here in the early morning hours. I climb back in the car, to find everyone glaring at me like I’m late for biology class and nobody could dissect the frog until I showed up. (Totally didn’t understand the dissection thing in high school. I have never used the information from that experience. Ever.) This irritates me, but so does getting out of bed and going to work, so I roll with it. “That man said we should stay on the service road until it ends, then turn left. There’s a truck stop there.”

  Terry’s face lights up. “Just what we need. I’m on it.” Or some such.

  What am I not understanding about truck stops? Why are people so happy to find one?

  So our little caravan pulls out of the parking lot, meanders through some arcane loop-around lane that doesn’t make any sense (did Republicans design this?), and we finally get on the service road for this desolate stretch of I-45. And it turns out that the stretches are really, really long here. We drove for centuries before we hit that mythical dead-end where we had to make the mythical left turn.

  Happily, there was indeed a retail structure on the other side of the highway. Sadly, it didn’t look much like a truck stop. It looked just like the convenience store that we had departed after fertilizing the restroom. Okay, there was a lone 18-wheeler parked along one side of the building, but that was the only difference. Is that all it takes to be a truck stop? I guess I need to study more brochures.

  No matter, our caravan thundered in and took up half the parking slots. Immediately, doors flew open and hundreds of people were running to use the bathroom. (Wait, didn’t we all just pee at the last place? What is going on with the bladders in this family?)

  Terry hopped out and raced inside as well, in search of some mysterious treasure that would theoretically make our lives better in some way. I wished him the best in his endeavors, but I remained firmly implanted in my seat. The last time I had gotten out of the car, a strange man had structured my life goals around a truck stop (and a crappy one at that), so I really wasn’t interested in any more of that kind of advice.

  Eventually, after watching the same family members race in and out of the bathroom area like there was some kind of competition, Terry came out of the store waving those plastic tie strips you normally use to bundle and hide power cords behind the TV so that drunken party guests don’t trip over them and spill Chardonnay on the sofa. He presented these to Crispy, who immediately dove under our car and began doing who knows what. Based on the sounds I could hear coming up through the floorboard, Crispy may have been performing some type of ritual sacrifice.

  Apparently the operation was successful, since Crispy popped back in view a short time later, there was a general air of high-fiving revelry, and Terry jumped back in the car. Then he jumped back out, and sprinted into the store once more.

  People were seriously starting to get on my nerves with all this spontaneous running.

  He soon returned, chatted quickly with the other drivers, and then took his place in our car once more. I briefly considered stapling his hands to the steering wheel so he couldn’t hop out again, but I was too tired to screw with it. “There’s a Wal-Mart four exits down,” he announced.

  Were we supposed to clap? What was going on now?

  He clarified. We still needed to get something for the “personal plumbing issue” in Mom’s car. (Oh yeah, forgot about that business. I guess it can’t always be all about me, despite my best efforts.) Apparently the required treatment regimen could not be obtained at your casual convenience store, at least not at one that had actual cows within a three-mile radius. One could only find this item in your fancier department stores, and in this neck of the woods that meant Wal-Mart. Lovely.

  So the train pulls out of the station once again, and we clatter down the highway. We zip past the first exit, some obscure crossroad with a name like Duckbutt Holler or some such. Then we encounter an overly perky sign announcing that the next several exits were for the town of “Ennis”.

  Uh oh.

  Ennis has been in the news lately, for a surprising (at least to me) reason: The town is in the midst of a tuberculosis outbreak. Yes, tuberculosis, a contagious infection that I ignorantly thought had been eliminated in this country. Apparently not. And the outbreak in Ennis was pretty severe, to the point that surrounding communities were seriously considering not playing high-school football with Ennis. (In Texas, the possible cancelling of these Friday-night athletic worship-fests is a disaster of biblical proportions.)

  I personally don’t give a hoot about football. But I knew that our asses didn’t need to be stopping in Ennis. With the size of our traveling family, it was inevitable that one of us would manage to encounter somebody with an odd cough, and BAM, all of us would be quarantined, stat. And I really didn’t want to go there. I just don’t feel pretty in an open-backed hospital gown.

  But I apparently didn’t have a vote in the matter. Our wagon train piled off the interstate at the designated exit, and we were soon motoring along the streets of Ennis. At least the Wal-Mart wasn’t hard to find. They had the biggest sign in town, a towering beacon, beckoning the unwashed to come shop at a venue where you could buy condoms, fishing tackle, a bra, and a set of tires, all in one trip. Praise Jesus.

  So we meander into the lovely realm of said Wal-Mart, where there are only two parked cars populating the mammoth acreage of the parking lot that is normally overrun with ugly people sporting worn-out tube tops and flip-flops. (I’m thinking somebody made a bad decision about making this place a 24-hour experience, but nobody asked me. Then again, maybe it was the TB thing. Who wants to catch a communicable disease while shopping for plastic worms? Even the slow folk understand that angle.)

  Then we have a surprise development. (Which really shouldn’t have been surprising considering what we had experienced so far, but I digress.) Two of the three cars politely head toward parking slots near the entrance. The third car erratically peels off and slams to a halt in a distant, far from the door, location.

  What the hell? (Should I just have a t-shirt made with that question?)

  Emissaries from the two protocol-observing cars race to the radical car for intel. What are you people doing? After a brief consultation, the emissaries race back. “Roni just threw up all over Mom’s van!”

  Really? Really? Is that the theme of this trip? Random regurgitation?

  Somebody just shoot me in the head. And hurry.

Click Here to Read the Next Entry in This Series…

1 comment:

  1. I'm this far in the story and already I know I don't have enough of a supply of Depends left to read further at this time.

    My Gawd, man. You are funny. I'll be back.