We’re less than two hours into our journey, and my mind is boggled already. Seriously, so much has happened in the few minutes since we left the house that I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve slipped into an alternate reality. One where I eventually end up in a padded room, mind-snapped, and refusing to ever go outside again, speak to another human being, or wear flannel.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s start where things should start, shall we?
Someone in the family, not really sure who to blame at this point, came up with the brilliant idea that we should go on a cruise in the Caribbean. Wouldn’t that be swell? Why, sure it would, we all agreed in that offhand way you have when you think something will never come to fruition but it’s fun to talk about it. Then we probably ordered another round of drinks and most of us assumed that was that.
Nearly a year later, after much hemming and hawing and trying to figure out when we could all take vacation at the same time (an agonizing process that could easily kill weaker souls), we are actually getting on a boat in Galveston in a few hours. I will be cruising the wide open seas with 14 members of my family.
Fourteen. That is not a typo. It might be an ill-advised decision, and possibly criminal in some states, but it is not a typo. I will be trapped on a boat with lots of relatives, all of us slammed together, with no ability to simply get in a car and go back home when they all inevitably get on my nerves. I assure you that my anxiety medication has been fully refilled, and I have a secret backup plan to simply slip away at one of the ports of call and never be heard from again. I’m thinking my new name will be Reynaldo. I like the sound of it.
So this was the initial plan: The biggest chunk of the family lives in or around Tulsa. They were going to caravan it to Dallas (where I live, far enough away from Tulsa to satisfy court orders resulting from previous incidents that might be discussed at a later time), spend the night, and then we would add our car to the train and everybody would motor south, Galveston bound, where our ship lay waiting, rocking gently in a harbor that doesn’t understand what is heading its way. The ignorance before the storm.
And that plan was fine and dandy, up to a point. The Tulsa contingent arrived in Dallas at the designated hour of 3pm yesterday, plenty enough time that we could all chit chat a bit, catch up on things, and enjoy a nice dinner before attempting to get in bed early so we could leave at the butt crack of dawn in the morning. Actually, we were planning to leave even before that. (Is there a equally-rude term for even earlier than BCOD? Pre-Crack of Dawn? Dark Crevice of the Dying Night? The Gray Valley of Indecision and Poor Choices?)
Anyway, we were leaving at 5 in the morning. Leaving at 5, not merely getting up at that time and starting to load the car. A whole hyena pack of people, youngsters included, were expected to be tucked securely in the line of cars and happily motoring down the highway, smiles on our faces about our punctuality and the upcoming possibility of singing traveling tunes. Shouldn’t be a problem at all, right?
And it wasn’t. Everybody was up and ready at the appointed time. So I knew right away that something was amiss in the cosmos.
Sure, it wasn’t an easy task, getting up and marching out the door. We had people lined up at the coffee maker, grunting from sleep-deprivation, circling one another like wolves waiting for someone to do something irritating so the rest of us could pounce and rip a body to shreds. But things remained relatively civil, and we stayed on schedule. At least in our house. We had no idea what was going on at the hotel.
Oh, did I mention the hotel? Yep, we had to arrange for two rooms at a nearby Hilton Gardens. There were just too many people in our circus of the damned. I suppose we could have sardined it at mi casa for one night, but the potential fallout from such a situation was more than any of us were psychologically healthy enough to deal with.
I’m sure that things were interesting over at said paid accommodations, what with Mom and Launa being in charge of FOUR energetic folks between the ages of 9 and 16. Personally, I would never sign up for such a tour of duty. I know my limitations and my skill set. Some people were born to nurture. You will not find my picture in that brochure.
Anyway, the possibility of a scheduling hiccup was rather high at this hotel, with me prepared for something awkward and unplanned to take place that would result in us leaving for Galveston two days late. I lay awake last night fully expecting to hear sirens and news helicopters heading toward the hotel, followed by a knock on my door with the FBI having a few questions for me.
Amazingly, we were still in the driveway at the house when a call came in. The gang at the hotel was not only already up but they were currently parked at a nearby convenience store, gassing up for the drive and anxiously awaiting the start of our adventure. We were still completely on schedule. Wow. Things were working out really well, and the dawn (when it finally broke) would be ushering in a splendid and carefree day.
My satisfaction with the world lasted roughly twenty minutes.
This was long enough for us to get on the interstate and get out of Dallas proper. Then another call comes in from one of the train cars. We have a sick occupant, need to stop at a CVS or Walgreens as soon as possible. (Some “personal plumbing issue” with one of the young ladies, one of those mysterious things that I know nothing about and that’s the way I would like to keep it.) Thanks and carry on.
Okay, that might be a tiny bit of a problem. For those of you who haven’t had the joy of traveling by car from Dallas to Houston, here’s a news flash: Once you leave Dallas on I-45, ain’t nuthin’ much up in that grill. We abruptly go from exciting metroplex to cows and tumbleweeds. Not a whole lot of all-night pharmacies out this way. Nope.
But we kept our eyes open, carefully studying our surroundings in case a strip mall suddenly appeared amid the abandoned rusty pickups, hunting lodges and bait shacks. Wireless phones were whipped out and fingers tapped away, trying to get a GPS-fix on where we might be and where we might find-
THUMP. Bam. Bam. Bam. BAM.
We had just run over something. Something that was not happy about being run over and had tried to fight back. I had been staring at my phone as it struggled to find a decent signal, so I had no clue what might have rudely decided to be in our path right at this particular moment.
I calmly directed a query at our main pilot, Terry. “What the hell was THAT?”
“A tire. We were on it before I could see it.”
“I didn’t see it, either,” proclaimed our co-pilot, Tiffany, with what felt like a little unnecessary enthusiasm. (Translation: I wasn’t really paying any attention, so the fact that I didn’t see it, either, should surprise no one. Of course, if someone had actually said to me, hey, watch for giant pieces of molded rubber in the middle of the road, I would have been on it. But no one did. So I wasn’t.)
A tire? It had felt like a barn. But the car was still rolling along, no indicator lights on the dash demanding attention with universal symbols for mechanical dissatisfaction, so maybe it hadn’t been that bad. It probably had been just enough to startle me out of the droopy, post-coffee slumber I had been contemplating before we encountered things where they shouldn’t be. We drove for a bit more.
Then I noticed an odd noise, coming from the left side of the car.
Tara, my companion in the back seat, noticed me noticing. “Can you hear that?”
Me: “Uh, yeah. Not sure what that is.”
Tara: “It sounds like flapping, maybe. Is that normal?”
Me: “Thanks for asking. And no, that’s not normal.” When purchasing this vehicle, I specifically asked for non-flapping accessories.
We tried alerting the pilots. They did not seem initially concerned, instead choosing to focus on discussing their mutual pleasure for a song currently playing on the radio.
Then the flapping became louder, more insistent.
Tara: “The flapping is louder.”
No response from the flight deck.
Me: “THE FLAPPING IS LOUDER.”
The pilots continued with their not caring.
The flapping grew impatient with the lack of full-occupant attention, and it ramped up with the flapping. Was there a seagull stuck to the side of the car? Were we dragging something? Were Tara and I both having a hallucinogenic reaction to the possibly un-fresh creamer that we had boldly used in our coffee this morning?
Now the pilots decided that something might be amiss, after all. (Perhaps because the noise filling the car now sounded like a cargo plane landing on a mile-long stretch of speed bumps.) Luckily, we were just coming up on an island of light in the otherwise darkness, a lone outpost of a convenience store. We exited the highway and pulled into the parking lot.
Terry hopped out and began to investigate under the car. Darrin hopped out and began to investigate under his car. Crispy hopped and investigated his. Great. Apparently everybody got a whack at the giant pinata tire with their vehicles. Well, at least we got the group plan, and nobody can say they didn’t get a chance to participate in the fun.
Everybody else hopped out, because it seemed like the hip thing to do at the time.
Status report? Darrin and Crispy didn’t seem to find anything unruly with their undersides. Our car? Not so good. There’s something hanging down, a box-like thing with tubes and such. (I’m sure somebody more in the know could take one look and go “hey, your whackjammer is busted!”, but I had no idea.) It seems the flapping had really been a dragging, but still very real and not the product of dairy-based auditory visions.
Terry goes running into the convenience store to see if there’s something that can help fix the issue. (Like a mechanic? Do they sell those here?) I go running into the store to use the bathroom, because this is quickly becoming far too much excitement and I need a release in some form. I do my thing, then saunter back out into the store proper.
Mom goes running past me, followed by Baylor, who is asking “Grandma, are you okay?” They disappear toward the bathrooms, ignoring me and my quizzical look.
Oh? I go outside and wander up to one patch of family, while another group of them is wallering around on the ground and trying to fix whatever under the car. “Is something wrong with Mom?” I query the group just standing there and not really doing anything.
I get several blank stares, unconcerned flicks of ashes from two cigarettes, and a startling head butt in the stomach from one niece who is only nine and still considers this activity to be a form of affection. Okay, this peanut gallery is not ready for harvesting.
The door of the store suddenly bursts open. “Grandma threw up all over the bathroom floor!” echoes across the parking lot, startling a nearby cow. (No idea, it was just there.) This is quickly followed by a distant shout from the folks poking around under the potentially disabled car, a garbled grunt that seems to indicate the discovery of something very-not-good in the belly of the battered beast.
Then it spins completely out of control, with far too many things happening at once for a sleep-craving mind to adequately inventory and process. People are running and things are hanging and relatives are spewing and we’re in the middle of nowhere and its very possible that we may suddenly not have enough vehicles to get us from wherever the hell we are to somewhere more useful. Like Galveston. Where we have to be on the ship in roughly eight hours.
I am less than enthused. The cow moos in agreement.
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