Friday, November 30, 2012

Over the River and Through the Woods

Yesterday I saw a facebook post from a friend of mine, Spencer Day. (Confession- we're not actually friends. I saw him sing once at a concert and became his fan on facebook.) He had just released some Christmas songs on itunes (Check them out here!) and the title caught my eye. "If Christmas Doesn't Kill Me." That's funny, right? And we all love funny songs sung by amazing voices. He asked people to share crazy Christmas stories. For the most part, my holidays are the same every year. Santa and food and peace and joy. But I do have one that didn't go as well. It was way too long to post there, but I told him I'd share it. (and, by extension, his music.)

This is an excerpt from my book- in it's final edits- called "Hope Springs." Those of you who may have come here from Spencer's page (Hi!) need a little background information. The book is a memoir that follows my husband and I in our first year of trying to conceive. I tend to cope with humor. This story has nothing to do with any of that.

Friday, December 22, 2006
            We’re spending Christmas in Denver with my family. Even though my parents have been divorced for ten years, we still all have Christmas together. And when I told my Dad we didn’t think we could afford the flight this year, he booked the tickets for us., So. We’re spending Christmas in Denver with my family.
            The weather has been terrible all week, so I get up early to check our flight online to make sure it hasn’t been delayed or cancelled.
            But I can’t find it. There is no flight at that time. I check the flight number again, and it just doesn’t exist. I’m looking at the email confirmation, and I can see that I have the information correct, so I finally call the service hotline for Southwest. I get an automated response, and enter my flight number. There are no matches. I try again. No matches. Out of desperation, I try the “just press zero” trick, and miraculously I am soon talking to a real live person. I explain my situation, and give her my flight number.
            “Um, Ma’am? That flight doesn’t leave for a month.” I look at my email confirmation again. And there it is, plain as anything. January 22, 2007.
            “Um, yeah, OK, I see that.” Note to self: when sixty-eight-year-old father offers to buy ticket home for Christmas, always accept. But next time, get credit card information and book the flight yourself. I sit, silently holding the phone to my ear, staring blankly at the screen, waiting for the logical answer to come to me through divine intervention. I try to will the flight into existence. Or, more accurately, to will the flight into this month. When that doesn’t work, I try a different tactic. “Is there anything available for today?” I ask the woman on the other end of the phone, knowing the answer before I hear it.
            “No, ma’am, all our flights are booked for the week.” Of course they are. It’s three days before Christmas. So, I call out to Ryan, who is saying something in the other room about waiting until the last second to pack again. Something about how we’ll never fit all this in our luggage. He joins me in the office, where I tell him that luggage is probably not going to be an issue. “My Dad booked our tickets for January 22. We don’t have tickets for today. We have tickets for a month from today.”
            And he just laughs. “Looks like we’re staying here then.” He has always fantasized about a quiet Christmas in our very own home. The look in his eyes tells me he thinks this is his chance. But I’m not up for that. Not this year.
            “We can’t just stay here! We need to get there!” I yell, trying to remain calm.  But within moments, I’m crying, and he can tell we need to find a way. “OK,” he says. “Let me think for a sec. You should call your Mom though and tell her what’s going on.”
            Ad so I do. And she tells me how heartbroken she is. And that we have to find some way there. I tell her we’ll try, but I just don’t see how it’s possible.
            “Hey!” Ryan says from the living room a few minutes later. ”We have a car. We could drive.”
            “To Denver? In Elyse Keaton? Would she make it?”
            “Sure she would! It’ll be fun! Call your Mom and tell her we’re driving.”
            And I do. And she is terrified. Not so terrified that she doesn’t want us to do it, but terrified nonetheless. I call my sister and give her the news. She laughs at me from Canton, Ohio where she is celebrating Hanukah with her in-laws. “Seriously, though. Be careful.” I tell her we’ll be careful, and that I’ll see her in a few days.
            Minutes later, the phone rings. It’s Michele. “Hey. Can we have a ride?”
            “To Denver? From Canton?”
            “Yeah. The snow is so bad here all the airports are closed. There are no flights in or out of Canton. Or Cleveland. Or Detroit. Or Columbus. And they don’t think they can get us out of here for at least a week. You drive to Canton, and then leave your car and we’ll rent one. No offense.”
            “None taken. We’ll come get you. It’ll be a road trip! It’ll be fun!”
Saturday, December 24, 2006
            I’m not sure what part of this we thought would be fun. It hasn’t been un-fun. Just not fun. It’s mostly just exhausting. And cramped. We had time for a ninety-minute nap in Canton before heading back out on the road.  And now it’s the wee small hours of Christmas Eve morning and I’m wondering if I will ever get out of this back seat. I’m drifting in and out of sleep like I have been for the past twenty hours when I hear a loud bang.
            “Shit” Eric says. He’s driving.
            “That’s not something you want to hear from the driver,” Ryan answers flatly from his shotgun seat.
            “I hit something.” And then, everything in the car powers down completely. Eric turns the steering wheel hard and manages to get us to  the side of the road. The rental car rolls to a stop. Ryan and Eric get out of the car all manly-like and come back with the report.
            “Yeah. Something tore through the gas tank. That’s why we stopped. We’re out of gas. It’s all over the road.” We all look at each other stunned. There are twenty years of Ohio University education in this car (not to mention my two from NYU) and we all come up with the same answer. We call our Mommy. It’s 3 AM, but she answers. “Hi,” I say, trying to be casual.
            “Well, hi. What’s going on.”
            “Um, we hit something. Well, Eric hit something. I mean, he didn’t mean to. But it tore through the gas tank and we’re stuck on the side of the road. We’re all OK. But we’re stuck.”
            “What do you mean he hit something? What did he hit?”
            “We don’t know. There was something in the middle of the road.”
            “Well what did they say?”
            “What did who say?”
            “Whoever you called to come help you!”
            “We called you.”
            “Melinda Kay. Hang up the phone and call Hertz. They will send someone to help you.”
            “Oh. We didn’t think of that. Sure. We’ll call them. Do you want us to let you go back to sleep? Or should we call you back.”
            “My two daughters and two sons-in-law are stranded on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere on Christmas Eve. I won’t be sleeping. Please call me back.”
            I tell Eric he should call Hertz, which he does. He explains what happened the best he can, and explains our location the best he can. The Hertz agent tells us she’ll send a tow truck right away, but that she doesn’t know how quickly she can get someone to us, seeing as it’s Christmas Eve, and we’re in the middle of nowhere. This is not comforting.
            It’s dark. And it’s cold. And I’m tired. And I don’t know where we are. “What if we freeze to death?” I wonder out loud. “That happens. People break down on the side of the road and freeze to death.”
            “We’re not going to freeze to death,” Ryan tries to assure me.
            “Wait. She’s right,“ Michele agrees, probably not helping things. “We could totally freeze to death. That does happen. What if it takes them hours or they can’t find us and we freeze to death?”
            I’ve just decided that we are, in fact, going to freeze to death- I start glancing around me, looking for a piece of paper on which I can leave my last thoughts-  when the red lights from the fire truck swirl through the car. So I guess we‘ll be fine then.
            The fireman asks us what happened while his friends take a look at the gas on the road. Since the only information we have is “we hit something,”,” and they know a tow truck is on the way eventually and the fuel on the road has been investigated, the fire truck leaves our accident scene in a very anticlimactic way. No lights or anything.
            We have just enough time to remember that we have snacks in the back when the Sheriff pulls up. We offer him a rice crispy treat. He doesn‘t take it, but asks if we need anything. We tell him it’s cold, and he lets us into the back seat of his car. And I’m sitting there with my little sister, and we’re warming up, and we’re eating rice crispy treats at 3 AM on Christmas Eve in the back of the Sheriff‘s car. And we start to laugh. And then we start to laugh harder. And soon I’m laughing so hard that I can’t breathe and tears are streaming down my face and I’m not even making any sound. Just completely seized up in the joy of how ridiculous it all is. Ryan knocks on the car window. “What is so funny?” his muffled voice yells through the glass. “You’re shaking the whole car!” which only breaks us up more. I can’t answer him, but I gesture out with both palms up, taking in everything around me in an effort to say.” This! This is what’s so funny!”
            A few moments pass, and the fire truck returns. The Sheriff lets us out of the car. “The firemen found what you hit,” he says. They’ve brought it to us, like a Christmas present. They’ve tossed it in the snow on the side of the road. It’s a large hunk of metal wrapped in black rubber.
            “How does that even happen? What is it?” I ask the fireman who threw it there. He explains that it’s a metal mud flap from the back of a semi. And I know in that moment that when I recall this story in years to come, the mud flap will be decorated in my mind with the white silhouettes of two women sitting back-to-back, even though this is just a plain old ordinary black mud flap.
            “It looks like a tire blew, and tore this off with it. So it was all just sitting there tangled in the road, waiting for you to hit it. And that’s what tore through your gas tank.”
            “Oh,” I say. “Do you want a rice crispy treat?“ He doesn’t. And the laughing starts all over again.
            An hour later, we are sitting in the cab of Manuel’s truck. “Your name is Manuel?” I asked when we first boarded the vehicle, to make sure I had heard him correctly. And then I offered him a rice crispy treat, which he declined. And I have been sitting quietly ever since, as Ryan, Michele and Eric tell Manuel our tale. Ryan and Michele’s version is a comedy, while Eric’s is an I-hope-I-don’t-have-to-pay-for-this tragedy. And in a break in the conversation, I burst into song. To the tune of “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel,” I serenade my tow truck audience.
            REJOOOOOOOOICE! REJOOOOOOOOICE! It’s Ma-a-a-nu-el! To save us from our Christmas travel hell!
            Michele stares at me in silent shock. And then, finally, “have you been just sitting there working on that?”
            “Yes.” She hands me another rice crispy treat, and we all go on as if I hadn’t just performed the greatest One-woman-show-about-hitting-a-metal-mudflap-on-Christmas-Eve in the history of tow trucks.
            We arrive at the Hertz office at the Denver airport to trade in our car, and we are greeted by two employees who have obviously been alerted regarding our accident. “Are you alright?” they say, rushing from behind the desk. “We’ve been waiting! Do you need water?” We assure them we are fine, and ask if either of them would like a rice crispy treat. Alan, our new friend behind the desk, says that he would love one. “Really?” I say. And I run to the car to get him one. When I return, Eric is filling out some paperwork. He is telling the whole story- about the loud bang, and the gas tank, how the firemen brought us the mud flap- to Jennifer, who appears to be paying attention. Technically, she had to return the first car, and rent us a second. So Jennifer starts with the questions that come up on the screen.
            “Is the gas tank full?”
            “No. It’s not,” Eric answers.
            “Oh. How full would you say it is?”
            I can see that Eric is getting tired and frustrated and worried that he’s going to have to pay for something else, so I step in. “Um, the gas tank is empty. But I tell you what. We’ll pay for as much gas as you can get to stay in the tank. The one that tore open. When we hit the mud flap.”
            “Oh. Right.”
            And we get in our new rental car, and we drive those last few miles over the river and through the woods.