by Rita Leydon ©1997
Author's note: This is a journal segment. My mother was close to death in Colorado when I drove out from Pennsylvania to see her one last time. The full journal became a book called My Mother’s Hands which I am currently seeking a publisher for.
11 p.m.—fifteen minutes east of Indianapolis, Indiana.
Indianapolis or bust! My rallying cry for the day. Thirteen hours of hard driving. I’m tired. Told myself I’d either make Indy or pack it in by 10:30—the same time Chris stops dancing at home. I feel less alone knowing we are both ending our day simultaneously.
My incredible Cat—my well loved 1987 Jaguar XJ6—has purred along averaging 75–80 mph all day! She would continue on through the night if we had a spare driver. But since we are only one Cat and one Rita, we have to rest for the night. Perhaps she is relieved. You know cats—they never let you in on their private thoughts. Very feline. Slightly mysterious.
Eighty miles an hour can seem like standing still if the road is smooth as glass. It can also scare you shitless if all of a sudden that same surface gets the mumps. I am an aggressive driver. I want to be first. That requires passing everyone. And I do. Antennae constantly scanning for the law. Counting on luck. When the trucks mind their speed, I mind mine. When they abandon the shackles of posted speed limits, I push the envelope as well. So far, so good. “Luck be a Lady tonight.”
In the middle of the day I felt an urge to call Chris and tell him three things. “Do I need a pencil?” asked my worried husband. No. One. I love you. Two. Thank you for this wonderful car. Three. Help me please. Every hour or so, take up the slack on the rubber band attached from me to home. Yes. Yes. Yes. Good bye.
Tonight was the first time on this trip that I drove into darkness. Night on the road is another world. At dusk I notice groups of trucks gathering into caravans. These truckers own the road. When their running lights come on I think of buoyant elephants with red painted toenails floating down a river highway. Mere sedans like Cat and Rita are annoying intruders to these jungle giants.
Indianapolis or bust! My goal. My desire. My point of focus. I need fuel and put a Kentucky Fried Chicken breast and some “potato wedges” into my gullet. Take a large Mountain Dew to sip slowly for its caffeine value as I drive. Thus fortified, I am prepped for the evening shift. At fifty miles to Indy I am a zonked, spaced out zombie. A dangerous woman at the wheel. I decide to adopt a trucker and hang on his tail. Such choices! Such variety! Such beckoning! The Road Warriors are enticingly decked out in their red, orange and white glory lights. I settle on “GULLY.” He’s got good pace, nice lights, and the name sounds comforting and friendly. We tandem for twenty miles. Then he slows to fifty-five. Don’t know if he simply wants to go speed limit all of a sudden or if he’s tired of a woman riding his tail. I’m history. Too slow for me. Who’s next? I’m on the prowl for a hand to hold, a tail to ride. Ah. There’s a good one. A “CAT” for the Cat. My choice has reflective tape positioned in the two upper corners of his rear face. Two “V”s that look like attentive cat ears. At bumper level, three rows of lights arranged such that a nose and whiskers are suggested. Purrrrfect. A good match. We share a few anonymous miles. Cozy.
What’s this? “NAVAJO” flies by on the left! Name in fluorescent orange—very flashy! Lights strung the full length of his trailer, top and bottom. Very cool. Flash. Flash. NAVAJO’s lights alternate red-orange-red-orange-red-orange when he flashes his headlights. Very sexy! It’s tempting to abandon CAT and go with NAVAJO. But I stay put. Like with like. Too late in the day to experiment with odd mixes. Darkness engulfing us like a swirling vortex as we penetrate on into the night.
The bright lights of Indianapolis give me courage and energy to fly solo. So long CAT, thanks for the company. Rita wants to get to the other side of town. The eastern side. Ten fifteen. At 10:29, a “Motel 8” sign looks too good to pass. That’s it. I surrender. Call home and close my flight plan. I am delighted to get my son Lars on the other end. I tell him details of location and that I’ll see him tomorrow night for sure. The anticipation of rejoining my own domestic life is very alluring.
In a weak moment I bought and ate—bite after bite—a quarter pound of fudge. Peanut butter chocolate. The first few bites were wonderful. After that, eating the rest was my penance for such bad judgement. Awful stuff. Thank goodness I have water with me in the car. I topped the fudge off with a green apple. Very sour after the fudge. I crave sweets when I feel defeated. The length of the road is defeating. Miles and miles of miles. This is a BIG country!
4:15 p.m.—Pennsylvania turnpike, near Harrisburg
Close to home. Two hours. Chris made me promise to stop when I got this far. Take a break. Eat. Pee. Wash face. He’s right. My legs ached so much I felt like crying the last half hour. Fill my tummy with baked ziti. Horrid rock music hammers its discordance around my dazed head. People stare at me. I am a curious object. Must be my travel outfit. Cowboy boots. Long dark skirt. Lots of silver and turquoise jewelry. Floral shawl. I guess I look different. Feels right to me.
Called Chris’ workshop number from the northernmost sliver of West Virginia when I was almost in Pennsylvania. David answered. Chris was in the house. “Please give him the message.” Yes.
Hit the road again. It is 1944 miles since I left Mom and Dad in Fort Garland and 253 miles to Philadelphia. Piece of cake! Alter frame of mind. Tazio Leydon at the wheel. No more lazy driving. No more holding the steering wheel at the bottom. Tazio holds firmly at ten and two. Tazio leans into the wheel. Does not settle back in his seat. Tazio points chin toward belly and scowls at the road with fierce determination. Tazio does not drive sloppily, but with grace, beauty and craft. Steering is mental—more thinking than doing. I get into this Tazio stuff for maybe an hour. Then I change tapes. Feel the pain in my legs. Wonder why the turnpike has to skimp on informative signs telling me how much further.