Growing up, we had a few catch-phrases that we used amongst our circle of siblings. You're already familiar with "us kids," of course. But there was another favorite phrase we'd use when we were playing in the backyard pretending to be on bucking broncos or stranded on the prairies of the midwest, or when we were huddled around a "campfire" lamp with our toy horses in our bedroom, setting up intricate plots and circling home-made wagon trains around to protect from wolves.
"I know," we'd say. "Little did they know ... Indians were just over the hill."
"How about this," we'd say. "Little did they know ... the mosquitos all had malaria!"
"I know, I know!" we'd say. "Little did they know ... right before they came into the room he had secretly managed to swallow the elderberries and that made his heart rate go so slow it just seemed like he was dead and when nobody was looking he was somehow able to stitch up the his leg so it wasn't dangling by a tendon and he climbed back up the cliff and saved everybody!!!"
One day, Mandatory and I were driving from Minnesota to Ohio. Little did we know ...
The day started out pleasant and sunny, as foreboding days commonly do. We had stayed the night at a little motel in Minnesota just an hour from the Wisconsin border, with an innkeeper who spoke in such a whispered hush and understood so little English that it was with some difficulty we procured our rooms for said night.
We partook of the continental breakfast before leaving, but the waffles were gluey and pasty; the apple juice watery; the Nesquick chocolate mix was old and stale ... we should have taken this as a sign of warning.
We left on our merry way and made good time; in fact, we made excellent time plugging across the remainder of Minnesota, charging through Wisconsin, and then cutting off of I-90 and diving down through Illinois on I-94, our first departure from that fine interstate since we had left home.
There are no tolls on I-90, by the way. The same cannot be said for any of the remaining interstates we traveled on our way to Virginia.
But I digress.
We arrived at our goal in Libertyville, Illinois, a little Thai food restaurant where we had called ahead with our order of various lunch entrees and drinks. We picked up the food and then drove a short distance to a very dear friend's house, where we had planned a three-hour stop for recuperation and visitation.
I found it impossible to tear myself away from her and her precious new son (and we stayed long enough that we got to see her husband when he came home from work, as well!), and three hours quickly turned into five.
|He tried to warn us, but we didn't understand baby-speak|
Earlier in the day, we had called ahead to a hotel in Avery that sounded incredible for our last night on the road. A jacuzzi in the room, a hot breakfast at six - we were ready for this. We weren't sure if we could make it that far now with our additional two-hour delay in Chicago, but we were willing to give it a shot. If not, Toledo was always an option.
We drove hard but we hit traffic snarls and toll after toll, and road-work speed limits which hampered our progress. We also forgot that we would cross over the Eastern-time dateline in Indiana, and so we automatically lost an hour. It was well after dark, and after 9:30 when we pulled in to Toledo - that is to say, when we reached the city limits and couldn't see any lights on either side of the highway.
|This is the last picture we took that day ... things got too crazy for photos|
So we forged ahead.
Does anybody else recognize this eerily similar situation? Once upon a time in Montana ... but some of us never learn.
Looking at our maps, we could see that there were plenty of cities dotted between Toledo and Avery, so we didn't even think we really had to stop there. What we didn't realize is that a turnpike is not like an interstate; you can't just pull off an exit, check out a few hotels, and get back on.
You find an exit that advertises four thousand sparkling hotels and resorts; thinking this sounds pretty good, you exit. Which is what we did when, halfway between Toledo and Avery, as our energies were wearing thin and, with the road-work slowing us down, we realized we wouldn't make it to Avery. We weren't keen on going another sixty miles any more; we were getting tired. We called ahead to this hotel that said, Yes, we're just off the turnpike. Yes, you can see us from the road (why didn't I ask which road?). Yes, we have jacuzzi rooms and a hot breakfast.
So, as I was saying, we exited. First you are faced with a wide row of toll booths, glowing in the night like demonic beacons. Mandatory reached into the console and pulled out our bag of quarters.
Oops! In the dark and confusion, she grabbed the bottom of the unzipped ziplock bag, and fifty dollars in quarters gushed down into the blackness of the transfer case and under the emergency brake handle. Money sloshed through the console as she frantically scooped at it, in helpless futility. I stopped at the toll booth and the clerk stared down at us, unamused, as we fumbled for money. I think it was about ten dollars to get through the toll.
I paid, and we trundled on to the exit. Mandatory was still digging for quarters in deep crevices, and I was throwing receipts and change about to add to the mess.
The exit faced us not with a road, but with another interstate. What?! No hotels were in sight. I took a right and we blasted down the direction the hotel was supposed to be, the infamous Crown Inn. Money crashed and change rattled down into the depths of the Jeep as Mandatory, by the light of the fog-resistant make-up mirror on her sun-visor, inserted her fingers into little mechanical gaps and dragged out another forty-two quarters.
As we drove, I began to realize that this Inn could be farther than we thought. Suddenly, it appeared!
I exited the interstate and rolled slowly in, and began to wonder how this place could house jacuzzi rooms. One level, with about twenty doors leading to rooms. Dingy and greenish, with a bright sign advertising "$30 a night!" Semi-trucks were parked in the gravel lot. I pulled up to the front doors and got out, buzzed the bell, and waited until it unlocked.
Inside, a teenage Indian boy with a huge mop of black hair stared at me with large, unblinking eyes. "I called ahead," I said, "asking about jacuzzi rooms?"
"Oh no," he said, "we don't have jacuzzi rooms."
I stared back, except I blinked a few times. "But I called ahead ..."
"No, that's another Crown Inn, and we are not affiliated with them," he explained. He had obviously done this before. "Go down This and That highway, exit to East Other Highway, take Exit 10, and follow the main road down ..."
I went back out to the car. Mandatory was still hunting for quarters. I told her the news. We got back on the interstate and drove a few more miles before I determined this was Utterly Pointless. "We'd be in Avery by now if we hadn't stopped here!" I said, and took the first exit I could find, whipped around, and got back on heading towards the turnpike.
To get back on to the turnpike, we had to stop at the toll booth and get a little card that we would turn in at our next exit, which would then determine how much we were to be billed.
Once we were on the turnpike, we hauled it to Avery and rolled in by midnight. We got off the exit and paid our fine. Taking a right, we could see the hotel almost immediately off the freeway, and we rejoiced! I had called them earlier in the evening and they had said they would definitely have jacuzzi rooms, no need to reserve them.
We stopped at a gas station to fill up so our morning would be a straight shot out of town. Ironically, the pump I was at was out of paper and I had to trudge wearily inside to get a receipt, and then drove back to the hotel. Or, attempted to. All of the hotels were right off the main drag, with the exception of the one we wanted to go to. For whatever reason, this one was separated from the main road by a low median and an access road. An access road with no apparent access. In the dark, we drove up and down trying to figure out how to get onto the access road, with no luck (in the morning we could see it clearly, but things were a little foggy by this time ...). We tried going into other hotel parking lots, but there were no through-ways.
We returned to the main road and slowly drove in front of the Inn of our Desire. Coins settled peacefully in the console as we came to a contemplative halt. "Well, I just ... I don't know ..." I was a little too tired to be formal at this point. "Whatever, it's a Jeep." Turning the steering wheel, I put down the gas pedal and the Jeep crawled heavily up onto the median, coins crashing down again. We rattled and clanged, dropping over the other side like an overweight whale. "Whatever," I said again, "let's just get to our hotel!" We bullied our way up the driveway and Mandatory was laughing hysterically.
When we stopped, she couldn't find her phone.
I went inside to secure our room. They told me the jacuzzi rooms were all full. I gave them a glassy-eyed stare and said, fine, just give me a room then. Like a robot, I filled a bowl with ice and took it back outside. Mandatory was trying to find her phone, but she couldn't call it from mine since mine was dead, conveniently. While I drained our cooler of food and drinks and filled it with ice, she took a flashlight and hunted.
"I have good news, and bad news!" she said. "Good news is, I found it ... bad news is, I can't reach it, because it's in the console thingy where the quarters fell."
In our Jeep, there is a small crack about the size of a toothpick in the console where the emergency brake handle comes out. Unfortunately, items up to the size of a small child can fall into this crack. The phone, apparently, had.
I wedged myself into the passenger side of the car and flexed my eyes, peering around corners in the console to see the phone reposing in a heap of quarters underneath a lot of metal stuff.
"I tried to wedge my hand in there," said Mandatory, who has tiny hands, "but I couldn't get it to fit."
I remembered the median. I remembered raw strength. I remembered the determination of Woman.
And I contorted my hand into a small shape the size of a flattened Hotwheels car and crammed it through the crack, lengthening it as I went so my fingers would extend beyond human capacity and fumble down into the crack to reach the phone. I felt my fingers touch it, and it slithered quietly away from my grasp.
But I remembered the determination of Woman again, and with that determination, little webs of sticky steel emerged from my fingertips and wrapped around the phone, clutching it tightly and drawing it out of the crack with inhuman power.
Mandatory took it gratefully.
"Let's go to bed," I said, and so we did. That is what I remember of Ohio.