Mild foul language
In a rare moment of reflection, the young woman occupying the passenger seat of my Toyota sedan turned to me, smiled wistfully, and said, “We’re running out of time.”
It was the fourth of July holiday weekend, and all the nation’s fireworks exploded inside my head throughout my rollercoaster ride from Durham, North Carolina to Long Island, New York. I was en route to my hometown to visit relatives who I hadn’t seen in a decade.
My trip began peacefully at 6pm on Thursday. I planned to drive three hours and seek refuge in Virginia when darkness fell.
I expected to occupy the two-lane Highway 85 North to 95 North by myself for the first two hours because I knew that most people don’t embark on this trip during dinner time, and I have zero tolerance for anyone driving alongside me.
I enjoyed the blue sky contrasting with lush green trees and shrubs and began to paint a portrait. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a big, black, Mercedes traveling at the speed of light appeared in the left lane beside me and slithered into my lane to cut me off, before returning to the left lane to drive alongside me, companionably.
Inside lightly tinted windows, I saw a man driving alone, waving his right hand in the air. I prayed that he had a left hand or two and that one of them was in control of the steering wheel.
Barely one hour into my trip and I was already livid. I rolled down my window and waved at him. “Hey, jackass! Roll down your window.” He ignored me. I began my diatribe. “You’re driving like an ex-con from Alcatraz. Your stupid car costs more than most homes in Michigan and you’re blocking my view of the ocean. If you get any closer, I’ll file a restraining order!”
He continued ignoring me. Then I noticed his license plate: Washington DC. Of course. He was a fancy pants, high-priced, soul-for-sale politician on a conference call with his mistress and his broker, plotting to move a billion dollars offshore to the Cayman Islands, where they all could live happily ever. We parted on bad terms because I refused to give him an alibi for his chicanery. "You're not getting a sweetheart deal from the feds either, so buzz off."
After he sped away, I enjoyed "me" time. I indulged in a bubble bath and a makeover. Then, an ice cream truck interrupted my reverie. Who drives an ice-cream truck, dressed like a clown, on the left lane of Highway I-85? Inside the truck, Bozo was playing Disney’s “It’s a small world, after all.” He waved at me.
“I’m a bit too old to qualify as your first Amber Alert victim and I learned long ago not to take sweets from strangers. ” I shouted. “And cut the crappy music. We’re on a highway, not some Disney Fairy Princess cruise. Now, get the hell out of my bathroom!"
I turned right and glanced at my young passenger. She was smiling at the ice-cream truck driver and waving at him. With both of her middle fingers.
After eternity passed, I reached my first destination. Welcome to Virginia. Virginia is for Lovers. Fresh Peaches. The fourth sign said, “Are you going to hell?” At the time, I thought it was an advertisement for a church. In retrospect, it turned out to be an ad for the motel I stayed in that night.
Highway 95 North was very busy in Virginia that evening. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. With gas around 74 dollars a gallon, I would have been better off riding a camel to New York. With skyrocketing gas prices, Geico was considering insuring horses, cows, donkeys, camels, and turtles as alternative means of land transportation.
When traffic cleared, I began speeding again. But then I got sandwiched between two furniture trucks. And when Furniture World honked at me repeatedly, flashed its grid of blinding white teeth, and then cut me off in the right lane, my temper flared.
“I’m so sorry that you had to cut me off, sir,” I shouted. “Did someone in Virginia call 911 bleeding for a sofa? I dare you to drive an ambulance like you drive that truck. Tonight, someone you hit is going to need one!”
I tapped the radio button. A seductive baritone voice said, “You’re listening to KLUV in Fredericksburg, Virginia. All you lovers out there, rest assured that Furniture World is out delivering the sofa, loveseat, and mattress of your dreams. They’re making all the right moves so you can make yours.”
I called it a night and exited stage right. Hopefully, a haven was awaiting me. Motel Virginia was brightly lit and beckoning. But, then again, so was Hitchcock's Bates Motel, and we all know how that turned out.
I entered the motel and spotted the first bad omen. Stage left, a large flat screen TV was playing the popular HGTV show “No Demo Reno.” You know, the show where the pretty redhead designer rearranges homeowners’ furniture, slaps white paint on some walls, and when the homeowners return hungry and disheveled after camping out in the desert for months, for no fathomable reason, they cry and declare it a miracle.
The theme of my hotel room wasn’t "No Demo Reno." It was “Reno from Hell-o.”
I told the clerk: one person, one night. That’s why I was astounded to find seven chairs in my room. One for me and six for my imaginary friends. There was a desk chair, a recliner, an armchair, a bench in the bathtub, two chairs facing the microwave, and a chair facing the wall. I chose to occupy the chair facing the wall because I urgently needed a time-out.
Despite all the seating, there was no sofa in my room, so I called Furniture World and requested an emergency delivery. "If you don't deliver a sofa in the next 60 seconds, I may bleed to death."
I expected a lot from a hotel that robs its guests of one-hundred and sixty dollars a night, and what did I get? A hot mess. The refrigerator was hiding inside of an armoire, the chairs created an obstacle course to the bathroom, and the portable closet was crafted entirely of wood. The closet looked and smelled like a sauna, and my socks ran away from it in horror and hid under the bed.
And the poor microwave sitting on a low coffee table between two chairs was pretending to be a fireplace.
Framed on the wall were two posters of erupting volcanos, which featured red and orange lava. The hotel in hell was hot, so I went on a scavenger hunt to find the ice maker.
I returned to my room a century later, with three ice cubes, only to discover that there was no pen or paper on the desk.
I asked the friendly desk clerk for a pen and a pad of paper. Most hotels have them. She appeared annoyed and evaporated. She eventually materialized with a cheap plastic pen that looked like it was programmed to erupt black lava, and a pad the size of a toilet paper square which only contained 3 sheets. By then, I was ready to fly a broom over the moon to get to New York.
Why was the clerk afraid to give me a functioning pen with the Hotel Hell logo and a decent amount of paper? Did she think that I’d post a sign in my window facing the parking lot that said, “Help! I’m being held hostage in Virginia’s most expensive motel?”
I could do a whole lot more than that. I could apply red lipstick, pout, and press my lips against the window, along with my fingerprints, using the exploding black pen to capture them. That would give the FBI in Quantico smoking gun evidence that I was being held hostage in Virginia’s most expensive hotel. Or that I was a debutante, starring in my first Lifetime movie called “My Psycho Road Trip.”
Once settled in my room, I spotted the Bible on the desk. I would sort through it to find comforting verses. Matthew would remind me of my Prayer Closet. Bond Park is my Prayer Closet. But I was far away from Bond Park and its squirrels, ducks, and cardinals.
Once I opened the Bible, I discovered that it had been tampered with. First clue: the Bible was sponsored by a local snack shack across from the motel, called Taco Takeout.
Inside the front cover, a sticker read, “Are you alone, stressed, cheated, experiencing conflict or temptation, or curious?”
I shouted, “Yes. I’m alone and stressed. I have been cheated out of one hundred and sixty bucks for this crappy hotel room, am tempted to trash it, and curious to find out if I’ll get away with it!”
I fled from Hotel Hell at 9am on Friday to continue my trip north and eventually reached the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. The tunnel is so long that I had a chance to read and act out Tolstoy's "War and Peace" twice. When I graduated from the tunnel, the Baltimore Mayor awarded me a Master’s Degree in History.
Armed with confidence and the explosive pen from Hotel Hell, I invaded Delaware.
Delaware is the nation's first state. Like any firstborn, it can be a bit thoughtless at times. Before its bridge dumps you unceremoniously onto the Jersey Turnpike, a billboard should at least say farewell. “Thank you for visiting. Come again soon. And best of luck in New Jersey.”
I parked at the last rest stop in Delaware before the bridge and did what I had to do. I donned a white HAZMAT suit and accessorized it with a gas mask.
New Jersey is called the Garden State. I didn’t see any gardens, but through the cesspool of smog and smoke, I did see toll booths everywhere, illuminated like casinos.
New Jersey should be called the Jersey Jackpot State because they’re collecting a Saudi prince’s fortune in toll charges.
There should be a billboard above Exit 1 in New Jersey to warn you about the Atlantic City Casinos. It should say, “Don’t bother exiting here. Save your 401k for the tolls.”
New Jersey is a feisty state, full of dueling billboards. On the left: Pro-life. On the right: Pro-choice. On the left: Pro-life. On the right: Come over here and say that.
Then, a few miles ahead, a plethora of Personal Injury Lawyers billboards sing like the musical icon Blondie, “Injured? Call me. Anytime. Call me any day or night. Call me, text me anytime…”
I didn’t remember what exit to take to get to Long Island, but the billboard over Exit 13, Goethals Bridge, said, “Polish Vodka, exit here.” I’m Polish and I like vodka. Finally, a billboard with a personal invitation. I would have taken that exit no matter where it led.
I cruised over the Goethals and Verrazano bridges, only to land on Long Island during rush hour. I don’t know why they call it rush hour, because, for at least an hour, no one goes anywhere.
There were three narrow lanes on the Belt Parkway, and I was sandwiched in the middle. The Belt was choking my gut. An ambulance wailed like a lost infant from somewhere behind, distraught because it had no shoulder to turn to.
In my rearview mirror, I and saw a massive gray Mercedes sedan on my tail. It was traveling well over 55 miles per hour, and I was not. I couldn’t change lanes because all three were bumper-to-bumper in stop-and-go traffic.
I flashed my hazard lights and whispered a prayer. "Lord, please don't let this be the day that the music dies."
Then, for one last time, the young lady appeared in my passenger seat. She wore the beautiful, long, teal wool coat that her father had gifted to her on her twenty-first birthday.
She turned to me and shouted, “We’re running out of time.”