It’s an unofficial policy of mine not to start the day driving alone in the dark at 5am on deserted roads. This policy cannot be made official because:
a) The military spouse must be flexible and ready to meet needs at all hours, particularly at o-dark-thirty.
b) The following story would never have happened otherwise.
Our story begins with a scene reminiscent of the of a horror movie. A young twenty-something drives her little car alone down the dark, foggy road. She scans the wooded Georgia roads for animals and checks all too often for the signs of sunlight between sips of Diet Coke. Instead, there are only outlines clouds that are clearly filled with rain. As usual, the girl begins to talk to herself. “This is like a murder movie.” She nods in agreement with herself. Then an ‘are you nuts?’ expression in the rear-view startles our would-be slashee. Brown eyes, reddish hair, sweatshirt, enormous under-eye bags with optional dark circles; it’s just me.
To further banish my co-star I declared: “I’ve made this drive 4 times already. The redhead never dies in the slasher movies anyway; redheads are always the culprits or the ones who get what’s coming in the end. It’s the leggy blonde non-virgins that get slashed running through the woods until they trip on their heels and are overpowered by their breast weight. I’m good.” It was pre-sunrise and already I had yet another military goodbye behind me and 13 hours of driving ahead on me.
(Now, these were my days without carseats or Cheerios; those blessed days where I could fill up with gas and empty the bladder without a seatbelt version of a Chinese fire-drill and a desperate attempt to use the restroom while holding a child off of a gas-station floor that really should be donated to science research. The fight-or-flight had not been replaced by the “beat him with a tire-iron to save the children” reflex.)
As light gradually made its appearance, so did pitter patters of rain. I flipped the windshield wipers onto the lowest setting and heard a low sound of a skid of wipers that needed replacing. Within 30 minutes the pittering had begun plopping. I was NOT in the mood to be plopped on. Skid- wipe-ding. Skid- wipe- ding.
6:35am- The wipers were on full-tilt battling a downpour. The skid-wipe-ding-skid-wipe-ding was now setting a beat for a techno song that should stay in the late 90s. At least I was no longer on the road alone; I had been joined by a pack of 18 wheelers. They must have thought I was a poor, abandoned little car that needed a Mother Trucker. Without hesitation, I was invited into the herd; the rain beat down too hard to see their mirrors, so I doubt they really saw me. A ‘How’s My Driving?’ sign was out of the question.
8:00am- White knuckles, beads of sweat through AC, 2% visibility. No shoulder, no way to pull over. If I had I would probably be rear-ended. This is no longer a torrential downpour. This is a gully-washer. Then…a slight break in the clouds! Hooray! My prayers have been answered! I turned down the skid-wipe-ding and suddenly…
BANG. Screeeeech. Wipe. Something resembling a thin, black, most likely deceased object flew off of my windshield wiper and over the roof of my car. Did I kill a bat?! As I looked to the rear-view I saw my dumbfounded expression and realized Georgia was on my face, not my mind. I looked like I should be describing what the tornado sounded like with sponge rollers and a moo-moo. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last.
At the next exit for a country road, I pulled over. As the rain-plop picked up I got out and examined my windshield wiper. Actually, I examined my lack thereof. My drivers’ side wiper was MIA. The thunder bellowed and I realized I would not be able to wait out this storm. Back to the road…with one screech and one skid-wipe-ding. The next few hours I spent driving in the drivers’ seat, leaning to the passenger’s seat to see out of the window. Oh, to have been in my grandmother’s Mercury Sable with a little hat on.
I have never been so happy to reach Mobile, Alabama. After a 30 minute stop up I had a full tank of gas and new wipers. My eyes scoured for food and came up only with golden arches. Good enough. That’s when the morning’s trauma began to pay off.
If I had encountered a sullen teenager or a polished, articulate woman, this stop would have just been another point in the day. No, my day was about to be painted brilliantly by the local color that I truly love and appreciate about the south.
(Static) “Yeah, can I tay-ake yo orda?”
Yes Ma’am, I’d like a cheeseburger meal with ketchup and pickles only, with a Coke to drink, please.
(5 seconds of silence) “Whut?”
I politely repeated myself.
What we had here was a failure to communicate. I don’t know what came over me, but it was a mix of Dolly Parton and Forrest Gump. I adopted the dialect I would need for my next 2 years living in Georgia.
“I’d li-ake a chise-burgah, with ket-chup, peekles, and a Coke-Cola to drink, please.”
“Oh! $3.85 next winda.”
Success! Oh, the glory of seeing the woman behind the window… but my imagination could NOT have prepared me for this gem. She was about 35 but aged to about 50 by hard living and cigarettes. Her nails and lips were a hot pink, her eyelids were blue, and her hair was peroxide with dark roots in- gasp- a scrunchie. She was built like a bouncer from Roadhouse. Armed with the proper sized wooden spoons, she could have given Chuck Norris a run for his money. She was a true character and I liked her immediately.
“How-you, Honey?” Oh, how was I? I LOT better now. My cheeks already ached from my smile workout. I had broken through the dialect gap and the woman had asked me about my well-being. Well, what was I to do? My accent broke through and I pushed Scarlett O’Hara to the side. This was no time for petticoats.
“Well, I’m dravin’ from Georgia to Tex-as and you’d not be-lieve this rain! Just when I thought I couldn’t see anything a big, black thing flew over my windshield and over my car.” (Dancing hand gestures) “Now, Momma won’t believe this, but it was my wiper! It just broke and flew AWLF. In this gully-washer and no wiper! Have ya ever heard of such a thing? I drove anotha 4 hours with trucks in this rain not able to see a thing. It does wondas for your prayer lafe, believe you me!”
She widened her eyes under the eyebrows she’d drawn at the just-seen-a-rat-arch. She shook her head and scrunchie in genuine pity. “Bless your heart. You be careful now.” Be still my heart.
She’d made my morning and I grinned and giggled the remaining drive to Houston. My day was improved by this woman and the ability to just work a little harder to understand rather than to let attitudes hinder. I drove off extremely thankful. Thankful I’d survived, thankful I’d only lost a wiper in the drive, thankful for the break in the rain, but especially for the McDonald’s server and our conversation that made my Value Meal into a Happy Meal.