Sunday, December 26, 2010

Over the mountains and through the storm, to a motel room I go

Perhaps it is best to stay home when snow threatens, but being always ready for an adventure, I planned my epic holiday roadtrip for the middle of winter.  How was I supposed to know that 'possible blizzard conditions after 4 pm' meant 'car accidents and slush and ice and a big pond of bad drivers on the NJ Turnpike?'  I mean, I live in Texas.

Coming from Chicago, my good friend, to Louisville was a bit wet but fine.  Leaving Louisville was sleepy, so I pulled over and took a nap.  Leaving my nap was snowy.  I-64 through West Virginia was full of flurries, but the temperature couldn't decide if it was above or below freezing, which is really (I thought) the worst of all ways to go with the weather conditions.  I called twenty people to find out the prediction for the roads, which I have since found on the weather channel website.  There's a whole thing with forecasts for freeways.  One person answered -- she was helpful with advice, but nobody had the weather.

So, I pulled off at Mossy, WV and pulled into the T & C Motel.  There was a big picture of Elvis behind the counter and a teensy, yipping black dog of indiscriminate breed under it.  It took a few minutes for the rather rolling woman from the room next to the counter to come out and offer me her best room for $40.  I was optimistic; I like old-fashioned, mechanical objects, like keys.  And crappy keychains.  So I took my key, got in my car, and pulled down into the lot next to the room doors.  Well.  The lot had clearly once been gravel.  Now, it was a pit of ice and snow and slush, with a smattering of ridiculously sharp, large rocks.

I parked.  I grabbed my bag and my bathroom things from the backseat of the car and made a beeline for the bedroom.  I couldn't unlock the door.  Why?  There was no resistance in the doorjamb for the door.  It just kind of rattled there, which made it really hard to unlock.  I got inside, and the smell poured toward me like a long trapped cloud.  I tried not to look at the stain on the bedcover as I ran for the bathroom, as I had to pee like a racehorse.

Lucky my boots were still on, because the bathroom flooded when I flushed.

I went to turn the heat on, in the hopes that the room would warm and maybe the smell would fade.  Ignoring the freezing air which whooshed out of the heating unit (I was hoping it would warm up), I decided to investigate the bedding situation.  The stain on the comforter emitted a slightly stale odor.  The single, mothy blanket beneath was no better.  The lone unfitted (and poorly tucked in) sheet was the smelliest.  I got my sleeping bag, pillow, and blanket from the car.

The air from the 'heating unit' was getting progressively colder, so I shut it off and put on three shirts, pants, socks, and my sweatshirt.  I slid, shivering, into my sleeping bag.  I was cuddling into its polyethylene silkiness when all the texts came pouring in from all the people I had called.  Just reaching out of my sleeping bag into the air of the room -- which was significantly colder than outside at this point -- was painful, but I had to, to reach the phone.  Needless to say, I passed a chilly night in that room, scared of what might be breeding in the blankets, somehow certain it would be better for my back to stretch out on the bed than be warm in the car.

When I got up at five I stayed in bed as long as I could before the cold seeped into my bones, but when light came it was time to go.  I packed up my things and dragged them to my car like a person carrying too many plastic shopping bags.  I started my car.  It didn't move.  Gravel pit, anyone?  Thank god for kitty litter in the trunk is all I have to say.

I tried to check out.  There was a sign directing me to the Exxon station.  The woman from the night before was there -- she didn't recognize me, but the guy smoking a cigarette in the predawn snow looked at me like I was a dream come true and probably also a nightmare.

It can't be legal, how beautiful the ice-encased trees were, after that.

I wandered through Lovingston when I arrived a few hours later, discovering a little coffee roastery up an unpaved hill with horse grazing around it and a hardware store with a kind old man who talked my ear off; and then there was lunch and then there was dinner, a few days full of my friends and my family and everybody giving each other things and feeding them -- good to be home.

There is a quiet to the light found only in the morning.  It is the only time left without ipods.  I have found myself on the road for sunrise more often than not in these last weeks.  No matter how cold or long or drunken the night, the sunrise has filled my heart with happy, sparkly things, while my family has been filling it with warm, cuddly things, like felted bags and books and wine, good food and sweet company.

Alone in a motel somewhere along the New Jersey Turnpike, again shunned by the highway, again being made to take a break from my long-held plans by the intervention of nature, I am really happy I know all the people I know.  I watched some people swerve and spin into each other and off the road today; I saw a car crumpled, while something kept me calm and steady; I looked into the face of a girl who had just spun into a cement barrier and nearly lost herself or her car, and I am so happy to be alive and have my family waiting on either end of this here turnpike.

Some other thoughts:

What does disposable mean?  Cheap or recyclable?  Styrofoam is 'disposable' but takes years to dispose.  Let's be better about that.

"Come on, Mr. Frodo!  I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Over the lake and through the farmland, to Chicago I go

On Saturday, we stopped for lunch in New Orleans and made Birmingham by 7:30, right on time.  It was a quiet drive which started a bit late, but since we'd made our schedule up, that wasn't a big deal at all, really.

I think it is a testament to the some incredible change in me that being late threw me not a bit.

The diner in New Orleans was amazing; a white marble countertop where everybody sat, no seat left empty; the waiters and cooks were the same, and enjoyed messing with us.  "Who dat?" they asked.  So we pep-rally competed to see which side of the diner was louder.  One guy named all the reindeer.  I found perfect bacon.  The streets were canopied and there was a house decorated in pink fluffy boas.  Somehow, this was obviously Christmas decor.  Funny how structural cues, like something being obviously in the shape of a wreath or garland, can tell us what it is supposed to be.  Knid of lkie slipleng wrdos wtih olny the frsit and lsat lteerts in the rghit pacle.  You could totally read that, kind of, couldn't you?

Birmingham is 3 for 3 on amazing, awe-inspiring, evidence-that-there-is-a-God style sunsets.

And so, yesterday, by way of Louisville, I made it to Chicago.  My nephew is adorable, by the way, and my brother and sister-in-law are as sweet and kind as ever.  (Family is the best.)

Here I am, Chicago.  Last night, I parked on a street which miraculously escaped the private electric parking meters, I froze my ass off (literally -- I couldn't feel it) I drank the fanciest of cocktails at the Violet Hour -- and ran into a friend I haven't seen in years -- before eating quesadillas (cheese somethings, I translated) and hitting the sack on a couch.  I've missed waking up in the cold; I can actually appreciate my blankets that way.  I've role reversed with an old friend, which was a lovely thing to laugh about.

Vespucci has been introduced to my old street, I've eaten a good Chicago breakfast and drank my cup of Intelligentsia, and it's all so familiar I can feel it in my toes.  Well, when I get the feeling back in my toes.  Or maybe the lack of feeling in my toes is the familiar part.

When I was parking on Broadway, I offered to move my car so that the guy behind me would have more room (he pulled in right after me).  So he bought me an hour of parking.  I love, love, love the people in this city.

I walked past the Erie Paint Company and I was home.  Time changed for a minute, and I was walking to work, remembering where the icy patches are.  It couldn't have been more than a second, but I was somewhere else, on my way to something else, with a different bounce in the balls of my feet and a different kind of peace in my heart -- the peace that comes, perhaps, from years of friends in arm's reach.  I breathe differently here.  I like it.

I am so happy I lived here!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pinecone Bird

There is a bird which looks like a fluffy pinecone sitting in my windowbox.

The plants which once grew in it are long since dead, and though there is one pot of basil left standing, most of that's gone, too.  This enormously round little bird has settled in, just beneath the last of the sweet smelling leaves.  It's head movements look like little automatronic frameshifts; there does not appear to be any real movement, it's just -- his head is in one place and then it's somewhere else.

The fuzz beneath his throat looks soft and downy.  When the little guy makes his whoopy hooping sound, it pulses like a tiny wave.

His beak looks like the stem on the end of a pinecone.

So here we are, sharing a bit of morning sunshine with each other, listening.  He's calling back to all the other birds outside, and I'm calling, in my way, to all you little birds.

He was just joined by a slimmer version of him!  His wife?!

ARE THEY MAKING A NEST IN MY POTS?  Oh, how I hope they are!

OH NO!  In came a much bigger, scary blue marsh bird, eating seeds from my one healthy basil plant, and chased the little guys away!  Marsh bird's markings were beautiful, it's true, but he seemed so... violent.  His motions were charged with something I didn't like very much.  And he made my bird friends go away.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey, Leaves, Temperature, Aleve, Tea.

Pallid turkeys are really weird.  So, this year, my dad and I basted ours with clarified butter and sage.  It was browned, but not brown; it looked like aged, stained wood; certainly not cherry, maybe an oak dresser from the 30s, maybe a maple wardrobe made by the Amish some time in the early nineties -- golden, browned, but in no way brown.  My aunt actually said, "Wow!" and stood still for a minute when she looked at it.

It was a golden day.  I woke up to my Meme's voice in the kitchen; I thought I must be dreaming because it was 7:30 in the morning, but then her dog licked my face.  I think that, in cartoons, I have seen people leap out of bed so quickly the blankets swirl up in the air, and I think that happened on Thursday morning.  This is surprising because most of the night before I had been tossing a few back with some people I've known since elementary school.  Amazing.  Have you ever drunk tequila purchased for you by someone you played video games with in the third grade?  You should.  It's great.

Thursday was a golden day.  People filtered in all day long.  As the sun rose and then sunk, the occasional flurries of activity got more flurried.  The day lost its chill but kept its nip.  The trees that still had leaves were reddish, but most of them didn't, so the sky was everywhere, and everywhere blue.  

Leaves are wonderful things.

The weather might be warmer in Texas than in Virginia, but the people back home made me feel so welcome I felt like I was in a big blanket.  My brother even taught me how to drive stick.  I asked, and then he remembered that I'd asked and made sure to find me and teach me.  How sweet is that?

A list of other things that made me happy: thai food with a dark & stormy and a friend, breakfast in a bookshop, raking leaves until they swished like optimism in lawn-form, long drives, Gordonsville, friends who sobered me up with cheesecake, a conversation on Marx in a bar, my amazingly chill parents, friends and wine and circular stairs, apple picking up mountains which take a different gear to climb, cider and brandy, my Popop's family tree -- complete with pictures of people in their fancy overalls in front of their teensy cottages.  The list could go on.

I have a propensity for weird maladies; on Saturday, I choked on an aleve and now the abrasion in my throat is infected and I have to take antibiotics.  Also, I'm not allowed to talk.  So I'm just going to sit here in the early evening breeze, drinking tea and knitting.  The chill in the evening air here is just the same temperature as the middle of the day was back home...