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."


  1. Felted bags! They are among my favorite things to make, largely because of how soft and how useful they are. I gave several as Christmas presents this year.

    I am glad you survived your night at something approaching the Bates Motel.

  2. Thanks, Jean! I'm glad I survived, too. I LOVE my felted bag! It's so perfect!