Baby, Don’t You Dare Sleep While I Drive

This morning after I dropped my wife at her office, I came home and dragged out the snowshovel with a beatup broom to the front street. One of the trash bags with our cat litter had broken open and the trash folx just left it there in the middle of the street. The edges of the broom, probably a relic from the previous owner, were curled up and mostly useless except to sort of scrape the slightly damp wood pellets and sawdust onto the neon green snow shovel. I’m really glad I hadn’t put the snow shovel away yet because trying to use a dustpan would have ended me for the day.

Rain drove me inside before I finished, but I did make sure I scraped all of the actual excrement. I carried my shovel filled with cat waste to the curb two times to dump into a fresh new garbage bag. I put the shovel and broom on the back porch, making a note to order a broom. I got some more coffee. That’s life.

Yesterday, we missed our exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We were heading up to Donora to see some friends at their camp ground. The turnpike exits are numbered my milemarker and we were undeservedly overconfident in our ability to get to the Donora exit. Both of us had driven on the turnpike, together and apart, millions of times. So we turned off the annoying GPS in favor of music and cruised down the highway playing “I Spy a Trump Sign.”

When we got to the rest stop, it dawned on us. We shot right past the exit. Sheepishly, we updated our friends who didn’t rib us too much. Then we drove another 30 miles to turn around at the next exit. That’s about 90 minutes of our lives we won’t get back and I’m sure enough gas to feed our cats for a month.

Are we getting too old for the road? I remember growing up that some neighbors, mostly women, wouldn’t drive at night and stopped altogether at a certain point. We are typically well suited for a trip together because we both like to stop often and we both are willing to pay turnpike premiums for things like Starbucks even though we have lunch in the cooler. But our necks are stiffer nowadays after a few hours. Our grumpiness factor is pretty high. We say we’ll load up the iPod with great tunes or download podcasts, but we typically just listen to commercial radio. We complain about other drivers. And trucks. And we are less inclined to make unplanned stops.

We are planning a driving vacation this summer along the Erie/Niagara side of Western New York. Our main goal is to get some distance and perspective, so no big plans. We rented a unit with a kitchen at a familiar spot in Erie so we can have a base of operations that most importantly keeps us within 2 hours of each day trip we plan to make – mainly, to Chautauqua and Lily Dale, perhaps Jamestown. Our little motel has a nice pool, a great view, lots of shady trees, and some decent restaurants. We’ll be driving to Salamanca to attend a powwow as guests of a friend who is a Seneca artist and staying at that fancy hotel for two nights, but that’s it. We had considered driving further East to visit a childhood friend. But the turnpike mishap made us realize we need to play it conservatively. The point is to get some relaxing in, not cram all the experiences in.

So we’ll take another trip in the fall up through State College (2 hours), spend the night, onward to Endicott, spend the night, back to State College and spend the night before we go home. Fortunately, Laura really likes State College.

Life seems pretty awful right now. Friends are moving out of the country, others are stockpiling weird things. Everyone is talking about voting, but I have yet to have a single person ask me if I’m registered. I’m pretty sure I’m in sustained shock about the collapse of Roe v Wade, but that might just be my 2018 hysterectomy talking. It feels horrible and familiar at the same time.

This America we live in now, this slide toward fascism, isn’t actually new. Yes, the white Republicans and the religious right have been working their way to a theocracy for decades. But the realities of everyday folks aren’t new, there are just more of us in that category. State sponsored violence. Economic turmoil. Environmental troubles. War. Endless segments of media devoted to gas pump analysis without a single phrase explaining how gas prices actually work.

I probably took access to abortion for granted even though I was acutely aware of how it was eroding during most of my adult life. Just like I took for granted that I could jump in the car for a six or eight hour drive with only a Big Gulp and an Eagles Greatest hits cassette to guide me. Six or eight were nothing. I regularly drove 11-15 hours at a stretch back and forth from Pittsburgh to my other homes. When I was younger.

I have to approach the road differently now and the same is true for the political landscape, but it hasn’t shifted as dramatically as I have shifted. I was born into a pre-Roe world where my mother’s body was controlled by her father and her husband. Someone, I don’t know who, authorized her to be implanted with an IUD against her knowledge because her mental illness made her vulnerable and stripped of her voice, ignored her values. Then whomever that was left it inside her body for decades until it almost killed her. My mother would never have supported abortion, but I will always support the right of other women to not endure ceding their bodily autonomy to men.

I was the one who had to authorize removing it – can you believe that? She was forcibly sterilized and her daughter carries that legacy. It took me years to get the same authority over my own body to schedule a hysterectomy.

Both of my grandmothers were pregnant before marriage circa 1930s. What choices did they have? None. Both married the men who impregnated them. Both of those men (my grandfathers) also impregnated other women while married. My mother was sterilized. I was denied reproductive autonomy at the price of my health. And now my nieces will face all of those things again.

This morning my wife mentioned an oil change that’s due soon. Our mechanic who is typically a “let me fit you in the next few days” for routine stuff is booked for two weeks. It isn’t an emergency so no worries, but wow. What if it were? We want the oil changed and the car looked over before we head out on our trip. Check the brakes and fluids and tire pressure. Always keep the tank half filled, no matter what. Always take extra water on a trip and stop at every bathroom you can. Scan the rest stop parking lot for Confederate flags and Trump propaganda. Lean into the assumption that two white cisgender middle aged women are invisible for our safety. No defiant sloganed tee shirts. No rainbows.

To get the escape we need to rest our very weary minds and hearts, we need to distance ourselves from our everyday lived experiences. We disappear into the crowds to escape their impact on our world. Ironic, eh?

With all that baggage, is it any wonder we occasionally miss our exit?

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