Somewhere in Virginia - Mile Marker 153 of I-95 South
After taking a swig of water, I screwed the cap back on the bottle and licked my chapped lips. Bristles of dry skin scraped back against my tongue. With both eyes still on the road, I released one hand from the steering wheel to blindly rifle through my purse tucked at my feet. I found three pens, two barrettes and one crumpled piece of paper containing dried up gum. But alas I found no lipstick.
“Hey, do you have any gloss?” I asked as I sat back in the seat, clicked the signal, looked over my shoulder and shifted into the left lane to pass a truck.
“No, but I have a pick,” my mom offered as she reached into her bag and presented me with a little stub of something that looked like the brush Dick Van Dyke used to clean chimneys in Mary Poppins.
“Guh-loss,” I spoke with exaggerated annunciation.
“I thought you said floss,” she defended.
“Yeah, I know what you thought I said,” I answered while nodding at the dental utensil in her hand, the one extended like a sword preparing for a fight. I rolled my eyes and then returned my attention to the highway.
“Wait, so you don’t want the pick?”
Somewhere in North Carolina - Mile Marker 203 of I-85 South
While we were excited to cross into the first of two Carolinas, my mom and I both knew we still had a lengthy stretch of road ahead of us. My ponytail was starting to come undone. My lower back was beginning to ache. And I was tired of twangy songs about trailers and truckers and big daddies. Then I smelled something ripe.
“Did you fart?” I accused.
“No, no I didn’t,” my mother firmly noted. “I tutti-fruttied,” she explained before slowly reaching for the button to open her window.
“Hell no! Put your window up,” I instructed as I lowered mine to offset the rush of funk heading my way. “You sit over there in that stench and think about what you just did.”
My mom convulsed from controlled laughter, her lower lip curled between clenched teeth.
“I wasn’t kidding,” I noted in between stifled giggles as I pulled up on the button next to me that operated her window.
The next three miles, nothing mattered beyond our tug of war - her window continuously shifting up and down in tiny increments. In case you were wondering - (a) I won and (b) apparently Mercedes successfully designed an electrical system that can withstand childish antics acted out by grown adults.
Somewhere in Florida - Mile Marker 349 of I-75 South
Around forty miles shy of Tampa, the roadway narrowed from three lanes to one. Erratically placed cones ultimately forced traffic into a single file line to accommodate anticipated roadwork. It was nearing midnight and I was tired and hungry and starting to see double.
“Thank God I’m not driving ’cause I’d suggest we pull off and stay at a hotel,” my mom mumbled through a monstrous yawn.
“We’re less than two hours away. We aren’t quittin’ this close to the finish line,” I insisted as I willed my right contact to unstuck itself from my cornea.
“I just realized we never had dinner. Do you wanna stop and get something to eat?” my mom asked, the grumbling of her belly echoing in tune with her question.
“Nah. But I will have some of those chocolate pretzel nubbins I packed.”
My mom rifled through my canvas tote, the one I use for road trip nosh, and pulled out a half filled plastic Trader Joe’s container. As she finagled the lid free, I blindly stretched my arm out into her space and fumbled for some niblets.
“Oops,” I said when I realized my hand had collided full force with the side of the packaging thereby sending all nubbins into the air before settling on my mom’s lap and the floor by her feet.
“PJ,” she whined with a huff and a sigh before bending down to retrieve the scattered sustenance.
After a few minutes, I realized my mom was still bent at the waist and an unusually loud crunching noise was coming from her side of the car. Curious and suspicious, I momentarily shifted my gaze from the road to the passenger front seat. In the shadows cast by headlamps and street lights I could see my mom’s hand near her mouth.
“You’re eating off the floor!” I yelped with disbelief.
“What? I had the car detailed the day we left Philly,” she explained in between loud munches of chocolate covered pretzel bites. “Ooh, these are good.”
I continued to watch my mother, a woman who admires epicures like Julia Child and Ina Garten, fetch food from the floor, blow on the bits and then pop the superficially cleaned morsels in her mouth. The only things missing from this picture were a bong, some Phish tunes and a tie-dyed t-shirt. I cringed at her complete disregard of filth. I sneered at her comfort with eating food off the floor. And then I realized she was ingesting the entire stash of snack I so desperately wanted.
“Dirt shmirt - I’ve put a lot worse in my mouth,” I said as I extended an open palm to request my share of the foraged food.
“You’re most definitely my daughter,” my mom proudly announced before dropping some lint tainted nubbins in my hand.