Gas stations, rest stops and diners. Miles and miles of highways stretching out before you. The scenery a blur outside the window of the car. Truckers and RV's and old, rusty Cadillacs keeping pace as you make your way to your destination. A peek into lives via bumper stickers and the contents of back seats and trailers. Billboards that implore you to visit antique malls, the Spam Museum or the birthplaces of obscure figures from the past. The intermittent smell of manure drifting off of the fields of corn. Road trips are all of this and more. When I dropped off Zeca in Des Moines and headed back to Minneapolis, I hadn't been on a solo road trip in 17 years. I don't really like to drive. I prefer the role of the passenger, entertaining the driver, controlling the music and managing the snacks. I wasn't sure that I'd like being alone in the car. Would I get bored? Lonely? Tired? What would I do? About two miles in, I realized that I could drive by myself forever.
One of the great perks of a solo car trip is that you get to manage the iPod without any input from others. There are no sides to take in the musical standoff between Meryl Streep's "Mama Mia" and The Murmurs' "Smash". There is no whining when someone doesn't get their chosen song first. There is no flipping around to please everyone. No one talks while your favorite song is on and you can sing as loudly as you please without embarrassment. For all you parents out there, I hesitate to break this to you but...you can even listen to an album from beginning to end - without interruption. I know, it seems like crazy talk but it is true.
When I tired of singing, I talked to myself. Yes, I do that sometimes. It's not like I have conversations with myself. I contruct storylines and dialogue for that novel I'll never write. How's that for being unproductive? Sort of brings it to a whole new level, doesn't it? Occasionally, I also pretend that I'm an incredibly smart and witty guest on a talk show but everyone does that, right? Right? No? Wait - I guess if I am asking myself questions and then answering them, I do have conversations with myself. That might be why Luisa told me that I should not admit to people that I talk to myself and, in fact, wishes that I had never told her. I'm glad I haven't told her about the little birds that talk and sing to me in the morning and bring me my clothes.
Another perk of being alone on the open road? The Snacks! You can eat junk without shame and you don't have to be a good example for anyone! I stopped in Clear Lake, Iowa on my way home and picked up a bag of Skittles and a bag of Tacos at Midnight flavored Doritos*. Then, when I got to the register, I found out that Skittles were buy one get one free! It was like winning the lottery except that I can’t quit my job and pay someone to fan me with palm fronds. I have the kids for the fanning anyway, though they have to use evergreen branches (we do live in Minnesota, ya know) which are admittedly a little scratcy but, damn, they smell fantastic. Where was I? Oh yeah, at the intersection of Junk Food and Excitement. So, I jumped into the car and rattled the bags of food to the lingering essence of my children and was like "BWAH HA HA! I don't have to share!" I was drunk with power! Drunk with junk! I started with my Tacos at Midnight flavored Doritos and felt very cutting edge because this is, apparently, a new flavor. I could hardly wait to tear into the bag and I don’t want to ruin it for you but they taste just like tacos at midnight…but without the taste of cheap beer and impending regret. I then chased my Doritos with Skittles. That was more junk food that I have consumed in months and it was good.
There is a downside to traveling without a co-pilot. It's not all fun, games, irrational self-talk and junk food binges - you can't root through the Jelly Belly bag to pick out the flavors that you like. I discovered this on the way to Des Moines, when Zeca was with me. She was in the back seat and couldn't do the rooting. A couple of times, I popped a few into my mouth only to be horrified by the artificial flavor of popcorn. I abhor the popcorn Jelly Bellys**. That's right - abhor. I couldn't examine them closely before eating them because I had to keep my eyes on the darn road. I tried to imagine explaining a car accident to a State Trooper by saying, “You see Officer, I love piña colada flavored Jelly Bellys but I detest popcorn flavored Jelly Bellys. So, I pulled a few Jelly Bellys out of the bag and was examining a yellow one closely to determine its flavor when the person in front of me slammed on their brakes and that's when I hit them. For the record, because I see you are taking copious notes, it was a popcorn one. I didn’t litter though. I put it back in the bag.” The problem with putting all the popcorn flavored Jelly Bellys back in the bag, though, is that eventually they become a higher percentage of those that remain. I’m sure there is some fancy statistical term for this but my personal Mistress of Math is at work and I can’t call her to ask her. Anyway, I ate a few popcorn flavored Jelly Bellys and I don’t think I will ever be able to eat Jelly Bellys again.
So, I had a great trip back to Minnesota and highly recommend that you all take to the open road by yourself sometime. Solo road trips are pretty awesome as long as you don't like Jelly Bellys.
*I don't understand this website at all. Someone should hook up the webcam and click "yes please" to see what happens and then report back here. I'm afraid that it opens up a parallel universe in which people are trapped listening to rockin' dudes yell things to the screech of electric guitars.
**I went back and forth on the plural of Jelly Belly. "Jelly Bellys" is grammatically incorrect - I know. I had to go with something and an apostrophe "s" indicates possession or a contraction of a noun and the verb "is". However, Jelly Bellies did not seem right either (even though I recognize that "bellies" is the proper plural of "belly" - yay for early education!) So, I searched the internet for the answer to this incredibly important dilemma and found this. I'd like to call your attention to this part of the document:
Do not make the name Jelly Belly plural. Do not add "s", "ies" or an apostrophe "s" ('s). Changing the name; Changing the mark to Jelly Bellys, Jelly Bellies or Jelly Belly's, is incorrect.
How the hell can you expect people to never use a plural? Most people don't just eat one Jelly Belly. The company's profits depend on consumers eating many. Look at Ruffles - that's their whole marketing campaign: "I bet you can't eat just one". Also notice, they know how to make their brand plural. This post will probably incur the wrath of the Jelly Belly people. I guess I should have consistently referred to the beans in this post as jelly beans manufactured and trademarked by the Jelly Belly company.