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Home: The Toast

In retrospect, driving from Oakland to Texas without checking the weather report or taking time zones into account was foolhardy. This is why I am never on time to anything; every trip I plan always seems perfectly reasonable to me until someone else reacts to it. By then it’s too late to change anything.

“You can’t drive from California to Austin,” my dad said, after laughing so hard he started wheezing when I mentioned I would be driving from California to Austin to attend the wedding of an old friend from college.

This, of course, only strengthened my resolve, for I thrive on adversity, much like our 26th President Teddy Roosevelt. “I feel like I can, though,” I told him and the rest of my family of naysayers. “It feels like it would work.”

Later, when said friend from college called to say they’d changed the location of the venue from Austin to Lamesa (a solid six hours closer to California) due to a surprise flood, I took it as a sign of moral support from the universe. You can definitely do it, the floodwaters seemed to say. Your dad’s just a big old hater. Do it. Drive to Texas; it’ll be fine. 

And it was fine, mostly. I spent the first night in a hotel in Winslow, Arizona, trying very hard to think of seven women at the same time and giggling every time I saw “Take It Easy” printed on my keycard.

“Why, I’ll be there with two hours to spare,” I said to myself in the car on the second day. “That’s a ridiculous amount of time.” (I really believed that! I still do believe that!)

Did you know that Texas has a different time from California? It is two hours ahead, I realized about four hours before getting there. Not a problem, I thought. (I do not still believe that.) Then I drove into this.

Why is there so much weather here, I asked myself. Why is it winter. This is the same — I didn’t go north or anything, I’m just going east, why is it colder in the east, why is there snow. Did you know that the official pastime of New Mexico is ice storms and not plowing the highways? So I skidded off the road facing the wrong direction once from some ice. No matter. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again. So the only road leading into West Texas had not one but two “ROAD CLOSED” road blockers. The road blockers did not extend across the entire road! If you really want to close a road, you should not just block half of it, because then very determined wedding guests will just drive around it, laughing softly to themselves. That’s not how you block a road, New Mexico state police.

(If I say I am coming to your wedding, I am coming to your wedding. If I don’t want to go, I just send my regrets.)

Anyhow. I left California early Friday morning; I ran into the wedding venue Saturday night roughly nineteen seconds before the bride walked down the aisle. It worked. I felt like it would work, and it worked; this has only strengthened my belief that I should always trust my instincts and that everything works out fine, even if you don’t plan the least little bit. It was a great wedding! Do you know that in Texas they put this cheese soup on everything? They call it queso, but it’s not the cotija you find on tacos or anything, it’s just this nice cheese soup. It was a great wedding.

At any rate. I write this so you can learn from my mistakes. I was going to start wending my way homeward after the wedding, but the weather decided to be another ice storm, so instead I spent the night at the most expensive Best Western in the world. (They were very nice, though. I do not begrudge the Best Western their customary rate.) I awoke to find my car enrobed in a prison of ice so thick that it completely destroyed the Liza Minelli CD case I used to de-ice it, until a very nice man offered me the use of his ice scraper, which worked much better.

“Are you really going to drive in this weather?” he asked.

“Why wouldn’t I?” said the stupidest woman in the world, who blithely drove off into the Ice Kingdom that is Frozen West Texas. This time the roads were really closed, with human police officers standing in my way and everything. This time it took me five and a half hours to drive 140 miles, and I fishtailed into a complete 360º about four times, despite driving 25 miles an hour with roughly eight hands glued to the wheel.

The thing about the West Texas/Eastern New Mexico area, though, is that there’s nowhere to go if you need to get off the road. You might as well just keep going forward, which I did, right until I hit some black ice and introduced the front of my car into a snow-filled ditch. The ditch seemed rather indifferent to have us, but I found the rest a refreshing change of pace. Then I called my mother, because I enjoy worrying her.

“Is there a particular trick to getting your car out of a ditch it’s stuck in that I should know about?” (There is not.)

One technique that I found helpful, though, is Brenda. Who is Brenda? Brenda is the extremely helpful ENMU student who stops her car when she sees you by the side of the road and asks if you need help. (For this trick to work, you have to say “yes, thanks awfully.”) Brenda then applies her considerable strength to the front of your car, while you sort of uselessly kick at the snow under your front tires and sort of try to pull at it while also putting it in reverse.

The two of you do this for a while, occasionally trading life stories, until your car pops back onto the road. Then you hug her repeatedly, and with great force, and tell her she is a sweatshirted angel. You regret having only brought flip-flops and high heels (for the wedding) on this trip.

Brenda then gets back in her car, presumably to find wounded baby birds and nurse them back to health, while you crawl along to the next town, which happens to be Portales, where you immediately ensconce yourself in a Holiday Inn Express and then order two sandwiches from Subway and you eat them both and you’re there now and you’re writing this story and you’re never going to leave this room ever again, not never ever, please direct all written correspondence to Mallory Ortberg, C/O Holiday Inn Express, Portales, New Mexico, Ice Kingdom.

In conclusion: never drive anywhere, never do anything. Please share your scariest driving stories in the comments, that I may draw strength from them.

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