As the days leading up to our big family trip to Iowa for my brother-in-law’s wedding dwindle to mere hours, I confessed to my wife that I found the whole prospect more stressful than I had been previously letting on. We had set aside the entirety of last Thursday as a travel day but it still seemed like there were a lot of moving parts and pieces that had to line up: getting up on Thursday morning and finishing packing while orchestrating the usual fulfillment of toddler and newborn needs, getting everyone and everything in the car by a certain time and driving to the airport, parking in the long-term lot and catching a shuttle to the terminal, checking in densely-packed luggage and two separate unwieldy car seats, getting to the gate, surviving the flight, hopefully being reunited with our luggage and car seats in Minneapolis, and also hopefully making good on a rental car reservation there. And I acknowledged, peremptorily, that there was nothing to it but to do it, and beseeched my wife not to worry too much or take it personally if I seemed distracted or otherwise less than my usual, carefree self. But I also promised that once the car seats were installed in the rental car and we were on the road for the final leg of the journey, my anxiety level would go way, way down. From that point on (especially compared to the effort required in getting to that point) it would be a piece of cake.
To my pleasant surprise, all of those interlocking steps clicked together like clockwork (facilitated in no small part by the fact that we deliberately padded our schedule for the day to arrive at the airport with ludicrous amounts of time to spare) and nothing untoward had happened by the time I was being walked around the section of the parking garage where the full-sized rentals were kept and told I could have my pick. I opted for the red Impala because I thought it would amuse the little guy to ride in a car that was the same color as his hero Lightning McQueen. (I thought correctly.) Armed with the directions I had cribbed off teh interwebs earlier plus a free map from the rental car company, we set off to drive about 200 miles and change starting at about 5:30 in the evening.
Maybe about an hour into the drive we pulled off the highway to a ramp-adjacent McDonald’s for dinner. Both the little guy and I had Chicken McNuggets, his go-to (coming in a Kung Fu Panda 2 Happy Meal featuring Master Viper, no less) and something I felt compelled to order for myself because now they have buffalo-style dipping sauce (which turns out to be Not Bad For McDonald’s). My wife still had yet to surrender to the extended weekend’s motif of anti-healthful eating, so she ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, and she nursed the little girl while the little guy and I played on the McD’s jungle gym for a bit. Then we got ourselves back in the car and headed south yet again, noting in an idle kind of way that there seemed to be some darker clouds in the sky up ahead.
The dark clouds turned into the most torrential downpour I have ever seen in my life, let along been behind the wheel of a car in the midst of. So as it happened what I had supposed would be the easiest part of the trip turned out to be the hardest, as the sun was going down and the skies were letting loose a Biblical deluge and I was driving an unfamiliar car at highway speeds and yet still getting passed by 18-wheelers that threw even more water up in their wakes. As calmly as we possibly could (and under the circumstance I think we were superhumanly calm) my wife and I debated the pros and cons of pulling off the road at the first exit marked with a Lodging sign and springing for one night in a cheap motel, or pressing on to the location of our reserved suite (complete with two cribs). The strength of the arguments seemed to gain or lose merit depending on whether the rain was briefly letting up or pounding down with a vengeance, but ultimately I was the one driving, I wanted to keep moving and get where we were intended to be, and even an interruption of the music on whatever Jack-FM clone we were distracting ourselves with by the Emergency Broadcast System to describe severe thunderstorms in the area was not enough to dissuade me.
It’s not that I particularly enjoy or otherwise bizarrely get off on white-knuckle driving, but I don’t hate it enough to avoid it on principle, either. I am probably a little too stubborn for my own good sometimes. Also, the EBS bulletin on the one hand said that the thunderstorm watch was only in effect for another twenty minutes, and was referencing by name counties which meant nothing to me since I am not a native Iowan. But the point is we made it all the way to our hotel in the proper number of respective pieces. And I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Impala is a great car or anything, but in all of the sheeting rain I never felt unsafe or unstable. It was frustratingly difficult to see very far, and I knew in some intellectual part of my brain that any number of things can go wrong when driving fast in wretched weather, but that car just hugged the highway and barreled on through almost as if it just inherently believed everything was going to turn out all right. Which kind of makes it my kind of car, if nothing else.
There were other misadventures and moments of note along the course of the wedding weekend (as there always are) and I’ll get back to more and more of them in future posts, but for my first one back I wanted to start at the somewhat inauspicious beginning.