Monday, December 20, 2010

A weekend of parties

I was invited to five different parties this weekend. Yikes!

1. A Mary Kay party Friday night
2. A Christmas party with close friends Saturday afternoon
3. A dinner with old boarding-school friends Saturday evening
4. Our faculty dinner Saturday evening
5. A craft party with a new friend Sunday afternoon

I attended parties 1, 2, and 3 and skipped the rest. For the Mary Kay party, I left the baby with John for two hours. He was fine but I missed him awfully. And when I got out of the car to go to the party, he called out "Ma Ma Ma." I came very close to just getting back in and missing the party! And when I finally got to gather my baby in my arms again, I decided he was much better company than any party could be. You see why I bring him with me wherever I go?

Party #2 was probably the most fun. Unfortunately most people were late, so it was really just getting going when I had to leave John there and head off to party #3.

I was very intimidated about this party. There was no one there that I had seen in the past eight years. The last time these people saw me, I was an awkward teenager with ISSUES. And I never got to say goodbye when I was kicked out (LONG story), so they presumably had no idea what had happened to me. All they know is what they got off Facebook, those who even are friends with me on Facebook. I also didn't know who was coming except for two people. So it was with some regret and trepidation that I loaded up the baby and set out.

The fear increased as I saw the darkness and icy conditions. John had advised I get gas right away, but I didn't (note to self: John's advice is ALWAYS good. ALWAYS) because I wanted to warm up the car before leaving the baby in it while I pumped the gas. The fuel light was on, though, which it generally is nowadays. I know it's not good for the car, but it's a big gas guzzler and hard to keep fueled up. So I figured I had a little while before it ran dry ... unfortunately, I haven't the foggiest idea how long "a little while" is. (Tip: a car's owner's manual will usually tell you how much gas is left when the fuel light first comes on. This is good information to find outbefore you need it.)

Okay, so the car is warming up, the baby is dropping off, I'm humming Christmas carols and thinking about Grandpa. I'm thinking of how he always used to sharpen our knives at Thanksgiving time and wondering if our knives will just get duller and duller without him. He'd sharpen every knife in the block before carving the turkey. Whereas the rest of us only think to sharpen the least amount possible. We should all be more like Grandpa. But we aren't and there's a Grandpa-shaped hole in our lives.

There are no gas stations as far as the freeway, but I'm not concerned. I'm only going to be on the freeway for two exits, and I figure there is sure to be a gas station near my exit. It's around this time -- about twenty minutes into my 45-minute (according to Google maps) trip that I remember the amount of money in my bank account: about nine dollars or so. I can't remember the exact number, but I know what I used to have and what I spent on Christmas presents. I also remember that John had been going to give me his card, and I forgot to get it from him. I decide it's too late to turn around, so I keep going. (This is, by the bye, an excellent argument for joint checking accounts -- something that we believe in, on principle, but have never gotten around to doing because we both like our banks. (I have USAA, which is the best. I have never had a single complaint since I got this account at 17.))

So, truckin' along, in my gigantic van, at night. I am not a big fan of driving at night. It's pretty, but when I'm alone it's a little scary, especially if I'm going somewhere unfamiliar. When I was pregnant I had virtually no night vision, too, so even though that's better now, I still carry a bit of nervousness. I find my exit and spin off the cloverleaf. An arrow tells me there's a Sheetz to the left. Only, my directions say to go right. I'm afraid of getting lost, and also of that big left turn (there's no light). I figure I'll be waiting forever if I try to go left. And besides, what exit ever didn't have gas stations in all possible directions? It's a state highway I'm taking, so I decide there will surely be a gas station soon.

Are you laughing at me yet? Well, don't, because about five miles down the (very lonely) road, there's a 7-11. I stop and face the automated pump. I have a gift card in my wallet -- a gift from my last job -- and I try it. Whether I pick credit or debit, it says "Transaction Cancelled -- See Inside." Only, the baby's sound asleep and I don't want to drag him into a 7-11 and have him cry the rest of the way. So I just put $5 in from my account, and head on my way. It's enough to turn off the fuel light, so I figure it will be enough to get me there and back -- since I'm nearly there already, right? I've been on the road for about 35 minutes by this point.

So, about four more miles to a traffic circle, seven more miles to my turn. That gas station was the last vestige of civilization -- there's NOTHING out here. I mean NOTHING. In some places there are houses that show dim glimmers of lights at the ends of long driveways. Other places there are just empty, snowy fields. I begin to get the creeps.

My turn is well-marked, with a light and everything, so no trouble there. I don't remember my next turn, though, so I slow way down (there's no one behind me), hit the dome light, and glance down at my directions. I see a street name and the number "12" before glancing back up (don't EVER read and drive, people) to see a DEER in the middle of the road! I slow down further and the deer goes bounding off. I'm terrified. On the one hand, I shouldn't have been reading and driving -- I definitely know better! On the other, if I'd been going 55 mph, which was the speed limit, I might have hit it.

In any event, I'm not going to try to look at my directions again. There is no shoulder here at all, nothing but occasional "private roads" with big looming shapes of houses at the ends of them, so I keep going. Twelve miles? I ask myself. That is a long way; I had thought I'd be nearly there by now! To be sure, I check every street sign, but none of them are the one I'm looking for.

About eight miles later, I reach the end of the road. It makes a T-stop at another highway. I pull into a closed bank's parking lot and pull out my directions. Turns out there was one more turn before the one I was looking for. Also, it was 1.2 miles later, not 12.

So I turn around, go back 7.8 miles of dark, scary, winding, deer-studded road, and find the turn. Then the next turn, then the house. Relief!

I was half an hour late to the party. There were lots of people there I remembered, almost no one I didn't, and the baby was a huge hit. Somehow, though, I spent half the party talking with my friend's mother. Someday I should write a post about how all mothers gravitate toward each other and immediately start talking about babies. It definitely happens to me a lot.

It was a relatively fun party. Mostly the conversation focused on where we are in our lives now. Some people told funny stories about our boarding-school days, but I didn't really participate in that because I don't remember any good times from when I was there. Not that there weren't any, but most of the time I was too preoccupied with the bad stuff that was going on. The general agreement seemed to be, "Yeah, it was a little weird/it was kind of crazy/there was some funky stuff going on." Mostly we didn't go into it. Kind of like I don't go into it much on here. It was such a strange and confusing time for all of us that it's hard to explain, even to each other, and sometimes it can be hard to talk about.

Anyway, it was nice to see all those people again, especially the hostess -- I had no idea she lived so close to me! But before long, it was time to go, and I said goodbye to everyone. A baby means early leaving times, and it was already nine p.m., so I was pushing it. He was getting a bit cranky and I knew it was time.

As I pulled out of the driveway, I remembered my gas situation. The gas light had come on during my eight miles into the dark middle of nowhere, and I was beginning to realize I wasn't going to make it home on what I had. At the same time, the baby started to cry. He'd nursed at the party, but had been distracted, so he was probably hungry again. Only I didn't want to pull over, here in the middle of nowhere, especially since it was about 20 degrees out, and I didn't want to waste gas running the heat if we weren't moving.

At the intersection with the "main road" (the long, lonely state highway) I saw a gas station I hadn't noticed coming in. Hurray! I pulled into the parking lot, and saw each pump labeled CASH ONLY. I thought, very wistfully, of the $25 sitting on the table at home. Sometimes I am not very bright. What good did I think it was going to do me sitting on the table?

So, it was back on the highway with me. I wasn't positive if there was another gas station before the 7-11 I had gone to, and I also quickly lost track of the miles and didn't know how much further it was. Everything looked the same; no landmarks of any kind, and no intersections. I thought about calling back to my hostess, and wondered if she would be able to find me. I thought about calling John, or Triple A. My mind positively churned with backup plans as the needle scootched lower and lower beneath the orange line, and the baby screamed pitifully in the back. I sang Christmas carols to cheer him, to no avail, and felt quite near tears myself.

Of course, I knew that even if I found the gas station, I wasn't in the clear. I only had, by my estimation, four dollars or less in my account. And I wasn't sure of the exact amount -- what if I overdrew? But, on the other hand, how would $4 worth of gas get me the 20 or so miles home?

After about 20 minutes of agonizing and praying, I finally saw a gas station. I pulled into the parking lot with a grateful heart .... only to find that this was the only gas station I had ever seen without payment buttons on the pumps. I looked everywhere! Yes, this city girl did not know there are some places where you have to pay inside. (I had never, before this night, paid for gas inside. Really.) No worries -- I scooped the baby out of his carseat (poor sad baby) and marched up to the door.

A new discovery for the city girl! Some gas stations actually close for the night. I had no idea. I thought they were all 24 hours; that would be the practical thing. Turns out I was wrong.

So I sat in the quickly cooling car and nursed the baby. It was dark and spooky and I really didn't want to be stopped there. Luckily there was a fire station just within sight; my backup plan if the car didn't start was to walk over there. Surely fire stations are manned 24 hours?

Fortunately I did not have to find out. The car did start. The baby cried as I buckled him in -- he didn't really want to stop nursing at all, but I was scared enough to cut him off -- though he calmed once we began moving.

About 500 feet later was the 7-11, lights blazing. Boy did I feel sheepish. I pulled up to the pump and pondered my options. At this point I remembered that gift card that wouldn't work. Maybe if I went inside, the cashier would be able to make it work? I pulled the baby back out of his carseat and we went in. After some stammering and awkwardness (I have no idea how to buy gas from an actual person, remember) I bought $50 worth of gas, and the card was accepted without a problem. Then I sat in the car and nursed the baby while the tank filled up. I was close to tears from relief.

About a half hour later, I picked up John and we headed home to put the baby to bed (way past his bedtime -- it was almost 10:30 when we got home). Somehow, I had made it through my many mishaps, mainly by luck (and grace) rather than smarts, but they do say the Lord looks after fools. Next time, though, I'm starting with a full tank!

1 comment:

Heather said...

This was a fun (to an outsider!), suspenseful story. Whew!

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