The Long Drive Home

by Donna Schoenkopf

I am on the I-35 traveling north from Dallas. It’s late on a Saturday afternoon after a delicious and exhilarating (yes, exhilarating) baby shower for my nephew and his lovely wife’s new baby, coming in June. My good and gracious sister has led me out of the confusion and tangle of the Dallas road system, which includes something called “loops” and lots of cones and temporary indicators of lane changes and bypasses.

We have just honked goodbye and I am breathing a sigh of relief as I travel north on the uncomplicated, wide, and safe federally funded highway that takes me home to Chigger Lake. I love the government.

I am also thinking about the time. It will be dark soon and that means I will be driving on a two lane road, in the middle of nowhere, over a lot of hills. My least favorite thing in the world of driving.

But cowards die many times and brave men die but once, so I won’t dwell on what’s coming, but instead will think back on the day.

I know you’re asking how a baby shower could possibly be exhilarating. Did they have racy games with clothes pins? Was there rough talk among the young women? No. It was a wonderful conversation I’d had with a woman I didn’t know at all. She came with my sister-in-law, the soon to be gramma of the soon to be born baby.

My new friend was about the sweetest, most pleasant person you can imagine. Before you knew it we knew each others’ history and were talking about “Obamacare.” And I did not, I repeat, did not bring the subject up. I listened to her opinion of it, and, not to my surprise, it wasn’t favorable. Not vicious or angry or anything like that. Her opposition was that the Congressional health care program was so much better than what we’d be getting through the new health care program.

Well, it turns out that they are virtually identical. Congress has several different companies and plans they can chose from, just like “Obamacare,” with no pre-existing conditions, just like “Obamacare.” They do have a pharmacy and doctors on location but they pay extra if they use it—$300 for representatives and $600 for senators. And 75% of their premiums are paid for by taxpayers.

(I always have had a problem with the term “taxpayer.” We ALL are taxpayers, including the President of the United States, representatives, senators, and ME, as a former government employee known as a teacher. Where does the right wing get off with that little linguistic trick of making it seem as though we just eat from the trough and give nothing back??? It really gets my goat. I shall put this in capital letters, lest you, Gentle Reader, forget. WE ALL ARE TAXPAYERS! But I digress. Back to premium paying.)

If a person works for a company or as a governmental employee, the corporation or government would also pay part of the premium. Maybe not 75%. And if we had single payer, we’d have no premium to pay. How nice would that be?

As I drive I think of our conversation and how eventually it evolved into our religious persuasions. Of course, this is tricky ground because I am an atheist, which is very scary for people who see that as the mark of the devil or as an opportunity to save my soul and witness for Christ.

I admit I love these conversations. I am a person who looks forward to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who come knocking on my door. I love the interchange of ideas and “proofs” offered and the exchange of Biblical quotations. (Having been raised in the Church (yes, that Church) and having gone to Catechism for twelve years, I am pretty good at Biblical quotations and I was in debate in high school and college and enjoy a good intellectual exchange.)

We sat on our loveseat talking and talking, quietly, lest we disturb, while presents were opened and pasta salad and croissants filled with delicious chicken salad were eaten. We thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company and the discussion.

I am thinking of all this while listening to Larry Kudlow on the radio. He is expounding on the subject of Governor Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin and why that is the beginning of the solution to our economic problems in America.

low flying car sign

Need I say that I am mentally answering his remarks as I drive up I-35 in the fast lane? I notice a guy right on my bumper but there is no way to move over. Traffic on that side, too, buddy. So I just keep on keeping on at my 70 mph pace. There is a break in the other lane and my tailgater zooms over and then cuts in front of me, with mere inches to spare. And then, Ladies and Gentlemen, he jams on his brakes!! So do I. He is lucky that we both live. (I do have lightning fast reflexes, even at the age of 67.) He starts waving his arm in the air and indicating that I should get over into the other lane. Well, I am for sure not getting in the lane alongside him where he can shoot me. No, no, no. So I stay behind him, the proper amount of car lengths. He refuses to speed up. We were now going 45 miles per hour in the fast lane. Cars are all moving over into the other lane. Not me. This guy is crazy. Fuggedaboudit.

He keeps it up and keeps it up, furious with rage, and after a seemingly endless time he speeds up. I keep my distance, drop behind a tanker truck, and waithim out. When I am sure he is gone, I venture back to the fast lane and continue my journey.

And then I think about my Obama bumpersticker on my back bumper. That might be what made him so mad. Everything is political, you know.

Larry Kudlow is still talking about Scott Walker and what a great thing he has done and I am thinking about the setting sun and the darkening of the sky. I know I’ll be driving some pretty hairy roads soon, completely in the dark.

And now the night is black. I turn off at Pauls Valley. I stop and get a large Coke, a very special treat for my poor self. I aim my car down Highway 19, out of the little town and into complete blackness except for the dotted lines down the center of the two lane road in the middle of nowhere, and even they disappear when they reach the crest of a hill. There are no towns or lights out here, just lots of hills. When you’re driving over them on a moonless night, it looks like you’re going to be flying off into the blackness of space when you reach the top. I fight the fear of the unknown as I approach each hill, not knowing what’s on the other side, not even really knowing for sure if there is anything on the other side.

This leg of the journey is the most treacherous. It’s now an hour past sundown and I have an hour to go before I reach the safety of home. I have to keep my mind on my driving and not think about the day that has already been. I realize, with deep gratitude, the goodness and genius of the governmental entity that put those lines in the road, that paid good money to good men and women to plant those orange and black arrows alongside the road to warn me of a curve coming, of the trucks that hauled those huge stop signs to the middle of nowhere so that two lonely cars converging in the middle of the night won’t smash into each other.

I come to one of those stop signs. I stop, look, and listen. All dark. All silent. I pull out into the intersection and YOWZUH! I am almost smashed to smithereens by on oncoming car from out of nowhere. He (?) she (?) screels around me and moves off like lightning into the blackness.

I am so completely surprised that I have no reaction at all. No shakes. No heart thumping.

I continue on as though nothing has happened.

I am now on the home stretch, good old Killer Highway 177, and will be coming to my little county road soon. But, unfortunately, from the direction opposite my usual. I can’t see any landmarks, so I’m trying to gauge the mileage from the one lonely sign I see indicating that Tecumseh is eight miles away. That means I’m four miles from my road. Maybe. No lights. No nothing. I am going only 53 miles per hour on the road, peering intently along the side for clues. Aha! There’s my road. I turn into it ... and discover I am in the parking lot of propane company.

Crap.

I turn around and head out again. And after a couple more miles I see my road. I exhale a huge sigh of relief. I turn onto the road. There are the neighborhood mailboxes a little way down. I stop at my Obama-adorned mailbox and pluck my letters from the box and continue down my safe and homey road. I can’t wait to see my dear dogs. They’ll be thrilled to see me. I have been gone for more than a day, having left the previous afternoon.

And then I’m home, dogs patiently and alertly waiting in the dark and lonely front “yard.”

They have heard my car coming and dance their welcoming dance of joy. Actually, Angela Davis dances but Diego can’t. Those bum knees of his. He pulls himself to his feet and wags and wags his tail.

The sight of them, their sheer happiness at my arrival, their love spilling from their wriggling and leaping and tail wagging bodies, wraps me in a warm blanket of safety and relief.

I am home. I am home.

“Hello everybody! Yes, I love you, too! Good dogs! Come on in, kids. Let’s go inside. Yo mama’s home.”

Donna Schoenkopf recently retired from teaching at 61st Street School in South Central Los Angeles, and has moved back to Oklahoma, where she spent her teens.
donna@fourstory.org

Comments

Yeah, it can be creepy out on country roads at night.  Los Osos doesn’t have street lights and has roads that often dead-end, so I am often lost and peering out the window just driving around town.  Feel totally silly when I miss a street in the dark that I know well.  Glad you made it safely home and there’s nothing like that tail wag to greet you.

2011-03-15 by Ann Calhoun

There’s nothing darker on a moonless night than a Pott County road! I’ve been down many of those roads myself down in that area where the in-laws lived for many years just south of T-town where you are.  I’m just back from a whirlwind trip to Dallas myself, so I know you are glad to be home.

2011-03-15 by Sherry Kennedy

Driving gets weirder all the time, glad you made it home safe from the exhilarating baby shower, hermana.  Obamacare does get a lot of discussion here in this “Christian” nation where the name of the game is to accumulate all one can and then not share it.  Jesus weeps.

2011-03-15 by Clark Shackelford

So glad you made it back home OK, Donna, and congratulations on the new addition to the family.

Funny story: Back when they put in the “new” road (Hwy. 177), the standard trip from Shawnee to our place near Macomb was via the “old” road SW out of Tecumseh. Well, the new road had none of the old landmarks, so Mom stopped and hung a string of yellow plastic in a tree so she’d know where to turn. Good idea! Maybe you could do that for your turn.

2011-03-15 by Judy Sing

Oh dear Donna, the cardinal rule for I-35 North out of Dallas, especially Dallas though it applies to Ft Worth as well though those folks are just a tad more civilized, is the posted speed limit is merely a suggestion for the folks moseying along in the extreme right lane.  As you’ve probably guessed by now, Texans do not like to be told what to do.

2011-03-15 by Doyal

Enjoyed “The Long Drive Home”.  Would have shown the gentleman referred to on I35 my “Taurus Judge”.  A wonderful weapon. Whoops not sure I can “carry” in Oklahoma.  Need to check into that.  No I dont carry 24/7.  Just on dark, creepy nights in unknown neighborhoods.  Any way as usual I enjoy reading your work…..  To Chigger Hill.

2011-03-15 by Fast Eddie

Loved your story,Donna.  Thank you for the trip home.  I have actually had a similar experience with a crazy road rage guy and it is a bit haunting for a while.  See you soon.

2011-03-17 by Marilyn Hill

It seems like every time one of the Shoenkopf women head out on the road, danger ensues. Here are my thoughts, recalling once again that I am an expert on driving, also an expert driver. Yeah.

Road rage is a term that came into vogue in the 1980’s. What it comes down to is, in my opinion, a feeling of loss of control, and then venting, all using a car. In So Cal, the word is that in Dallas, people will pull over and take out a gun. Is that smart? Does it make a man? Does intimidating a lady on the road make a man?

Psychs initially claimed that the cause of road rage has to do with the extension of ones personal space when driving, to where your car becomes your personal space. So, when you get tail gated, its as if some stranger began breathing down your neck. Draw the distinction, people. You’re in cars. What’s going on is that encased in all that iron, your pistachios start a ta cracking, and you get bad ass, because you’re an idiot in the first place.

Over time, being creatures of norms that we are, we become entitled in our minds to a certain rate of speed, based loosely on the speed limit, but more strictly on

HOW FAST YOU GO WHEN THERES NOT A CAR IN FRONT OF YOU.

A good driver simply goes around. In the absence of a passing lane, flash your headlights. It’s an internationally recognized signal that means ‘I would like to pass you.’

An idiot tailgates. Did you catch that?

The solution for tailgaters on So Cal freeways is a snap. Take your foot off the accelerator and coast. Don’t hit the brakes, or even touch them. The flash of brake lights will set off the raging bull in your rear view like the flash of a red cape. The tail gater is close on his brakes, because he doesn’t want to run into you, he wants to prod you. Once you begin losing speed without hitting the brakes, he’ll go around. I’ve used that tactic many times, always to good effect.

NEVER

get into it with another driver on the highway.

‘Why?’ I can hear the mid westerners ask.

Because it’s unsafe.

Lastly, the next time I hear about people fucking with women with whom I’m acquainted on the road out there, I’m going to put out feelers, find out who, and shits going to come down. You think its a joke? The cops out there know what and who, so we’ll be seeing.

2011-03-19 by robert hagen

Heres a Batistuta video to distract people from global tensions.

I think I still have it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acKGBw6dNms&feature=fvwrel

2011-03-19 by robert hagen

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