I’m writing this post from a gas station hotel just outside of Italy, Texas. Having been to actual Italy before, I have to say that the stateside version isn’t at all as glamorous as its European namesake would imply.
Quick disclaimer: I’m writing this on my iPad because I left my laptop at home so bear with me here…there will likely be typos due to a combination of inaccurate autocorrect assumptions and also finger slippage, but I want to get this out ASAP because it’s timely and things.
In case it isn’t obvious, I did not plan to spend Sunday night in a roadside hotel in rural Texas.
I spent the weekend in Austin (full travel account to come in a later post) and hit the road for Dallas at a very reasonable 11:30 a.m. By now I was supposed to be safe and sound back at home doing responsible things like laundry and grocery shopping for the upcoming week.
Those of you who live in the area know what happened next: I drove smack into the wicked ice storm currently wreaking havoc in northeast Texas.
It happened so quickly it made my head spin. Things seemed cold and wet, but mostly fine, when I stopped for gas in Waco. I went inside for maybe five minutes to use the restroom and buy a questionable gas station burger for late lunch. By the time I got back outside, a thick layer of ice had coated my windshield wipers and also my side mirrors.
Uh oh, I thought to myself. This isn’t good.
I got back onto the road with the rest of the unlucky souls who had elected to travel this stretch of highway at this time on this day. Suddenly, even though it was early afternoon everything was dark as dusk. Another bad sign.
I drive a Miata. It’s a fun car, but it is not a lot of things. It is not practical. It is not safe. It is not large and sturdy. It is not four-wheel drive. It is no match for most weather conditions, sleet being its true nemesis and kryptonite. It is especially no match for trucks. These facts are all just as real and true in perfect weather conditions, but are much easier to ignore under those circumstances. As the sleet beat down on my windshield, those realities floated to the forefront of my mind and settled in to make sure I was hyper aware of the fact that I was a fragile human alone in a tin can surrounded by bigger tin cans, and all of us were potentially seconds away from careening out of control on a patches of ice.
I was contemplating all of those great thoughts as I inched toward Dallas at 30 mph when I realized something horrible. My defrost was fighting a battle with a thin layer of ice that had begun to form on my windshield, and it was losing. I had to stoop to view the road from the bottom of the windshield to see anything clearly. Not good, not good, not good, I heard myself saying aloud.
I needed to find a hotel. I needed to find it quickly.
At least that’s what I thought at first. But I didn’t see any exits hour about 20 minutes and then I saw a sign saying I was only an hour outside of Dallas. The sleet had let up and my defrost was gaining ground on the windshield real estate. I decided I’d been freaking out over nothing and could definitely make it home if I just went slowly.
Everyone around me was going slowly, too. And most of the 18-wheelers had their hazard lights on. Easy does it. Just keep swimming. Every turn of the wheels is taking you closer to home. You’ve got this.
And I really thought I did. Until I didn’t.
My car slid out from under me on an invisible patch of ice. I did what everyone’s told me to do when that happens. I fought my reflex to brake. I took my foot off the gas. I let the car slide where it would with my hand on the wheel for light guidance but without overcorrecting. Luckily, there were no other cars around me and the roadside was level with the road so I just slid quietly onto the shoulder before stopping with my wheels planted in the grass. No fanfare. No real need to fuss.
Oh, but fuss I did.
When the car stopped I let out a shriek. It was entirely involuntary. It was a cross between a cheer and a sob. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard that sound come out of me before. I do know that I don’t care to hear it come out of me again. When I reached for my phone to call my dad, my hands were shaking.
I didn’t have a great reason to call him. There was really nothing he could do. But I just felt so scared and alone and, goddammit, I wanted my daddy.
I felt better the moment he picked up the phone. I told him that I was fine, and the car was fine, but I was scared and on the side of 35 with my hazard lights on trying to work up the courage to get back on the road and maybe find a hotel.
He offered to come get me, like I knew he would. And he meant it, too, but there were two other cars in my line of sight also on the side of the road with their hazard lights on, and it wouldn’t have done either of us any good for him to become one of the stranded, too, so I grit my teeth and made myself say “no, thank you.”
It was nice to know he was out there, though, not so very far, and willing to try and whisk me away from this mess, even if it probably wasn’t a mess I could be whisked away from. That’s what I’d called for, really. It sounds a little silly, maybe, but in that moment it was important for me to hear that someone would come for me, that I wasn’t all on my own for this one.
It took some convincing before he agreed not to come. He was worried about me even being able to get back on the highway, so he told me to put him on speaker phone while I tried to get on the road because if I couldn’t he was coming to get me, period.
I did, and eased back onto the slick pavement, all the while talking to him about how shitty it was, which was infinitely more comforting than talking to myself about it.
When I was relatively safe and back on the highway, he told me to concentrate on driving and to call him as soon as I got home, or to a hotel, or gave up and decided to take him up on that ride.
I saw the sign for the hotel in Italy a few minutes later. My defrost had begun to lose the good fight again, and the amount of cars on the highway with their hazard lights on outnumbered those without, so I made my decision — impromptu trip to Italy it was!
So, here I am in a gas station hotel. The door faces the outside and I can hear the sleet beating against it, but I’m warm and dry, and because they didn’t have any single rooms available I’m in a double, which is actually pretty great because I get two sets of comforters and twice the pillows.
The room is nothing fancy, but it’s clean, and it comes with the promise that I’ll live to see fancier hotel rooms in my future, because I’ll have a future.
Time to snuggle up get some sleep before trying to get to work at some sort of reasonable hour in the morning! I hope that local readers of this blog are all snug in their own beds tonight! (Although by the time I post this it will be tomorrow, but you know what I mean.)