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Just a Boy & His Subaru

On a Journey to Find Themselves

I awoke in the middle of the night, just a couple of hours after resting my head on the pillow, in a frightened state.

After being awake for nearly 24 hours, 14 of which were spent in the car and nearly six in a blizzard, my partner in crime was losing her cool. It wasn’t her fault, I’d drugged her with a Vyvanse to keep her awake and lively on the journey.

If you’re unfamiliar with Vyvanse, it’s designed for those with ADHD to help them concentrate. If you don’t happen to have ADHD, you’re essentially wired and overly focused on the world around you. It comes in handy when you’re making long, monotonous journeys across states like Nebraska and Iowa.

The downside? Like any other drug, your body has to come down from the high. It also curbs your appetite, so when you come down you’re hungry, cranky, exhausted and want to sleep, but sometimes you just can’t.

Naturally we wanted to get on the road as soon as possible. It was only a few days before Christmas and we were sure traffic would be heavy. Gretchen was working until 5pm, so the original plan was for me to sleep during the day and drive the first shift while Gretchen slept until I got too tired. It would require driving overnight through Nebraska and Iowa on I-80.

If you’ve never driven across Nebraska and Iowa on I-80, I encourage you to do so, then read this over again.

Our families had warned us that they were calling for blizzard conditions in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois. We had been watching the weather religiously, and although in retrospect all we had done was convince each other that we’d be fine, we didn’t see any reason not to make the 14 hour trip. Besides, our families both worry too much. We were driving the Subaru, we had packed blankets and jugs of water, we’d be fine, we were prepared.

In what seemed like an initial blessing on the trip, Gretchen was allowed to leave work early, putting us on the road at 2:30pm. The excitement of our first road trip together was enough adrenaline to get us through the first two hours. Then we were both over it.

Insert Vyvanse here.

Suddenly, the trip was more lively. We were singing, dancing, talking about our fears and aspirations (by the way, Vyvanse makes you want to talk about life in the most philosophical way possible), and since it lasts 12 hours and we were already two hours into our trip, we were at ease that we would make it home before it started to wear off.

Gretchen was granted weather monitor and family-update duties. It was still looking like we might hit some adverse weather, but not until the last two hours of our trip. Once we got that far, we were both comfortable enough with the area that we had no doubt we could make it home, even if we had to drive at 30mph.

What the radar was displaying showed that we would hit some flurries around Iowa City, then it might get a little dicey, but again we weren’t concerned since that would be around 12 hours into our trip and we’d be nearly done.

Honestly, neither of us had given much thought to the lack of traffic on the interstate so close to the holiday.

The first flurries hit at about eight hours in. While it was nothing too major, both of us had a feeling of dread that this might be the storm that everyone warned us so clearly about.

Then the flurries got bigger.

Then the wind picked up.

Then, almost too suddenly, the roads were covered in snow. If you’re not following the timeline, we were hitting a winter storm that was not showing up on the area radar, a winter storm that we weren’t supposed to hit for another four hours.

I began to slow down a bit, then a little more, then more still until we were doing about 30mph on the interstate. I could see Gretchen gripping the handles of the car in anticipation of losing control. I couldn’t blame her, we were both on edge. You see, when you’re driving on I-80 through Nebraska and Iowa, the exits that harbor civilization are very few and far between. There was a fear that if we were to lose control, we might not get found for a while. Forget about packing blankets and water, we were not about to get stuck.

Gretchen saw a sign for weather reports, so we tuned the radio to see how bad the road ahead of us was.

“Please be advised there is an accident on I-35 South that is blocking exit 69B. Stay tuned for more updates.” We both looked at each other in disbelief. How is it that we are driving 30mph in a blizzard, and the only thing you’re reporting on is an accident blocking an exit?

We drudged on, in hopes that at some point the roads would begin to resemble roads again. Neither of us really wanted to stop, nor did we want to continue in such terrible conditions. We called home and had a hotel room arranged in Des Moines. It was only 40 more miles from where we were, but in blizzard conditions that’s two long, grueling hours.

By the time we made it to Des Moines, we hadn’t seen the lines on the road in almost two hours. It was 3am. We hadn’t eaten, we hadn’t slept, it didn’t even feel like we’d blinked in the last handful of hours.

Gretchen’s sister had landed us an amazing find at a hotel near downtown Des Moines for $35 a night. Initially we both questioned the price and what we’d be getting, threw around the idea of going on, and then agreed that at this point it could be a heated box with a blanket and we’d be happy. Our safety hadn’t even hit the radar.

From the outside it looked promising. What we could see, anyway. Gretchen went in to grab the keys while I prepared a few items to take in with us. She returned with a classic, puzzled look on her face.

“This is going to be weird,” she mumbled, “the front desk clerk didn’t say a word to me. He didn’t even tell me where the room was.”

Aside: have you ever been so exhausted and mentally strained that you could swear you’re seeing and hearing things? And the smallest tasks seem to be drawn out obnoxiously and take the longest amount of time?

As we worked our way through the labyrinth of corridors attempting to find our room, we couldn’t help but chuckle out of exhaustion.

Through one doorway we encountered a pair of extremely intoxicated men, standing in their sweats in the middle of the hallway, swaying back and forth which each other.

“This is the mecca of the Midwest,” one of them barked at us. We picked up our pace a bit. It was 3am, surely these men were up to no good.

Once in our room, we tried our best to unwind and consume some form of sustenance. I’d made Thai stir-fry a couple of nights before, so we packed the leftovers in case of emergency, and this was, after all, an emergency. There was only one problem, we had no silverware. The hotel had been gracious enough to supply us with styrofoam cups and a microwave (I’d prefer not to think about the chemicals I consumed), but no silverware.

We use the buddy system in times of uncertainty, so we walked hand-in-hand to the front desk to ask the clerk who doesn’t speak if he might happen to have silverware.

We rounded the second (of many) corners on our way, and I noticed that Gretchen had picked up the pace a bit. We began to speed walk as the hallway seemed to grow longer.

There was a loud commotion that caused my heart to sink, and fight-or-flight kicked in. The next thing I knew we were sprinting down the hall in front of a man that was surely coming to murder us. Why was he out of his room at 3:30am?

As we sat in the lobby attempting to calm ourselves, the desk clerk began his intensive search for silverware. The man who was chasing us came through the door, and in a final moment of fear, we realized it was the same man who explained to us that we were in the, “mecca of the Midwest.” He looked even more frightening in the lobby light.

Suddenly, almost uncontrollably, I felt a chuckle bubbling in my gut. I tried my very best to hold it in, but as soon as Gretchen felt my shaking, she too began to giggle and all bets were off.

The man turned around abruptly. “It’s not that funny,” he yelled.

“It is that funny,” I said, “we’ve been driving for 14 hours and we would be home right now had we not just driven through that blizzard.”

Naturally he wanted to know where we were coming from, where we were going and the like, but since we knew we was a murderer, we were sparing on the details.

Meanwhile, the desk clerk is on an easter egg hunt for our silverware.

Suddenly a woman came storming in from the blizzard.

“Oh my! It’s so bad out there! I mean, it’s really bad out there,” she exclaimed.

I nodded my head in agreement, hoping I could get away with not saying anything, and in turn not laughing uncontrollably again.

“Hey,” she began, “where’s room 127?!”

My first thought was, “how the hell should I know? Do I look like I work here? Are you really out working the streets in this weather?” I pointed in the direction we had come from, and word-vomited a simple, “straight ahead.” I assumed if she kept walking, she’d find it. And from experience, I knew the desk clerk was short on words and directions.

The clerk eventually returned with silverware, and we quickly returned to our sanctuary, locking ourselves in the room.

By now we were pushing 4am. Though we weren’t sure how the roads would be in the morning, we wanted to get back out there at 7am and finish strong. At least in the day light we could better determine were the road was.

We set our alarms, killed the lights and waited for the sandman to do his magic.

I awoke in the middle of the night, just a couple of hours after resting my head on the pillow, in a frightened state.

“Joe! I can’t do this! I’m freaking out!” Gretchen has never been one who’s shy about her feelings.

“It’s okay,” I muttered in a half-awake state, “I’ve woken up a few times, too.”

To anyone else, this statement would be no consolation. To Gretchen, it was all she needed to hear to fall back asleep.

We finished our trip home safely to the scenery of over turned semi-trucks and abandoned Priuses (Prius’?).

The mecca of the Midwest will always hold a tender spot in my heart.

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