I’m Gonna Ride On, Ride On, Ride On…

As I was driving home tonight, glancing in the rear view mirror every now and then as one does – I had a bit of an epiphany. We don’t drive down the highway looking in the rear view mirror all the time. There’s a reason for that. It’s not in the least bit safe. We can see where we’re going briefly, but doing it all the time won’t work. Our main focus needs to be on the vehicles on either side as well as what’s ahead.

That’s how we should also be living life. Yes, check out what’s back there, in the past, every now and then. Remember what you saw, what you did, what you may have learned going through all that, but don’t make it your main focus. What was, was. It’s all behind you.

Pay attention to what’s going on around you in the moment, the present, just like you would the cars around you in traffic. Work with that, do what you need to do in the now to make it through one block, one mile at a time.

Look ahead. Pay attention to what’s coming up and how you can get there in the most efficient, safest way possible. Adjust your speed and prepare to change your route – detours happen – but that’s all they are. If you are truly intent on getting to your destination, a detour is only a temporary slowing down of the traffic, annoying, but in the grand scheme of the journey, a minor incident. It’s not the end of the journey. Work with it – do what you have to do, but there’s no reason to pull over and stop because of one setback.

Life is full of detours. Sometimes traffic barely moves at all and we feel like we’re going nowhere fast. It’s maddening.  We have to adjust and change our plans. Sometimes it takes a lot longer to get there than we hoped, but as long as we look ahead, focus on the destination not the rear view mirror, we’ll get there. We’ll find our way eventually. No one has been stuck in traffic so long that they’ve died – well, not that I know of anyway. Eventually, things get moving again and we can get on our way.

I’ve been a published author since 2006. I’m still not doing it fulltime. I’m still not even close to making a living at it, but I’m still behind the wheel and on the road. Sometimes it feels like I’m getting nowhere and I wonder why I ever even started up the car to begin with. There are times I feel like shutting off the engine and chucking the keys into a fast-moving river.

But then, I take a glance in the rear view mirror and realize how far I’ve come in the past dozen years. I look around me at the wonderful friends and mentors I’ve made in the writing business. I’ve grown. I’ve hit a couple of detours and a pot hole or two, but I keep on going. The road still stretches out in front of me and my journey isn’t even close to being over with yet.

No matter what your dream is, just keep your eyes focused on that road ahead. You’ve already made it through some traffic jams and detours. They are done and over with and there’s no sense in dwelling on them anymore. You’ll get through any of the others that are headed your way, too, I guarantee.

Write on! Or in this case, Ride on!

I Have My Reservations

Under most circumstances when you hear someone say that, it doesn’t bode well for whatever is going on. I’m happy to report that is entirely not the case here.

I’ve been dreaming of these reservations for as long as I’ve been able to dream. As a small child I remember thumbing through two small photo albums showing images of missiles and sand dunes, of my brother squinting against the blinding sun, of my dad in uniform working on trucks and tanks as well as sitting on horseback – a temporary member of the U.S. Cavalry, so to speak when missiles went astray; of my mom so young and thin, holding little baby me on her lap. I heard stories of my brother, who would have been about three at the time, and his dreaded fear of the monsters known as tumbleweeds. There was a trip to Carlsbad Caverns and another into the mountains where Mom had a terrible time cooking at a much higher elevation than she was used to. The neighbors on Hawk Street were the Caverlys. Mrs. Caverly and my mom were both due around the same time. I was destined to be Penelope, but fate smiled upon me and Baby Caverly came along first and took the name out from under me. Darn! LOL.

The day I came along, Mom walked to the base hospital for her weekly appointment and was told she was in labor. Dad was notified and came in from the range. A few hours later, I came into the world.

And I don’t remember any of it.

All I have are the pictures to look at and the stories I’ve been told, and this deep, personal longing to ‘go home’ again. I’ve totally lost count of how many times I’ve said I’m going back. My parents can probably confirm that they have lost count too at how many times they’ve heard me say, “I want to go back to White Sands.”

It almost happened when I was around twelve or thirteen. Friends of my parents sold their house and moved to Las Cruces one summer. I don’t know what their motivation was, but the idea so appealed to my parents they put our house in Upstate NY up for sale with the intentions that if it sold, they too were going to head west. The house did not sell and as a result I grew up right in the same place and now live less than 40 miles from there.

2011 was a critical year. Life felt on hold. I didn’t feel like I had any goals and not much to look forward to. I was just getting out of a horrible 7-year relationship. My eldest child was out of college and working. My youngest was done with high school, also working, and living with her dad. I was free as a bird. It was Me Time! It was time to ask some questions of myself. When I was last this single, what was I doing that made me happy? How could I now, 20+ years later, recapture some of that joy? I needed a goal.

I came up with two answers. 1) All through high school I scrimped and saved nearly every dollar I could for a trip to England. At the time, I was totally obsessed with the place. I managed to save enough and the fall after I graduated, made the trip that lasted for 6 weeks of bliss on the British Isles. 2) A couple years later, I decided I wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Two of my uncles had bikes and I’d never pass up the chance to go riding with them. It was time I stopped being the passenger and became the driver. And so, more money saving took place and I bought a 1985 Honda Rebel with cash without a clue how to drive the thing. Good times!

In 1988 I met the man who would become my husband and the father of our two previously mentioned kids. I’m not saying those days were bad. Not at all. I loved being a mom and raising a family and doing all that stuff, but at the same time, I slowly lost part of myself in the process. Everything was about the kids and the family and as much as I loved it and would not take a second of it back, there wasn’t much Me Time for the next 20 years.

I never lost sight of the trip out west though. I never forgot the little photo albums and the stories. The longing to ‘go home’ never left me. That was the answer to my question in 2011. I needed to plan that trip and I meant to take it before my 50th birthday come hell or high water. I still had a few years to save. This was going to be the most awesome trip of my life!

Then, Fate stepped in again and said, “Whoa! Not so fast there, Almost Penelope! You can’t do this alone! You need to meet someone first.” Lord knows, I wasn’t looking for a relationship. This was ME TIME! Last thing I wanted was some guy to cramp my style and stifle my dreams. Fate, that Crafty Wench, must have been bent over in hysterics for those first few days, knowing what was to come.

So, yeah, Mr. Biker from Texas who just happened to have lived in Las Cruces at WSMR on base not even a mile from where my family once lived, during his high school years turned out to be a pretty awesome guy, despite my early reservations. He’s done anything but cramp my style or stifle my dreams.

So, we have our room reservations booked now. I know I’m going to cry. I know Jim will probably laugh at me for crying, but I don’t care. Some men will just never understand the concept of “Happy Tears”. I think I need to recreate some of those images from the old family album, me sitting on a blanket on a wind-swept white sand dune, screaming my head off, for instance. I think I’ll pass on wearing the baby bonnet and little frilly dress though.

And yes, I’m still going to make it before my 50th birthday!

Road Gators, Vultures & Turkeys, Oh My!

I got me one of those new-fangled ‘smart’ phones about a month back. My previous phone was pretty old, took lousy pictures, and internet was next to impossible. I balked at spending so much on a new phone considering how little I used the old one, but not wanting to fall too far behind in the world of technology and thinking having something better for an upcoming road trip might not be such a bad idea, I bit the bullet and took the plunge.

Miraculously, I was able to transfer my minutes from my old phone to my new and input my contacts all by myself. Over the next two weeks, amongst other things, I learned how to answer my phone! Remember when all you had to do pick it up and say, “Hello?” I wanted to get to know this new piece of equipment as best I could before my teacher, my 23 year-old-son, was no longer available. Amazingly, my computer geek boyfriend’s phone is even more primitive than my old phone! He would be of no help whatsoever.

They say there are two tests that will either make or break a relationship; a building/remodeling project or a road trip. A road trip with a smoker not allowed to smoke in the car and this unfamiliar method of phone GPS promised to be an adventure. I was assured his need to smoke would coincide with my need to use the ladies room. This was not quite how it happened.

Our trip west was just over 1600 miles long one way. He’d traveled the roads twice on his own before and we’d made the journey together one-way a year and a half ago. His trips took two days. Our prior one-way took three, but we were pulling a U-Haul with a car stuffed to the gills. We allowed ourselves the time he’d made it in, two days. It seemed reasonable at the time. It also seemed a simple enough plan to take along lunch and drinks and snacks for the road. These were strategically placed, or so we thought, so that the passenger could easily turn around in their seat and get whatever beverage or edible was wanted.

Long story short, someone had to stop to pee AND have a smoke a whole lot more that there was need of the ladies room. Course, being as my daddy always taught me never to pass up a chance to pee while on the road, I made use of these stops, too. There was no hope of visiting Boggy Creek in Fouke, Arkansas, let alone play at Dinosaur World in Kentucky, but we did see plenty of Road Gators. Clearly we have different priorities when it comes to travel! Next time, damn it! As for those snacks and drinks, ease of retrieval involved undoing ones seat belt, turning around and half crawling into the back seat while your pilot cruised along at about 70 miles-per-hour keeping an eye out for the numerous police cars. Of course, if a cop had been spotted chances are pretty high in our less than nubile conditions, we’d never had made it back into our proper forward-facing seated positions in time. Hot coffee in a foam cup or thermos top was a blast. It was an adventure alright.

Admittedly it took longer than planned. We would like to blame a generous amounts of stop and go traffic due to construction, but I think it had more to do with too much coffee, sore bottoms, tired arms, head and neck aches, full bladders, nicotine fits, leg cramps, hunger and just plain “I’m tired and I’m cranky” moments. We rolled into the driveway of our final destination at about 1:15AM, a good three hours later than we’d hoped.

Our return trip thinking may not have been as well thought out as we’d intended. It’ll be faster if we miss all that construction, right? What’s a couple extra hundred miles, right? We’ll be going faster, right? It’ll be fine. Even if we get in by midnight, that’s alright. Did I mention Jim had to be to work by 2pm the day after we planned on getting home? No? Well… yeah. That’s not quite how it worked out either.

We got off track before we even left Texas! This is where the aforementioned new phone technology comes into play. It seemed a simple enough plan. Instead of going through construction riddled Waco and congested Dallas, we’ll just cut across and head towards Shreveport, Louisiana. Piece’o’cake. ‘Cept somehow we found ourselves heading towards Houston. Why does the car’s compass say we’re headed southeast? Without a paper map, we had to rely on my phone’s GPS which I had used maybe twice before and, of course, ‘Connection To GPS Has Been Lost’. Eventually, it kicked in well enough and long enough for me to figure out where we’d gone wrong and get us back on track, while Jim expertly avoided hitting a flock of five or six vultures dining on road kill armadillo. Past experience told him that it was in our best interest to not be driving around in the Deep South with a dead vulture pressed into the grill of the car.

We zipped through Louisiana and Mississippi like nobody’s business, keeping an eye on the numerous road gators, making certain they weren’t flesh and blood gators. We even stopped at the Mississippi Welcome Center and did a touch of site-seeing. Alabama welcomed us and at 9:30 we started looking for motels. By 10:00 our exhausted bodies and brains were settled in. As we unloaded the car, and the loud drone of whatever big and bizarre nocturnal bugs and birds they have in the woods of Alabama buzzed around us, we wondered what State “Deliverance” is supposed to be set in and if we were anywhere near there. (Answer: The remote northern Georgia wilderness on the fictional Cahulawassee River and no.) Course… there’s still Big Foot or Skunk Ape or whatever they call him down there, to deal with!

Our hopes high, we gobbled down hardboiled eggs, blueberry muffins, bananas, and coffee the next morning in the motel room and headed out, bright and early by 7am. Tennessee and Kentucky proved to be our friends. Yeah, we’ve made it to Virginia. I silently wished there was time to visit my cousin in Roanoke. And then, we saw the flashing lights.

“Urgent Message When Flashing” the roadside sign warned and told us where to tune for details. We tuned in. We listened. It didn’t seem to pertain to us. We sallied forth, returning to whatever decent rock station would come in, settling on country as we had to. Several miles later, “Right lane closed ahead. Prepare to stop.” Traffic reports on the radio told us there were delays ahead. We slowed to the pace of a rolling parking lot. Dead still and a walking pace swapped places for the next fifteen to twenty miles, at least. It seemed like a hundred. Jim threatened to get out and walk alongside the car while I drove so he could have a ciggy. It probably wasn’t really such a bad idea. I’m sure we’d have stayed abreast of each other well enough. Thank God neither of us needed to use the restroom.

Over the radio we heard something like this: “The right lane of Interstate 81 North in Botetourt County near mile marker 154 will remain closed until approximately 7 p.m. while crews continue clean up from a tractor-trailer accident. The tractor-trailer was hauling around 2,700 turkeys. Crews on scene are still removing turkeys from the area. Drivers are advised to keep watch for any other birds that may still be loose in the area.” What could we do but burst out laughing? I know, I know. It shouldn’t have been funny at all. Poor terrified turkeys and all, but all I could imagine were turkey running amok along the roadside like some sort of Warner Brother’s cartoon and an incident with my brother when he was just learning to read.

It was a different road trip entirely. I was seven. My brother would have been about ten. We were headed to Florida and suddenly he said, “Well, where are they?” One of my parents asked, “Where are what?” He said, “The chickens.” Confused looks were exchanged. “What chickens?” “The chickens I keep seeing the signs for.” More confused looks took place. He was instructed to point out one of these signs if he saw another and sure enough in only a few more miles he announced triumphantly, “There’s one! See! Speeding chicken by road! So, where are the chickens?” My parents both burst out laughing. “No, honey, that says, ‘Speed Checked By Radar’. My brother was quite disappointed.

We, too, were disappointed in some strange way. Not only did we not see any amok turkeys, speeding or otherwise, by the time we reached the accident site there was nothing but a dusting of white feathers scattered along the road while clean-up crew men picked up traffic cones and freed us to return to full highway speed once more. The Cracker Barrel in Bristol, Virginia fed us and the skies just outside of Winchester delighted us with a beautiful sunset. It was clear by now we were not going to make it home by midnight, not even close. GPS told us we still had five and a half hours to go. Stopping for the night seemed more sensible than getting ourselves killed.

Sleep was short and fitful. I felt so bad for Jim, knowing he was not sleeping any better than I was and that he had to be into work that afternoon. I took first shift driving, hoping he’d be able to get in a couple more hours of sleep at least. I’m pretty sure we were both feeling the stress more than either of us let on. We just wanted to get home.

By noon, we’d passed yet another test of our relationship. I realized along the way that different things about these trips and driving seemed to annoy us. That really worked to our advantage, because when one person was getting antsy and annoyed, the other was able to remain calm and interject some humor into the situation. We make a good team, me thinks.

Now… about that building project.