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The Open Road
I think we were near Sacramento, maybe, not in the city but on one of those highways that runs straight for hundreds of miles, so straight that a person can go crazy from the monotony and the sky blurs into the ground. It was our 37th hour on the road. I wasn't keeping time or anything, but Gloria, even more antsy than me, made sure to remind us of it every ten minutes. It was starting to annoy me more and more as my tongue shriveled up from thirst and my sore legs became a part of the seat I was sitting on.
"Mom! Dad! Just make Gloria shut up. I really couldn't care less about what time it is." Probably not the smartest thing to say, but there was so much tension in here that I was going to pop like a balloon if I didn't let off some steam once in a while.
Gloria's face immediately scrunched up as if it were some sort of paper ball, and she let out a big howl. "You're soooooo mean to me, Leeny! Wh-what did I do?"
Let me tell you, Gloria was a fantastic actor. She'd been able to fake cry since she was three and now used it in combination with her tiny stature (something my gangly 5'10" self apparently never inherited) to wheedle her way into and subsequently out of every corner. It had fooled my parents each time.
So, naturally, the wolves were upon me.
"Lena Rosenberg," Mom's exhausted voice echoed on our van's grubby fabric walls. "Do you have to make this any more difficult than it already is? Lena-"
I'd heard this speech so many times, I knew it by heart, could probably recite it backwards in Arabic. It went something like this- “Blah blah blah Lena I’m so disappointed in you blah blah blah Gloria is only eight blah blah blah do you realize how stressful my life is right now blah blah”- only about ninety times longer. Needless to say, it no longer managed to squeeze even a tiny drop of guilt out of me. As Mom ranted on and on, she gripped the steering wheel hard enough to make the veins on her hands pop out. Not a good sign. I pretended I was listening and nodded understandingly (but not too understandingly- I still had enough of the necessary annoyed arrogance) while really turning the volume on my iPod high enough to drown out any sound quieter than an explosion.
The air in the car was definitely electrified, and I didn’t want to start off any spark that could lead to disaster, so I lay low for a while, or as low as was possible in a van with an interior of 40 square feet. Mom and Gloria were still simmering at me and Dad was too distracted trying to decipher the map he'd had a lady at Chili’s write on a napkin for us last night. Apparently, maps of rural Northern California are not sold in rural Northern California, something my family hadn’t realized until we were already here. And what with Dad’s extraordinary navigational skills and the indecipherability of this map (it consisted of two unlabeled parallel lines crossed by a shorter unlabeled line and an unlabeled dot), we were probably going to spend all night driving only to realize that we’d been going in the wrong direction for 400 miles and were somehow now in Canada. Although considering the alternative of actually reaching our destination, I think I’d probably have preferred Canada.
You see, my parents are not the type of people who like to plan ahead. If an idea crosses their minds, even for just a second, they’ll drop everything they’re doing- whether it’s repainting the house (yes, that is why half of our living room is yellow and the other half is green) or watering the lawn. So when they noticed an unfamiliar name- Leonard Rosenberg- while poring over our copy of The Rosenberg Family Directory (genealogy is a weird hobby of theirs), they decided that it would be a great idea to drive from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Palermo, California to spend a week at Leonard’s house. During the school year. Without telling him. Without actually knowing who he was. I learned about the trip 30 minutes before we left, giving me just enough time to pack the most unflattering clothes that I owned after I realized that everything else was dirty.
I was certainly less than thrilled about spending four days trapped in a car with my family, but I did get to miss an oral report in English and a Geometry midterm, so I didn’t complain too much. The only thing that worried me was that Leonard (my parents weren’t entirely sure how he was related to us, so we were all just calling him Leonard for the time being) was going to react to my parents the same way any sane human being would: by calling the police. I could already imagine how it would go: my parents, goofy grins plastered on their faces, trying to explain to a sullen old man why they were disturbing his tumbleweeds and dented trailer home while Gloria and hid, cringing, in the car. Best case, he’d slam the door in their faces; worst case, he’d bring out a gun (excessive cheeriness can really show the nastier side of people). If I was really lucky, he’d have died- or moved away, either was fine- years ago (The Rosenberg Family Directory does have a copyright of 1972), but for some reason luck had never really had a habit of sticking with me.
Whatever happened, though, I could be sure that a road trip with my parents would be a textbook definition of adventure. In my fourteen years, I’d spent the night in a library on Halloween, stolen cantaloupes from a roadside vendor to protest working conditions in Pakistan (I didn’t exactly understand that one, either), and raised baby lizards in the kitchen sink- all because of good old Mom and Dad.
My suspicions were confirmed minutes later when Dad piped up tentatively.
“Um, Sharon?” he began. “We took a wrong turn.”
I groaned. We all knew what was coming.
“How long have we been going in the wrong direction?” Mom sighed, the wrinkles on her face deepening.
"Only about 300 miles.”
See what I mean?