The Frog, My Mom and the Cadillac
After 20 years of begging my mother finally handed down her 1991 Cadillac to me! It was the only thing I really wanted in the event of her passing. She really loved this car and she kept it in pristine condition. Beautiful pale yellow with matching leather interior. Every time the car had problems or she had an accident she said she was going to sell it. But I would cry and beg like the world was coming to an end and she would end up getting it fixed and then she would be in love with it again.
So a few months back my mother wanted me to come and visit her in Florida but I said the plane tickets were too expensive. So my mother suggested I buy a one-way plane ticket and I can drive the Cadillac back to Vegas. What?!? She’s finally giving it to me?!? I had to get down there before she changed her mind!
So I caught a flight to New Smyrna and visited my sister and mother for two days and it was time to hit the road. But before we could, the Caddy had a flat before we even pulled out of the drive way. The original plan was to get a U-Haul and pull the Caddy but I got intimidated with the truck and towing apparatus so I decided to drive the yellow bird with 122,000 all the way back to Vegas. What can I say? “Never tell me the odds” as Indiana Jones says. I was wondering if the flat in the driveway was an omen to get the U-Haul but I pressed on with my decision. It had flooded very heavily the night before leaving, and many roads were closed down. As I started to load the car, some creatures had taken refuge inside the door frame which included a lizard and a yellow frog (he really matched the car!). I got the lizard out with a stick but when I tried to lure the frog out he jumped inside the car with me screaming. I ran in the house and my mother said just leave the doors open and he will jump out. I did and I just had no idea where that creature went. (What can I say? In biology class when we were supposed to dissect a frog I gave my lunch to my classmate to do the deed). I looked all through the car and finally gave up.
We headed out on our journey with arguments immediately with GPS versus 1988 Rand McNally map book. We made a stop at some small town at a gas station somewhere past Jacksonville. My mother’s Exxon Card wasn’t working so there were quite a few trips back in the store getting snacks where the cashier just left the pump open as we finally found a credit card that worked. Then I lost the keys to the car. So we lost another 15 minutes of road time. I started to look for the keys in the back seat and there was the frog! Right on my mother’s white fur coat! I screamed and ran across the gas station parking lot with some paper towels in my hand like my pants were on fire. My mother was irritated since we had been there awhile and yelled: “Forget that damn thing and let’s get the hell out of here!” (What can I say? In biology class when we were supposed to dissect a frog I gave my lunch to my classmate to do the deed In sheer terror I ran up to a car pulling up to a pump and in a terrified voice asked “Are you afraid of frogs?!?” The driver started laughing with his wife and said: “No”. “Can you come over here and get this thing out of my car?!?” His wife was more than amused as he trotted over to look in my car. “It’s right there on my white coat!” I screeched. So with his bare hands he scooped up the hitchhiker. “Put him in the grass honey”, his wife said as I breathed a great sigh of relief. The couple walked away laughing with the wife saying: “That is the funniest question I have ever heard at a gas station.” Well, like I always hear when people refer to me and many of my friends can attest to: “I’ve never heard of anything like this” I’ve never seen anything like this” “This has never happened before” on and on….
But the peak of terror was really about to take place. My 86-year old mother said she was going to drive. I knew she couldn’t drive at night but it was daylight so much to my future regrets I handed over the keys. When we hit the I-10, it was clear I made a massive error. She veered from side to side from the dirt to constantly weaving into the left lane with oncoming cars. I was screaming constantly whipping my head around like Linda Blair in the Exorcist to see cars coming up behind us that she was missing by inches. “Here comes a car!” “Stay on the road!” “Move over!” “Pull over!” I screamed watching my life flash before my eyes. “I’ve been driving this road for years!” as she defended her driving. She said she was not going to pull over on the freeway so it was Mr.Toads Wild Ride (Pardon the frog pun) in full force. In the movie “Dumb and Dumber” there is a scene where Jim Carey reaches a fork in the road and one way points to Colorado where they are headed and the other way is going to Nebraska. So this was played out in reality where the freeway was split and one way was heading to Gainesville and the other said Tampa. My mother just casually followed the cars in front of us to the right going back to Tampa! I was screaming my head off “Go left!” “Veer left! “Nooooo!” We almost hit the giant cement block in the middle of the road by a centimeter as we landed into the middle of cars heading to Gainesville. I continued to panic and scream until she finally made a path towards an exit. “Pull in here! Pull into this truck stop!” I screamed. So with cars and trucks lined up in back of us she pulls in and just stops the car. “Go straight! Go Straight!” I gestured and pleaded. But she just goes left and slows down more cars and trucks trying to get out. I was having a heart attack and finally just took the wheel and said: “STOP! GET OUT!” I got out like a traffic cop and directed the pile-up to go around us and I felt tightness in my chest and I swear I felt a heart attack coming on as I envisioned me dropping on the pavement right there to meet my maker. But I somehow composed myself and got in the car with my mother completely obvious that there was ever even a problem. I was all amped up with post heart failure and powdered donuts and ready to drive into the night but much to my disappointment my mother insisted on settling in for the night at 7pm at the Quality Inn. I think the town was Chipley but I am not sure.
When we got to Mobile Alabama the next day, there was serious interaction between me and my mother on which way to go. In the past I always stayed on the I-10 but the GPS was directing us elsewhere to the I-40. I did what my mother asked but swore I was not going to stay the southern route to El Paso with the Cartel putting my head in a cooler and turning my Caddy into a low rider spectacle. The problem with my mother is unfortunately she cannot hear anything. And I mean nothing! So communication was difficult about routes and anything at all. I remember one time I was on the phone asking where she wanted me to park to pick her up and she asked: “What about Roy Rogers?” The list is endless of what she makes of anything I say but let’s just say it was an interesting conversation with me repeating myself three times each sentence in a loud voice across the country.
We settled down in Lafayette Louisiana and argued the rest of the night about getting away from the southern border and heading towards the I-40 the next day. After grabbing our breakfast from the lobby I was driving so I headed towards the I-40. The night before in Chipley I switched my Walmart pillow with the one at the hotel. I was ecstatic I had found a pillow that worked for me after a lifetime. But forty minutes after leaving the hotel in Lafayette, I discovered I left my sacred pillow at the hotel. I turned back around and alerted the hotel I was on my way back. The maid had already cleaned the room and pillow cases were gone and for the life of me, I could not tell which one was my pillow after many tests. But the car was running and we needed to make time so I threw a pillow in the car and we hit the road. This was not a good start to a bad day. My sleep schedule with jet-lag and time change had been switched from going to bed at 6am to getting up at 6pm with no sleep. I was wore out and the maze of highways in Dallas and Fort Worth stressed me out so bad I was ready for a breakdown. The GPS was not cooperating and the map book was too old to help. Cars whizzed by me at top speed with me trying to navigate as panic set in trying to find the I-40 to Oklahoma. We drove a long way not finding a suitable hotel where I could watch the car. We pulled into one place my mother wanted to stay and I hit a cement block and we got out of the car in the parking lot and had an argument and I said I would never stay in a fleabag hotel like that if my life depended on it. We soldiered on into the night and finally found a Quality Inn where I tried out all the pillows.
For some reason before the trip I looked at the map and worried about car trouble around New Mexico. Somewhere in Oklahoma, the car started sputtering and losing power so we pulled into some small town for gas and to let the car rest. On my way to the restroom, I noticed some old men sitting there playing checkers and shooting the breeze. I felt like I was in an episode of Mayberry R.F.D. and Don Knotts and Andy Griffith were going to be driving up in the Sheriffs car any minute. When I came out of the rest room I said to the men: “Do any of you guys know anything about cars?” They all laughed and one man spoke up: “They all have four wheels on them” They all laughed and I asked them what it means when the car starts jerking and losing power. One man said it sounded like the fuel filter. And they told me to go down the road and talk to Justin just over the hill. I stopped at “Justin’s” house but there was no one there. But the car was back to full power so I continued the trip. Well, just AS we crossed the border of New Mexico and it was just getting dark the car was losing power and then completely shut down as we sat on the side of the road. My mom was in a panic saying we needed to call a tow truck. I waited a few minutes and turned the ignition on and the car started back up and in full power. We stopped at a truck stop to check the oil and see if we could see anything wrong. We couldn’t get the hood open but a man and a woman were so kind and helped us. I went in to get oil and the woman asked if I needed any money. That couple were so sweet and they helped me put oil in the car. I wish I would have asked them their names but I was really stressed out and we grabbed a pizza and headed out into the night. Not sleeping for 5 days and my schedule being turned around and sitting in a car for so long I really needed to lay down. I was exhausted. But I drove more than 14 hours that day. I wanted to stay at the Motel 6 in Albuquerque but my mother wouldn’t stay there so we drove further looking for hotels. I pulled off an exit where there were lights, but when I got to the frontage road, the road was shut down with police cars everywhere. I turned around but the road wouldn’t go to the freeway so we ended up all the way back to Albuquerque! There was at least 60 police cars and roads blocked in every direction. On the other side of the freeway, trucks were lined up and stopped for 10 miles. In my delirious exhausted state when we finally got to a truck stop my friend Valeri called me. Bad timing and I started screaming at her and had a nervous breakdown. We headed out into the freezing night and my mother said we could just sleep in the car. I really needed a bed so with the car sputtering in the dark inclines with it hard to see and me falling asleep at the wheel we found a town with several hotels but they were all full. We found an expensive place but I was ecstatic to have a bed.
The next day I was determined to make it to Vegas by night fall. The car was losing power again near Flagstaff Arizona so we pulled off to wait and I went for a short hike through some tall pine trees.
When we took the Kingman exit to Las Vegas I was deliriously happy. We pulled into a Chevron station and I went inside and I saw a really cute pink stuffed poodle. I went to the cashier and my mother told me I didn’t need it. “I’ve got stuffed animals up my ass – you don’t need another one!”, said my mom. “But this is pink. And I haven’t brought one souvenir this entire trip!” The man at the register told me: “Yeah, I saw you guys pull up in that Cadillac and see you have a Florida license plate. What a fun trip you must have had with that Cadillac and your mother across the country.” I just looked at him and replied: “Let’s just say it was an adventure.” And indeed it was!
Happy to be back in Vegas where I belong with my new Caddy!
Thanks Mom – I love you!
Photos: Jonathan Gilcrest