We hit the road a bit late. I was aiming for nine; we left at eleven. I’m pretty sure the garage door was down when we left. There are two garage doors, and I’m positive one of them was down – the spring broke a couple of months ago and it hasn’t been raised since. The other one? I’m pretty sure.
I spend much of the ride looking out the rear view mirror at the bikes I have strapped to the back of the car in the bike rack that I mounted all by myself. I replaced my marital suburban assault vehicle with a zippy little used Mini – and then had to get a new bike rack for it because I discovered the universal bike rack left behind by The Departed was missing some key parts that would allow me to mount it to my Mini without ripping the rear door off. This new rack, which the guy at the bike rack store told me he “wouldn’t accept any responsibility for resulting damage” for as he tried to sell me $1,000 worth of custom-installed hitch-mounted bike-rackery.
The bikes wobble a lot. I stare at them and will them to stay attached to my car.
Every so often, I pull off the road and tighten the straps.
Then I get back on the road and go a little slow. Everyone passes me. I want to be excited about the ever-increasing speed limits in my zippy little car, but instead I am fixated on the bikes, mounted on the back. Possibly damaging it. Probably about to come flying off and cause an accident.
I discover I am starving. The Child – too afraid to speak for fear of breaking my concentration, which she has realized is the only thing keeping the bikes on the back of the car – agrees. She is starving too. We’ve been on the road for three hours. She never had breakfast.
I’m a menace to other drivers, and a bad mother too.
I pull off at a town called Ritzville. We’ll have a fancy meal, I tell the child. Ritzy. That’s what Ritzy means.
There’s a sign for the Top Hat Motel. I’m thinking, Fred Astaire probably owned that place once. There’s another sign, for a historic district. This is what I came for: Smallville.
We drive by what seems to be a bike swap. A guy in a wifebeater is selling puppies. A gap toothed child stares open-mouthed at our car as we pass.
No stores are open.
Mommy, I don’t think there is any food here, says The Child.
There must be, I say. I’m thinking, if I can keep bikes attached to my car by sheer force of will, surely I can make food appear when I need it – preferably a 1940s Luncheonette counter with chrome trim. It must be here somewhere.
Mommy, I think they film Hoarders here.
I watch the bikes sway from side to side as I make a u-turn and we head back out of town. A small bird-like thing races in front of me in the road.
A quail! shrieks the child.
You sure you don’t want to eat here? I ask. They have quail. It’s a delicacy.
She glares: I don’t eat quail. That’s meat.
Not that quail, I think.
A bit further up the road, we pass an uninspiring town called Sprague, and a diner that bills itself as “The Home of the Viking Burger.”
I wanted Fred Astaire in Holiday Inn, but I’m pulling up to a truck stop.
I don’t eat burgers, says The Child.
I bet they have grilled cheese, I tell her. We’ll tell them to hold the burger.
We sit down at a table in a place that was last decorated during the Johnson Administration. The child orders fish and chips, which makes me nervous. We’re pretty far from both a body of water and a major hospital. I order the safest thing I can think of, a burger and onion rings.
They are the best onion rings I’ve ever eaten.
Mommy, my fish is really fresh, says The Child. Please tip him extra.
We’re ecstatically happy.
We continue driving.
We are passed by a car with Illinois plates, and immediately after, passed by a car with Wisconsin plates.
Yo, my Midwestern peeps! Peace out! Shrieks The Child.
I turn on my 1970’s disco playlist and we sing along. We seat dance to Night Fever. We wave arms to YMCA. We thank ABBA for the music.
In Spokane, we pass Thor Street, immediately followed by Freya Street. We are bitterly disappointed not to find Valhalla Avenue. We vow to return and quest for it.
We cross the border, and somehow, everything becomes … beautiful.
It looks like Washington, says The Child.
No, it looks different, I tell her. The trees are different.
No they’re not, she says. If you had even a basic knowledge of trees, you’d know that.
Well, I say, fortunately I am unburdened by knowledge of trees or other flora. Isn’t it pretty?
They are but you’re still wrong.
And then finally, we pull off the freeway and into downtown Wallace.
We have no trouble finding our motel: it’s the one with the spaceship parked in front of it. It was last decorated during the Eisenhower Administration.
We check in, and go to the diner next door where we order dinner: a double scoop ice cream cone and a root beer float. We eat them on the spaceship.
It tasted like childhood.
Today I learned: You can go home again, if you know where to look.