2

Behind A Car Window No One Can Hear You Scream

Now that I’ve gotten that exciting title out of the way…

I had to walk back from dance class tonight in an insane downpour. When I got into my car, it looked like I had one swimming. I was just so done with the day that all I could do was break out into song.

So I sang.

“Party in the USA.”

AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS

while driving.

It felt great.

I managed to get through “Oops! I Did It Again,” “Single Ladies,” and “All I Want for Christmas is You” before I made it home. I was still wet wet wet but at least I got to screw up lyrics and basically scream all the way home, knowing no one could hear my screeches through the wind, the windows, and the rain.

What’s your go-to car sing-a-long song?

0

From Isla del Encanto to Charm City USA

I am now in Baltimore, so that happened.

This past week has gone by super fast and it’s only now that I realize that I haven’t chronicled anything in my life for a week or so. I’ve spent most of the past week being tired (and now, for some reason, a little sick, possibly due to a drafty house or my dad’s driving) so I’ll do the best I can to keep it from being completely lost to memory.

Thursday, July 31: Actual date of Ponce trip, amended from the previous day. I woke up and Isabel’s apartment was so quiet that I thought she might have gone to work, so I prepared to have another lazy day until she called me. Then Axel emerged, and apparently Isabel had been working in the back room the whole time and was waiting for me to get up! We were fixing to go to Ponce, just the two of us, due to Riley not answering my texts or calls.

We were just about to get into the car when we realized that I’d forgotten a swimsuit and towel, and just as I had retrieved those items and was locking Isabel’s front door, Riley calls and asks what we’re up to. A short but hilarious conversation later, we were on our way to pick him up in Carolina for the day’s adventures.

The drive to Ponce was about two hours long, through an amazing variety of landscapes. The tropical greenery of San Juan transformed into the arid, barren mountains of central Puerto Rico; from jungle to desert, practically. We drove past several scary-looking bush fires that may or may not have been natural, who knows.

Arriving in Ponce, Riley immediately commented that it felt hotter; it actually did, strangely enough. We walked to the Plaza las Delicias and had a reasonably-priced lunch there. For the evening, we thought it would be fun to explore the nearby Bio Bay (the one with the bacteria that light up when you touch the water) so Isabel went off with her phone to make the arrangements while Riley and I took a walk around town and had some coffee. We met up with Isabel soon after at a bookstore, where she informed us that even though we probably would not be able to swim in the bay, we could definitely get an inexpensive boat tour. Before that, though, we explored town some more and found a geocache; Isabel’s first ever, and it was hilarious watching her get so excited. We tried another one, but it led us to this awesome art-garden-park thing with massive light-up sculptures so it wasn’t too bad of a walk. On the way back to the car, we saw some adorable stray puppies and watched them play.

The earlier hustle and bustle of Ponce was gone, as were we, off to Lajas, in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico. An hour after leaving Ponce, we reached La Parguera in Lajas, which seemed like a cross between a backpacker’s stop and the Catskills. Apparently, Lajas is not a well-known destination outside of Puerto Rico, so it was likely that Riley and I were the only two Americans in town. At the docks, we got tickets for $8 on a Bio Bay tour boat, with about 100 or so of our closest and loudest friends. The trip itself only took an hour, and the bio bay was cool with the glowing water, but what was more impressive was the lightning storm off in the distance and the bright, bright stars overhead, especially when the boat stopped and turned off its lights in the middle of the Bio Bay so we could better see the water. Four guys jumped from the top of the ship and swam around, which was pretty cool, and despite learning the contrary, we could indeed, if we wanted, get into our swimsuits and jump in the water. Well, if we didn’t mind about a four-story jump followed by a climb back up. We seriously considered jumping but with the possibility of broken glasses (Isabel), lost contacts (me), and broken bones/drowning/not being able to swim back to the ship (all three of us, I suppose) we just watched from above. It would have been cool to swim in it though. When we docked, the guys who jumped were passing a hat to collect money, which was kind of expected.

By this point we were a little hungry. Riley tried tiburon, or shark, in a sandwich, to which I said, “no thanks, but enjoy” and Isabel and I shared some fish nuggets, mofongo (mashed plantain balls), and amarillos (sweet plantains). It was about 11 PM at this point, so we phoned it in and I drove us back to San Juan, where we arrived after 1 AM and zzzz….

Friday, August 1st: Slept in (well deserved) and said goodbye to Isabel and Axel to head over to Riley’s place in Carolina for Phase II of Operation Puerto Rico Vacation. Riley’s place in Carolina was quite different from Isabel’s in San Juan, but as soon as I dropped my stuff off and changed, we were out to Isla Verde for a night of dancing and debauchery. I practiced a bit of my ballroom moves but mostly danced to the hits of the 70s and 80s. It was basically a Bar Mitzvah without the torah reading. That was only the beginning of the night; the remaining details I cannot divulge but suffice it to say that it was 4:30 when we got back to Riley’s.

Saturday, August 2nd: Tropical Storm Bertha decided to pay a visit so it was mostly an indoors type of day. It was an adventure staying at Riley’s apartment, but after one night there I suggested we take a meta-vacation and check into a hotel back in San Juan so we could really enjoy the last few days together. So we headed over to the Doubletree San Juan for a vacation-within-a-vacation, regrouped, and had dinner at Plaza de las Americas, the biggest mall in the Caribbean. I’m not a huge mall fan, but it was very sleek as far as malls go.

Sunday, August 3rd: Back on the adventure trail! They said, “go west, young man,” so go west we did, along the northern coast of Puerto Rico. Our goal was to get to Isabela or Aguadilla. We did a few stops along the way, both for geocaches: first, at a lookout point in Quebradillas that we later learned is one of the premier lookout points on the island, with mountains in one direction and beach in the others, and second, in Isabela, at a giant stone carving of a man which actually turned out to be not-so-ancient. We turned north slightly and took a smaller road through the tiny, windy town of Isabela and ended up on Villa Pesquera, a rocky beach. The waves breaking along the rocks were incredible to see, as well as the tide pools and the huge crabs hanging out in them (didn’t get too close though!) At a swimming beach nearby, Riley went for a snorkel while I relaxed in the shallow water and the low, gentle waves, protected by the rocky spit that absorbed most of the impact of the crashing water.

After maybe an hour there, we drove towards Aguadilla, where Isabel’s favorite Thai restaurant is. We arrived at the place only to find that due to the tropical storm delaying a shipment of supplies, they had limited options, so we backtracked to the next best option, Golden Crown. Cultural (con)fusion notwithstanding, it was a really good Chinese place, despite being in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, which is as far from China as you can get. Although not getting to see Aguadilla proper, we headed back to San Juan after a day full of fun.

Sunday, August 4th: Final day of the trip 😦 although I would get to see my parents that night, so 🙂 for that. Wakeup was early so we could check out of the hotel and I could drop Riley off. Before I had to return the car, though, I went on a little adventure of my own.

I drove east, picking out a geocache near El Yunque National Rainforest as my goal. Isabel said it should be less than an hour, and indeed it was, only forty minutes from busy San Juan to the middle of the rainforest. It was raining heavily the whole way there, but as soon as I paid the entry fee and parked at El Portal, the visitor center at the entrance to the forest, the sky cleared up and the sun came out. Due to a landslide, most of the park was closed, but the visitor center offered great views and geographically we were in the rainforest, so, I’ll take it. I found the geocache and after a short walk around, went further east to see what Puerto Rico had to offer.

I found myself in Luquillo, known for some of the prettiest beaches on the island, and it did not disappoint. It was Monday but it felt like a lazy Sunday as I rolled in, parked, took a walk, and had a leisurely final breakfast of huevos rancheros, iced coffee, and crepes with banana and Nutella. After finding a geocache at a nearby park and mailing postcards from the Luquillo Post Office, which wasn’t even on the map, I headed back to San Juan to return the car and return home. Suffice it to say that it was not a fun experience at all, and by the time I got to the airport I was good and ready to get back home, which I did shortly after midnight, San Juan-Charlotte-Baltimore.

August 5, 6, 7: Basically, nothing…a few days of actual vacation-like vacation, doing nothing important and eating home-cooked food. Highlights of my time here have been getting to see my sister and bake challah with her and my dad; getting a tour of the neighborhood with my mom and dad and seeing how it’s changed since January; taking a quick jaunt to Washington; and getting my teeth cleaned and hair cut. Exciting stuff, I know.

But it’s good to be home, even though in one week and two days I’ll be back in action and back in Madison. I’ll have my parents with me for a few days, but then it’s goodbye summer, hello 2nd year of PhD. Also, hello to my newest visitor, my first from Tunisia.

1

How To Get On My Bad Side On A Road Trip

I like adventures as much as the next person, and nothing says adventure like a road trip. I can never refuse an offer to get up and go somewhere.

But if I’m the one doing the driving (which I normally am), you better follow my rules of the road.

1. Don’t play your own music if/when I’m playing mine.

I don’t really care if you play your own music, but at least have the courtesy to ask, rather than just turn it on to try to overpower my music. And if it’s really bad, I have the right to claim it’s making me tired. Which brings me to number two.

2. If I’m doing all the driving, we are taking breaks when I say so.

People who don’t drive don’t understand how tiring driving  is. Driving is fun but extremely tiring, even if you’re the Energizer Bunny. Which is why you never see him drive. If it means that we have to stop every twenty minutes so that I can stretch or find a bathroom or sit and not be in motion, we’re stopping. Drivers need breaks. And no, you’re not driving my car unless you have a license, insurance, and the ability to get me a better car should you damage mine.

3. If you volunteer to navigate, navigate.

Yeah, I do some research before road trips, but if it’s somewhere I’ve never been before, there’s the possibility I can make a wrong turn somewhere. I have a GPS on my iPhone, and you probably do too. Don’t offer to do it and then fall asleep or sit there doing nothing.

4. If I ask you to navigate, navigate.

Sometimes you just need some direction. If you’re sitting in the passenger seat and my phone is right there, take a look at it and tell me if we’re going in the right direction. And don’t make me ask twice. Which brings me to number five.

5. If I ask you to stop doing something, stop doing it.

This list of activities includes horseplay, making horse noises, sticking your head/face/camera out of the window, having a too loud conversation, arguing/yelling, or just being annoying. Leading up to one of my least favorite things.

6. Never play with the windows.

I don’t care if we’ve been in the car for two hours and you’re bored; you should have brought a book. Putting the windows up and down is annoying enough; at least ask me before going ahead and doing it. Sometimes people don’t like getting a blast of cold air in the face. My parents always used to tell me to leave the door closed in the summer because we’re not paying to air-condition the front yard, and though I hate to admit it, they were right. If you want A/C, I’ll put it on. If you want windows down, we’ll do it that way. But we’re not doing both; it’s harmful enough to the environment as it is, and I don’t need you to make me feel guiltier. If you insist on having the window down, the A/C goes off. And if I ask you to put it back up, I’m not trying to bake you alive, I just want to put the A/C back on.

7. Don’t spill in my car.

Okay, so accidents happen, but my car is pretty new and I’d like to keep this one pretty at least for a little while. Just be careful.

8. Don’t offer seats in my car to people.

This car’s not your car, this car is my car. I operate it, I pay for the gas. If we’re going somewhere and you have a friend who wants to tag along, ask me. Most likely I’ll say yes and I won’t even ask them to pay. But also understand if I say no. Don’t promise someone a ride and then tell me.

9. I am not your personal car service.

I understand if we’re going shopping and you want to go into stores you see, or you have to pick something up, but I’m not going to drop off every single person anywhere they please. If there are a group of people in the car, and we’re heading home, remember that I’m tired and I want to get home too. I don’t care if you want to get home in time to watch the basketball game. If you want me to leave earlier, don’t ask when we’re there, ask me earlier than that. I don’t care if you’re going to be late to meet your friend; I’m not going to risk an accident or a speeding ticket for you. Actually, don’t take a road trip with me and make plans back in town with another friend on the same night.

10. Under no circumstances should you unbuckle your seat belt, open the door, or exit the car until I’m parked and the car is off.

This isn’t just a road-trip-with-me rule; this is a rule everyone should know. You can jump on or off the back of a truck in the Andes, or a bus in Israel, because I’ve done both, but never, ever exit the car until the vehicle is in a fully stopped and off position. You’d think that this was common sense, but I had to learn to tell people this, and I learned the hard way. One of my housemates in college managed to break rules 8, 9, and 10 in a single night. He and I were going to a mixer at Mount Holyoke College, the girls’ school in South Hadley, about 15-20 minutes down the road from Amherst. Before we left, he told me that we’d be giving his friend Norman a ride.

And yes, I believe that is his real name, but I don’t care about this one. Not only did he tell me we were doing this, a) I did not know who Norman was, b) who was going to take Norman back, and c) Norman wasn’t even coming to the house, my housemate had offered for me to pick him up at his place, which was in the middle of nowhere, and he didn’t even give us a decent address or directions.

We finally find him, he gets in the car, and barely says a word to either of us. We drive in relative awkward silence down to Mount Holyoke. I turn into a parking lot, and before I stop the car – in fact, before I even decelerate, I was going at least double-digit miles per hour, I hear a click, his seat belt is off, and without even saying thank you, he jumps out of the car like it’s on fire, slams the door, and takes off running towards the library. Turns out he wasn’t going to the mixer at all, he needed to go study or meet friends or something there and didn’t even have the courtesy to ask me. For some reason, I wasn’t tipped off by the fact that he brought a backpack to a mixer – maybe he kept his wallet in there? Anyway, my housemate starts to do the same, and I grab his knee with my free hand, and yell using his full name, “don’t you dare get out of this car until I am in a parking space and the motor is turned off.”

I’m normally very calm and forgiving, but I spent the next few minutes actually shouting at him while leaning on his knees to keep him from leaving. Since he had a brain – and needed a ride home – he sat and listened to me yell my head off about every single way he fucked this evening up before we even made it inside the mixer. I had half a mind to actually take him right back home, but then I realized that I couldn’t take away his allowance and hey, I wanted to go to the mixer too. But he did apologize, he learned his lesson, and we became closer friends after that. The only reasons I gave him another shot are because he did some really nice things for me, he bought me a full tank of gas even though he didn’t need to, it’s hard to stay angry at someone you have to live with and see every day who could potentially turn the rest of the house against you, and overall he’s a pretty great guy, and I knew that social skills were not part of his expertise.

To this day, when I am driving, if I even hear a click of a seat belt before the car has stopped moving, you are getting yelled at without warning and are in danger of becoming banned from my car.

On that note, let’s go and have some fun!

 

 

 

4

Groove Is in the Car

So, two summers ago, I went on a family trip to Germany. By family, I mean myself, my sister, my dad, and two cousins, because my mom’s ideal vacation is preferably within walking distance of our house (okay, my dad came up with that one), but you get the picture. The first part of the trip involved flying into Frankfurt, spending a day there, then renting a car and driving around Bayern (Bavaria) to see the house where my grandmother was born and the town she and my grandfather lived in as a married couple (which was also his hometown; people didn’t go too far to meet their spouses, kind of like Tinder, only with more actual tinder since they lived in the countryside). Also, to visit the gravestones of our great, great-great, and great-great-great-grandparents, which involved some breaking and entering (but that’s another entry). So it was basically our death tour of southern Germany. We joked that Christians go to Europe on church tours, and we Jews go to Europe on the death tours. We would then get rid of the car in Fuerth, which was incidentally where my aunt was born, and take the train across the border to Prague, Czech Republic for Phase II of the trip, which still managed to venture into death tourism. But more about that in another entry.

We arrived in Frankfurt sometime in the afternoon and checked into our hotel to catch up on sleep, so we could check out and get the rental car first thing in the morning. I’ll point out that I was not as tired as the others, since I decided to pack everything in one large backpack as opposed to a rolling suitcase. A rolling suitcase is better for the back, but – shocker! – Europe is the land of stairs and cobblestone streets, especially in Germany, and I’ll never forget bounding up the stairs out of the metro station in downtown Frankfurt with two weeks’ worth of belongings strapped to my back like nobody’s business, only to realize that I was standing alone on the street level, looking down at everyone else who were trying to lug their suitcases up, step by step; unfortunately, a recurring theme throughout the trip of me waiting at the tops of staircases. But I was probably tired anyway, so I slept.

The next morning, we eat breakfast, during which time my dad and one of my cousins goes to get the rental car. I’m kind of excited; this might be my first chance to drive in a foreign country, as all of us on the trip except one cousin had licenses. After a long, long, long time, they come back with good news and bad news.

First, the bad news: the car is a stick shift, and my dad is the only one of us who knows how to do that.

Then, the good news: since my dad hasn’t driven stick in a long time, my cousin got to laugh at him attempt to figure out how to do it.

This was clearly going to end well.

So, we grab our stuff and troop around the corner to the rental car lot, and load in. That was the easy part. Then came the task of turning the car on and driving it out of the parking lot. We had a couple of backfires and rocky starts, but before any nausea could set in we were off on the road.

And that’s when it got worse.

I don’t know much about driving stick, but apparently there is gear switching involved, and other things, so my cousin told my dad when to shift gears from the passenger seat, while my dad was driving down the open road and attempting to navigate us toward Wurzburg. If you’ve ever driven in Germany, constantly stopping and starting the car on the road is never a good thing. One minute we’d be sailing along, then it would get clunky for the gear shift, then it would settle out again. All the while, my dad is not watching the road as closely as he should, so we have a few close calls and swerves into wrong lanes, and plenty of honking German drivers. Plus, there’s the fact that we’re in a foreign country and we don’t know where we’re going.

Eventually, my dad gets accustomed to the car, but by this time we’re a little off course. We have the voice GPS on, but she’s speaking in German and we can’t figure out how to switch her over to English. Also, it’s getting stuffy in the back, and we need some A/C, so my cousin hits the button, and what comes out isn’t air, but…

“I couldn’t ask for another/I-I-I-I-I/I couldn’t ask for another/I-I-I-I-I/Groove is in the heart…”

And I broke out laughing.

Because when you’re driving down the roads of rural Bavaria at 9:00 in the morning while trying to figure out how to work a stick-shift, the perfect soundtrack is 1990s one-hit wonder “Groove Is In the Heart” by Deee-Lite. It was just such an irreverent moment, and the spontaneous remergence one of the most awkward songs ever really captured the zeitgeist (German word, yes!) of the moment. Not to mention that the song is probably still on the German pop charts.

Sometimes things are upsetting and funny all at the same time; and then that moment hits where the right song comes on.

And of course, I had to awkwardly do hip hop while belted in the middle seat, between my cousin (who was not born when this song was a hit) and my sister (who does not approve of dancing in the car).

Nice to see that song still has relevance.

0

An Adventure in Snow and Ice

Last night I got an idea for a story to write, so I stayed up writing until 3 AM for no good reason at all, after which I told myself I’d get up at 10 at the latest…yeah, didn’t happen. I was in bed until the afternoon and then on the couch, not doing much, until I got dressed, dragged myself out into the snow to Michelangelo’s for a cappuccino and sandwich around 3:30 (ironically, when it started becoming night again). I decided to head out to do some last-minute shopping before the trip: Marshalls, Walgreens, and Metcalfe’s, for some candles, toothpaste, and last minute sustenance items for tomorrow’s drive back to Baltimore.

Walking back to my car in the dark, I realized that the accumulated snow on my car merited a cleaning, so I figure, no problem, ten minutes. I wipe off the snow, and what greets me is something that I’m completely unprepared for…

ICE.

Not just ordinary ice, thick ice. Coating all the windows, front, back, and side.

I took out my ice scraper and began to…well, scrape the ice away. Seeing as I couldn’t find a single spot in which to stick the scraper end, I bashed it into the windshield hoping I wouldn’t shatter it (that’s not possible…is it?) to make a small crack in the impenetrable wall of ice, and used that to scratch a tiny hole that slowly grew bigger. I did the same on the side and back. A half hour later, I had barely made a dent in the windshield, but decided to go anyway. I got into the car, with about a ten-inch window of visibility towards the front. Ok, I’m just going to have to duck and be extra careful, I said to myself. With the defroster cranked up and the wipers going, the back window was beginning to thaw out and I could roll down the side windows for some extra perception, but the windshield was going to be a problem. I just hoped that I’d make it out and back alive.

My first stop was going to be Metcalfe’s, so I prepared to turn right on Langdon, when I realized…I can’t see a thing out of the passenger side of the car. Well, left turn it is then.

After a few carefully navigated turns, I found myself on Johnson Street, which was slightly more paved than Langdon. At this point, I was starting to feel a pain in my neck from the awkward angle at which I was twisting it to see out the sliver of non-iced windshield. I can’t go on like this much longer, I gotta stop, pull over, and scrape some more. The problem: there was nowhere to pull over and there were other cars on the road as well, making it difficult to change lanes or make any sudden stops.

The heat generated from the car started warming up the bottom of the ice sheet so that if I sat with my head forward, granny-style, I could see the whole road through the thin strip that was slowly getting clearer. Only that hurt my neck even more, so I kept going.

All of a sudden, it got darker. It was then I realized that I had no idea where I was driving, or what road I was on. All I knew is that I was heading east. Then I realized I could barely see in front of me. Were my lights on? I turned my brights on just in case. Wait a minute…had I scraped the snow off my headlights?

Fuck.

I was driving on a dark, country road with an ice-covered windshield and the only light coming from a car that was behind me, shining on either side. This wasn’t good.

However, I was keeping within the lane as best as I could, obeying the speed limit (like I had an option) and remaining on the road without crashing. I saw some lights up ahead – maybe there’s an intersection coming up. At this point, Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need A Hero” came on my iPhone, and with a chorus of dun-dun-da-dun-dun, I was tearing through the wintry road like a crazy person, the ice melting away just enough to get a clear picture of the whole road if I looked forward a little bit. It felt so intrepid, like that daredevil showdown scene in Footloose, only with just myself, a bunch of snow and ice, and no Kevin Bacon.

At the song’s end, I came to a large intersection – Route 15 – where instinct told me to head south. I had no idea how far I had gone – perhaps I was in Columbia County by now or something – but the intersections on this much larger and better-lit road bore names that I didn’t recognize. Just when I felt hopelessly lost, I saw a “Welcome to Madison” sign, and the lights of West Washington in front of me, ensuring my safety. The icy windshield was about half-gone. At a red light, I opened the Maps app on my iPhone. I had taken County Road CV out to just past the airport, where I have to go to pick up my dad tomorrow. Unfortunately, I missed the turn onto West Washington, but took Milwaukee Ave to get me there just as well, arriving at the East Towne Marshalls at about 8:15. I parked and turned off the car.

I’d made it. Through the ice and snow, and dangerously low visibility, I rode it out and got there alive. It would’ve sucked on a National Lampoon level if they were closed…

But they were very much still open, so I did some shopping, and then made my two more predetermined stops before getting home. I was about eighty dollars poorer, but my windshield was almost completely clear and I felt so alive.