Road Age

Tracy.FlyingAsshole.2jpeg My mentor, piano teacher and woman for whom my daughter is named gave up her keys when she was ninety-something. She did so voluntarily and about a decade later than prudent. She was legally blind and drove the same way she played piano: by touch. My offspring believe I never really lived a life of excitement, having never climbed Mount Everest, swum amongst sharks, or danced on a stripper pole. Those people never got in a car with Lavelle Jones.

After the past week of driving in Nashville, I am ready to give up my keys and hire a chauffeur for Daisy and me. I wonder if Uber will pull a 1959 canned ham camper, because this old girl’s blood pressure just can’t take it any more.

Our town is supposedly an “it city” now. That’s good, I suppose. People are employed. There are cool restaurants. We have our own TV show. However, this cantankerous broad is beginning to feel like the increase of traffic and constant road construction make what Nashville is only rhyme with “it city.” I feel like I’m in a Jason Bourne movie. Everywhere I turn, there is an obstacle and somebody out to get me.

Last week, I picked Girl Child up from school, driving home the usual route. I needed to turn left from a very busy street onto a semi-busy street. Traffic in the suicide turn lane, to turn left was backed up to Kentucky. I was in the suicide turn lane. I didn’t want to be backed up to Kentucky, so I checked my rear view and popped back into the mainstream traffic. Apparently, the Sweet Young Lady in the far right lane wanted to be where I was and I thwarted her plans. She honked her horn politely for about 20 seconds and waved delicately with an extended finger, as she zipped past.

“I’m gonna flip her off,” proclaimed Girl Child.

“No, honey, don’t,” I admonished. After all, we need to take the high road in these things and it’s up to me, the Mother, to set the example. When we arrived at the stop light, I purposely stayed several feet back so that there wouldn’t be ugly looks as we waited on the light. Ohm. Namaste. I got this.

Sweet Young Lady in the right lane took the opportunity and space I provided her, to cut sharply in front of me so that she was perpendicular to my car. Her sweet little face was right in front of mine and she glared. As I think back, I realize I probably mistook her intent and it wasn’t a glare, but an invitation to friendship. I bet she liked the color of Girl Child’s hair and wanted to get her stylist’s number. Or maybe she thought we should all get coffee. Maybe she saw the DaisytheTrailer bumper sticker and wanted to get one. We’ll never know her true intention, because I had a burst of middle-aged-from-West-Virginia-I-am-badder-than-Kathy-Bates-Towanda energy and I multi-tasked the HELL out of that moment. I laid on the horn, extended both middle fingers, would have extended middle toes if I could have gotten my feet above my stomach, made horrible faces and threw up gang signs.

Maybe not gang signs, but that’s what Girl Child thought and was duly impressed. It’s unusual for a mom to impress a teenage daughter and I hated to lose the moment, but honesty is usually the best policy. As Sweet Young Lady finished her creative driving by executing a U-turn, I confessed, “No, honey. Those weren’t gang signs. Those were flying assholes.”

Because not everyone knows what that is, I shall explain. In the Milton, West Virginia culture of the 1970s, one could extend a friendly greeting, by touching one’s forefinger to one’s thumb, creating a circle. Sometimes this is used to signal, “Okay.” However, if one turns one’s hand so that the wrist is facing inward instead of outward, one has created a “flying asshole.” I have a photo of my cousin sneaking one out at my 16th birthday party. A couple of years ago, I made t-shirts with the pictures and passed them out to family members. He was grateful; I’m sure of it. Just as he’ll be grateful for this story.

Still shaking with adrenaline and embarrassment that I used archaic mountain gestures and not hip urban ones, I looked in my rearview mirror. The driver behind me had her phone up, obviously videotaping my moment. I don’t blame her. I LOVE irony and the thought of some crazy woman gesturing wildly to another driver through the frame of stickers pasted all over the back window, espousing peace, love, coexist, and Margaret Meade philosophy is too good to pass up. I can’t WAIT until it goes viral. Please God, don’t let it go viral.

Yesterday, I picked Girl Child up from school and headed toward the hip, cool, trendy 12South area of town. I had an errand to complete and it seemed as if the odds were ever in my favor. I was hitting green lights, Girl Child and I were chattering like chickens and she was playing good tunes from her Spotify playlist. I stopped at a stop sign, happy that the coast was clear, then bolted across a busy one-way street that is part of music row.

“MOM!!! STOP!!!”

I saw a flash of gold and did more than slam on the brakes. I stood on them. I Fred Flintstone hung my feet through the floorboard stopped. I braked two tons of steel with every ounce of my being. Pollyanna, my poor 12-year-old-smells-like-horse-poop Honda Pilot squeezed her eyes closed, jammed up her ABS and hopscotched to a halt, leaving a skid mark like a frat boy’s underwear after Taco Tuesday. There was so much screaming and squealing that I couldn’t discern my voice from my daughter’s, from car brakes from dog.

I still can’t say for certain what happened, but I know with certainty that I will never be a good witness to a murder. I would be an even worse murderer, incriminating myself at every turn. I imagine myself on the witness stand. The prosecutor smells blood. “Mrs. Caldwell, what did you see?”

“A flash of gold. I think it was a dog. It could have been a cat. Or an antelope. Or a baby…OH GOD I HIT A BABY!!!!”

“What happened afterwards?”

“I don’t know. It was all so quick. The dog ran off. I left my teenage daughter in the car in the middle of the street while I ran after the dog and the guy holding a leash.”

The prosecutor will look me up and down, stopping at my rotund mid-section. “You RAN, Mrs. Caldwell?”

“Yes. Which is why I started wheezing and told the guy with the leash to keep looking on foot…to go on without me….”

“So, you LEFT the guy holding the leash? Knowing it was HIS dog who had been hit by YOUR car?”

“Yes, but I was going back to my car, to drive around and look for Simba.”

“The victim’s name was Simba?”

“Is. The victim, the dog’s name IS Simba. He’s still alive. He’s actually okay.”

The prosecutor will throw a knowing look at the jury. Rap his knuckles on the wooden rail in front of them. “So, you left the scene of the crime.”

“No! I drove around looking for Simba. My daughter walked the entire area, alerting The Contributor salesperson on the corner and everything.”

“Mrs. Caldwell, we have here a video of your act of road rage the week prior to your running over sweet Simba.”

“I didn’t run OVER him. I hit him. I think. But I found him! I’m the one who found him in the pre-school parking lot, with the…well, actually some preschooler’s dad found him, but I found the dad, with Simba. And I picked him up – Simba, not the dad — and I got blood on my coat and everything.”

Once again, the prosecutor will sideglance the jury. They all get the joke that is me. I shall rise to my own defense.

“I took the dog and the owner to the vet. Simba is okay. The owner and I are kinda friends now. He’s a really sweet guy and is going to help my daughter make contacts at art schools. They did x-rays. No internal damage. All they had to do was remove a toenail….”

The fainthearted of the jury will retch. The judge will swoon and the court reporter will pass out. Court will recess and when it reconvenes the prosecutor will continue his attack.

“Back to the road rage incident Mrs. Caldwell, in this video, are you throwing up gang signs?”

“No. That’s a flying asshole.”



Box Car Child

BoxCarPicMost of us parents raise our kids preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. We buy Band-Aids and Neosporin to keep in the car, but hope that most boo boos will be fixed with a kiss. We save for college and hope that they get scholarships.

We try to prepare them for the lives they have and the lives they will have. I began reading to both of mine en utero. I wanted them to have a love of language, to imagine a world outside their own, to be able to understand different lifestyles and cultures. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I suppose I should not have read The Box Car Children to my son.

I’d had a busy morning and had yet to check e-mails. Ignorance really is bliss, so I was blissfully on the phone with my mother, solving the world’s problems, when the blast of a train whistle burst into the conversation. That’s the sound *Man Child’s texts make on my phone. Sometimes I worry that a tornado will hit our house and I’ll be mumbling to myself that I need to find my phone because I’m getting a text from Man Child. Afterwards, Jim Cantore will interview me, with my hair askew, one shoe on my foot, the other in a tree, cat in my arms, rubble at my feet. I’ll be a little distracted, searching for the lost shoe and Spousal Unit, but I’ll answer Jim’s question. “What did it sound like? It sounded JUST like a train coming.”

I ignored Man Child’s plaintive train cry for attention and continued to talk to my mom. It’s up to us to solve the Middle East crisis, after all. He called. When he calls, the sound of a Klaxon horn reverberates through the air. AyOOGah. “Mom, he’s texting AND calling. That usually means he’s broken down somewhere.” I forgot that Bessie, the 1949 Packard, was indeed broken down, but this time safely in our carport. I hung up with my mom and called him back.

“Are you okay?” I was worried, not a lot, but a little.

“Oh. Yeah. I’m just bored.”

“Dude, I was on the phone with Nanna.” Millenials. Don’t they know that a text and a call is a Code Orange?

“Oh. Sorry. Hey, did you get my e-mail?” A text, a call AND an e-mail? Sound the alarms!

I tripped over the dog, who had rubbed in something REALLY dead, gagged, rubbed my stubbed toe and limped to my computer. What did I forget to do? Pay his rent? Pay tuition? Pay a hit man to target the aviation weather instructor who is telling his students that climate change is a myth? We won’t kill him, just put him on a melting ice floe with a hungry polar bear. I checked my in box and this is – verbatim – what I read:

“i cant sleep. im shopping for housing. in a nice area (ISh, but it literally is surrounded by two churches) there is a derelict mobile home for sale…. 30,000 gets the lot and trailer. Trash the trailer. this leaves us a level place the length of a train car prepped for power, sewer, and cable…for the price of buying a 600 square foot house in the same neighboorhood, we can buy the lot, buy the 1000 sq.ft. train, ship the train, and renovate the interior to be livable. actually less, especially if we do it ourselves. we also would have someone paying us rent as well. boom.”

The poor punctuation and bad spelling come from his dad, but I’m afraid the rest is ALL me. I did this. I created this. I cannot blame Spousal Unit for this one. Me. No frat house for him, no seedy apartment with twelve belching, farting, zit-covered dudes scratching various body parts that may or may not be infected. Nope. A train car. He wants to live in a train car.

Then again, think about it. Who doesn’t? Didn’t we ALL imagine our parents mysteriously gone and us living in a box car on the outskirts of town? We would forage, find our way. Be brave and depend upon one another.

“It’s not a terrible idea,” I told him, which took him by surprise. I looked out at poor, unloved, unfinished Daisy. Oh Lord, he is just like me. I’m so sorry future Daughter-In-Law, wherever you are. “But you need to do a LOT of homework. Check codes, call the guy who owns the train car, see what has to be done to make it livable. Make sure the neighborhood is safe. Two churches close by only means people don’t have to walk as far to the funerals after a shooting.”

After all, parents need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.


*Now that he is 21, I suppose he is my Man Child as opposed to Boy Child.