Every now and then I like to surprise people by doing something completely uncharacteristic. Before I started at Columbia, I went on a pre-orientation program that involved backpacking in the Catskills. I had never so much as climbed a wheelchair ramp before that, but I did it (not that it was easy). Over the holiday break, I did something similar when I decided that I would drive back home to Maryland from my sister's in Plant City, Florida.
See, my husband and I both drove down with the kids, but he had to return the day after we arrived to prepare for an important case. He wasn't sure he could come back down to drive back with me, so I either had to suck it up and do it myself or wait until he or my brother or brother-in-law could drive with me. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that I could do it, but only if I broke up the nearly 15 hour drive into more manageable chunks.
After a nauseating number of conversations with my husband (who has done 90% of the driving on all our previous roadtrips) and siblings (brother Jorge and brother-in-law Larry are experts, having driven long stretches since they were 16, my sister Diana has had to do her share driving with Larry from Texas to the East Coast when they lived in Fort Worth, and oldest brother Louis complains about driving anywhere out of the borough of Queens, but he was in on the planning nonetheless), we (and yes, I do mean it was a decision by committee -- I have never felt more like a baby sister) all agreed I should drive five hours a day for three days. Here's what it took for me to do the 1,000-mile trip, on my own, with three kids (ages nearly 8, newly 5, and 21 months) in tow:
1. Cleaning Up: My 2008 Honda Odyssey minivan was basically a pit after our drive TO Florida, so I knew I had to clean it out before attempting my trip FROM Florida. I found a local full-service car wash and pampered the minivan to a thorough wash, wax and vacuum. Sure, I knew the kids were going to muck it up again the moment they had their first snack in the car, but the wash (and more importantly, the interior job) created a blank slate of sorts for my trip.
2. Gearing Up: My Odyssey, thank heavens, has a built-in DVD player with two wireless headphones. I also own an after-market Garmin GPS, not that I really needed one, since it's basically I-95 North all the way home. It was mighty useful, though, since I stopped off to see a couple of friends along the way. In order to have hands-free conversations, I needed to buy a Bluetooth headset. After reading way too many reviews from fellow iPhone users, I settled on the Jawbone Prime. It's a good thing, too, because I had 23 cell conversations, most of them pep talks and check-ins with my husband, siblings and best friends. Who else was I going to talk to, with the two older kids blissed out on DVDs and the baby asleep?
3. Listening Up: I also bought several CDs, since I had to use the outlet to charge either my GPS or my iPhone. I figured when the iPhone wasn't charged, I would just go old school and listen to actual CDs. Since two-thirds of my six-CD changer was filled with children's music, I replaced them with the Glee soundtrack, Peter Gabriel's two-disc Hit, and The Best of Chaka Khan. The other two discs were Kings of Leon's Only By the Night, and an upbeat compilation "Vamos" my friend Dave made for a relay marathon he ran last fall. Nothing helps you stay awake like singing "Somebody to Love," "Sex is On Fire," "Tell Me Something Good," and "Don't Give Up" quite loudly again and again and again. On the plus side, I finally figured out what the chorus of "Games Without Frontiers" is (Jorge), and it's definitely not "She's so popular"; it's "Jeux sans frontieres" (the title in French). Cool, huh?
4. Fueling Up: My brother Jorge advised me not to drink anything while I was driving. That sounded good in theory (less drinking, less stopping to pee), BUT, this mama needs her caffeine. Trying to be "green," I bought a reusable coffee mug from Starbucks, but it had to be the worst designed travel mug I've ever owned. Unfortunately, it was the only style at the drive-through Starbucks in Plant City, so I had no choice, and I had no idea what a pain the arse it would be to use. The twist-top model required two hands to open, which is quite difficult when you're driving 70 miles-per-hour on I-95. I could NOT get it to open with one hand and ended up comically squeezing the mug with my thighs to add the leverage needed to open it. Needless to say, it's not ideal for solo drivers. At least the old friends I stopped to see both had fancy coffee makers, so the near-useless travel mug ended up worth the trouble.
5. Meeting Up: If you're really in a rush, there's no need to go out of your way to visit people on a roadtrip, but if you're like me and wanted a distraction or an excuse for a break, call, email, text, Tweet or Facebook-mail any friends you have along the way. I saw two of my oldest, dearest friends (both were among my wedding attendants), and it was a lovely way to start off the new year. The conversation and good coffee alone were reasons to stop, but they also provided a spot of fun for the kids, who in my opinion needed something to do rather than watch movies.
When I finally arrived in my driveway, I was on the phone with my brother Jorge. I squealed triumphantly, said "I did it!" and then promptly realized my house keys were not attached to my key-chain anymore. As Homer Simpson so eloquently says, "D'oh!" Thank God for neighbors with spare keys.