MISS KATHY RIDES SHOTGUN
I’m writing in the coffee shop today. And since it’s been awhile, I thought I’d bring you up to date on my news and adventures.
First – woo hoo!, drum roll!, deep breath of happy and scary! – I HAVE AN AGENT. I signed with her in September and at her request I made some changes to The Solitary Sparrow (TSS). Her suggestions were thoughtful and right on point. She “gets it” in a way that gives me huge relief and confidence. After the developmental edits were finished, I sent the new version of TSS back to her. She will go over the changes and if all is good she will send it out to publishers.
So fingers crossed. And please cross your fingers, too.
So let me tell you about two women of a certain age traveling by car across the country in the dead of winter. Getting snowbound. Sliding on the interstate’s black ice. Seeing the U.S up close and personal.
I’ll start at the beginning. I have a friend, Kathy, who has been my friend since we were 11 years old. Kathy decided to move to Montana to be near her son. She is blind in one eye and very hard of hearing. Her one good eye may fail at any minute. Obviously she couldn’t drive across the country. How could she get herself, her car, and her dog to Montana? Me, of course. It would be fun, a road trip, a new adventure. Only later did I look at a map of the U.S. and find that somehow Montana had moved from some nebulous area near Minnesota in my imagination to all the way across the country. Yikes. Uh, over 2000 miles, to be exact.
What was I thinking? That’s exactly what my family asked. You do know it’s winter, they said. Yes, we’ll be fine, I said. You do know how cold it gets out there, they said. Don’t let your gas tank get below half-full. Gas stations and restaurants can be far apart. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Why the rush? Well, Kathy’s house in western North Carolina had sold in two days. She had to move NOW. She quickly bought a house in Montana, called in the movers, and loaded the car with extra blankets, snacks and dog food. We hit the road with me as her chauffeur and Miss Kathy as map reader and CD changer. It was like driving Miss Daisy, only Kathy sat shotgun. The dog had the backseat.
The best thing about the trip was Miss Kathy’s car. It’s a late model Subaru with heated seats. Ahhh, heavenly on my backside. Like a rump roast that’s never overdone.
Our first day on the road was miserable. Torrential rain poured off the mountains of western North Carolina (and later caused massive flooding) then the day turned misty and foggy. Not a good omen.
The next few days were trouble-free although really boring. Fortunately I had an audiobook, Trespasser by Tana French, to entertain us and help pass the time. French’s 2016 mystery is a police procedural set in the Dublin Murder Squad where feisty Detective Antoinette Conway has to solve a murder that could end her career. If you love raw, true-to-life mysteries, you’ll love Tana French.
Nothing accentuates the bigness, the hugeness, the Yuge-ness of this country like a drive across the Great Plains. For a mountain girl, the flatness was akin to brain trauma. I scanned the horizon, wishing for a bump, a lump or two lumps. And then finally there were lumps aplenty—incredible, weird geology, like the surface of the moon Miss Kathy said—as we drove through the Badlands of South Dakota and started climbing into the Black Hills of Wyoming. And then suddenly out of the blue we were smack-dab in the middle of a blizzard. Snow as fine and light as air. Drifts that formed, mounded, and undulated over the landscape, a Little House on the Prairie blizzard: raging wind, white-out conditions, and an interstate that had turned slippery as a snotty doorknob. Sorry if I offend, but that is one of my ex-husband’s favorite sayings and in this case it fits.
This was where my friend and I had the first fight of the trip.
I wanted to continue. Miss Kathy said NO! I fussed but pulled over. We stopped at a Best Western and watched as tractor-trailers rolled up to the gas station next to the hotel and stayed put. That did it. Miss Kathy was right. If the big rigs were stopping, so would we.
We were stuck in Sundance, Wyoming (no, it’s not THAT Sundance): population 1,182, elevation 4,738 feet.
Two days later we were still snowbound. The dog seemed content, but we were restless. Worse, we had finished our snack box. Despite the hotel’s 24-hour coffee, the blizzard was beginning to look like a Donner Party start-raiding-the-hotel-fridge kind of blizzard. Luckily, the desk clerk informed us a local pizza place would deliver. Thank the universe for the Cowgirl Pizza and Laundromat! Let me tell you, pizza never tasted so good.
The next morning as the big rigs pulled out, so did we. The temperature was one degree with a wind chill of -20.
Surprise, surprise. Interstate 90 was not even close to being clear. The hotel desk clerk, in describing how locals drive in snowstorms, had said off-handedly, “Oh, we just drive on the snowpack.” Let’s just say “snowpack” doesn’t cut it. More like major pucker factor. Miss Kathy held on to the door handle and occasionally gasped as we went slip-slidin’ away until the car righted itself. I never got above 50 mph. For hours the wind blew us across the road, covering us in white snow that blotted our vision while Tana French’s detective cussed in a charming Irish accent. Somehow all those f-bombs steadied my nerves.
At 4:30 p.m., after we passed an overturned truck, Miss Kathy said we needed to stop for the night. Noooooo, we’re so close, I whined, let’s keep going. Granted, I didn’t look forward to driving in the dark. A few more miles down the road and Miss Kathy prevailed. Another Best Western. My frustration mounted and I’m ashamed to say I had a little hissy fit. Bickering ensued. My daughter’s parting words came back to me: “This trip could easily be the end of your friendship.”
But I desperately wanted to get back to my family, and to be truthful, I was anxious about the plane trips back East—overnight flights on three planes with two three-hour layovers and then I’d be home. I’m not a happy camper when I fly despite the fact that both my parents were pilots. I was also anxious because I was not writing and because I was anxious I couldn’t write. I was losing a week of writing at a time when I should be working on A Pelican in the Wilderness, the sequel to TSS. But I couldn’t think. Nerves and over-excited adrenal glands made my brain misfire. In desperation I went to the hotel’s guest computer and printed out a couple of chapters to edit.
Finally, I gave up on writing and instead opened my eyes and ears. I talked to a traveling salesman and to the hotel employees. I eavesdropped on fellow snowbound people in the dining room as they swapped tales about other bad storms. One woman told about the time she and her family, caught by a fast-moving blizzard, were covered by eight-foot drifts and spent the night in her car. In the morning she alerted rescuers by shooting her .22 rifle out the window. People, let me tell you, that's good fodder for a writer’s brain. You never know when you’re going to need a snowstorm story.
The next day, after apologies to each other, we set out again. As we crested the top of a hill, we saw before us the snow-covered Rockies turning pink as cotton candy in the sunrise. We both exclaimed at once: Oh, how gorgeous! And just like that, our spirits lifted. Nature to the rescue.
We didn’t hit clear highway until three hours later when we pulled into Missoula, Montana. We found Miss Kathy’s new house, drove around the charming little town she will live in and found the necessary fundamentals of life: grocery and hardware stores, and library. The temperature that day never got above 28 degrees.
We drove to the airport and hugged goodbye. There was nothing we could say, really, after such a long trip. Besides, we’ve been friends so long we don’t need words. Two old friends can go to hell and back and still understand and love each other. Pinkie swear, best friends forever.
Have a good weekend, everyone. If you‘re a reader, thank you. If you’re a writer, put your derrière in the chair. Next time I’ll talk about picking up A Pelican in the Wilderness after a month’s furlough. (Hint: it’s about as hard as getting 12-year-old Thing One to pick up her room.)