The night before I left I was super anxious. Not the general angst that lingers anytime I go out of town, with a mile long list of shit to do, this was different.
I was overwhelmed with the idea of driving for 12 hours from New York City to Asheville, alone with a temperamental cat who has road tripped once, 8 years prior. That 20 hour drive in a packed U-Haul from Florida to NYC found my wife behind the wheel, while I sat in the passenger seat, and a howling Fiona between us on the Jersey Turnpike at 10pm, the night before we moved into our first apartment in Manhattan.
Her mediocre, sporadic, almost pathetic cries from Florida to Delaware were different than this one. This was no, “get me out of this shitty fabric sac.” No no, this was, “the world is ending, open this fucking zipper right now.”
I opened the carrier, removed the cover to her litter box, and she desperately relieved herself. But this was not a regular scoop-able situation. This was a 70 m.p.h. — shitty, loud truck from 1995 — haven’t used the bathroom in 2 days — stomach upset. The U-Haul had become a hot box of eye-burning diarrhea. As we pulled into a toll booth, we couldn’t find (nor see through the gaseous state) the turnpike ticket and the terrible stench had wafted out the window at the poor lady who was just trying to collect her five dollars. Fiona was embarrassed. We were embarrassed. It was a horrific scene that night at the tollbooth and I had visions of it happening again--one hand on the wheel, one hand with the scooper, eyes on fire.
Needless to say, there was cause for concern for me to be embarking on this solo journey with Fiona as my wingwoman.
Not to mention, how was I going to stop to use the bathroom with a bundle of fur in the front seat? Everyone knows that it’s deadly to leave a pet in a parked car in the middle of the summer. Oh dear Jesus, what if I have tummy trouble? What if I have to be gone a little longer than a quick pee and I roll the windows down and someone sees the most preshy little kitty sitting in the front seat and they steal her? My lesbian sensibilities of everyone loving my cat as much as I do were getting out of hand.
The next morning, I picked up the rental car, seat belted kitty into her Amazon Prime top pick for kitty safety in the car, and off we went across Manhattan to the Holland Tunnel. 15 minutes down, 11 hours and 45 minutes to go. Not a peep from Fiona.
My first stop in New Jersey was to get gas (thanks Budget Rental Car for leaving me with an eighth of a tank). As it turns out, in Jersey, gasoline is too dangerous to be dealt with by the simple man, it requires a trained attendant to take care of that for you.
This puts me in an awkward position. As a person who has exclusively lived off of tips my entire adult life, I find it rude to not tip, as Google suggests. But here I am sitting in my car, an able-bodied, healthy young person, completely capable of filling my tank, as this 14 year-old boy is washing my windshield. If Google says no tip and I give him two or three dollars, is that insulting or appreciated? So much awkwardness. I only had a five dollar bill, so asking for two dollars back was a low moment.
I thanked the upcoming high school freshman and pulled out of the gas area, into a parking spot and ran like the wind into the store to go to the bathroom. Only after repeatedly assuring Fiona I would be gone for a maximum of two minutes, lest she be kittynapped or get heat stroke. She barely opened her eyes.
The roads through Jersey and Pennsylvania were filled with my new discovery---podcasts. That’s right, welcome to 2004, Lauren.
The next few hours were filled with 2 Dope Queens, Hollywood Reporter Awards Chatter interview with Oprah (to my credit, that interview was her first podcast, and she’s OPRAH), and Jill Soloway talking my favorite subject, Amazon’s Transparent. Time was passing quickly with intermittent calls from my mom and my wife checking in to see how the traffic was, how kitty was holding up, and which almond milk brand did I prefer -- all a disguise to make sure I was still alive on my epic journey.
About half way into Virginia, and many hours of silent catnapping later, the scenery began to shift. The typical landscape of suburban highway and Taco Bells, shifted to endless seas of farms with massive old silos, cow pastures, and rolling blue and green mountains. The sky was bright blue with fluffs of puffy white clouds.
The mountains continued for hours. It was spectacular to be surrounded by lush nature, in hues of dark and bright greens and blues. The highways were lined with day lilies, fields of sunflowers, and the occasional massive expanse of rock.
By the time I was mid-way into Virginia, I realized that I was driving through the same mountain range I was headed to and that I would be submerged in this delicious slice of mother nature for the entirety of my drive. I turned off the interview with Lin Manuel-Miranda and I sat alone in my booty lock with my thoughts.
Alone. Without the temptation of social media or reading the news or opening an app on my phone completely mindless due to boredom.
An unexpected solo date.
Life hit an ultimate stillness. A traffic detour took me through the unexpected gem that is the Shenandoah Valley and quaint small town America. With it’s miniature post-office, one stop light, and the market on the corner that sells ice cream cones for a dollar. Nostalgic as fuck.
My stillness and my complete engagement with the moment, brought me such unexpected joy.
For the first time in my entire life, I thought to myself, “there is more to my life than my dreams, there is this moment.” I was shocked that I had even thought that, even for a quick blip of a moment.
My whole life had been spent in the pursuit of a bigger goal, something to work towards and reach for, and here I was in Bumfuck, Virginia (the least likely of places) so full of joy and happiness just looking at the mountains and feeling the fresh air and grounding myself at 70 m.p.h, on Interstate 81, in the moment.
Thirty miles from my destination, Fiona stood up and tried to get out of the carrier. I’m relieved to report that this quick and non-eventful escape to the litter box was only the longest pee of her life, and nothing else to write home about. We made it safely to the mountains, just as the sun was setting behind the horizon, and the fireflies were emerging.
I opened the car door, stepped down, and looked out over the Blue Ridge Mountains. My dreams get me up in the morning and create my sense of purpose and drive, but this moment and the gratitude for all that it is, are the real journey.