Fifteen Hours

My father, the consummate road warrior, meant business. Radar detector standing sentinel against prowling OPPs, the new Peugeot rolled along at a fantastic speed. The sun was bright, but Ontario’s November weather strained out any cheerful radiance. Sitting behind my father, I depressingly stared out my window.

The highway was featureless. Signs gauging our progress, in kilometers, only confounded me. Two hours complete, the return home from visiting family in Detroit was still thirteen hours further. This ride was always grueling and tedious. Only one planned stop, mid-way to pee and inhale food, proffered any sort of relief. My father tackled this drive as he did home improvement, chores and workouts. Unpleasant tasks were dispatched as quickly possible, preferably, all at once.

My backseat companion was my sister, Rachel. She was four years my junior. She sat behind my father’s girlfriend, who was amiably trying to make the best of the trip. An agreed upon invisible barricade separated me from my sister. Any perceived violation of the treaty was promptly called out. 

“Move over! You’re on my side.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Your pillow is touching me!” 

“It’s not.”

My father never tolerated bickering.

“Quit it! Both of you. It’s a long ride. You’ll just have to make the best of it, so zip it!”

Rachel would have happily past the time with me, but at thirteen years of age… I loathed her. Refusing to play car games or playfully banter with my sister, I was left with reading to pass the time. Getting carsick while riding in the car was never something I was susceptible to. Consequently, I would typically devour a book by the time we made it back to Massachusetts. 

My father, master of the car, controlled the music. This car was the first he owned with a cassette tape player. An avid music fan, he continually feed the player a steady diet of his favorite mixtapes. iPhones, earbuds and video streaming were decades away. For fifteen hours straight, we all endured a virtual Neil Diamond and Herb Alpert concert. I still visualize that back seat when hearing their music. 

Out of character, my father added in an unexpected stop that year. I suspect it may have been at the request of his girlfriend, who was making this drive for the first time. Once over the Ambassador Bridge, we grabbed breakfast at Tim Horton’s in Windsor, Ontario to eat in the car. Having finished my meal with nothing else to do, I was feeling miserable and sorry for myself. I hated this drive. The worst of part was trying to get comfortable.

“Quick kicking the bottom of my seat!” my father would yell. 

“I’m not.” 

“I can feel you kicking the bottom of my seat!”

“Ok. I’m sorry. I’m trying not to.”

I could never satisfactorily stretch my growing legs, no matter how hard I tried!

I sat there thinking to myself this was what Hell must be like. Things couldn’t be worse trapped inside that car. 

It was then that it hit.

Things suddenly became dramatically worse.

I don’t believe there was any warning.

No statement such as, “I think I’m going to be sick.” or “I don’t feel well.” was uttered. 

Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” percolated happily from the car’s speakers. In sync with the bump and roll of the wheels on the road, I lulled my head about listlessly suffering. By happenstance, I glanced over in my sister’s direction. Her head was tilted back swallowing from the paper milk carton, she had picked up at Tim Horton’s an hour back. She swayed back and forth with the movement of the car. 

The first sign of disaster was a tiny cough, a burp, then a gurgle. Seemingly in slow motion, I watched in horror as she projectile vomited. The blast was aimed up at the ceiling and carried over into the front seat, a disgusting milky wave.

“No, no, no, no….NO!!!!” 

I distinctly remember squealing and folding in on myself trying to melt into the car door to avoid being hit with puke.

Amazingly, my sister spared me! I had never been the recipient of such a gracious act of kindness! 

My father and his girlfriend weren’t so lucky.

In the pandemonium, it seemed as if my father was off the highway and into the parking lot of a convenience store within seconds. Everyone was out of the car. My father had commandeered paper towels and cleaner from the store and was busy cleaning up his baby…the new car.

I stood shivering, irritated my sister had thrown up. Beginning to realize the trip would be longer and smellier, I glowered at her. I cringe now thinking about my lack of sympathy. 

My father’s girlfriend was a sweetheart. She must have been the one who helped Rachel clean up and get into clean clothes. 

“Tom don’t be angry. It’s not her fault. The milk must have soured.”

“I understand that, but I’m trying to clean this up, so we can get back on the road.”

I don’t remember what other words passed between the two, because I was distracted by the store attendant approaching my sister to offer her something. He spoke with a thick accent.  

“Here, this will make you feel not nauseous. Press them into the palm of your hand, right below your thumb.”

I watched Rachel accept a couple of matches. They were the sturdy wooden type with red tips. She took them, squeezed them in her hands not knowing what else to do. Unbeknownst to us, this was our first exposure to eastern medicine, in the form of acupressure!

Glancing up, struggling to clean the carseats, my father saw the store attendant give my sister the matches. The look of incredibility on my father’s face, was priceless. Familiar with my father’s facial expressions and mannerisms, I could almost hear what I assumed he was thinking. 

Are you crazy? She might as well pound salt, all the good those matches are going to do! Look! We’re trying to get back on the road, unless you have something to offer that will actually help then…thank you…but, no thank you. 

Of course, my father is not a brute. I think he saw the man was well-meaning. My father said nothing. 

With the car as clean as it would ever be in that moment, we all piled in. 

“It smells like throw up.” I complained glaring at my sister. 

Matthew Thomas, there isn’t anything I can do about it.” my father admonished. 

The car lurched back on to the road. The windows were cracked to provide precious little fresh air, while keeping most of the bitter cold out. Neil Diamond’s “Hello Again” pervaded trying to soothe frayed nerves. United in our shared ordeal, we numbed ourselves to the smell, the cold, the cramped quarters, and accepted it would be long before there was any relief.