You haven't truly lived until you've ridden to from eastern Missouri to central Oklahoma with Hick. A journey of at least nine hours, sometimes more. Let the record show that Val does not do highways anymore, and she especially does not do turnpikes. She has Hick for that. And as a grateful passenger, she is always ready and willing to lend a hand to assist her driver. A driver who does not fully appreciate her selflessness.
I present, for your entertainment purposes, the following vignettes from our latest trip. Today, Part One of THREE.
You'd Better Pay Attention, By Cracky, Or I'll Give You Something to Pay Attention About!
There is a section of the drive where we employ the turnpike for a few miles. It's not like we seek it out. Our route merely turns into it. One minute we're barreling down I-44, and the next minute we're entering a toll booth to pay tribute for our journey. It's not a lot. Four dollars. And several miles later, when we exit, we get a two-dollar refund.
When I'm with The Pony, I always have the money ready for him. He also has a stash of ones in his console, for quick access. On the way back, riding with Hick, I asked how far it was to the turnpike. I didn't have ones, but I had a five stashed in the side of my purse. Hick said it was a couple hours up the road.
I nodded off and on, as much snoozing as could be done with my head whipping back and forth like an out-of-control metronome, and slamming off the headrest like a rubber-banded paddleball at the stoplights in the small towns. I kept note of the time, and stayed awake as the zero hour approached. I recognized the truck stop where we met The Pony to bring him home for Christmas. And there was the toll booth up ahead, to the right.
I fished the five out of my purse. It was one of those floppy bills that look as if they've gone through the washer and the dryer and a rock tumbler that has smoothed millions of years off the jagged edges of quartz to make a smooth oval pendant. I shook it by the end, trying to get it to lay flat upon my left thigh. Let the record show that at no point did that five-dollar bill cross the imaginary line that bisected my side of A-Cad from Hick's. If Lucy had painted a line down the middle of the Acadia's interior, that money would not have violated Ricky's half.
Well! Hick came unglued! "I can't take that now! This is NOT the place where I need the toll money. So stop waving that at me. We only get a ticket here. We pay on up the road."
"I'm not waving it. I was getting it ready. I don't know where you give them money. This is a toll booth. I figured it would be soon."
"You make this trip all the time. You know where we pay the turnpike!"
"No I don't. I have no idea."
"Well, you'd better LEARN!"
"How far is it?"
After several repeats of my question, and several bouts of Hick's passive-aggressive silence, he snarled, "TEN MILES."
"FINE! I don't want this money to bother you until then." I put it in the glove compartment so it wouldn't be tempting Hick to take it off my leg and hold it for 10 miles.
Funny how less than two miles later, Hick pulled into a toll booth. I didn't want to repeat my previous faux pas. Maybe he got another ticket here. He didn't say he needed the money. We puttered along behind a big truck and three cars. Hick stopped at the tollbooth. THEN he leaned over and extracted his George-Costanza-bloated wallet out of his back pocket and proceeded to hold up the line while he fished around in it for four dollars.
Let the record show that Hick has made this trip at least 8 times. A campus tour, an enrollment trip, The Pony's orientation camp, move-in weekend, a Sooners football game, the Thanksgiving return trip, the Christmas pick-up, and this trip. VAL has made this trip 3 times. Orientation camp, move-in weekend, and this trip. YET SHE IS SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHERE TO PAY TOLLS, EVEN THOUGH HICK GIVES HER FAULTY INFORMATION!
Oh, yeah. And we were a bit later getting to that turnpike, because Hick took a wrong exit a couple hours back, yet didn't bother to mention it until I asked why we had reversed direction and were heading back west, on the other side of the divided highway we had just traversed.
I think that must have been my fault, too. For not paying attention.