$7.50. Not a lot. Not even the price of a pound of Bustelo. But I choose to be cheap and skip the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel with its tollgate, and head for the bridge instead. I easily add an hour to our travel time right there. The rain doesn’t help. What should be a two hour trip to Nana’s takes us three and a half.
I got my license late. I didn’t need it. Not in this city with the most subway stops and longest track (this per Theodore’s pal Joaquin, a kid obsessed with mass transport). I was 25 at my road test in Red Hook. I remember I checked my mirrors before I pulled away from the curb. But I forgot to look over my shoulder. I failed. I got it right the second time. Dad was with me both times. I can still see him punching the air when the instructor said I’d passed.
For years my license served strictly as photo ID. I didn’t own a car until the birth of Theodore, when I was 38. Despite my late start, I’ve grown to love driving. Lip syncing to the “Queen of Funk,” Chaka Khan, I “tear up” the streets of Midwood, swerving around cyclists, honking at sleeping pedestrians and dodging potholes (most of them). I’ve become a nimble parallel parker. Highway driving however, with it’s confusing signage, is still a challenge.
Upon a friend’s suggestion, I download the navigation application Waze to my Iphone. It’s a good little app. It maps out my road trips, alerts me to traffic tangles and offers alternative routes. It would be a great app if I paid attention to what it tells me.
But I go the way I go.
As it turns out, that rainy Saturday morning of Columbus Day weekend, the Brooklyn Bridge on-ramp is closed. Waze is trying to tell me this by redirecting me back to the tunnel, “In 500 feet, turn right onto Court Street”. It keeps telling me this. All the way to the bridge. I throw the phone next to the poodle, on the passenger seat beside me.
We end up crawling over the Manhattan Bridge to Canal Street. Nightmare. It’s bumper to bumper. I’m staring at the back of a panel truck with Chinese symbols. The panel is cracked open 6 inches. I peep cabbages rolling around and wonder: Why can’t I just take direction? I’d be sailing past these snarls if I’d just listened to Waze. At the foot of Canal, I ignore the cartoon car chattering into the naugahyde. Instead, I follow the frantic white glove of a traffic guard. Waze starts recalculating. Humbled, I open my ears to the asexual voice rising from my Iphone and allow myself to be led crosstown along unfamiliar side streets, Elizabeth, Barrow, then up 10th Avenue to the Lincoln Tunnel.
The rain has stopped. I can make out filtered light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a tricky series of turns that start in Weehawken. I know the basic route: 3 to 46 West to 23 North to County Road 515, but I decide to play it safe and follow the way of Waze. I pass my phone back over my right shoulder: “Here,” I tell Theodore, “you navigate.” He takes the job seriously. “Turn right onto route 23 North towards Butler.” I swerve left. Turn right Mommy.” I’m trying to read the signs. “Turn right. NO RIGHT!!!” Too late, we’re headed in the wrong direction. I take the first exit and look for signs to get back on the highway heading north. “You’re the worst driver in the world Mommy!” Superlatives shouted through the neck rest do nothing to help the situation. Still, I keep my cool and keep my eyes on the horizon. Instinctively I know when it’s safe to lose it, and when losing it can result in the unthinkable. I haven’t yet lost it in the driver’s seat. I’ve lost it at the kitchen table, bringing everyone to tears, and once, on the street, I found that key the unlocks the cage of mommy frustration, releasing furious tigers with the strength to heave a six-year-old upside down, clawing and gnawing, 3 long blocks to the elevated F train.
We’ve righted the KIA Rondo. We’re heading northwest, but because we took so long getting to, through, and off the island of Manhattan, Mommy needs a potty break well before Wayne. We stop at the 7-Eleven. It’s magic. Kids and mom forget their troubled past. I self-serve “seasonal” pumpkin spice coffee, size suburban sprawl, and topped off with 6 thimbles of half and half. Theodore gets a Slim Jim, as long as his arm, and William, Reeses’ Peanut Butter cups, the 4-pack. Billy downs 3 and a half (I get the last half). We hit the road, restored.
With blood sugar levels hovering happily in the zone conducive to nonviolence and maximum patience with mommy, it’s happy trails the rest of the way. The Waze pipes up occasionally, at critical turns, her words repeated by my back-seat driver, but otherwise she naps, alongside the senior poodle.
As we pull up Nana’s gravel driveway about 3 o’clock, we send white-tailed deer “high tailing it” westward, towards the wetlands at the bottom of the fourth field, and their cover of cattails along the Pochuck river. We were lost today, but we find ourselves, with the help of a little humility, a little app, a little convenience store refreshment, and a determination to get to Nana’s apple pie.
We arrive just in time for pork roast, chunky applesauce, swiss chard from the neighbor’s garden, and apple pie, still warm from the oven.