Last week Mike and I finally got OFF our collective asses and decided to spend a little time ON ’em: a week on the beach, just us and the girls renting a cottage on the rugged, majestic Oregon Coast. It was the perfect getaway: for weeks, I’d envisioned our sun-washed days of building sandcastles and chasing kites, afternoons of children napping while I worked on the novel and Michael made continuous, thwarted advances, and evenings of sunset walks on the sand followed by homemade meals and games and everyone falling exhausted into bed after a full and fantastical day. . .
And then the vacation fairy — with her crooked tiara, meth mouth, and ratty-assed tutu — swiftly descended and cracked me upside the head with her magical fucking sparkle-dust wand, and we’d BARELY LEFT THE HOUSE.
And there were myriad disasters through the week, but really it started because for whatever reason, Michael decided we just had to take my Garmin nuvi. I had a bad feeling about this from the outset, given that a) getting to the Oregon Coast is as complicated as driving to Portland and hanging a right, but specifically because
b) my GPS is a diabolical son-of-a-bitch that will stop at nothing to kill me.
(Oh, speaking of GPS, did you hear that Bob Dylan has been approached by various GPS manufacturers to be the voice of their navigation systems? Can you imagine trying to get around town with that bastard MUMBLING directions at you? What, was there some sort of Most Annoying Celebrity GPS Voice Contest between him, Fran Drescher, and Gilbert Gottfried, and Dylan drew the short straw?)
My Garmin’s voice is British, and I call him Nigel, and he’s just the kind of pompous twat who graduated from Eton, owns Wellies and a family estate in the Cotswolds, has shite teeth, and would rather strand me in a ditch and leave me for dead than see me safely to my destination. Since the first time I affixed him to the dash, Nigel and I have played a dangerous game, one in which I try to outwit his route with one I think is faster or more direct, and he counterplays by trying to drive me into oncoming traffic. I don’t take Nigel’s left? He sends me down a dead-end street. Shimmy past his roundabout? He detours me through the ghetto. I avoid his suggested route? He makes me exit the freeway, then get back on AT THE NEXT RAMP. To say I think it’s a bad idea to take Nigel to the coast is putting it mildly — has he been up watching Hitchcock films? Did his latest software upgrade come bundled with actual video of cars plummeting off Highway 101 cliffs?! I DON’T KNOW.
So off we go, and I’m behind the wheel, figuring we’ll stop about halfway and Michael can take over, probably when we make our requisite Dairy Queen stop so Mike can get that frozen chemical soup he calls a “Heath Bar Blizzard” — but already, Nigel’s got other plans for me. Somewhere around Tacoma, he announces we’ll be taking Washington exit 36. I’m suspicious, and start scrambling to convince Mike that Nigel’s a batshit bitch.
“What’s exit 36? We’ve never taken that before — I bet no one’s ever taken that route before. I bet it’s one of those little highways that turns into a dirt road that turns into a summer park service road that turns into a rutted fire lane that we run out of gas on and they find our bodies on come next spring.”
Mike took a closer look at Nigel’s plan. “No, I can see what he’s doing. Let’s try it.”
“I bet there won’t be anything on that road. I bet there won’t be DAIRY QUEEN.”
“That’s ridiculous — that road’s littered with small towns. What small town doesn’t have a Dairy Queen? Besides, I can’t in good conscience purchase a Heath Bar Blizzard from a clerk that doesn’t have a base level of acne and questionable dental health. It’s GOTTA be a small town Dairy Queen.”
Foiled, I headed west on exit 36, and is it a long-awaited DQ that awaits us beyond the overpass? No, it’s a series of signs welcoming us to the sprawling “Winlock-Vader Industrial Area.”
“Oh, I see you sent us the fucking SCENIC ROUTE, Nigel! Thanks a lot, ya limey bastard!”
“Are you seriously insulting your GPS?”
“You don’t know what he’s really like! Give him a little time, Mike, THEN you’ll see him for the sociopathic bloke he really is!”
I’m pretty sure that’s about when Mike wanted to take the keys away from me, but Nigel was having none of it — by then we’d crossed the Columbia River into Oregon and he was telling me to turn again, this time onto a tiny two-lane highway that would wend us southwest. As soon as I made the turn, I knew that pommy lunatic had finally bested me. . .
First, we were in the mountains in timber country on the kind of corkscrew roads that you wouldn’t dare drive over 40 on but had a mockingly posted speed limit of 55. Second, there were so few other cars on the road that every twenty minutes or so I’d say, “Oooh, look, a car!” and wave as they passed. Third, the terrain was the kind where at any second, a 12-point buck could leap from woods onto the road and a half-second later you’d be wearing your engine block as a belt buckle, SERIOUSLY FUCKING UP your vacation plans.
Lastly? We were in Oregon. If you’ve never been, one of Oregon’s many charms is its insistence in retaining its old highway signs: very vintage and cost-effective, but also a little, shall we say, terse. For example, you’ll be driving along, worrying about being run off the cliff by the next oncoming car twenty minutes from now, when you’ll see a sign in 256-point type that says “ROCKS,” so whatever the hell that means, now you know you’ve got that to worry about. Little further down the road? “TRUCKS.” Couple miles past that? Well what the fuck else, goddamned “SLIDE.”
Now I’m already enough of an anxiety factory to keep Pfizer shareholders rolling in dividends for years, but when you toss in ROCKS, TRUCKS and SLIDE on top of the 250-pound deer I’m surely about to hit like a brick shithouse and the antlers I’m soon gonna be wearing as a halo, I might as well just drive off the cliff digging around in my purse for the Xanax NOW.
And suddenly I realize that psychotic Brit’s finally done it, because right then is when you, Oregon, decide to kick it up a notch, 256-point-style:
Let’s reiterate here: corkscrew mountain road, timber country, driving into the glaring sunset, ROCKS, TRUCKS, SLIDE — but hey, at least I don’t have to worry about a silly 250-pound buck crashing through my windshield, because now Oregon lets me ponder wearing a 1300-POUND ROOSEVELT ELK BULL AS A HOOD ORNAMENT.
I drove the next 20 or so miles with my retinas bulging, my hands white-knuckled, my teeth grinding, and somewhere on the cusp of cardiac arrest, but goddamnit, I was in the BUDDHIST FUCKING MOMENT.
At the next turn, I told Mike in a reasonably measured voice to find a route that was maybe a little less “turny.” “Okay,” he said, “the next time he tells you to go left, just stay on this road.”
And then Nigel announced, “Turn left here,” and I grumble, “Piss off, Nigel,” and didn’t. A moment later, his tone going up an octave, he sighs, “Recalculating. . .”
Mike says, “Is his voice different?” And I’m all, “I told you he was crazy.”
Next crazy-ass backwoods highway turnoff, Nigel’s back at it: “Turn left here.” “Sot off, you old git,” I say, and keep driving. “Recalculating!” he hissed, like Mumsy’d caught him prancing about in her knickers.
“Wow, fuck this guy,” Mike said, unplugging Nigel and tossing him in the glove compartment. “Your GPS has a seriously piss attitude.”
“And don’t even START me on how he’s totally trying to kill me. . .”
“Never mind. But he did save you from that DQ double-bypass-in-a-cup. . .”
(Later, we had a week of gorgeous weather, the girls were completely out of control, the cottage only had — SHUDDER — network television and a houseful of tiled floors meant I was so worried about a cracked toddler skull I lived the entire week on one frayed, exposed nerve. Did I write? Yeah, a couple pages. Did I deflect Mike’s ceaseless advances? Pffft — is the Ukrainian not hirsute??!?!)
Oh, also, I took a jillion pretty, pretty pictures.