THE LAST TIME I'D BEEN TO TEXAS, IT WAS HOT AND STICKY AND everyone wore either big hats or big hair to keep the sun at bay. So I was a little disoriented when I pulled my white, mud-speckled Dodge rental van off I-40 into the icy city that claimed to be Amarillo. This wasn't Amarillo; it was Cryogenically Frozen Amarillo, and I was clearly a foreigner to the ways of the Ice Cowboys.
It was dusk, and the rush-hour traffic was heavy. Weren't these Amarilloans confused by the ice on the road and the snow on the rooftops? Apparently not. They all seemed to be driving with confidence, making me even more nervous about plowing into them. Yes, it was January, so perhaps I should have been prepared. But this was Texas! The state's reputation for warmth and sunshine was why I'd taken this indirect route for my postgraduation move from Northern California to New York City in the first place.
At this moment, however, I wasn't exactly feeling the warm glow of safety as my van jerked and swerved and tried to change lanes without my permission. After an unscheduled side trip to an empty parking lot (to turn around) and a residential street (to threaten parked cars), I decided to get off the road ASAP. I somehow managed to steer the van into the parking lot of a respectable-looking motel with a red neon VACANCY sign. I glided into a space near the office, and a few minutes later I had a key for a room all the way across the vast parking lot and around the corner. I started the engine, threw the gear shift into reverse, and attempted to back the van up.
The van did not back up. The van did not move at all. The wheels spun merrily on the inches-thick ice and showed no intention of ever changing their plans.
Perhaps this was why so many people had been so averse to the idea of me traveling alone? If this had happened in Seattle, where I had grown up, I would have dialed the numbers of a few strapping young men and asked them to push me to freedom. But the only person I knew in Amarillo was the tiny, elderly, kind-eyed woman who'd just checked me in to the motel—and her hands had shaken with effort as she swiped my credit card through the machine.
What now? I couldn't leave the van there all night, far from my view and filled with everything I owned. And besides, I didn't want to haul my bags that far in the cold. Panic began to creep in; I fought it off. I will figure this out, I resolved. But first I needed a snack.
Yes, I am what you might call a "stress eater," and this moment certainly qualified as stressful. Still sitting behind the wheel, and with a hint of desperation, I reached across the passenger seat and grabbed the colorful gift bag that a friend had filled with snacks for my long drive. This stash had helped me survive the lonely hours on the road, one gummy bear at a time.
But it wasn't gummy bears that my hand found this time. It was a gigantic bag of Chex Mix. I tore it open, grabbed a hand ful, and shoved the salty bits in my mouth as I stared out the windshield at my ice-covered surroundings.
I thought again about what I would do if I were back in Seattle. Well, I wouldn't be in this situation back there, I reasoned, because I always kept some cat litter in my trunk during the winter months to put under the tires if I was ever in a jam. If only I had something just as gritty, something that would work just as well as—
I froze, mid-bite.
I admit, I hesitated. I do love Chex Mix. And the odds were pretty good that it wouldn't work, in which case I would be not only stuck in the cold with a van that wouldn't move—I would also have wasted some valuable snacks.
But I was feeling emboldened now that I had an actual idea, and one that didn't involve knocking on the doors of the other motel guests. I hopped outside the van and sprinkled the mix on thick, as close to the tires as I could, moving tentatively in my tractionless canvas shoes from one tire to the next. I was trying to finish before the cold cut through my flimsy sweatshirt, but I also wanted to do a thorough job. When I was finished, I stepped back for a moment to admire my handiwork, noting how ridiculous I would have looked if there had been a single person within mocking distance.
I leaped back into the driver's seat and started the engine, then turned up the heat and revved the engine a few times, giving the Chex Mix some time to settle into the ice. I put the gearshift into reverse once more and stepped on the gas, hoping for a miracle.
At first, the tires just spun in that now-familiar way, and I
felt a little sinking feeling. I stepped off the gas. I had no idea what to do next. As tears of helplessness started to well up in my eyes, I jammed the accelerator out of sheer frustration. This time, though, I felt a rocking sensation as the tires seemed to get some purchase. To my growing excitement, the rocking gained momentum as I inched back and forth, and suddenly I was rolling backward out of the parking space. I drove across the parking lot and around the corner to my room with the giddy, empowered feeling of the self-sufficient human.
As I drifted off to sleep in my warm bed, I made a mental note to ask at the front desk in the morning if there was a supermarket within walking distance. I was out of Chex Mix, after all, and that spot where I just parked in front of my room looked suspiciously slick.
Cynthia Morse moved from California to New York City several years ago because she graduated and couldn't think of anyplace more expensive to live. she works for a restaurant public relations agency and shares an apartment with her cat, Captain Morgan.
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