The following is a true story. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent, as well as the guilty. I recently went on a short-notice road trip to help out a friend. It wound up being far from what I had expected. Upon hearing highlights from my day trip, in which I spent almost sixteen of my twenty-six hours of absence from my home either sitting in or driving my car, a coworker told me, “That’s fifty shades of fucked up.” I decided he was right, and told him that he just named my blog. Thanks, Chupi.
THANK YOU FOR BEING MY FRIEND
My best friend from since we were teenagers needed help. Let’s call her Homegirl, since that’s what she’s always been to me. When I’m with my girl, I’m home. So, Homegirl needs to get to St. Louis for an interview with an airline at 9am on Monday. She’s freaking out. She desperately needs this job so that she can afford to pay her own rent and finally get away from her increasingly abusive husband. It’s hardly two whole months into the year and I’ve already lost track of how many phones of hers he’s broken in his attempts to keep her isolated. At the moment, her only means of communication with the outside world is a tablet her parents loaned her. It’s also broken, though its screen is still readable for now.
She writes to me over Messenger and explains her current situation. How can she come up with eighty bucks for gas when her addict of a husband drained their account after he lost his job? What about paying for a hotel room? She damn sure can’t afford that. What other choice does she have but to get ready in the middle of the night, then drive four hours to a strange city and hope she makes it there in time? All the while, of course, freaking out inside of her mind, stewing over the inevitable failure she’ll talk herself into, believing all of the deprecating bullshit her emotionally abusive mates have inflicted upon her over the course of her twenty-some years of relationships with the opposite sex.
I present her with a better option. I should go with her. We can take my car since I get better mileage, and I can score us a free room at the Hyatt. My husband got a Hyatt credit card before we went to NYC for ThrillerFest last year because it came with a bonus of two free nights. But, the free nights didn’t get applied when we made the reservation, they wouldn’t apply them after the fact, and we wound up stuck with these two free nights that are going to expire in March when he hits his one year anniversary of having the credit card. We have no other use for them, so why not use one of our useless free nights to help Homegirl get away from her abusive husband? My sweet, generous husband agrees that I can use the free night to help her, even if he’s not super thrilled about having to spend a night without me beside him.
Homegirl is super excited. We can’t wait to get to spend some time together and catch up since we haven’t hung out in over three years. She’s never even met my husband because her husband keeps her so socially isolated. Also, I was long ago deemed a bad influence because I’ve supported the idea of her leaving him since before they even got married. But that’s just how it tends to go with us. She gets with a dude who intermittently and increasingly treats her like dirt. I call him out on it. He starts to hate me. She doesn’t want to leave for myriad reasons. We drift apart. Then, we eventually find our way back together once she’s realized that the man she’s with is actually beneath her. It’s sad for me to watch the same cycle over and over again, but I just can’t abandon her. It’s not who I am. I’m a caretaker. I help people whom I love, even if and when they have no idea how hard it is for me to overlook all of the hurt they’ve wrought.
Our plan for the trip develops quickly. I’ve got to shuffle around my work schedule to move my day off and work several half-days to accommodate the alterations. My boss winds up having to work every single day because of our rearranging, even if a couple of times it’s only for four hours. Still, this sucks and makes me feel bad, but he’s cool so he brushes off my concerns. Sunday, I only work a portion of my 8-6 shift and leave at noon, with boss-man covering the rest. The plan had been that I’d pick her up after work and we’d head straight out of town. We could reach the hotel by our 4pm check-in time, make a test run to the interview site so it’d look more familiar and we wouldn’t get lost, and then find some touristy thing to do for free until it was time to crash early. I’m going to make sandwiches so that we don’t have to eat out, and she’s going to bring chips, fruit, and drinks. She assures me that she’ll pay for everything since I’m doing her this huge favor by driving my car and getting her a room that we know will be nice, clean, and comfortable. When she says, “Thank you for being my friend,” the theme song for the Golden Girls starts running through my head. It’s still in there. Damn it…
I should’ve known better. I guess maybe I’d falsely hoped that she has become a little less flaky than she used to be. But hey, that’s a mark of genius, right? Being constantly distracted and always late isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could totally be caused by an abundance of mental activity. And Homegirl is exceptionally creative. She writes, makes music, she’s witty and clever. So I don’t fault her at all for being a scatterbrain and for being habitually behind schedule. I, personally, am almost NEVER on time to work. I generally range between 5 and 30 minutes late. My boss is understanding about it since I live 25-80 minutes away, depending on traffic, but it could be helped if I wasn’t so perpetually attached to my keyboard and so driven by the need to create.
So, given her history, I should not have been at all surprised when late Saturday night, she tells me over Messenger that we’re going to be delayed. She won’t be ready until about 2pm. Okay. Cool. That means I can make the sandwiches after work Sunday and they’ll be fresher than if I made them Saturday night. I can also wash my hair so that I can wear it down and show her my awesome highlights that are actually just my gray hair dyed purple instead of wearing my usual braid and camo floppy hat.
I keep in touch with her after I leave work on Sunday, but she isn’t responding. It’s Messenger, though, so I can see when she opens my messages. I know she’s seeing them, but she’s not answering me. I’m getting more and more worried about our ability to make it to St. Louis before sunset because it’s already after three o’clock. We’re losing precious time.
Personally, I really need a little trip away from it all. I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with the way strangers treat me and my coworkers, like we’re beneath them because we make their food. It seems to be getting worse all the time. I need some fun, some relaxation, some chill time with my homegirl, and our time was slipping away. I have a deadline for when I need to be back. At this rate, we’d have less than 24 hours in St. Louis, not the whole day for which we’ve planned. I’ve been to and through St. Louis countless times and I still have never been up inside the Arch. Twice, it has been out of service. The other times, it just never happened. I am worried we’ll run out of time for it this time, too. Spoiler—we do. We never make it to the Arch. Not even the park around it, though it’s literally a stone’s throw from our hotel.
Quarter to four, she finally answers me and says she’s just getting up and around. I immediately reply, asking how long she thinks she’ll be. Over three hours later, I get an answer. It is now seven o’clock and my husband is leaving work. He’s going to be home soon, and then we’ll have to have a long, drawn out conversation about why I’m still there, which will delay me even more once she is actually ready for me. I have to get out of the house before he comes home. She tells me to head her way. By the time I hop in the car and I’m ready to pull out a few minutes later, she sends me another message. She’s not ready just yet. I need to keep waiting. Nope. Fuck that. It’s over forty minutes from my house to her mom’s. I’m heading that way, then parking at a grocery store nearby. After I'm already parked at the store, she mentions for the first time that she’s not alone. She has friends that are tagging along, but assures me they have their own accommodations in St. Louis.
WHAT THE FUCK?
Shortly after 8pm, she tells me to come to her mom’s house to pick her up. I’m starting to get uncomfortable, but hope that I can get along with these complete strangers. I convince myself that it will end at giving them a ride and they won't intrude on me reconnecting with my estranged best friend. I go to the front door at her mom’s, after peeking into her car and asking if she’s in there with them. She isn’t, and it’s dark so I can’t even see these unknown people with whom I am talking. Homegirl comes to the door. I hug her for the first time in years. We only get to exchange a few sentences.
She tells me that they’re all wanting to ride in my car. Oh. Okay. Wish I’d known that sooner. I don’t exactly keep my car passenger-ready. As a creative-type, I’m not big on cleaning unless it’s a major job. Then, I’ll go all out. More often than not, the floor of my passenger seat is filled with small bags of trash, Starbucks cups, and empty water bottles piled up to the glovebox. Ever since my boss removed the outside trash can next to our front door, I’ve lost my convenient receptacle for my garbage. The recycling always just gets thrown onto the floor in the back and gets cleaned out whenever I needed to transport more than one person. So, yeah. Pretty damned inconvenient to have to stand out on the dark street, cleaning out the back seat of my car. I couldn’t even turn on my dome light because my battery is on its last leg. I’ve been warned that it might not last until my next oil change, even if I never leave the accessories turned on, and never use my interior lights without the car running. But I don’t really want to pay that much for a new battery when my car might be totaled soon anyway. (Ugh. Long story. I got T-boned. There’s frame damage. Totally not my fault. Other guy’s insurance won’t call me back or even come look at it. It’s been over three weeks since he hit me.)
So, once I get my back seat cleared out, three people that I don’t know and can’t see start to cram their things into my open trunk. Then they cram themselves into my back seat. Homegirl still has not emerged from the house. Grungy single dude, who from hence forth shall be referred to as Craig, takes the seat behind me. The bubbly and boisterous lady to take the hump-seat shall be called Jocelyn for this telling. Her boyfriend, a 6’8” man of mixed race—who once I saw him reminded me eerily of Scooter Ward, which was the current album playing on my stereo—will be referred to as Floyd. Once Homegirl gets in, she has to move her seat as far forward as she can, making her floor space inaccessible and smashing her knees against the glovebox. I even have to move up my seat, though this doesn’t stop Craig from pushing and pulling on my seatback as leverage to rearrange himself throughout much of the trip. Everyone is cramped and uncomfortable.
The music stays on for the whole trip. Once I explain the literal days’ worth of music on my flash drive that is plugged into the stereo, they freak out, naming bands and asking if I had them. For a minute, it’s funny because they’re asking me about crappy, teenie-bopper music that no self-respecting 30-something would be caught dead listening to. It stops being funny pretty fast. I finally begin to list off bands that I do have, many of which they get excited over, but no one else is reaching up to mess with the stereo.
I don’t really want to play DJ while also flying down the Interstate, so I try to show Homegirl how to navigate the files. She isn’t too interested. She’s tired. They’d kept her up drinking all night the night before. She’d still been messed up at dawn. She already knows she’s not going to get a full night’s sleep before her interview in the morning since we’ll be checking in so late. She also needs to get up super early to do her hair and makeup. Homegirl desperately needs a nap and I’m not going to begrudge her this one damn bit.
Had it just been the two of us, I’d have turned on one of my podcasts that has a quiet, sleepy voice, like The Memory Palace or an old Sarah and Deblina episode of Stuff You Missed in History Class. But no. Homegirl has to try to nap while the three in the back sing along with Deftones, then Dr. Dre, Snoop, and Eminem. Whenever they notice that she’s sleeping, they wake her up because she’s missing the fun. As soon as she can, she falls asleep again. My guess would be that in total, she probably naps for over half of the trip. But then, it wasn’t really easy for me to watch her, in the dark, while I’m zipping down the Interstate highway at 70 MPH. You know, just right there at 70. You know, because that’s the speed limit. And no matter how much of a hurry I’m in to get there, I’d never dream of going in excess of the speed limit, right? I mean, I’m a professional. I’ve been a legally licensed driver for hire for over a decade. I know better than that.
During her bouts of being awake, Homegirl asks me a few times why I’m so quiet. She shouldn’t have to ask. She should know. She should remember my crippling social anxiety. She used to be aware of my silence and awkwardness around people I don’t know. At work, I can pretend I’m a people person. I’m a good actor and that’s the role I play almost every day. I’m good at it. I’m not good at pretending to be my real self. I just have to be comfortable enough to be…just be. If I’m not comfortable or familiar, if I’ve no idea how someone is going to react, I find myself unconfident and on edge.
Their constant sexual remarks and open discussion of gratuitous drug use shocks me and makes me even more uncomfortable. Floyd keeps talking about how he’s “rolling” on ecstasy and he’s on the verge of jerking-off in my back seat. Um, no. “Yeeeaah, there aren’t any napkins or tissues in the car, so if you could not do that, that’d be great. Thaaanks.” I can’t help but wonder—are these people fucking using me as a drug mule? To have me drive my car with them and their drugs out to St. Louis, while they pay me absolutely nothing for gas? Homegirl promises me that they’re joking. They don’t really smoke crack. And they’re not moving drugs. They don’t even have any weed. Craig doesn’t do drugs because he gets random drug tests at the ammunition plant. Jocelyn starts digging in her purse and says she can’t find her pipe, which she swears she put in there when she switched purses. But Homegirl is reassured and tries to convince me that they’re cool. They’re just a lot of fun.
There was a time in my life where I witnessed addicts every day because I took care of them. But we were kids back then, in our teens. We’re in our fucking thirties now. Who walks around, making jokes in public about how great crack is when you’re closer to middle aged than your teens, and also look like you’re homeless? Seriously. Grow up. You can’t stay an immature man-child forever. You might not be embarrassing yourself since you consider yourself to be shameless, but you’re definitely embarrassing others around you.
I find out along the way that they do not, in fact, have their own place to stay. Turns out, the friend that was supposed to be able to comp them a room at the Best Western he’s staying at hasn’t checked in yet, even though it is around ten at night. He is supposed to get a hold of them once he’s settled in to find out if they still need a room. As bothered as I am by the assumption that I’m going to be taxiing them around the city, I’d much rather do that and have them stay somewhere else than try to cram into my hotel room. By the way they’re talking, it sounds like they want me to sleep on a nonexistent couch, while the four of them take the two double beds in the room I’ve reserved.
I gentlly insist that this room does not have a couch. I’ve seen the pictures online and I’ve read the different room descriptions for the various room sizes at this particular Hyatt. The room that I got for free does not have a couch. It has two double beds, a small table, and a chair. Jocelyn swears that all Hyatt hotels have couches in their rooms with pull-out beds. I tell her again that this one doesn’t. It’s also the second Hyatt I’ve stayed in. The first one also did not have a couch, merely a bench, a bed, and a couple of chairs. I’m also incensed that these people would be so presumptuous. This is my hotel room, with my credit card holding it. I’m not at all okay with them coming in and fucking shit up. Let them do it on someone else’s retainer.
By the time we are within sight of the Arch, they still haven’t been able to get a hold of their friend who was supposed to get them a room. I’ve expressed many times that I’m worried about them not letting me even check into my room because it’s under my husband’s name, not mine. It’s also midnight. He might not wake up to answer the phone if the front desk even agrees to call him to verify my ability to check in. I’m thoroughly freaking out on the inside. He’d known they might call, but he expected the call before sunset. He’s gone to bed hours ago, assuming that I’ve checked in with no problems. When I turn down the street and head for the illuminated Hyatt sign, Jocelyn is transferring money from one account to another so she can pay for a hotel room for the three of them at the Hyatt.
OUR LATE ARRIVAL
I see signs that direct me to the parking garage. Since I haven’t checked in yet and don’t have a coded room key, I have to take a ticket to gain access to the garage. I park on the second level, after driving around first to find the elevator so we know where to go. It takes us a few minutes to gather our things while we make our plans.
I’m worried about the room only being reserved for two people, so Jocelyn is going to get her room with two beds. Cool. Because I’ve grown increasingly distressed about Craig’s obvious intention to stay in our room. I’m a married woman. I also wear dentures due to kickboxing injuries. I’m not at all okay with sharing a room with a stranger, while he shares a bed with my also married friend. I am certainly not down with some guy I don’t know seeing me in my pajamas, with no bra and no teeth. I won’t even fully open the door for the FedEx guy if I’m sans-bra—I’ll just stick my head out.
We make it inside and find the front desk. I stop at the first occupied one, while Jocelyn and Floyd move on down to the next clerk. Homegirl and Craig sit on the plush couches opposite from the long, dotted line of counters.
My fears have come true. I can’t check in because the reservation is under my husband’s name. They say that they need to speak with him if I’m to check in under his reservation. I explain that he couldn’t come with me, that we need to be at an interview at 9am, and we got a late start due to his absence, et cetera, et cetera. Doesn’t matter. They have to talk to him. I can prove I’m his wife. I actually have our property tax receipts in my purse—it’s a government document with our names and address. I have the credit card with my name on it that is the same number as his card that reserved the comped room. Nope, sorry. They have to talk to him. I say okay, I can call him. Or they can since they have his number on his account. She says okay, but makes no move to look up his number. Okay…? I gave you an either/or situation. Giving me an affirmative answer does not actually answer me or tell me what you intend.
I’ve been up since seven, after only sleeping for a few hours. I’m slow on the draw, so I just keep staring at her while she does nothing. It’s almost 12:30. I know my husband has been asleep for two or three hours, so he's deeply asleep and will not wake easily. After a moment of awkward silence, I pull out my phone and call him. Twice. He finally answers as it’s about to go to voicemail a second time. He’s still asleep. He can’t process my words and he’s not answering me. I’m on the phone with him for three minutes before I can get him to understand what I need from him. I hand the phone to the woman at the front desk. She asks him nothing to verify who he is. She only asks him to tell her my name. She thanks him, then hands the phone back to me. I apologize to him, tell him I love him, and that I’ll explain when I get back why I was checking in so late. The woman never asks me my name, nor does she ever look at my credit card. She checks me into the room. I am appalled and feel that what she did was entirely unnecessary.
The front desk clerk explains to me that my room key will let me in and out of the garage for the duration of my stay. I show her the paper ticket I got when I entered. She tells me I can throw it away because I’ll be paying for parking as part of my stay when I check out in the morning. The paper tickets are for people who are visiting guests, the restaurant, or conference attendees. People with room keys don’t need the paper tickets. I shove it back into my purse anyway. Good thing, too, but we’ll get to that in the morning.
I join Homegirl and Craig on the couches while we wait for the other two to finish checking in. They’re on the 12th floor, and we’re on the 18th. Jocelyn has gotten a slightly bigger room for an extra fifty bucks over what my room would’ve cost, had I paid for it. We ride up the elevator together, but only Jocelyn and Floyd get off on the 12th floor. They make us promise to come back down to their room once we drop off our stuff.
Craig comes up to our room with us. I’m not too comfortable with his presumption that he’s staying with us. Regardless, this is her friend and, up until this point, I’ve been assuming that she either has or will be hooking up with this dude after she officially leaves her husband. So I try to be nice. I do my best to swallow my feelings and not be rude to this dude who’s been hanging on her, focused on her, trying to show off to impress her. I see though his immaturities and suppress my opinions until I can be alone with her, which has yet to happen. I add pickles to three of the six sandwiches I’d brought for our lunch and two dinners. He declines, and she eats only half of hers. We check out the view, they crack open some warm beers he has in his backpack, then Jocelyn calls Craig, wanting to know when we’re coming back down.
We make our way through the serpentine passageways and find the elevator. We get on the wrong one, only to find that it doesn’t stop on their floor. It stops at most of the others, but not theirs. What. The. Fuck. We get out and call the elevators on the other side of the hall. We’ve forgotten their room number, so Craig calls Jocelyn. When we get to their room, it’s slightly bigger, and they have a long counter against the window. Homegirl and I sit there out of a lack of desire to sit on the beds. I decide to not point out to Jocelyn that even her larger, more expensive room also does not have a couch.
They’re smoking in their non-smoking room. I warn them of the fee and I’m dismissed. Jocelyn swears that she stays in hotels all the time. She always smokes in her non-smoking room. She’s never been caught. She’s never been charged for the cleaning fee. I recall a story recently posted by a Facebook friend, detailing his experience with getting caught smoking in his non-smoking hotel room. He was fined. I decide not to share the story, as I don’t want a confrontation. She’s an adult and can make her own choices. She reserved the room on her own card. I’m not her mother and I’m not going to lecture her. So, I let it go.
But Homegirl and I aren’t going to smoke in their room. We go—alone—back to my car and sit by ourselves for a bit. She fills me in on the drama surrounding her departure for this trip, then gives me a brief rundown of how she wound up with these people between leaving her house and meeting me at her mother’s.
I express my concern over her leaving her husband and jumping into a relationship—or even just jumping into bed—with this scuzzy dude. She makes clear her desire to be alone for once in her life. She has no inclination to give in to the pressure from the others to hook up with Craig. She’s always had a boyfriend, or a husband. She’s never really been single ever since she started dating. She is finally ready to be on her own for the first time in her adult life. We decide to go straight to bed. It’s a little after one o’clock in the morning and she needs to get up at 5:30 to get ready for her interview. We don’t call or message the others.
At almost 1:30 in the morning, only four hours before Homegirl has to get up, Craig calls my phone from Jocelyn’s. He wants to know how he’s supposed to get into our room. At first, I’m stunned that he has the balls to come out and say it like that. Then my brain goes into overdrive, processing all of my possible responses. What, you didn’t get the hint when we never came back? Or when you call and I tell you that we’re going to go to bed and we’ll call you after her interview? The room you’re in right now has two beds and a confirmed couple is occupying one of them. Yet, you somehow think you’re going to sleep in a room with two married women? Fuck no. Are you high? Are you stupid? Are you that terrible of a person that you’re going to try to sleep with a married woman while I’m five feet away? You want to be an adulterer that bad? You didn’t give any fucking consideration at all to the fact that I did not leave my house having been prepared at all for the fact that strange people would be in my car, let alone my fucking bedroom?!? No. Fuck you. Get the fuck out of here. Walk back to Kansas City if the two people who already regularly share a bed have no desire to let you sleep in their extra bed. What the fuck is wrong with you that you would ever in a million years think that I would possibly be okay with this set up? I am fucking married! It is one thing for my best friend of almost twenty years to see me in my pajamas, without my teeth in, hearing me snore, or talk in my sleep. It’s a whole other thing to allow some complete fucking stranger into my room. I don’t fucking know you! I don’t know if I can trust you. I don’t know what you have in that overstuffed backpack you carry. How the hell do I know you don’t have chloroform in there so you can knock out both of us and rape us or something?
I decide to keep it simple and tell him that while he seems cool, I’m not at all comfortable sharing a room with someone I don’t even know. I’m married. My husband would flip out and I’m not okay with lying to him or trying to hide from him any of the details of my trip. Homegirl gets out of the shower and I fill her in on what was said in our short phone call. She agrees that it is super fucked up that he was so presumptuous. She is not separated yet. She still lives in the same house with her husband. She’s not down for whatever Craig has in mind.
She turns the TV on to help her fall asleep, and quickly passes out. I’m left awake for a while, playing a game on my tablet and reading 1984 on my phone.
Homegirl gets up at 5:30, then wakes me around 6:45 to get a room key from me so she can go down to smoke a cigarette. I go back to sleep for half an hour, then I get up, brush my teeth, braid my hair, and throw on my clothes. After brushing my teeth, I realize that I don’t have my denture cream which I totally need. Without it, my teeth sit wrong and it causes one of my remaining teeth to bruise. At some point, before we hook up with the others, I need to find a pharmacy. Homegirl knows this. Keep this in mind for later. While she’s finishing up her hair, I start packing so we’ll be ready to bolt after breakfast. I also take some pictures of the view from our hotel room while I regret not doing the same the night before.
My husband has platinum status with Hyatt, so our comped room also includes the breakfast buffet on the 17th floor which costs most people $18. We go down to the next floor and examine what we decide is not worth the $18. The selection is small—two kinds of eggs, one with veggies, one with an unlabeled meat. I’m not down for either, so I pick the meat out of the latter just in case it’s pork. There is no turkey sausage, or any other kind of meat offered. There is oatmeal, with fresh blueberries to put on top, but I don’t have time for that. There are strange looking muffins; small, burnt pastries; dry, dark croissants that taste like they have shortening in them; a tray with two soft, unlabeled cheeses; and a tray of thin salmon slices surrounded by capers, onions, and a few other things. It was all pretty fancy, but sparse. We found a cooler full of water and juice, as well as a sideboard with an array of fruit. We gobble down our eggs and fruit, enjoy the view for a moment, then book it back up to the room to grab our stuff. It’s 8:06 when we get back to the room.
We check out, I pay for parking, get my receipt, and I’m told that I can park in the garage up until 2pm for no additional charge, so I should hang on to my room key until the last time I leave the garage. Awesome. I tell Homegirl and she’s like, yeah, then we can just walk over to the Arch. Unfortunately, we don’t have time for coffee, even though there is a full-service Starbucks in the lobby just steps from the front desk.
THE TIME CRUNCH IS ON
We only have 45 minutes to get to her flight attendant interview around the far side of the airport. We’d wanted to have an hour because we knew we’d hit morning traffic trying to get through the city. Homegirl and I rush to the car, throw our stuff in the trunk, and head for the exit. There’s a car ahead of us that seems to be having trouble getting out. I can see that they’re talking to someone over a speaker on one of the boxes. After a few minutes, the other car leaves, and I try to get out behind them, but the gate is too fast for me.
I tap my room key. A small, green screen flashes Processing…a few times, but nothing happens. I tap it again. It still doesn’t work. I put my car in first gear, pull three feet forward up the ramp, and push the call button. No one answers. I ease off the brake, roll back, and try my room card again. Repeat over and over for ten minutes while both of us are growing increasingly panicked. If she’s even one minute late, they won’t let her in for the interview.
I remember the parking garage ticket I got when I pulled in the night before. At that moment, it is our only hope of getting out of there. I pay for parking a second time because we now have 30 minutes to make the 27-minute-drive-if-there’s-no-traffic. Now, I not only need to go to a pharmacy, I also need to return to the hotel at some point before 2pm to get my double-charge for parking refunded.
Once, during the drive in, we come to a full and complete stop on the highway. My panic creeps back up on me. If I can’t get her there on time, then all of my effort to help her—while being tolerant and patient with her friends that are making me super uncomfortable—will be a complete waste. But, due to my awesome driving, we get there with one minute to spare.
THE INTERVIEW AND THE WAIT
I pull up to the no parking zone right in front of the door. She makes me promise to wait for her because she’s leaving her tablet in the car and won’t be able to call me when she’s done. It’s left unspoken that it’d also take me at least twenty minutes to get back there if I did go anywhere and she was actually able to call me. Regardless, her tablet is too large to fit in her tiny purse so she leaves it behind.
I park, and the wait begins. Waiting really is the worst part. She hasn’t told me how long it will be, but I assume it can’t be too long. She’d talked about having lunch with the others and making it back before they had to check out, so I’m thinking an hour. Maybe two hours, tops. It’s a decent sized parking lot, but there is nowhere to park where I can see the front door, so I back into a spot in the shade of some trees near the end of a runway. Planes taking off keep rattling my car.
I get bored quickly when I realize she took my pen, so I can’t write in the notebook I always carry. The batteries on my 3-year-old phone and tablet quickly run down in the bright morning sun. I also can’t sit there with my car battery powering stuff because I know it’s not holding a charge well and needs to be replaced. The whole trip, I’m actually worried that my car will just stop working while I’m out of town.
I decide to take the time to clean out my purse. I find burst silica gel packets inside a zippered pocket I forgot was in there and never use. It is like sand, not the beads one would normally find inside of the little packets found stuffed into shoes, purses, and coat pockets. To passersby, it looks like I’m flicking cocaine out of my purse. The corners of the little pocket are sewn into the purse liner, so that it can’t be turned inside out.
After 45 minutes, I drive around the parking lot and find an open space from which I can see the front doors. Every few minutes, I look up from my phone to see if she’s come outside yet. I wait. And wait. Every 45 minutes, I get out of the car and retrieve something from my trunk because my watch tells me to move. I’m also getting really tired of sitting in my car.
THE PHONE CALL
At 10:50, I’m about to hit send on a text to Jocelyn, when she calls me. This is when I find out that Homegirl knew that this interview could last anywhere from three to six hours. For three to six hours, she expected me to sit in my car, waiting for her, never knowing how much longer it will be, without a bathroom or anything. Also knowing that I have two errands to run which will waste our minimal time for fun before we have to leave.
I contemplate leaving so that I can get my denture cream, but decide against it since it’s already been almost two hours. I figure I can wait a while longer if I’ve already waited this long. I just hope she doesn’t take much longer. I’m in desperate need for some coffee, though I admit to myself that if I’d already had my coffee, I would not be able to wait for her. I would most certainly be leaving and going to find a public restroom.
Jocelyn informs me that they are going to check out of the hotel, then Uber it around town until we’re done with Homegirl’s interview. I tell them that the City Museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. But, we can still do the Brewery. She suggests we have lunch there, then do the tour. Cool. I haven’t been to the Budweiser Brewery since I was twenty.
I get off the phone and see I’m below 20% battery. I’ve seen it die when it’s in the thirties before, so I decide I can’t let all of my batteries be dead. I turn on my car and leave it running so that I can charge and use my devices. I can’t handle downtime. I always have far too many pots on the stove to just sit and twiddle my thumbs. I’ve got a handful of outlines and drafts in my Dropbox, but I need a screen to go over them. When I can’t pick up a signal on my tablet, I give up and revert to reading 1984 on my phone.
Almost two hours after Jocelyn’s phone call, Homegirl comes out of her interview. She says she did well. Close to thirty women have shown up. Only eight get through all three interviews and are awaiting decisions via email. She is one of the eight and has high hopes for getting the job she needs to change her life for herself and her sons.
I really need to go to the bathroom, but we also need to get back to the Hyatt and out of there before 2pm. So, we make our way in that direction. The GPS keeps losing me in the multiple levels of streets and highways. It also lags behind and tells me about exits after I’ve passed them. We wind up in Illinois.
I can’t help myself. I’m alone with my best friend and my exceptional weirdness comes bubbling out. “Holy shit! The highway is red! We’re in Illinois,” I shout before I burst into laughter. She just looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. “Is it weird that I know that?” I ask her. She looks back and sees that the Arch is on the opposite side of the river. That was definitely the Mississippi River we just passed over. Not knowing what to do, I continue to follow the GPS. I can soon see ahead on it that it is taking me on a loop that will lead us back out of East St. Louis.
BACK AT THE HYATT
The GPS finally takes us back to the hotel. Surprise! The keycard also won’t let us back into the parking garage, so I take another ticket.
Once we’re in the lobby, I make a beeline for the bathroom that I know has to be there somewhere because Hyatt loves conferences, so they have a public restroom on every public floor. Homegirl changes out of her interview clothes and into something more casual in the handicap stall. I leave her in there around one o’clock.
After I’m done in the bathroom, I go to the front desk to take care of my double charge for parking. I explain how I paid for parking when I checked out, then had to pay again to actually leave. I tell her how we got to the interview with only one minute to spare after trying to get out for over ten minutes. The clerk is super nice. She refunds the charge that I paid at the front desk. She says she wishes she could refund the other charge for the trouble, but it’s on a separate system, so she can’t. I get it. Thanks anyway. I see the relief in her when she realizes she’s dealing with a reasonable person. I never raise my voice with her, I never demand anything, and I don’t make any threats. I understand that mistakes happen. I am merely grateful that it all worked out, even if just barely.
I wander over to Starbucks and get my trenta iced coffee, sweet, with non-fat milk. It’s perfect. It tastes so good, even if it is overpriced and hours later than I would have liked. I don’t see Homegirl yet, so I sit down in the lobby, check my Facebook, and post a couple of pictures.
After ten minutes of me getting lost in my feed, I realize she still hasn’t come out of the bathroom. I go in to check on her. She’s not ready yet. I wait. And wait. Another woman comes in, finishes, and is leaving. She looks at me funny because I’m still just standing there, feeling awkward, and drinking my coffee. I ask Homegirl if she’s almost ready, and she comes right out of the stall. It is only then that I realize the woman thinks I am giving my friend a hard time for taking too long on the toilet, when really I know she’s probably just trying to cram her stuff into her backpack. I almost laugh at the stranger’s expression, but I manage to keep my composure.
We go back to Starbucks and I buy Homegirl a coffee. It’s white and she tries to explain to me how it really does have coffee in it, but I’m still convinced it’s just milk, sweetener, and vanilla beans.
ON THE STREETS OF ST. LOUIS
Homegirl doesn’t want to walk the five short blocks to the pharmacy and back while we still have half an hour of free parking at the hotel, so we leave. It takes a few tries, but I’m able to get the key card to let us out this time. We marvel over how short the blocks are. Five blocks is barely half a mile. We park a block over from the pharmacy that is inside of an AT&T building. I feed the meter and we venture into the tower.
We go inside and see a small restaurant, along with a series of empty store fronts. We wander off to the right, and come to a set of poles containing signs that say only AT&T employees are allowed beyond. We go back to where we started and venture around the other way until we’ve circled all the way around to the other side of the tower that seems to occupy the entire block. I finally spot the sign that says CVS, and we venture inside. It is tiny. The man on the phone seems to be alone, and he watches me with suspicion when I pick up the Fixodent. I approach the counter and he hangs up the phone before he rings up my purchase.
My denture cream is literally twice as much and half the size of what I buy at home. It’s also the wide tip, not the narrow tip like I use. I hate it, but have no choice. I need it so I can talk right, eat, and smile. At this point, I’ve already eaten breakfast and lunch, which has not been easy. My back tooth is getting quite sore from striking my ill-fitting dentures every time they fall loose and I have to bite together to push them back into place. I know it’ll be worse the next day. I’ve been through this before, so I’m well aware that my tooth will be bruised and sore for days.
We walk back to the car and climb inside. I leave my door hanging open over the sidewalk so that I can rinse the saliva off of my teeth with a water bottle. I dry them with a tissue—which totally sucks since I need them fully dry and a tissue doesn’t absorb like a napkin or towel—and fix them in my mouth with the horrible goo. All this time, she’s talking to the others over messenger on her tablet.
Turns out, they need to go to the bank, because Jocelyn is missing her debit card and needs to get a new one printed. I can hear her saying that the hotel swears it’s not in their room, but she couldn’t have left it anywhere else. We try to head for the bank, but get turned around on the plethora of one-way streets, as well as streets that suddenly change names.
We somehow find them walking down the street and they wave at me to pull over. It’s in a no parking zone in front of a government building. I’m not comfortable with it, because I’ve seen cops on bicycles all over town. I pull over anyway. I’m getting antsier with every passing second now that they stop and just kind of mill around on the sidewalk several car lengths behind me. I really don’t want to get a ticket because I am certain that none of these people would even consider paying me back for it, regardless of their culpability in my acquisition of it.
They finally start to amble over to my car and open the back door. They have a fourth person with them—someone’s cousin—and they all want to pile into my car. No way are they going to fit. They dither over who should get in, who should walk. Or should they all just take an Uber? Oh, but they don’t want to leave Homegirl again. I just want someone to get in my car or whatever, because I’m not cool with sitting there like that. Jocelyn and Floyd finally get in my car to go back to the Hyatt to get their bags, while the other two say they’ll walk the six blocks.
We take the couple back to the Hyatt, but I’ve already returned my keycard and I’m not going to pay for parking again, so we circle around for over twenty minutes. As we’re about to pass the Hyatt for the third time, Homegirl is on messenger with them and it sounds like they’re dicking around again, saying that they want to go to the cousin’s house. I give up and say they can meet us at the brewery.
Homegirl and I get to the Anheuser-Busch brewery shortly after two o’clock, eat some sandwiches from my cooler, some fruit, and some chips while we chill in the car. I finish my coffee while we enjoy the nice breeze and chat for a bit. It’s really nice. I’ve missed her so much. Her voice, her laugh, just her mere presence is like a soothing balm for my soul.
Eventually, the need for a bathroom drives us inside. We check out the foyer, which has an exhibit around one side about the history of Anheuser-Busch. We notice signs are posted saying that The Biergarten is closing at 3pm to set up for a private event. We’re not going to get to have dinner there. We can’t even get a beer. Last call is 2:45. It is 2:43.
We go back outside to wait for them while we charge Homegirl’s tablet some more. They message her and say they’re almost there. We go back up to meet them out front, but before we can get around the building, we spot them climbing out of an Uber car. We all head back to my car so they can stash their stuff in my trunk during the tour.
We go inside to get tickets for the free tour. But they are amblers, while I tend to walk with purpose. I try to slow my pace, but find it difficult. I wind up stopping several times to wait for them to catch up.
Once we’re inside, Jocelyn is quite vocal about wanting free beer. The brewery employees are all very good natured and I get the feeling that they have people like her in there quite frequently. That must be a requirement to work there—the ability to handle belligerent drunks without pissing them off.
We go on the tour and take a lot of pictures. It’s really cool. I’ve been there before, but that was 15 years ago, just weeks before I turned 21. My mother’s idea. Or cruel joke. I’m not really sure. I do remember the tasting room being quite different, though. They must have remodeled it in the last decade or so.
We get our first small sample mid-tour. I’m not much of a beer drinker, though I do enjoy it far more when it is this incredibly fresh. Regardless, I don’t finish my sample and pass it off to Homegirl. She pounds it on the way into the brew house.
We make our way through the brew house, smelling the process and learning about how they make beer. While in a room with millions and millions of gallons of beer, the tour guide tells us that for one person to drink just one of these dozens of giant tanks of beer, they’d have to drink a 24-pack every day for 137 years. I am too stunned to even take a picture in that room. She says the tanks are stacked four high, but I can’t even see the top one because they’re so massive.
After over half an hour on the tour, we make it back to the final sample room. The beer I want from their choices is the only one they are out of. I wind up getting a cider, but by halfway through, it just tastes like beer. I also know I’m going to be driving again eventually, so I pass it off to Craig, since he got the same one and has already finished his.
The others want to sit outside while we drink. Since the Biergarten is closed, the brewery employees direct us to some tables outside of the front doors of the brewery. This takes us on a path back through the lobby, where they are setting up for this private event.
While I’m making a restroom pit stop in anticipation of my departure, the others wander into the gift shop. I’ve no interest in buying anything, even though I do spot a candle I kinda want once I smell it. It is also called HOPE, so that makes me want it more. But, alas, I am out of money.
When the others leave the shop, I meander outside with them. After lighting up her smoke, Jocelyn proceeds to loudly brag about how she just got all her shit from the gift shop for free because the guy at the counter told her she could just take it. We’re all like—what? Homegirl, Craig, and I are all visibly freaked out that she just stole all this stuff. There are also a few other people at the tables scattered across the large patio. What if they hear her and report her? What if she gets this guy fired? What if he was telling her to leave, but wasn’t telling her to take the stuff and she misunderstood? What if they come out here and he’s all like, “that’s her,” and Jocelyn gets in trouble for shoplifting? She says she made a joke with the cashier, saying that she wants to return all of this stuff. They exchange a few words, and he tells her to take her stuff and leave. She does. Floyd witnesses the exchange and vouches for her. Dude seriously told her to take this armload of Budweiser merchandise and he really told her to take it and leave without paying.
She wants to go back in and steal more stuff. Everyone says that’s a bad idea. She tries to assure us that she’ll ask them first. I’m mortified. I just want to leave. On her way back in, she tries to assure me that she’s “not really a thief all the time.” I’m left thinking—it only takes “some of the time” to get caught, get in trouble, and ruin your life. Much to everyone’s protesting, including Floyd, Jocelyn goes back inside to steal more cheap sunglasses. Craig continues to sing along and dance to the music he has playing over his Bluetooth speaker.
After she’s departed, a dude with “Dave” stitched onto his shirt and an employee ID card hanging from his belt walks over to our table. He’s been standing about a dozen yards away, watching a smoker that’s reheating food for the event being held in The Biergarten later. My heart starts pounding. There is a single bottle of beer on the table that is not available for individual sale. The signs in the gift shop say that they are only for mix-and-match six-packs. He asks about it, but doesn’t point out what I’m thinking. After a little chit chat, he offers them a trolley ride to downtown St. Louis. It leaves in 30 minutes. They totally want to go, but don’t seem to see what I see. He’s another good-natured employee, handling these loud patrons with a kindness that suits his needs—to get them out of there before they become even more disruptive.
I see my chance for escape. It’s almost 5 o’clock and it’s going to take me over 4 hours to get back to Kansas City. My only worry is if Homegirl is coming with me or not. Since before we’d even met up with them that day, the others have been talking about staying another night, then taking the train back in the morning, since I’d made it clear I would not be staying another night. She tells me over and over throughout the day that she probably won’t stay, but also says she hasn’t decided yet.
Jocelyn comes back out from the gift shop with more stolen sunglasses. She wants us all to take a group picture with them. I can’t wear them because I don’t have my contacts in—I’m wearing my normal glasses. After mentioning a few times that this stuff was free and starting to tell her story of how the other guy was gone, but the girl who was working let her steal this stuff anyway, Jocelyn finally notices Dave—who works there. He’s been talking to Craig while Jocelyn was talking to me and Homegirl. If he notices her tale of theft, he doesn’t say anything.
The guys tell Jocelyn about the free trolley ride and she’s super stoked. She wants to hurry and get their stuff before the trolley leaves. So, they slowly meander and stroll back to the car with me to get their stuff out of my trunk. Along the way, they run into the guy from the gift shop. He’d taken a break to go smoke weed in his car. They exchange numbers and promise to meet up with him once he’s off work.
Homegirl hands me $20 for gas and takes out her bags. She’s decided she’s going to stay another night in St. Louis with them, then take the River Runner train back in the morning. She’s afraid to go back to her husband. I get it, but regret the further lost time with her. She leaves her shoes and stolen beer sample glass in the trunk of my car. She hugs me, and promises me she’ll be safe. The others hug me, too. I don’t like being touched by strangers, but it’ll only cause problems if I refuse, so I allow it.
With my car empty of people, I put my cooler on the floor in the front. I arrange the pickles on the last sandwich and put it back in the bag for when I want it later.
I find a string of podcasts I am over a dozen episodes behind on, and start it up while I program the GPS. Really, it’s a nice, straight shot from St. Louis to Kansas City right down I-70. But this trip is the first time I’ve ever driven myself around St. Louis, so I need it just to get back to I-70.
I text my husband to tell him that I’m on my way and that I love him. He needs to know in case anything happens. After all, I’m alone. If I don't make it back, someone has to know. If I'm not home by nine, he needs to know to worry. And if I die in a fiery car crash, I need my last words to him to be a reminder of our deep affection.
After about 15 minutes of preparing myself for my solo drive, I set out. Upon exiting the brewery parking lot, I see an old building that says POLICE down the side in an old-timey style. It also has a sign that says CAPITALIST PIG BARBECUE. Even though I piss off someone at the four-way stop sign, I pause to take a few pictures of it.
I make it through the rush hour traffic and out of the city while I listen to Stuff You Missed in History Class on 1 ½ times speed. It helps to fill the time, to satiate my perpetual thirst for knowledge, and to give me some illusion of not being alone. I manage to find a small town in which I can get some gas. It is twelve cents cheaper than it is in the city center. The bathroom is disgusting, but I can hover like no other. All that fighting might have cost me my teeth, but my lower body strength is deceptively strong.
I get back in the car with three hours to go and Purell my hands. The sun is starting to set, so I turn on my headlights as I leave the gas station.
I blow through my podcasts. I make it through eleven episodes of Stuff You Missed in History Class and halfway through a twelfth. This frees valuable space on my phone. Now I can finally update my OS and hopefully get it to stop re-downloading podcasts up to three years old and marking them as not played.
I get home around 9 o’clock. My husband is home from work and sullen that I don’t feel like cooking after spending most of my day sitting in my car. Despite my over ten hours of sitting in the driver's seat in the almost thirteen hours I’d been out and about that day, I’ve still managed to get over 8000 steps that day. Yay.
By the end of it all, I was gone from my apartment for twenty-six hours. I drove over six hundred miles. I slept for only four hours. I spent, in total, almost sixteen hours sitting in my car. And guess what? She didn’t even get the job.