If you keep reading these stories you will learn one indisputable fact about my nana, besides her keen ability of injecting foul language into the most modest of all conversation topics, which is that she LOVED to drive.
And I don’t mean just traveling, which she did love, but rather she just loved driving around. It was very common to have her wake up on a weekend or summer day and say, “Let’s go somewhere.” Get in the car with her and ask where you were going and you’d typically get, “I don’t know” in response.
She knew the biggest truth in the world which is the destination is nice, but the trip there is the most enjoyable and memorable experiences of your life. On almost every trip, drive, or excursion we would end up at some small diner or restaurant. The best part of these places is that it didn’t matter whether the food was good or bad. If it was good we had a new place that we would rave about and talk about how no one else knew about it. It was our secret out of the way place. And if it was bad, well that was even better because we’d crack jokes the whole time we were there about how slow the service was, how all the seats had 1 leg longer than another, or how the jukebox would randomly start playing Endless Love 5 times while we were there. We’d laugh all the way home and tell everyone about it. These are my favorite of favorite memories.
Not just a couple of times these trips were to a drive through zoo in a town a few hours to the north of us. I’m not sure why we always kept going back, other than us kids loving it, since nana seemed to always have something bad happen there. I guess it goes along with her love of sharing bad stories.
When I was about 5 or 6 we all loaded up in a little Isuzu and headed up there. My nana drove, of course, and my mother was up front with her. I was squished in the backseat in between my two bigger brothers. While I wasn’t raised in the same home as them I loved being around them despite the fact that they picked on me all the time. Typical little brother trying to fit in and all. And while I don’t remember exactly what kind of Isuzu it was, I can say it was small and I was squeezed in like a sardine.
This was one of the trips where the animals were out in full force, especially the monkeys, who proceeded to climb all over her car. My nana cussed up and down that they were scratching the roof of her car and even at one point started to talk about getting out of the car to swipe them off.
This trip had one of our video cameras being operated by my mother through most of the day. This was one of the VCR tape recorders with the different settings, SP and EP. SP stood for Standard Play and EP stood for Extended Play. Basically you’d have a 120 minute VHS tape and you could make it record longer by choosing this EP option which was a typical feature of VCR’s back then as well. Basically you would get slightly lower quality and lower the life of the tape but get more value for your money. We were all about value.
My mom was looking at the options during what ended up being a typical ‘lap shot’ of the day. See despite the fact that many people had video cameras no one actually knew how to use them and often left them recording when they meant to stop, thus everyone had a ‘lap shot’ with some random discussion in the background. She was saying something about ‘oh I had it on SP, I think I want EP, right?’
My family was always cracking jokes and I was excited to have something pop into my head to say. So I said, “E.P. the Extra Pestical.” And to my chagrin everyone laughed.
Years later my nana got a new car. A beautiful new Nissan Maxima. The first Friday after she got it she said we were going for a drive. We were going to the zoo, just her and I this time.
She was so proud of her new car. She was always proud of her new cars. She even had a standing rule that applied to every new car that she would announce loud and proud to everyone getting INTO her new car.
“NO ONE will be bringing any drinks into this car, not even me. I won’t have any drinks spilled in THIS car, no sir.”
Inevitably, a few weeks after uttering this rule, EVERY TIME without fail SHE would take a glass of tea and set it into the drink holder. And every time, her first glass of tea in the car would be spilled by her. It was funny but also convenient, because then she would utter her catch phrase, ‘well shit’ and let us all know it was fine, we could have drinks in the car.
So on this trip we had closed bottles because that spill was to come a couple of weeks later. We got to the zoo, she paid, and we started to go around, for about 2 minutes, when the car died.
Her brand new car, dead, on this one way dirt road at the start of this zoo hours from home. It took a long time for a wrecker to get there and tow us to a nearby mechanic who proceeded to let us know the part that was needed wouldn’t be in until Monday. We were stuck there for the weekend. Papa wired us some money and we holed up in a motel that had a cafe next door. She bought a couple packs of cards and we played Canasta and Spades all weekend. She was mad, but it wasn’t too bad yet. Not until Monday when she was told, it would be another day.
On Tuesday, she was told it would be yet another day. This went on until Friday, we had been there a week with my nana getting madder and madder every day. Paying a small fortune to get the car fixed and staying in a motel and eating out the whole time. When the car was finally done that Friday afternoon she said we were going to go through the zoo. Now even I at that young age knew enough to try and talk her out of this horrible idea. “We can just go home, nana. It’s been a long week.”
That’s when she declared, “I drove up here to go through that damn zoo, we paid to get into the damn zoo, we waited a week to see the damn zoo, we’re going through that damn zoo.”
I don’t think much at that zoo could have made her day better but it was easily the worst possible scenario. In our area of the country, temperatures are apt to change plus and negative 30 to 50 degrees in any given hour. In the week we were there a full on heat wave set in and there were no animals in site, not a single one. Nana sped up little by little, and cussed more and more until we were doing 50 through the zoo and she was saying, “Spend an effing week getting the effing car fixed for an effing fortune and now there are no effing animals to even effing look at.”