Saturday I took my longest road trip yet solo with the two girls (a drive just over two hours) and it turned into quite an adventure.
The occasion was a kid's birthday party. My best friend from high school, Kim's little daughter turned six. I was only fifteen minutes late. It was beautiful weather and we had a great drive down, with Polly falling asleep for most of the drive and Lucy and I chatting. Then after Polly woke up, we were on tiny Hwy 4 heading into delta territory (my favorite) along swamplands and cattails, on the lookout for birds and frogs. A great blue heron swooped down right over us as we drove across one of the small bridges.
The girls dug right in to cheese pizza and fruit. I had a good time chatting with Kim and some of the other moms and dads while my daughters behaved surprisingly well. Kim had party favor bags with bubbles, stickers, and little books for them to decorate. It was a "Frozen" themed party. I don't know how we've missed that boat around here but Lucy just isn't all that interested in princesses. There was a pinata which held everyone's rapt interest, then candies, and of course cake and presents. It was a classic party and we had a lot of fun.
They especially loved drawing in their little books.
Lucy did have a meltdown when her purple balloon flew up into the sky at the very end of the party. Even another balloon (exactly the same) wouldn't help. Her fit didn't last too long though and we headed over to Kim's house to hang out a little bit more before heading home. That was my favorite part, the girls trying out Kim's kids scooters and wagons in the backyard, a few cousins and family members still playing and hanging out, the adults having wine and relaxing and telling funny stories.
But I knew I had to get going so the girls could nap in the car and we could make it home at a decent hour. I headed out west on hwy 4 toward CA 160, up through the delta, one of my very favorite California roads. I had been excited to show the girls the Antioch bridge, but both were asleep when we crossed it's rollercoasterish expanse. Also, I had a frustrating mishap as I tried to cross the bridge and realized I didn't have a speck of cash for the toll. Not even a quarter. The lady directed me back to a gas station but my girls were both asleep in the car so I didn't want to go in and leave them. I turned around and searched the surrounding area for a bank or someplace with a drive through that would give cash back...does that even exist? It's kind of a weird rural in-between area and all I could find were a few gas stations. I finally had to lock the sleeping girls in the car with the air conditioning on (first time I've ever done this) and run in to use the ATM machine inside the gas station doorway. It doesn't sound like a big deal but I was shaking, mostly due to the fact that a few weirdos were wandering around and seemed to be onto me. I have never hurried so fast.
Back over the bridge, both girls asleep, good music playing, my heart soared again. It crossed my mind that the incident could have been a warning, (I hate being superstitious but this stuff always occurs to me) and should I have not crossed the Antioch bridge and come this way? But the delta's rickety, haunting beauty soothed me and I was glad to be on this river-winding road.
First little delta town I came to was Isleton. I wanted to take a couple pictures so I pulled onto the historic Main street and stopped for just a second, car still running, to photograph a building. There were people strolling about so I felt awkward and headed back to the highway.
The second I turned back onto the highway my car started making a godawful racket. Totally abnormal for my car, a rumbling deep roaring. I had to stop. Polly woke up almost immediately and I calmed her as I pulled over to the side of the road. I was shaking, what should I do what should I do what should I do?
I should mention that I don't have a smartphone. I have a little tracfone (you buy phone cards for it basically) that was almost out of battery life. I have an ipod that requires wifi. So I quickly tried to call my dad (no answer) and then made a phone call to Darin at work (he had to work until 9 pm that night) to let him know what was going on and where I was exactly. It felt better to at least let homebase know my whereabouts. Lucy woke up just as Pops called me back and I started explaining my situation. I was trying to sound calm to not freak out the girls but I also wanted my dad to know that I was two hours from home in a strange place with my little babies and I needed help asap. He took it seriously of course and said he'd look at a map, get some info and then head down to help me out.
I knew we'd be here a while. I started to pack up everything important from the car: diaper bag with extra clothing for the girls, books, camera (I'm using Darin's as of late so I'm extra careful with it), purse, backpack, water jar. I loaded them into the double stroller, hanging and stashing all this stuff on it. So glad I had that thing with me. We headed back up the highway, cars whizzing past, no shoulder, dashing up the road during breaks between cars, with the river across from us and wild shrubs brushing us on the left. There was an anise bush right by where we broke down so I gave the girls each a pinch to chew, they love that and it keeps them busy. We made it safely back onto Main Street and started wandering.
I had been hoping for a little cafe, maybe even with wifi, where we could chill out for awhile. I wasn't really sure what businesses I'd find open; the place is kind of mysterious to me and I'd noticed that a lot of businesses were closed or shut down, vacant buildings left behind. There was a deli that was closed unfortunately, two restaurants, a Chinese place and a place with no windows called Rogelio's Dine and Sleep Inn and Casino, that just didn't seem like proper places to hang out with two unruly toddlers. There was a laundromat and a little Mexican tienda that we'd visit eventually, and other than that, a few people were walking around that seemed to be part of some private event in one corner building.
I was getting a little nervous about what we'd do. From the further ends of town I had kind of a sketchy vibe and I was feeling pretty protective of my children. I asked the guy in the tattoo parlor if there might be a cafe or anything and told him that I was kind of stranded. He was kind and sympathetic but didn't have any ideas.
After a little while as I was wandering back up past the laundromat to where I'd seen a tiny park, a man from the festive event on the corner called out to me. "Hey, we are having a little gallery opening over here. We have snacks and drinks. Come join us! We love children."
He was so kind. It turned out his name is Keith Palmer and he is a photographer whose work was being shown. His partner is a warm and wonderful woman named Sally Ooms, an artist and writer. It was her gallery that was opening, F and Main, also the home of her publishing company, Home Free Publishing. I wish I could have talked with her more as it was clear she's a kindred spirit, but my hands were full with the girls and my bulky stroller and my predicament. I have this feeling we will meet again.
As we walked in with Keith, the crowd kind of parted and everyone started oohing and ahhing and even taking photos of the girls. It was a grand reception!
This little gallery became our home base. We met the nicest, most hospitable people. There was a man playing guitar and people mingling happily. The girls had grapes and crackers and brie and sparkling water, and Keith even brought me a little glass of wine. I never got a funny vibe even as the girls climbed onto the futon and started slamming the armrest compartment up and down, trying to pick the petals off the snapdragons, and reaching up to the tables to scratch the cheese rind or steal napkins.
We did take a turn up to the little park. It's set back from the road a bit with a cool gazebo decorated in Chinese symbols out in front, which was occupied by a couple hard luck dudes with their dogs and a cat. I didn't get a weird vibe from them so we went ahead and played awhile. To our greatest delight, there was an old fashioned metal merry go round! The girls were wild about it.
As I was snapping photos and playing with the girls, I noticed a dude on the rundown residential street behind us whistling some call to his buddy, and then both of them stood there kind of watching me and texting on cell phones. They were kind of drugged out gangster looking fellas and I was feeling a bit sketched. That sounds so judgmental and it could have totally been nothing, but my wheels were turning. If someone needs drug money, maybe they see a camera like this as dollar signs. Maybe they see a mom with her hands full and know how hard it would be for me to get away or stop anything. I didn't trust the homeless dude to be any help. My protective instincts kicked in hard and I basically said to the girls, I've got a red dumdum in my purse with your name on it if you get out of that tunnel right now and sit back in the stroller. I buckled them in quickly and handed over the lollipop for them to share, and we high tailed it back to the gallery. My heart quieted as soon as we were back on the main drag.
That's what is so weird about Isleton, and probably all those little delta towns. What makes me love them also makes me nervous. They are a bit rundown, they are rustic, they are charming, they are wild. There are no police in the delta. The towns seem straight out of the old west, in a riverry sort of 1980s way. There are mysteries in every doorway, down every alley. I don't know the history, maybe they're poverty stricken, maybe they're up and coming. I know I heard two locals chatting about the remodel of the art gallery building and the woman who lives in the upstairs apartment was talking about cockroaches coming out the walls a mere two years ago. But strangely the buildings, with their vivid painted colors and their cool antique hardwood floors and their weathered planks, feel clean and spare. They have that Kinfolk feeling and yet they are the real deal and they come with bugs and drunks and thorns. For that I love them and I'd like to know the whole story, or more of it, and I'm not upset that a couple locals made me nervous, especially when 90% of the locals made me so welcome.
Back at the gallery for the rest of the evening. This little scene on the corner reminded me of my own town (minus the palm trees of course). If this was my tribe I'd be drinking and laughing too loud and trying to sound clever as the day turns into night and (in the old days) you help yourself to another drink and figure out how to keep the party going.
Jackson the dog became a fast friend. He was a kisser and the girls would squeal in mock horror/delight as he tried to lick them and grab their crackers.
At 8 pm Pops arrived. He chatted with a few of our new friends as I took Lucy to the potty one more time. We said our good byes and loaded into Papa's car and drove up to our car to check out the situation. As my dad started it up and looked and listened at the engine, I crossed over to the river side to see the most gorgeous sundown.
My traveling partners were cheerful through pretty much the whole ordeal.
Pops figured out that it had something to do with the muffler or manifold and that I could probably drive safely home. So I had him follow closely behind me and we made our loud noisy way back up through the delta and on into Sacramento. Lucy kept saying things like, "Just go really slow mommy. It'll be okay. In Sacramento that noise will stop. That voom is gonna stop, just go really slow." By the time we got into Sac, Polly was screaming bloody murder. It was the most heart wrenching thing since she doesn't usually do that in the car anymore and I could tell she just needed me to hold her. Lucy was trying to sing her lullabies. Hush little baby, don't say a word, Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird, in her low pitched monotone singing voice, so sincere. We pulled into the most nightmarish shopping center near my old college campus, CollegeTown, with a bustling liquor store, a 9:30 pm traffic jam coming in and out of the lot, and absolutely no place to get out and unwind for a minute. I grabbed my baby out of her seat and she flopped against my chest, her breath heaving. Even the Taco Bell was closed on the inside, I still have no idea why that area was so busy when so little was open. I finally settled on Mountain Mike's pizza which was open till midnight and completely empty. My dad and I got salad bar plates for ourselves and scoops of cottage cheese and cherry tomatoes for the girls, and I let them run around a minute. They needed it. Things were much better afterwards. I also got them changed, my little girls who had been in their party outfits all day long, into makeshift pajamas from the diaper bag, stretchy pants and tee shirts, clean undies and diaper, so they could comfortably fall asleep.
Pops is our hero once again!
It was 10:30 when we left Sacramento, and I had to turn the dome light on to keep Polly from crying. I offered them books to look at, and they said "Yeah," then got really quiet. I asked Tootie, "Is Polly falling asleep?" and she whispered, "Yeah," and then turned her own head to the side and got comfy. Both girls slept the rest of the way and through the transfer to their own beds at home.
It was so nice to get home and see my husband and have him carry in our sleeping children and all our gear. I felt heavy and exhausted as an old brick building crumbling. Earlier in the day, Lucy had asked me "what does journey mean?" I told her it's when you go on a trip and you have a series of adventures, lessons learned and feats accomplished. It was surely mother's journey for me that day. New places, new faces, new experiences, fear, comfort, curiosity, relief, all with my baby girls in tow. Little memories of my heart.