We’re driving two hours north to Vermont to go skiing. My three sisters and Uncle Steve, a friend of the family, have shed most of their layers to accommodate for the heater, which is blasting hot air. I, on the other hand, am still wearing long underwear, a turtle neck, wool ski pants, and a heavy sweater. The reason for this discrepancy is simple – I’m six years old and no one wants to have to re-dress me once we arrive.
But the heat is only part of my challenge. I’m in the rear of the station wagon, sitting in a vinyl seat that faces backward, toward the road behind us. I watch with confusion as buildings and billboards race past, seemingly moving backwards. A human mind engaged in driving is accustomed to observing things approaching, but that logic somehow eluded the engineering geniuses who invented the rear-facing seat.
We pull away from another car on the interstate. The vehicle appears to be rolling backwards, retreating from us. It’s as if the driver can sense my imminent hurl.
I gag, issuing a wet throaty noise.
One of my sisters shouts, “Dad, he’s getting sick!”
Our station wagon veers into the breakdown lane. Trees rush by while Dad pumps the breaks and fights to steer like a pilot landing a rickety, third-world airplane. The station wagon bounces on its soft shocks over the rough pavement and then grinds to a halt. Dad leaps out of the driver seat and races to the back. Through the glass I see his eyes go wide. He pops the trunk and starts pulling up against the pneumatic arms designed to make the door open slowly. Dad’s stricken expression reveals what we all know – this is a race against time. If I get sick inside the car, we’ll all have to endure the smell for the next hour. But there’s always a major bonus whenever that happens –the heater gets turned off and the windows get rolled down.
A crack under the door appears. It’s big enough to squeeze my head through. I lean forward over the bumper and let it rip. My sisters sigh with relief, a crisis averted. Uncle Steve appears at my Dad’s side, points down at the ground, and says, “Hey look. Grapes!”
A few years from now the station wagon will die on a Vermont interstate. The engine will literally break away from it’s rusted out support brackets and slam into the pavement. Totaled after a massive heart attack, the car will be towed away and its metal put to a better use, like making trash cans. And I, for one, will not be sad to see it go.