Category Archives: Listening Skills

Invasion of the Toll Plaza

I miss the days when someone could dive-bomb a military base without getting shot out of the sky.

Many years before 9/11, but a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, my mother decided to get her private pilot’s license. I mention the third item here because I believe in grouping disasters.

So one day in the ‘60s, my parents are flying a Cessna in circles over the desert, either lost or pretending to be a fuel-powered vulture. Suddenly Mom spots a landing strip, yanks the yoke, and takes the plane into a sharp bank towards the ground.

Dad is concerned because he’s always worried about having married a lunatic, but now he’s got more reason to worry because everything he sees—hangars, aircraft, ground vehicles—is decorated in camouflage.

In as casual a manner as possible, he says, “Please don’t land here.”

Mom lovingly asks, “Why the hell not? We need directions.”

“I wasn’t looking forward to being shot today.”

Mom mutters something about “being a wimp,” and she dives for the landing strip.

Dad doesn’t need to worry, though. They receive a festive greeting just like when tourists land in Hawaii, only with way more machine guns pointed at them.

I inherited my mother’s excellent navigation and listening skills, although I don’t have a pilot’s license, probably for the same reason that Paul doesn’t want me to get a gun permit.

I’ve always felt directionals—such as east and west, for example—are arbitrary suggestions, like stopping at red lights or not flossing in restaurants.

This belief has led to many exciting adventures, especially when we lived in Upstate New York, a land riddled with mysterious natural phenomena known as “toll roads,” thirty-mile-long stretches of wasteland where drivers can be trapped for days, not being allowed to stop anywhere except at Antarctic-sized service plazas populated by angry motorists, vending machine snacks, and restrooms that are always “Closed for Cleaning. Thank you for your patience!”

My favorite is Pembroke Plaza. It must be because I accidentally drove there four times in two months.

Desperate for attractions, New York gives this toll plaza its own Facebook page

Pembroke Service Plaza
Another lovely New York State Park

The second, third, and fourth times I headed home, Paul said, “Remember, even though you want to head west coming home, you have to take the 33 East to do that.”

I replied in a patient tone, “You don’t need to tell me that. I know where the hell I’m going.”

Every time I reached the 33 West exit, which I unfortunately had to encounter before I got to the 33 East exit, an invisible force took control of the steering wheel, jerking the car onto 33 West.

I was quick to realize my mistake, usually within the first mile. Then the locals were treated to a lilting twenty-nine-mile soliloquy of swear words until I reached, once again, Pembroke Travel Plaza. So it was a great time for everyone, really.

I always had to buy a phone card to call Paul and tell him I would be home a little late because I didn’t have the sense to buy a cell phone. And I also enjoyed it every time he asked, “You did it again?”

I’m looking forward to the day when science can find the part of a person’s DNA strand that says, “Can’t navigate for shit” and replace it with “Great singer.” I know Paul wishes for this too, especially when I sing in the car.

stuck-in-pembroke-page-001.jpg
Image brought to you by paper, scissors, and kindergarten skills because I haven’t bothered to learn my photo-editing software. I don’t wanna talk about it.