Road Tripping: Siren Song

Part 9 of a series. Road Tripping

Destination: Siren, Wisconsin (45° 47’ 8” N  92° 22’ 51” W)

Origination: Bloomington, Minnesota (44° 50’ 26” N  93° 17’ 53” W)

Traveling Party: Barry & Jennifer, friends Jon & Lisa, and their son, Alex (8 months)

Date: May 1997

When Barry’s friend, Lisa, invited us to spend Memorial Day weekend with them at her husband’s step-mother’s cabin on a lake in Wisconsin, it sounded like a grand idea. A long weekend relaxing in the woods, days on the water, nights by a bonfire. Grilling outside, enjoying the tranquility. What could possibly go wrong?

As soon as we pulled up to their house in Eagan, I had a vague sense that the trip may not go on without a hitch. We arrived at 9:00 in the morning, sharp. That’s how I roll. If someone says we’re leaving at 9:00, I’m there at 9:00, ready to go. Some people just aren’t like that. They were still packing. I asked again where the cabin was because from the looks of things I was convinced that we were embarking on a year-long expedition to the North Pole.

Though now I appreciate the complexities of traveling with small children, at that time when Barry and I were still just dating, I didn’t quite know what we were getting into in agreeing to take a trip with a baby. Even so, in my many treks back to Kansas with the whole crew, I’ve probably never packed as much as Lisa had sitting out on their driveway. For a two day, two night trip, there were three coolers, a playpen, a stroller, a humongous suitcase, a small suitcase, a big diaper bag, a little diaper bag, a grocery bag filled with toys, a laundry basket filled with household items, a bag of baby blankets, a large electric fan, a small electric fan, an iron, a fishing tackle box, two bags of groceries, two backpacks, two bottles of wine, a case of beer, a case of diet Coke, a baby swing, a baby play-yard, a baby gate, a package of diapers, a box of dishes, a propane tank, a plastic bin with bottles and a huge can of baby formula, three lawn chairs, a portable high chair, two sleeping bags, and a crate of firewood.

We helped load up and an hour and a half later we were on the road. Barry rode with Jon in his pick-up towing the boat, and I drove my car with Lisa and the baby. Most of the way there Lisa talked to me about wedding gowns and wedding plans. Plans for MY wedding. Barry and I weren’t even engaged. It was an awkward conversation. I probably didn’t talk as much about my wedding when I was planning my actual wedding over a year later.

We arrived at the cabin, which was on Clam Lake near Siren, Wisconsin. Siren is a town that has more bars than people, which I’m given to understand is typical in Wisconsin. It was a chilly and rainy afternoon. I had hopes of settling in and maybe curling up with a book and a beer until the weather improved. There was a problem, though. Jon forgot to bring the key. There was supposed to be a key hidden somewhere. We spread out to look for it, but no luck. I was all for finding a way to break in, but the cabin was rigged with security cameras and an elaborate security system. (His step-mother had a problem with a stalker or something, I forgot what the story behind that was.) And Jon convinced us that if we tripped an alarm, the full-force of the U.S. government and local law enforcement would descend upon us like we were illegal alien, cop-killing crack dealers.

So Jon drove back to town to use the phone. (The 90’s, how did we survive without cell phones?) Jon called someone, who said that Hank and Marge might have a spare key. Jon drove out to Hank and Marge’s house, but hey weren’t home. In the meantime, Barry, Lisa, Alex and I hung outside of the cabin, trying to start a fire with soggy firewood, but we had no matches. Finally Jon came back with the bad news. We were starving so we drove back to town and had lunch in a cafe, hoping that by the time we were finished, Hank and Marge would be home and we could get on with our afternoon.

We drove back out to Hank and Marge’s place. They still weren’t home. We drove back into town. Jon thought he knew the name of Hank and Marge’s son. Maybe he’d have a key to Hank and Marge’s place. He looked through the phone book at the gas station but couldn’t locate his number. He thought he remembered where their son lived. So we drove back out into the woods and after following a number of unpaved roads, we rolled up to the place where Jon thought the son lived. It was a scene out of Deliverance. The only thing missing was the banjo-playing inbred. We were greeted by a mangy dog who looked like he wanted a piece out of each one of us. By this time, Alex, the baby, was long overdue for a nap and started crying. Some kids were playing outside on some old tires. Jon asked them if their dad was home. He was! But he didn’t have a key. He did have a lead on Hank and Marge, though. They should be at the American Legion in Siren at Joe and Mary’s fiftieth anniversary party.

After finding Hank and Marge partying down at the Legion, they were able to get us a key and into the cabin. By this time there was really nothing left to do but unpack, grill some steaks, drink a few beers, watch Alex put every item on the floor into his mouth, and go to bed. Really what Barry and I should have done is ditched them and parked ourselves at a bar with the locals, but we abided by the new parents’ schedule. And were awoken at 2:00 and 5:30 in the morning by a screaming baby.

The next morning for some reason Lisa was hell-bent on making French toast for breakfast, even though Barry and I would have been satisfied with just a regular piece of toast. In the fifty pounds of provisions they brought along, there was no butter, oil, cooking spray or anything to coat a pan for French toast. I was all for just taking our chances with it sticking to the bottom of the pan, but Lisa insisted Jon go into town to find butter.

Breakfast was finally served at 10:30. I was itching to get out on the water. I love the water. Even though it was cold out, it was sunny and I was ready to enjoy floating around the lake, enjoying the day. But first we had to stop for gas for the boat. Then we had to find the perfect spot to launch. Then we had to buy some permit. Then we had to buy bait. By 1:00 we were finally on the water. The baby came along. Lisa had a life jacket for him, but didn’t put it on. It was driving me crazy. He was fussy. I kept hinting that maybe she should just put it on him. I’d help! She said she’d just hold him because she needed to try to give him some applesauce. Not only was I concerned for the baby’s safety, because it was a windy day and the water was choppy, I was thinking of myself as well because Lisa said she didn’t know how to swim, Jon had said he hated swimming, and I knew that Barry was a terrible swimmer. I’ve always taken to the water like a fish, so that left me to go after the kid when he fell overboard, which I thought was a reasonably high probability.

Jon was anxious to show us what his boat could do. So he aired it out and got us up to 50 mph. In the cold. In the wind. With the spray soaking all of us. Of course the baby hated it and pitched a fit. Lisa decided she’d take my car back to the cabin so she could put Alex down for a nap. I could tell she wanted me to come with her, but I stayed with the guys. What a mistake that was. Jon decided to see if the boat could do 70 mph. I was soaked head to toe and was chilled to the bone. And I had to pee. I could tell Barry was not enjoying himself either, but was putting on a brave face. Soon I had a splitting headache. And still had to pee. An hour later someone finally suggested maybe it was a little chilly out and we should head back. I had to pee worse than I’ve ever had to pee. My clothes were soaked, I was shivering, and it felt like someone was driving a railroad spike into my head. So of course Jon had trouble getting the boat back on the trailer.

We headed back. Jon needed to stop for gas. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, I thought, we JUST stopped on the way here to gas up the boat, why the FUCK didn’t we gas up the truck at the same time. WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH THESE PEOPLE? There was no bathroom at the gas station. I looked toward the trees, thinking that might be an option, but there were buildings nearby. I began to wonder how long I had until my kidneys failed. I thought about peeing my pants since I was soaking wet anyway, but decided against it.

FINALLY we made it back. Outside of a few times when I had a particularly nasty bout of stomach flu, I’ve never been so happy to see a toilet in my life. I changed clothes and wrapped myself up in a blanket with the hopes of returning my body to its normal temperature. My head was still aching. I swallowed a fistful of Ibuprofen. It still ached. I laid down. It still ached. I sat up. It still ached. I ate something. It still ached. I drank alcohol. It still ached. Barry rubbed my temples. It still ached. I cried. It still ached.

At last I decided it was time to cut our losses. I begged Barry to ask them if they wanted to go home instead of staying another night like we planned. The news that we would be leaving made my head feel good enough to start helping pack up and get the cars loaded. Mercifully we were off.

Lisa began to fret about the chicken. She didn’t think there was enough ice in the cooler to keep it cold and was worried that it would spoil. So as soon as we made it to the highway, she made me flag down Jon and Barry to tell them that we needed to stop at the next town to get ice at the grocery store.

We stopped, Lisa went in while I stayed in the car. A couple minutes went by. Five minutes went by. Pretty soon ten minutes went by and there was no sign of her. I just wanted to go home. Twenty minutes later she came back with two bags of ice and laughed, “I thought the ice would be back by the ice cream and stuff so I went all the way to the back of the store, but all along it was right up front.”

Yep. That’s usually where they keep the ice.

Once again we were on the road. It was after 11pm when I finally saw the sign for the exit to 494. Just a few miles from home, I thought. We’d stop at Lisa and Jon’s house, drop everything off, and I’m in my warm comfy bed in only a half hour.

Some things were never meant to be.

Jon and Barry were ahead of us with the boat. Suddenly sparks flew from the back of the trailer. The back tire had blown and the trailer was dragging on the ground. They pulled over, Lisa and I had to turn around at the next exit and circle back. When we got there, we found that the tire was completely shredded. There was no way that thing was going anywhere. Jon wanted Lisa to go home and call her dad, who worked for an excavating company and had access to a flatbed. Barry could tell that Jon wanted him to stay with him, but kind of gave him a “Good luck with ALL that,” and came with us.

When we got back to the house, Lisa called her dad and ultimately decided to just call a towing service. They said they could be there in 30 minutes. Lisa thought she needed to go back out on the highway and tell Jon that the tow truck would be there in 30 minutes. Barry and I tried to tell her that by the time she got there, the tow truck would already almost be there, so there was really no point. Nope, she was going. And wanted to take the baby too. Barry and I couldn’t in good conscience let her go back out onto the side of the highway in the dark of night with a baby, so we told her to leave him with us.

I’d done my fair share of babysitting as a teenager and I can honestly say I’ve never heard a baby cry for so long and so loud as Alex did that night. There was nothing that would calm him down. We tried feeding him, rocking him, singing to him, nothing worked. Desperate for ideas, I called my mom. None of her suggestions worked. After an hour of relentless screaming, he finally settled down. At this point the flatbed tow truck pulled up with the trailer. Barry went outside to help them guide it into the driveway.

Probably the considerate thing to do at that point would have been to help them get settled and unloaded, but at 1:30am social graces kind of fall by the wayside. We were outta there. I’d never been so happy to see my tiny apartment. Barry and I fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows, mentally exhausted.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011

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