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The Mother of All Road Trips

(by Tricia Sullivan)

In 2017, freshly graduated with a degree in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College, and with no direction to speak of, I moved to Los Angeles, to be with the friends I made there in my final semester of college. A bunch of us spent that semester at Emerson’s L.A. campus for career opportunities, adventure, and memories. I went purely in search of a good time, and it remains, to date, the very best time of my life. But I only intended to stay for a year. After eight months, I was crying on the phone to my parents about bizarre medical issues and desperate loneliness. Two weeks later, I picked up my mom at LAX, and we packed up my life to drive it 3000 miles cross-country to Vermont—I was headed home, a broken girl.

My mother and I spent a little time in the city before heading off, doing things she’d always wanted to do, like touring the movie stars’ homes. (We learned that Quentin Tarantino and Lady Gaga lived next door to each other. I was shocked there had been no collaborations—imagine it. It writes itself.) Of course, we had the obligatory meal at In-N-Out Burger, and I drove her up the I-5 to the Burbank Fry’s Electronics where I had worked when I first got to L.A. She squealed and covered her eyes as I navigated the busy lanes of the freeway with easy precision. After that, a road trip seemed like a cake walk.

I was adamant about taking my full-sized mattress home with me; not only was it comfortable, it was the first major item I’d ever purchased myself. My mother didn’t bother arguing the point very hard, simply eyeing my dubious decision with resigned skepticism. I bought a luggage rack to strap onto the roof of my tiny Toyota Camry, bungee cords to attach it, and a tarp to cover. It was one helluva process.

But in short order, we discovered exactly how not aerodynamic a mattress is. It kept slip-sliding away as we drove. Periodically we heard worrisome noises, and a piece of the errant mattress became visible where it hadn’t been before; we’d pull off to the side of the road, grunting and sweating as we shoved it back in place, hoping we were actually improving matters, not making them worse.

By the third day, we’d calmed to a degree of nihilistic confidence; the mattress was holding steady at speeds of 70+mph, and as long as we continued our periodic maintenance, we might just make it all the way home with it. The tarp didn’t fare so well, becoming tattered and encrusted in a layer of bugs. At many of our stops along the way, grizzled laborers driving pickup trucks stopped in their tracks at the sight of us, uttering low whistles or words of awed amazement at our foolhardiness—“You come all the way from California with that? I tell you, I wouldn’t have the guts.” It was rather gratifying.

We took Route 66 as far as possible, stopping at various places of interest, like the Midpoint Café in Adrian, Texas, where we tried their famous “ugly crust” iteration of the ultimate roadside Americana classic—pie. Mom got Texas Pecan, and I got the Elvis: chocolate, peanut butter, banana cream—lured, as ever, by a flashy name. My perfectly serviceable pie paled in comparison to Mom’s, and I deeply regretted not following her lead.

At Tinkertown in Sandia Park, New Mexico, there was an unnerving collection of tiny automated circuses and old-fashioned towns. Each tiny scene featured dozens of handmade people, each about three inches tall, and many had coin-operated switches that would bring the scene to life when activated—so a fiddler would begin sawing, a drunk would begin swigging, or the Devil would fly in. The two of us left that attraction thoroughly creeped out. As we poked through the gift shop, the proprietress gestured out to the parking lot and asked, “The mattress you?” We exchanged sheepish glances and confirmed her assumption, beginning the conversation that had become an uncomfortable theme of our trip.

We had a number of strained arguments and huffy disagreements, a constant whir of the low-grade, unexceptional tension that is a guarantee under the strain of travel, but also in the everyday relationship between a mother and daughter. Mom was patient and deferential, with an easygoing attitude toward food and lodgings, a trusting co-pilot, happy to confer and offer suggestions, but ultimately of the opinion that this was my journey and I must be allowed to captain it. We were utterly compatible, with so little friction as to be almost entirely unmemorable—really ideal traveling companions. Music was a non-issue, my open-minded matriarch happily agreeing to anything I suggested, much of which was music she had introduced me to through her own love of it—The Moody Blues, The Beatles, Perry Como.

We spent a stressful night in a shady motel, half-worrying, half-hoping that someone would steal the mattress off the roof of the car. The one time we got lost, we dithered over whether or not to ask for directions from a kind Captain-America-esque Canadian border patrol officer as we searched for an elusive, previously untried, and delightfully picturesque bridge over Lake Champlain (we ended up asking—he was helpful, kind, interesting, and intrigued by our perilous rig), but never once did we have an actual fight.

When we arrived home a week after leaving Los Angeles, mattress still attached, we both felt like heroes returning home from a harrowing, pride-worthy tour. In an incredibly long week, my mother and I had discovered some things about the stuff we are made of, and we were both pleasantly surprised by the quality of our content. We’d had an adventure, conquered the ever-loving hell out of it—and had fun almost the whole way.

It had taken hours of wheedling and guilting to convince my mom to join me on this adventure, a trip I was far too destroyed to attempt on my own, but at the end of it, her grudging resentment had turned into bright-eyed gratitude. After more than 20 years of running a household, she’d ventured out for an adventure that didn’t revolve around our whole family—and she had loved it. It reminded her of a younger iteration of herself, more wild, more worldly, a self she spent many hours describing with dreamy longing, but had removed herself from so far as to be unrecognizable. This trip recalled herself to that lost adventurer, and it seemed to me she felt more alive than her tame and steady life as a devoted mother had allowed her to feel in quite some time. I was proud of her, and proud of myself, for even after the devastating discovery that I was not as unbreakable as I had always thought myself to be, I was no less resilient for it. I realized it was possible to be both broken and strong, recovering and fierce, victimized and powerful. In the end, the road trip was just the thing I needed to remind me that my failures in the City of Angels did not define the value of my substance—but a good relationship with my mother? That was a definite mark in my favor—and in hers.

It was probably one of the best times I’ve ever had with my mom, just the two of us, and it brought us closer together. With one adventure under my belt and out of the way, I found myself happy to take a breather in the comfort of my childhood home with my loving parents and mischievous cats. The mattress, I am embarrassed to say, lies abandoned and unused in the attic, collecting dust, still wrapped in its bug-encrusted plastic, awaiting my next adventure. Its time is coming, though, soon. Soon.


Tricia Sullivan is an aspiring novelist and actress, moonlighting as a Ben & Jerry’s tour guide. who lives in Vermont. She can be found at SoundCloud and YouTube.

Grated Pumpkin Pie

This pie is a lot of work (almost entirely because of grating the pumpkin), but it’s the absolute best pumpkin pie you’ll ever have in your life.

For filling:

4 c. grated raw pumpkin

1 scant c. sugar

1/2 t. salt

1 heaping t. ground ginger

1/2 t. allspice

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. cloves

3/4 c. evaporated milk

2 or 3 eggs

1 unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix all filling ingredients together, and pour into an unbaked pie shell.

Bake for 1 hour or until knife inserted in the center comes away clean.


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