I think I can. I think I can. I can’t.
I got to my first stop in New Hampshire in the dark. And when I say “dark,” I’m not talking about suburban dark. I’m talking: middle-of-the-country, cloudy-sky, no-car-dealer-for-miles-and-miles dark. Google Maps showed my hosts being at the end of the road I had just turned onto, so I dutifully charged down it like a moth flying into the light. But then things started getting weird. The road ended but I was still supposed to be driving. Then I saw a lane going up with some random numbers posted on a sign beside it, but none of the numbers matched the address I was supposed to be seeking. But I drove up it anyhow, because if Google Maps said it was right, then it must be right; right?
You know the answer to that.
But on I drove: up, up, up, up, around the next bend, up, up, up— until Roxanne couldn’t go any further. The clutch was not catching. The engine started smoking. And my common sense suddenly kicked in. “Stop,” it said. “Turn off the car. Pick up the phone. Just stop, for the love of 1977.”
The phone rang and a woman picked up.
“Hi! Is this Ellen?” I said, because I had never met my hosts before. Gardner was the brother of Marty, one of my hosts from my Thousand Islands stop, and Ellen was his wife, and I was here because I had written a Facebook status asking my friends if they had any New Hampshire contacts. I had received a few responses, including this clever link, as well as Marty’s suggestion I go meet his brother and sister-in-law in Springfield.
“Yes,” Ellen said into the phone. “And you must be Margaret.”
I told her I was almost there, just coming up her drive, in fact, but that I had a little problem. And I explained that I was perched rather precariously and that I was not going any further, and it was not by choice, but my camper was just not going to make it, so that it might be necessary to come get me.
Turns out, Google Maps had no idea what it was talking about. Gardner & Ellen’s house was way back where I had turned off the main highway, so how the hell I got to where I was was anyone’s guess. But there I was, halfway up a mountain and a little stuck.
“I don’t know where you are. You’re probably in someone’s driveway,” she said.
“I’m just going to back up then,” I said. “I’ll be down at yours in just a few minutes.”
“Well, you be careful. It’s tricky up there.”
“Okay. I will. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
To be mild: that was an understatement. In getting to where I was, I had not realized how much ground I had covered, nor how twisty it was. I started to back up by just easing my foot off the road, and I was periodically opening the door and sticking my head out to see where I was and to make sure I was still on the road but like I said, it was dark, so I could not entirely see where I was going, so I was just making sure I could see some gray, which was the gravel, meaning I was at least following a line of some sort and not in a ditch. And I was breathing. And breathing some more. And doing everything I could to stop thinking about the greater picture here, because it was more important than ever that I just keep my focus on inching back down, six inches at a time. I could not rush this. I knew that. But then a car started coming down the mountain toward me.
It kept getting closer and closer, until it was almost right where I was, so I just held my hand up to make it stop. It obeyed. Then I motioned for it the driver to come out and come to talk to me. Turns out, that’s what he was doing already. It was Bill, a grandfatherly neighbor who had seen me from his living room, just as he was getting ready to go to bed, so he had put clothes on and had gotten in the car and had come down to see if I needed help, because he had also been able to see from his window that I was in a camper.
I explained who I was and who I was going to visit.
“They’re at the beginning of the road that way.”
“I know. I just talked to Ellen,” I said with a laugh.
“What if I backed it down for you?” he asked.
“Oh my God. That would be amazing.”
So I slid over and put Rennie in my lap and let Bill climb in and then he began inching, inching, inching Roxie back down, almost going off the road a few times, though he was able to straighten her out each time, and meanwhile, I was becoming more and more horrified at the thought of having tried to do this myself.
“Boy, you’re a saint,” I said, when we were finally easing back onto the road and he was turning her around and getting her pointed where I needed to go, and as he climbed out of the cab and I slid back into the driver’s seat, I reached through the window to shake his hand and say Goodbye.
“Well, love ya, honey,” he said.
“I love you, too,” I said, laughing, because I had never told a stranger I loved him within 10 minutes of meeting him. I don’t think I had ever even had the urge to do so, but at that moment, I couldn’t have thought of a better thing to say.