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Second Place - "Traumatic Travel"

1994 Anne Horton Writing Award
Second Place
"Traumatic Travel"
Linda Osborn

When most people hear the word vacation, they think of fun and relaxation. I have feelings of anxiety and distress. It all started while venturing on a family vacation several years ago. There were six of us packed in an aging Oldsmobile, my mother and five easily excitable children, ranging in ages from seven to fifteen. The inside of the car was packed with the usual munchies, sandwich fixings, chips, pop, and snack cakes. The intent was to make the trek from Illinois to Alabama in one long stretch, only stopping for potty breaks.

As we clipped briskly down the empty highway on that gloriously sunny summer day, visions of sunbathing and shopping raced through my head. There was an overall feeling of excitement in that old car. So it's no wonder that between the intermittent games of travel, eating and bickering, the rising temperature went unnoticed. Seemingly without warning, smoke was billowing from the car engine. My mother had no choice but to pull to the shoulder of the road. Thinking it would surely blow up at any second, I flew out of the car. There was no way that old Oldsmobile was going any further on its own. A tow truck was definitely in order.

The view of the surrounding countryside would have seemed beautiful five minutes earlier, but now the the barbed wire fence and tall grass only looked like a barrier to the distant spattering of farmhouses. Being the oldest, I was sent through a barrage of possible snake pits and vermin to find a farmhouse with a phone. In hopes that any would-be kidnapper would surely feel pity and let us go, I grabbed my younger sister.

Within twenty minutes we had reached the first farmhouse, and by now my overactive imagination had completely taken over. My legs quivered as I approached the rickety porch steps. Knowing that most farms housed mass murderers, I tapped lightly on the screen door. Looking back, I noticed that my sister was sitting at the other end of the sidewalk and playing with a stray black cat. She was totally oblivious to my impending demise. Turning back, I let out a screech and jumped. I am sure that the grandmotherly woman at the door was just as startled because she jumped right along with me. After calming down, I explained my presence at her doorstep. She invited us in for some fresh lemonade. While we rested from the journey, she called the tow truck and summoned her husband to drive us back. He dropped us off at the end of the gravel road next to the barbed wire fence.

Within the half hour the tow truck arrived. Because of the limited space in the cab of the truck, only my mother and the youngest child were allowed to sit with the driver. This left the rest of us in the car, while being towed. Feeling sick from all the munchies and the bumpy tow, my sister leaned over and proceeded to vomit on my shoes. It was a very long haul to the service station.

Upon arrival, my Mother was informed that the extreme heat had melted the car's pistons, leaving it a lost cause. So out of kindness(or pity) the truck driver put the whole stinky lot in his own car and drove us to the nearest Greyhound bus depot.

On the next leg of the journey, we were thrown into the ranks of Greyhound bus passengers. The Greyhound travel option always attracted a varied clientele, of whom I do not have fond memories. Since this bus had not been chartered, I had no control over my travel companions. The man I sat next to from Indianapolis to Nashville smelled like rotting potatoes. He was a big man and had a tendency to take up more than his share of the seat. At one point, I awoke to find his hairy hand on my knee. Even if he didn't do it on purpose, I was still relieved when the bus arrived at the Nashville bus depot.

My family piled out for a much needed midnight stretch. The inside of the bus terminal was dingy and most everything was painted metallic gray. It reminded me of a minimum security prison with vending machines. Anyone observing my family would have thought we resembled a mother duck with her five ducklings. We all clung pretty closely to her side. I am sure this is what prompted my mom to empty her change purse into my open palms. Hoping for space, she pointed us towards the vending machines. She must have been desperate to load us up with more junk food.

When I returned, there was a strange man sitting very close to my mom. The sight sickened me, but even more so when I realized he wanted more than just good conversation. From the smell, he had been drinking heavily. My mom was obviously uncomfortable with his presence, but was trying to be diplomatic. He finally left for the bathroom, and I made my way to the nearest security guard. The guard suggested that we re-board the bus where we would be safe and he would take care of everything. Ha!

I noticed while boarding the bus that there was an extremely angry man arguing with the bus driver. Apparently he wanted on without a ticket. I went on by to the back of the bus. I was hoping to have a better travel companion this time. Suddenly I heard my mother yell, "Get out! There is a fire!" I grabbed my younger sister's hand and darted towards the front of the bus. I could not understand why all the other passengers were crouched in their seats, or why some people grabbed at my clothing as I passed. My heart was beating so hard its' pounding in my ears was the only sound I could hear. It was as if my mom's lips were moving, but no words were coming out. As she came closer I realized what she was really saying, "Get down, they're firing." The security guard had shot the angry man in the stomach.

After the commotion died down, I realized the same big man, from the first part of the journey, was my seat mate. I collapsed into my seat not caring anymore. Turning my head towards the closed window, I watched the light from the full moon stream through the glass. A feeling of relief came over me at hearing the bus engine start up and the wheels backing out of that Nashville nightmare.