Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
October 14, 2009
Dina and I pull off I-70 around 11 p.m. somewhere in the middle of Kansas when I realize I’ve lost my wallet.
Images of me doing the Half Moon pose next to the gas pump 200 miles ago flash through my head. I see the wallet on the roof of the car, heavy with all the cash, change and credit cards that are in it.
I’m halfway between nowhere and nothing, and I’m totally screwed.
When Dina tells me she’s driving across the country to start her new life in New York City, I don’t even hesitate.
“Sure, I’ll go with you,” I say. “How many more opportunities am I going to have to be able to just up and leave and take off on a cross-country road trip?”
I’m not really sure what my motivation is, exactly. I’m so used to being motivated by chasing a man I almost forgot what being impulsive means. But just talking about being impulsive has me kind of excited, so I try not to give it too much thought. Hesitation is deadly, I say. Just jump.
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Dina offers to pay for my return ticket, so I decide it’ll be cheap if not altogether free. I’ll just cash those paychecks and stick to a budget. I’m sure four hundred bucks is more than enough.
Dina is French and is about to get her first taste of Middle America, so I figure the only way to keep her from moving clear back to Europe is to make sure she sleeps through most of it. I tell her I’ll do the nightshift so we can make it to Columbus in one shot.
“You gotta power it,” I tell Dina. “It’s the only way to make it across.”
The last time I power-tripped across the United States I was 20 years old, but I figure age has nothing to do with it. I have never been a morning person, so my only hope of seeing the sunrise is to stay up all night and wait for it.
Let me tell you it’s one hell of a long wait when you start thinking about all that cash that’s in your wallet, enough cash to keep the most honest person in the world from being honest. So my mind is spinning, trying to figure out how I’m going to make it through this trip and get on a plane and go shopping on Madison Avenue (which in all honesty is probably the second best thing to a man) without any money or identification.
“My wallet is a boomerang,” I tell Dina, trying to reassure myself. “It always comes back to me.” It’s the money I’m not so sure about.
Things only get worse when I get pulled over for speeding in Kansas City, Mo., at 2 a.m. and the cop decides to write me a ticket even though I’ve spent the last 20 minutes entertaining him.
“Where the hell you ladies headed with skis on the roof?” He says, his face barely visible under the shadow of his wide brim western-style hat. He slurs his words like he has a chew in his mouth or is drunk, but it’s just his accent. “You’re going in the wrong die-wreck-shun.”
“My friend is moving to New York City and I’m just going with her,” I said, batting my eyelashes and tilting my head to the side just so.
“What the hell she gone and done that for?” he says, scribbling my information down on a pad of paper.
“There are a lot of people in Aspen who would like to know the answer to that question,” I say.
I immediately think of another friend Amber who just moved to Chicago. For her going away party, her friends made T-shirts that said, “She just wants to live her life.”
What I don’t know is the lost wallet and the speeding ticket would be followed by food poisoning I’d get from a tuna roll at an expensive Asian-fusion restaurant called Baang in Greenwhich, Conn. Forget Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil. If I’m going to be violently ill for 24 hours straight, I’m going to do it in style.
I don’t know the FedEx people would come to deliver my passport at Dina’s apartment in Brooklyn during the five minutes no one is home to receive it. I don’t know we’d end up lost in the projects, two little Jewish girls in a black VW Jetta with Colorado plates, trying not to be too conspicuous as we look for the FedEx pick up place.
I don’t know my free flight out of LaGuardia will be delayed six hours or that I’ll end up stuck in Denver at 2 a.m. only to get two hours of sleep before the skinny hot chicks at the yoga studio have a big staff photo shoot.
Still, I drive through the darkness, watching the dotted line split the world open like a zipper coming undone. I drive as the miles between distant cities become smaller, as the trees grow thicker, the air rich with oxygen and the smell of grass. I let the feeling of sleeplessness wash over me like a drug, my consciousness in the twilight between thought and action, almost still.
At sunrise, we pass the St. Louis arch, this gateway between the east and the west, a milestone of the Mississippi, the birthplace of my father’s mother. It is a place that, in this one special moment, seems so filled with hope.
A few hours later, an unfamiliar number pops up on my phone.
“This is the Department of Transportation in WaKeeny, Kansas, ma’am?” The voice says. “I believe we have your wallet. One of our guys found it on the on-ramp? We figure you might want it back, what, with all that money in it.”
I guess sometimes you don’t really know what you’re looking for until it’s found.