Regarding a trip to clean out the Saturn

It's been a funny couple of months, and by funny, I mean a lot of things that might not normally be deemed "funny" have happened thus making our lives actually pretty hilarious. A leak of fairly gargantuan proportions has sprung up underneath our toilet, so that when we do laundry water gushes out from where it meets the floor, soaking the bathroom and recently, the carpet outside the bathroom and now it's kind of seeping into the bedroom. The plumbers have been out several times and can't seem to quite figure it out. This particular problem results in a vicious cycle. We put towels down to stop the rush of water, but then can't wash those towels because doing laundry causes the leak to occur. So a few days ago, when all the towels had been used up for leak-stopping purposes, J and I were drying ourselves off with washcloths after taking a shower.

There have been a few other things. My laptop's wireless internet capabilities have mysteriously shut down, thus making the whole freelancer-who-does-her-work-from-coffee-shops-and-town-hall-meetings rather difficult. A series of exciting, but slightly time-consuming trips to plan - San Francisco this weekend, Chicago for Memorial Day and Hawaii in June - and then the big thing, the thing that's really taken a toll, is the fact that we were in an accident several weekends ago and J's car is totaled.

I realize that seems like kind of a major thing, something I'd mention, but honestly, it's just been a wild ride lately, a wild, but sort of fun ride, and I don't know, we could get annoyed except that it's all sort of entertaining in a weird, challenging way. This is our life. We rarely eat dinner before 9 p.m. if that early. We go away on whirlwind trips. We can't seem to get the hang of paying our bills on time. We live in a rented house that sometimes fosters snakes and mice and relatively large insects, but we're having a lot of fun.

To make matters more interesting, this accident occurred in Richmond. We were headed up north to D.C. for a quick, one-night visit to see some friends and take care of a few things and, I think it's probably too complex to really get into the details on the internet, but we got off the highway to stop at a gas station and got into an accident that was technically J's fault, but totally wasn't, you know what I mean.

Anyway, no one involved was hurt, so we got the car towed to a local body shop, which was an exciting event as Mina and Cecilia were with us and got to ride in the cab. We got a rental and kept driving. See, that's what I mean. When a lot of semi-crazy things happen all the time it's not even that big a deal when you get in a crash and ruin your car. It's just another thing that happened along the way.

After the long, drawn-out process of talking to our insurance company a bunch of times and having them do whatever they do on their end they declared the car (a 2001 Saturn) a total loss, which meant we needed to get back down to Richmond to retrieve any items we'd left in there. And because I usually "work" at home (which sometimes involves copious blog-writing and printing out color maps of the San Francisco Bay area) I offered to drive up yesterday to do that.

Because I was driving over two hours to complete the simple task of picking up a few items we'd been too hurried to collect after the accident occurred, I decided to somehow try and make my trip at least a little enjoyable. J helped me put some new music and podcasts on my iPod. And after I'd visited the body shop, packed up our belongings and said a quiet goodbye to the car, I decided to do something I've never, ever done in all the millions of trips we've made up and down the highway between North Carolina and D.C. - I decided to drive into the city and take a break. A real break. Not a break at the Sheetz gas station, not a break at Taco Bell, not pulling off the highway out of necessity or boredom, but a foray into a real, thriving, urban atmosphere.

I followed the signs to Shockoe Slip, only because I had a vague inkling this was a cute part of Richmond, that maybe I'd been there once before and liked it. Luckily, I was right, so I found a place to park my car and embarked on a little adventure. I browsed in a charming bookstore. I stopped at a Japanese restaurant for lunch, ate at the sushi bar with the other solitary diners, and got completely absorbed in the local weekly paper I'd picked up. Afterwards I took a long walk and checked out a few historic-looking buildings we always see from the highway.

When I got back on the road I was refreshed and happy - I was happy and even relaxed during what I thought was going to be a completely draining and rushed road trip. On my way back down south I listened to whole albums on my iPod - The Shins, The Arcade Fire, The Twilight Singers - it was this calm oasis compared to what life's been like lately.

When I was getting near home I pulled off at a rest stop. I was feeling a little sleepy as a result of the hot sun beating down through the windshield and decided to get a Diet Coke. I almost never drink soda - I think a remnant of my mother's watchful eye when it came to soda and "sugar cereals" when we were children - and it's hard to explain to someone who never drinks the stuff, but it is possible to crave a Diet Coke, crave the harsh bubbles and saccharin sweetness and mild caffeine boost that - and here's the greatest part - doesn't make you fat and Jesus, I wanted a Diet Coke.

The vending area at this particular rest stop included a myriad of vending machines and I put my money in the first one on the row, anxiously awaiting that first sip, but something went haywire and the machine returned my money and yielded no goods. Not wanting to deal with a less than perfect operating system, I tried the next machine, which took my money, kept my money, and produced no soda. This was troubling because I wasn't sure if I had ample change left to try again. I searched my cavernous bag and even marched back to the car to check under the seats, and I was getting extremely nervous - would this row of incompetent vending machines ruin my otherwise wonderful day? - when I pulled out a crumpled dollar bill. I tried yet another machine and was granted a Diet Coke that was not only cold, but so cold that some of the soda had frozen. A partially frozen Diet Coke on a hot day when I needed it most - could life get any better? No. And so I drove onward back towards the chaos, enjoying those last few moments of solitude and quiet before arriving back at our busy, ridiculous little house, that probably, right now, could also classify as a swamp.