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How Was I Supposed to Know I Have A Bus Phobia?

The night before we left Reno, we had Tim’s family over for a dinner party of sorts; we got take out. We had been too busy trying to fix the toilet to figure out the kitchen appliances. A valve was broken, so there was no water to flush. The only way to use the toilet was to pour water in it from a bucket. It was Little House on the Prairie meets Magical Mystery Tour Bus. Frankly, I wasn’t too upset. At least we had water in the rest of the rig. I knew now from experience that it could’ve been much worse.

It was at about this time that “the bitch” as we came to call her, started talking.

“Alert!” she’d squawk. “Fresh water system, three-quarters… grey water system, seven eights.” She apparently lived in an upper kitchen cabinet, along with all the master control systems for the bus. Tim and I dubbed her, “the bitch” because she never said anything really useful, like, “Alert! Front door about to fly open!” Or, “Alert! Cat about to pee in bed!” Or, more useful still, “Alert! This bus thing is the stupidest idea you’ve ever had!” Within a few days, after we realized that the pronouncements she did make weren’t even true, i.e. we had far less fresh water than she said we did, we starting calling her, “the lying bitch.”

As we prepared to leave Reno, I noticed Tim procrastinating. He finally admitted he was wary of the next disaster down the road. An insecure driver behind the wheel of over 40,000 pounds of bus is not a good thing. I tried my best to console him.

“I know I’m not being rationale,” he said. “I know nothing’s going to happen.” An irrational bus driver is even worse than an insecure one. And, if Tim really thought no more bad things were going to happen on this most accursed of trips, he was quite irrational, indeed.

On the drive out of Reno, Shula spent the entire day sitting in the “buddy seat” with me. It wasn’t that she’d suddenly gotten courageous, but rather that we had decided to keep the door to the bedroom shut (we really liked our new mattress). She climbed up to my lap and dug her face in against my stomach. See no evil, hear no evil, is no evil, I guess. Occasionally, she’d lift a terrified eye in my direction for a quick, accusatory glare. Tim said, “looks like she’s saying, ‘Mommy! Make the nightmare stop!’” After a little while, I actually though she was purring, but soon realized the “purr” was coming from her haunches. Trembling was more like it.

The rest of the trip to our next campsite was uneventful. Tim even managed to navigate through aggressive rush hour traffic without using the locomotive quality air horn he’d had installed. (Well, to be honest, he had many an opportunity, but didn’t want to give Shula a heart attack.) Once we stopped, he showed me his still shaking hands as he recounted how, during his bus driving lessons with an RTD instructor (the wife of a nurse at the hospital), they had encountered heavy freeway traffic. When Tim balked at her suggestion to change lanes, thinking no one would let him in, she calmly informed him, “Sometimes you just gotta move the bus.” It was this refrain he had heard in his head, guiding him through the nearly bumper to bumper mess.

After we parked for the night at a campground, we high-fived each other, exclaiming, “our first trip without a disaster!” We spoke too soon. It was over a hundred degrees in the desert, but when we hooked into shore power, there was none to be had. We then tried to fire up the generator, but it was overheated. So were we. So were Miles, Morty and Shula. The maintenance man for the campground came by and explained that the entire line of campers went down as soon as we hooked in. Although they’d been upgrading their thirty-year-old electrical system, some of their sites just couldn’t handle bigger rigs like ours. We were moved to another spot, several rows away, but I suspect the problem was campground-wide, because as we lumbered down the lanes to our new place, nearly everyone got out of their rigs to shoot us the same looks obese people get when boarding airplanes.

I found myself becoming phobic about the bus. (Actually, I could very well have been bus phobic for years without any opportunity to know it until now.) Not just that something terrible would happen, like getting locked out, or the generator not working or even finding no room at a truck stop, all problems we had already encountered and which had proved survivable. No, instead, I found myself fearful any time the bus was in motion. On the slightest downhill, I’d try to mind-meld with Tim, to get him to put on the engine break, my foot stomping on air. At every turn, I’d clutch the seat, anticipating a roll over. At every dip in the road, I’d hold my breath, listening for the sound of bending steel, a portent of our imminent, albeit mercifully swift, midsectioning. It didn’t help that the glasses in the wine rack clinked together all the time. What was I afraid of? I kept asking myself. The answer was always the same: careening off the road amidst the sound of all our belongings crashing. I didn’t even get so far as to imagine my own or anyone else’s demise. It was the careening and the crashing. Careening and crashing. Phobias aren’t rational.

One day, on a particularly hilly, winding and dipping road, I was particularly scared and particularly quiet. As a good shrink, Tim noticed.

“What’s wrong, honey?” he asked.

“Nothing.” I realized I’d better start talking about something, anything, before he caught on. Just then, we happened to pass a highway sign announcing the number of miles to Albuquerque. Without even thinking, I launched into a rousing rendition of the old Partridge Family hit:

Point me… yee
In the direction of

And, then, with a bit too much feeling:

I want to go home.
Please let me go ho-o-o-ome.

Sometimes, a song is just a song… but not in this case. By the end of that line, I was sobbing. And, although I’m sure Tim didn’t recognize the song, he clearly realized that those fake TV 70s singing group lyrics could hardly plumb such depth of feeling.

“What is wrong?” He asked, again, this time more insistent. I mulled over my response. I’ve always found that it’s just not worth keeping things from my husband, for not only does he find out eventually, but I always somehow manage to feel better after confiding in him. I guess that’s part of why he had such a busy psychiatric practice. Yet, this seemed to be a special case; telling him that I was terrified of riding in the bus, while he was driving the bus did not seem like an especially good plan. On the other hand, he knew something was wrong, and keeping it from him would let his imagination run wild, although how he could possibly imagine something worse was beyond me. I took a deep breath and plunged in.

“OK. Look,” I began. “I can tell you what’s wrong, if you really think you want to know what’s wrong, but if you don’t,” I breathlessly continued, “you should tell me right now, because I don’t really have to tell you… especially while you’re driving.” After an introduction like that, how else could he respond but, “tell me, already!”

“Fine,” I began in a rush of words, “It’s not that I don’t trust your driving. You’re a great driver. It’s just that people are idiots!” I exclaimed, never for an instant including my idiotic self in that assertion. “What if someone makes a sudden stop? What if we hit an elk? What if the brakes go out? I keep imagining us careening over the edge of the road. I don’t even imagine the dying part, just the careening. The screeching of tires, the shattering of glass. But, most of all, the careening. The CAREENING. I can’t take it anymore!” He gave me an incredulous look. I nearly lost it.

“HEY! Hey, driver! Eyes on the road!” Tim shook his head, but resumed facing forward. I continued.

“And, the overpasses! Remember the WMD!”

“What WMD?” He asked, exasperated.

“Exactly!” I cried, triumphant. “The government lied about WMD, they could lie about the overpasses! How do we know they’re really as tall as they say? Whenever we go under one, all I can think is, ‘it’s going to sheer us clean off!’”

“I can’t believe it!” Tim exclaimed, “You’re phobic about the bus.” So much for making me feel better. I guess he gave at the office. I certainly didn’t need a shrink to tell me I was phobic, especially when his solution was to pull over to a deserted parking lot so I could learn to drive the thing, to “feel it’s power.” Maybe in my next life. Just my luck, I’ll come back as John Madden’s wife.

I must admit, we had a thoroughly enjoyable respite in Carlsbad. The campground was lovely: Spacious, well maintained sites and a hot tub for adults only. We toured the Caverns and stayed for the evening bat fight of hundreds of thousands of Mexican Freetails. I didn’t even scream as they spiraled out of the cave. I guess that’s one plus of my new-found bus terror: even a phobic’s gotta prioritize.

I calmed down a bit after several stationary days, until Tim decided to fire up the stereo for the first time and couldn’t get enough base. He thought perhaps it had to be adjusted through the TV, so he lowered the 42 inch flat screen from it’s tucked perch in the ceiling… right onto the only ever so slightly ajar stereo doors. They and their glass inserts cracked into hundreds of splinters. I should know, I’m still pulling shards out of my feet.

The next day, Tim decided to tackle the combination washer dryer which consists of just one space-saving unit. I cringed as he got out the instructions.

“Don’t worry, honey,” he tried to reassure. “What’s the worse that can go wrong?”

“Oh, I don't know," I mused. "How about a flood? And if that happens, I guarentee you, the locusts and pestilence won't be far behind.” He ignored me and started perusing the manual.

“Christ! This isn’t a washer dryer. It’s the control panel to the space shuttle!” I relaxed, figuring it would take awhile for anything to blow up. Then, “OUCH!” While peering around the machine to try to familiarize himself with it, Tim hit his lip. It was bleeding. I guess HAL didn’t feel like washing clothes just then.

Tim, Miles, Shula, Morty, the lying bitch, HAL and I settled into a routine while parked in Carlsbad. I would do insurance reviews and write during the day, while Tim did paperwork to close out his practice, some bus or Jeep maintenance and hike with the dog. We’d rendezvous late in the afternoon and do something together, as by then even I was itching to get outside. Either we’d take a walk or a bike ride, swim or go into town. Afterwards, we’d have happy hour: Tim had discovered some local beer and I’d make myself a fruity martini, something I was becoming quite expert at. (It’s amazing what forced self sufficiency allows one to accomplish.) We’d drink, have some snacks, sit on lawn chairs near our rig, Miles lying by our sides and watch the sunset. A neighbor might stop to say hello, especially if he or she was with dog. After an hour or so, we’d cook… er, thaw, a rudimentary dinner. Afterwards, we’d sit inside, listen to the stereo and talk. The days and nights passed pleasantly. At home, we would have watched a network Evening News show while eating dinner, then both work for a couple of hours before watching a little TV before bed. It seems our communications guy had done us a favor by not hooking the TV up. We were “off the grid,” in our own little steel and fiberglass world. It finally felt good.

Until we started moving again.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 11, 2004 5:03 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Random Selection.

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