Road trip to San Francisco. Two boys, nine and thirteen, in the back seat, punching each other black and blue. My husband threatens to turn around and go home, the first in a series of idle threats. I'm tired, cranky and extremely PMS. I'm in my early 40s. I still have a uterus. My husband and I have been up all night, thanks to the poorly-run assisted living facility next door.
In between the late-night whining and moaning of elderly residents, we're treated to loud backyard conversations in a foreign tongue around 3 a.m. We leave so early for San Francisco, I haven't had my coffee yet.
Near Buttonwillow, I demand that we pull over. This is a caffeine emergency. We go to Denny's, where the service is non-existent and I can feel myself aging. "I need coffee," I say for the 23rd time. The man who married me, for better or worse, gives me a look. The eldest boy makes fart noises, the youngest giggles uncontrollably.
I already sense this trip is a mistake.
"What do I have to do to get some @#$%'n coffee?" I try flagging down a waitress. Minutes of my life creep by. The boys arm-wrestle. My high school sweetheart issues idle threat number two. "Knock it off, or we're going home." I get up from the table. "Where are you going?" the father of my children asks. I don't answer. I walk over to the coffee station, grab the coffee pot, and return to the table. I pour us each a cup. The boys hurl menus at each other.
I would rather be in Paris. Solo.
The manager walks over. I'm still holding the coffee pot. "May I have that?" he says. "What?" "The coffee pot." "Will I ever see it again?" The man I met in eighth grade sighs. The boys kick each other under the table. The manager tells me to hand over the coffee pot. I do so, reluctantly.
"We'd like to order," I say. "I'll send a waitress right over, ma'am." Off he goes. "Did you hear that?" "What?" "He ma'am'ed me." "Are you going to be like this the whole trip?" "Maybe."
The boys pour sugar on the table. I get up. "Now where are you going?" my husband asks. "I'm taking the Greyhound bus home."
It's my first idle threat, one of many I'll make in the coming days. "Sit down." I sit. On our way out the door, I vow never to return to Denny's, in Buttonwillow or anywhere else.
The manager overhears. "Can I have that in writing, ma'am?"
Carol Starr Schneider is a writer living in California.
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