NOTE: this particular anecdote generally concerns humorous subject matter of the "low" variety. if you're not up for that, no problem, just check back next week or so; i'll probably have posted something by then with wider audience appeal.
Thursday night May 17th didn't start off poorly; however, it was to end with the Worst. Drive. Home. Ever.
Grace's parents had just flown in from L.A. for the following day's travel to Austin and my brother-in-law's graduation from UT graduate business school; Grace's mom had one of our favorite Houston pizza places (Barry's) on her mind so off we went to eat dinner.
After a delicious meal of one Barry's Special and one pepperoni-and-pineapple pizza we headed home so that i could pack up my gear for the week's hockey game.
it was a late one, starting at 10:20 pm; the game was a toss-up through two periods but the third was evidently not ours to have so i walked out of the rink non-victorious. would that my troubles ended there.
the drive home from my rink is about a 30-minute affair due in part to Houston being a generally monstrous and sprawling metropolis; about fifteen minutes north on I-45 and another fifteen west on the 610 loop is the usual routine. normally i use this time to wind down from the game and review plays in my head, reinforcing what i did well and analyzing the areas of play where my athletic candle may not have shone so bright. on this night, though, my mind was not afforded such a state of ease and contemplation.
about ten minutes into my journey north on I-45 i started to sense a little rumble in my stomach. normally this is neither irregular nor bothersome; since about junior-high age my stomach has been an especially sensitive thing. while in early years it produced some anxiety over long bathroom-less schoolbus rides on field trips or other occasions in which a site of relief was not readily available, over time i learned to manage and mostly control my stomach's temper.
in the sense of that history, these first few rumblings were unremarkable, hardly worrisome; i'd subdued greater disturbances before with little to no trouble.
as a few more minutes passed, though, and the hockey rink's restroom facilities receded further into the black stretch of midnight behind me, i became aware of a growing, piercing painful pressure in my guttiworks that increased with steady precision. at this, the standard first sign of stomach discomfort entering into its more advanced and complicating stages, the first wave of panic set in.
i tried to calm myself and not be mindful of my surroundings, trapped in my car along the ghetto stretch of I-45 during the witching hour. a few moments passing with no relief of discomfort found, the calm began to wear off. i wasn't familiar with the exits here; if i needed to stop, where would i go and would i find anything open at this hour?
too late to turn back to the rink now; i was almost at the halfway mark between there and home, the point of no return. took some deep breaths to center myself and an attempt to bolster my mental reserve: "you can make it through this, everything will be okay". pressed a little harder on the accelerator and picked up the pace homeward ever so slightly. at this point it was clear that i had to push the limits of acceptable speeding to keep the odds in my favor but i could not afford to be pulled over by law enforcement; any such event and the game would truly be lost so i chose my level of law-breaking speed carefully.
onward i sped, simultaneously looking out for patrol cars and any open businesses. a moment of hope: there, on the southbound side, a Taco Cabana! it looked lit up, might be open....but i just passed the exit to it, would have had to take the next one and U-turn, the feeder roads are cruelly long on this stretch of highway, quite a sizable detour. i'm not familiar with Taco Cabana's store hour policies, what if only the drive-through was open? i weighed the options and ruled it out; too much of a gamble. i shifted uncomfortably in my seat and pressed on, still in control at that point but the momentum of the contest rapidly turning against me.
as i careened around the I-45 exit to 610 West the situation quickly deteriorated into a crisis; my stomach, indignant that i had chosen to throw my support behind my bowels in their struggle against its wishes, made known its anger and fury at having been made to process greasy bread/cheese/sauce/meat food products and then be jostled and churned just hours later during my goaltending efforts. panic level entered stage two and the law became broken by an additional five to seven miles per hour. flying down the freeway, mostly alone in the multi-lane thoroughfare. home was creeping slowly closer but i feared not fast enough for my needs. still no available havens of refuge along the highway, my apartment was my only option. the terror increases.
about a half-mile from my exit, as i did the wiggle-dance in my seat, the thought first crossed my mind, resounding with great weight:
i, a grown man, despite every ounce of my will opposed to it, just might actually mess myself right here in this car.
my worldview collapsed inward like a dying star to a fine point; there was only me, my car, the road and its laws and regulations, and the Growing All-Consuming Fear increasingly difficult to deny. despair began to grab hold but i fought it back, summing up my deepest reserves of inner strength. i crested the hill before my freeway exit; this was to be my final test, my greatest challenge, the last street gauntlet before home.
the Scott street exit leads immediately to a stop-light intersection; after that point you must follow a long and curving feeder that runs along west 610 and north 288. this leads to another stop-light before you turn left to take the street crossing over 288. another stop-light on the far side of the street over 288; after that, about a third-mile of street separates you from my apartment complex.
i rose over the ridge to the Scott street exit, praying for a green light at the intersection below. green! but for how long, who knows.... descending the 35 mph exit at 60 mph, this was the breaking point; the jump off of the building onto the rescue helicopter, clipping the right wire on the time bomb. fail to make this light and i was doomed.
no traffic, i barreled through; the light turned yellow but i remained within lawful limits, current velocity excepted. the 610/288 feeder snaked out ahead, mocking me. the tires of my Accord proved their grippy worth as i shot through the curve and raced up to the first overpass stop-light.
Red... and i knew these to be on a timer; despite the absence of cross-traffic at this hour i would be waiting a pre-set amount of time before granted my turn to move.
but i had no time, i was beyond time, on borrowed time at a high interest rate. i am the type of guy who becomes annoyed when i see other people's selfish moving violations: driving in a non-lane area during congested rush hour to get to the feeder road, cutting in at the last possible second to take a freeway exit, parking in non-parking areas, cutting over three lanes of traffic to make a last-second exit, et cetera. in light of this it was no easy choice but i made it: i looked both ways and then ran that red light. crossing over 288, another red-light! quick look to the right for traffic and then burned rubber like i was fleeing a bank robbery.
around a twist in the road and then turned left onto my street, my midsection in agony, possessed by demonic culinary forces. down and up over two sickening, terrifying dips in the street; at this point, within sight of home, it would be the height of ironic cruelty for me to fall short now.
nearing the entrance i fumbled for my complex entry gate's clicker; curse its weak battery, the gate didn't start opening until i was almost upon it. the moment i had enough clearance to get my car through i was on the move. a rapid approach to my building; spying no spaces available i found the nearest curb, shifted into park, hit the hazard flashers, and turned off the car.
as i opened the door and rose from my seat, an almost fatal slip in the mental poise that had been the only thing keeping me in the fight. as i rose my stomach intensified its assault and my lines of defense nearly gave up. an angry admonishment to myself to keep it together and the last twenty yards: a sprint up the stairs (the gods laughing now at my choice to have lived above the first floor for security of our possessions kept on the outside balcony).
keys already in hand, deliriously searching for the apartment key. key located but so nervous and desperate the hands trying to locate it to the lock. no no no no no, hold on just a few seconds longer. my stomach will not be my master, not today.
the front door finally opened, i advanced inside as quickly and quietly as i could in mind of a sleeping wife and in-laws inside; immediately to my right the guest bathroom beckoned and i rushed inside with no time to spare. the next few moments were a blur but when my head cleared i knew this: i made it. i had proven myself worthy on the field of intestinal battle.
the sense of relief during my time spent in that narrow bathroom was overpowering to an almost hallucinogenic effect; i heard choirs of angels sing, my mind expanded beyond human understanding and all of the secrets of the universe became known to me. i realized that i am one with all things, time and space are imaginary constructs and that there never was any stomach pain, indeed there was no stomach at all, only a troublesome imaginary organ in an imaginary body whose illusion keeps me from full harmony.
such are the rewards for those who survive great peril. and there you have it; the worst drive home ever.