TL;DR: Michael gets poked in the eye, and Bones and the Turbo experience more growing pains. A quick stop in Cadillac Ranch followed by a heroic effort to get to Sonic. Team Italian Stallion soldiers on alone to return the Vanborghini in time to catch their flights.
An unexpected squeal, the sound of a grown man's utter delight, harmonizing with Bones' deep tenor growl shattered the early morning quiet. The notes they hit were so pitch perfect they put Pentatonix to shame.
"Woohoo! It worked!" Michael rejoiced. "I can't believe she started! It must have been that issue you were talking about McCauley. Oh baby. Now we're talkin'!"
We were all happy to have second gear rolling starts behind us because the idea of pushing Bones across the US border into Canada was daunting to say the least. But my husband's joy was short-lived. It must not have been more than five minutes later that he was squealing again, but this time from shock and pain.
When I first heard his anguished cry and saw him crumple to the ground, hand cupped over his left eye, my mind blanked. Then into that emptiness flooded every possible horror imaginable. I ran to his side, fully prepared to throw him over my back and rush him to the nearest hospital; I was entirely ready to scoop my own eyeball from my head to pop into his, because how else would he do all the things he so loved, with only one eye?
Gory scenarios, like gifs of bursting eyeballs and bleeding orbs, were caught in an infinite loop inside my head. Paralysis threatened, so I wrenched my mind away from all the gruesome animations and crouched on the ground between the cars next to Michael. His terrified groans made my heart feel like it was about to explode inside my chest.
I couldn't ask him if he was Ok, or what was wrong, because those questions would only delay discovery and make him more fearful. Michael has the most active and vivid imagination of anyone I know, and his fear at being physically debilitated was emanating from him so strongly that I could almost smell it.
"Let me see, let me see," I pleaded, desperate to move on from tragedy and shock to diagnosis and solution. Whatever has happened, we'll get through this, I told myself.
A few long and agonizing seconds later Michael pulled his hand back from his face and looked at me out of one eye (the right one). The other eye, where I expected to see blood pouring from, looked painful and swollen shut, but as far as I could tell there was no slimy evidence of squished eyeball running down his cheek. Miraculously, it was entirely present and accounted for.
Every tightly coiled cell in my body (which was all of them) expanded with relief. "You're fine," I exhaled. "You're going to be fine." That's when I began to cry from relief (but only a little).
It turns out that a piece of leather on my bag strap snapped at the exact moment that Michael gave it a mighty yank, and the metal clip he'd been holding in his fist came ricocheting back and had hit him in the eye. Luckily for his eye, he was wearing his sunglasses; unluckily for his sunglasses, they became instant collateral damage. The joint on his glasses had exploded (we later managed to tape the arm back onto the frame) and pieces of it went flying. Already known as his good luck pair, if Michael hadn't been wearing them at the time our trip would have taken a very different and much more tragic turn.
As much as I hate to admit, that annoying phrase my mother used to say whenever one of her children got hurt clawed itself out from beneath a pile of dusty memories, and shook itself off. "It's all fun games until someone loses an eye." Touché, mom. Touché.
In keeping with the spirit of difficult admissions, this wasn't the first time I found myself recalling previously-dismissed parental wisdom on this road trip. When I got the chance to hang out with Greg and Taylor in the Vanborghini, again to pry into the personal bits of my newfound good buddies, Taylor admitted that he didn't fully appreciate just how much ground we had to cover on this trip.
"I may have been more adamant about making us move along faster if I'd known," he lamented.
And before I could stop myself, I replied, "I bet our parents would have known better. They would've been more prepared."
To his credit, Taylor didn't blink an eye at my total lack of cool factor and complete betrayal of Children's Code, Rule Number One: Parents, like anyone else who's old and born from irrelevancy, never know better.
"Ya," he agreed, "but my dad set an impossibly high bar for road trips. We used to drive down to Florida to visit my grandparents, and my dad would finish work at 3:30, come home, we'd have everything prepared to pack up the car, and we'd be on the road by 4:15. He'd get a 3 litre Coke as soon as we crossed over the border, and he'd drive straight through all the way there."
"There's something about having babies that turns dads into superheroes," I added, impressed by his father's road trip cred. (my own father is a stoic master of the long, lonely road in his own right).
"It's dad power!" Taylor confirmed.
Greg, who was driving the Vanborghini through Texas to give Miles a break, nodded his agreement.
Everyone here is so reasonable, I marvelled silently. This must be what it's like to make new friends when you're old. I kept the thought to myself, too sheepish to say it out loud.
Both Greg and Taylor exude a laissez-fair, anything goes attitude that, I believe, comes from having complete confidence in their abilities. When I asked each about their story and how they got to where they are today (sleep deprived, with more caffeine and grease in their blood than hemoglobin, and trapped inside a minivan in hot stinky middle America), they both told me tales of change and fluidity; of dancing around authority and going with the flow. Neither talked about their failures or mistakes as failures or mistakes; and neither used heavy, emotion laden words when it came to describing the decisions that led them here.
Greg learned about the road trip and the people who were going just weeks before our departure date. Mike and he were having coffee at DVLB, Death Valley's Little Brother (a local whisky and coffee house) when Mike told him all about it. The way Greg describes it, Mike's sparkling enthusiasm was palpable and contagious. Right away, Greg knew that he wanted in.
"I didn't exactly know what we'd be doing but it sounded exactly like the kind of experiences I want to do more of."
When I asked him to elaborate and describe at what point in his conversation with Mike that he knew this was something he wanted to do, trying to get at the kernel of it, his answer was simple and not very elaborate.
"Immediately. I knew right away." But then he offered up a bit more. "From what Mike described, I knew we would shoot beautiful stuff and get great stock footage. Hearing it wasn't just about cars and engines but about people and travelling and crazy experiences, helped a lot. I like these cars and I think they are really cool, but without passion and people who live it, there's nothing there."
His words echoed my own feelings. Although I'll be the first to admit that I'm fascinated by car culture and the relationships people form with vehicles, so I don't mind all the motor head demonstrations of machine-knowledge prowess. I often enjoy them. That said, I wasn't shocked to find out that a documentary about cars alone would be too niche to capture Greg's interest - he breathes life into stories about interesting people and beautiful places, not geriatric engines.
Greg cut his film-making and picture-taking teeth first working as a set extra on major productions where he got to shoot guns and run away from explosions alongside professional stunt people, and then by following his passion and throwing himself into projects that he could learn from. Even when those projects were boring and sucked.
"At every job I'm learning something. If you're not learning something there's no point in doing it," he explained, like enlightenment was no big deal or anything. He said it casually with the same drama-free attitude that he had when he talked about starting his own company with his two co-founders, like that was no big deal either.
And that's when I realized what made Greg cool (in that unattainable you're either born with it or you're not, way). He seemed to just get that mistakes are no different than successes, and that failures are the same thing as wins, because it all just amounts to experience. What you do with that experience, which experiences you choose to pursue and what those experiences come to mean -that's the important stuff worth thinking about. When you put yourself out there and trust yourself to get that part right, you learn what sorts of experiences are the ones that (to borrow from Miles) make you come alive in the most vibrant of ways.
There's no one on this trip who seems to have figured that out better than Taylor Jackson, IMHO, who sat behind me in the Vanborghini, entertaining us with his glib and observant commentary.
It turns out that Taylor and Michael have more in common than I realized. They both recall their first entrepreneurial experiences as happening when they were single-digit boys; and as single-digit business tycoons, both sold fire crackers to other children in exchange for hard-earned allowance and valuables (magazines, compact discs, dunkaroos). Fun and telling facts about Taylor include that he obtained his pilot's license at sixteen (holy chutzpah, batman!), that the closest thing he had to a sibling growing up was a parrot named Panama (heartbreakingly, Panama passed away last year at the ripe age of twenty-six), and that he met his fiancé on Twitter in the most social and least creepy of ways (or so he'd like us to believe).
But what stands out to me most about Taylor is that he genuinely regards the time he spends working as vacation time. The love he has for what he does enables him to spend time with other people and enrich their lives in ways that ultimately help him. He's been so successful at it that he's helped his fiancé -now an accomplished wedding photographer and budding author- find her own happiness. And now they and their happy dog are insanely happy together.
There's a quiet emotional side to Taylor that is apparent in his work and in his sensitivity to the sensibilities of others. But as a self-professed rebel and eschewer of authority ("I make a terrible employee," he admitted. "And I've always had a thing with authority, especially people telling me I should do things simply because they say so."), he gets delight out of flouting those sensibilities. Shock, joy, and amusement, are emotions that Taylor understands; and I find that his depth and duality are apparent in the stories he so skillfully captures.
While Taylor does a very gracious job of owning that he feels retired at thirty, I get the impression there's an underlying guilty thrill to his demeanour when he talks about his pending marriage. It's almost as though he's carrying with him a sense of disbelief and awe at having found someone so perfect to build such a happy a life with, that colours his typically irreverent, anything-goes humour (because that's how Taylor speaks; humour is his language) in a beautiful, multi-faceted way. Exactly like the beautiful, multi-faceted photos he's celebrated for.
I admire Greg and Taylor as creatives I aspire to become more like: confident in their abilities; knowledgable about (and accepting of) their limitations; fearless in their decision making and pursuit of what makes them happy. Because, as we already know, it's when we're happy and truly alive that we become what the world needs.
In the end I didn't spend much time away from Michael and Bones because I felt I was missing out on the experience my husband and I signed up for. And I was quite worried about his throbbing head, bruised eye, putrid congestion (which had begun to clear, thank goodness!), and utterly exhausted body.
"How was it?" he asked when I got back in and began the ten minute long procedure of buckling into my racing harness.
"Awesome!" I replied. "The van's so smooth, and those two are great. Really great. Greg absolutely knows his shit, and Taylor got his pilot's license when he was 16. That's so badass!" Michael looked happy for me but I could tell he was a tiny bit put off. "But," I continued, "I missed you and I missed Bones. I felt like I was missing out on our road trip. I really do like it in here so much more." His face brightened, and I knew then that he'd been worrying about my comfort this entire time.
"I'm so happy to hear that!" he exclaimed and leaned in for a kiss.
When I settled into my seat I felt like I was coming home (albeit a back-bending, leg-numbing, ear-breaking home). But when we got back on the road it was with mixed emotions. There wasn't much time left to stop and explore the landscape (although we did make an exception for the hauntingly symbolic Graveyard of Cadillac headstones at Cadillac Ranch); and the nearer we got to our destination (the Sonic drive-thru just outside Springfield), the closer we were to losing two more of our motley crew.
After happily receiving our food orders, we stood outside as we ate our iconic American Drive-in burgers and shakes. None of us talked about Greg and Miles' pending departure. But then eventually Miles did the grown up thing (another dad move for the win) and said they'd have to leave. So we unloaded the rest of our stuff from the Vanborghini, jammed it all into our frunks, and said our goodbyes. Team Italian Stallion's plan was to drive through the night to get to St. Louis as the sun rose to make it in time to catch their flights back to Toronto.
It was a small comfort to know that there would be no more splintering of our now modest group, but driving to our second last roadside motel of the trip without the Vanborghini felt hallow.
It was 1:00am when we got our rooms, and we still had two full days of driving ahead of us. The Turbo, tentatively named Maple (Mike was giving the name a test drive), had long ago begun to smoke, and the Turbo itself was acting... weird. Bones' electrical was spotty (sometimes her headlights worked, sometimes they didn't; and who needs interior lights anyway?), and we were back to pushing her to get her started.
The beginning of the end had begun. But we still had a lot ground left to cover and with how the cars were behaving, none of us felt that we were anywhere near close to the finish line.