Questions You Don’t Want to Ask At Four AM: Is the Muffler Supposed Hang That Low?

So the plan for last Thursday night was to drive up to the beach after the Senior Awards Ceremony. It started at seven thirty, and we figured it would let out at nine thirty at the latest. Well, we were wrong by a long shot.

A little after ten thirty Cecelia, Audrey, George, and I hit the road only to discover that most gas stations are closed that late at night. I’ve never seen gas stations closed late at night before, I thought, This is so weird. Apparently, only the highway and centrally-located big gas stations stay open late or all night. I filed away this misconception between glass won’t cut your feet when you walk on it and electric fences don’t shock humans.

As we pull onto the highway, I started feeling really, really excited. This was it. Here we were. On the highway. In the dark. Alone. Then, I remembered that being alone also meant that I was in charge of directions and not getting us lost in the middle of the night, which is more than a major buzz kill*. I am a big fan of responsibilities and being in charge, but I hate to fail. And failing when you’re directing a car is a lot worse and has more immediate consequences than failing to verify a trig identity**. It usually involves being snapped or yelled at, and man do I hate snapping and yelling.

We drove across the state line and over what I like to call the world’s longest bridge. It curves across the water just like the Golden Gate, it just isn’t red-ish gold, over the San Fransico Bay, or that high up. They’re supposed to be rebuilding it because it was built during a materials shortage during the Korean War and designed to be used by far fewer cars, but the plans are still “in review.” So driving across it at night is more than a little scary. I know how to get out of cars underwater, but my chances of being able to swim to shore without collapsing are very slim to none.

We passed under the big EZ-Pass arch, and I reminded Audrey not to change lanes directly underneath it because they’ll send you an angry letter. She laughed and said she wasn’t planning on it. It’s tidbits like these that make me think that I’m an excellent driver’s assistant and probably annoys the actual driver. We got on Cecelia’s favorite highway and kept going under stone bridges built by the CCC and tree canopies. I counted rest stops and furthered my theory that Mobil Gas and McDonalds must have a contract with the state that allows them to be a monopoly.

The part of my brain just above my ears and a little to the the front (probably my temporal lobe) was aching in exhaustion and my eyelids were drooping. We were going to have to merge onto the big highway soon, and I was not going to screw it up by sleeping through it. At this point, I can’t remember when I actually fell asleep with my face turned into my left shoulder. I slept through most of the state, leaning over to sleep with my head on the driver’s seat when they stopped for coffee. I woke up somewhere around two with a surprising amount of alertness and clarity and offered to sing Gold Digger for everyone, which was my first impulse upon waking.

A few minutes later, Cecelia asked, “What comes out of exhaust pipes?” I responded with a stupid amount of certainty, saying “Carbon dioxide!” It’s actually carbon monoxide, as Audrey calmly pointed out, which makes since seeing as people lock themselves in confined places and run the engine to kill themselves. But three o’clock me was imagining that cars had exhaust systems that resembled a human’s respiratory system complete with noses. Cecelia rolled down her window a bit and said that she was concerned about Jeff’s exhaust pipe and muffler. Apparently, it had looked like it was hanging a little low when they had stopped before. We stopped at a gas station to ask if it was serious and they said yes. Whoopee.

My dad had told me to text him updates from the road, and I had been sending one every hour or whenever we changed highways or stopped without response. So when I sent him a text a little after three, I did not expect him to immediately text me back. I was lobbying hard for us to stay at a hotel for the night rather than push on and have something seriously horrible happen to Jeff and us, and my Dad urged us to do the same. After discovering one hotel that was way too expensive ($180) and that Extended Stay America is not hotel, we found a Holiday Inn Express. They said it would be $130 a night, which is totally reasonable in my book, but the other girls wanted to keep looking. At this point it was nearly four, the muffler was scraping on the ground every time we hit the slightest bit of incline, and we were exhausted.

I checked us in, half (well, more like three-quarters) hoping that they ask if I was really eighteen****. Of course, this was really, really stupid considering that my only form of identification was my one from school, which besides having me maniacally grinning with my head tilted disturbingly to the left does not have my birthday. I could be seven and still in the class of 2011.

We dragged our suitcases out of the car, into the elevator and into a nice room on the fourth floor. As I stood in my biking shorts and tee shirt, picking up my skirt from the ground with my toes and tossing into the air to catch with my right hand, I thought about how strange it was that we were all so perfectly calm in the face of what could sensibly called a crisis and how wide awake I was. I drifted off at around four thirty after repeatedly turning from side to side, rustling the sheets and probably disturbing Audrey, only to wake up at seven thirty, ready to take on the world. Why this can happen after four hours of sleep and not after twelve when I have to go to school is a complete and utter mystery to me.

To be continued.

*Amusingly, I only discovered a month ago that “buzz kill” has nothing to do with killing bugs that buzz. To be fair, this assumption was somewhat reasonable seeing as your good mood would be disrupted if you got murdered. Welcome to the way Ella’s brain interprets the world, everyone!

**Remember that time when I said that I was going to conquer them? Like here and here and here and especially here? Well, I still suck at them. Unlike every other academic endeavor I have undertaken, hours and hours and hours of study have gotten me nowhere. It stinks. But I am going to figure it out. I just have to.

****Registering to vote and checking into a hotel are the first rights I’ve exercised since my birthday, and it feels so good to do them. I might go buy spray paint just for that wave of excitement and power (and so I can fix the part of the driveway I accidentally painted white*****).

*****How do you un-paint the driveway?

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5 thoughts on “Questions You Don’t Want to Ask At Four AM: Is the Muffler Supposed Hang That Low?

  1. I don’t know how to un-paint a driveway, but my question is: how did you paint it in the first place? lol. Sounds like y’all had a great adventure. I’m looking forward to reading more.

    • Sophomore year, I was painting boxes white for a project that required me to make giant leaves out of cardboard and the prow of a boat big enough to stand in. I stupidly thought that you could wash paint off with the house, and it’s been there ever since.

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