“Nine. One. One. What is your emergency?”
This past summer I sent my kid to summer camp in North Carolina with his cousins. After a week, my husband, me, my daughter, and my niece visiting from Cancun went to my sister Ta-Ta’s house in Richmond, Virginia to await the boys’ return with my brother-in-law who had served as the camp nurse.
The next day, we set off for Pittsburgh from Richmond with six people in my six-passenger Mazda 5. Realizing we were going to need extra storage space for the overnight bags and for the boys’ sleeping bags and suitcases, I purchased a soft-sided rooftop carrier from Amazon prior to heading for Virginia. It had four and half stars. It was one of those carriers you could use with or without a roof rack. They said.
Without a roof rack, you could run the straps inside your car doors and secure them safely inside the vehicle. They said.
My husband was skeptical as he and my brother-in-law double checked the straps prior to us setting off for the Burgh. They tugged and yanked at the straps to be sure.
My husband was like, “I don’t know.”
My brother-in-law was like, “It’s secure. It’s fine.”
Off we went. The clouds grew dark. We hit I-95 AKA the Highway of Satan’s Doom and my husband picked up speed … nervously.
“I just don’t know.”
Have you ever watched one of those based-on-a-true-story-made-for-TV movies about an airplane crash and one pilot is all, “I don’t know about this. Something’s off.” and the co-pilot is just smacking buttons and flipping switches all, “It’s fine. It’s fine”?
That was me and my husband as we went up to 70 miles per hour.
“I just don’t know.”
“It’s fine. It’s fine.”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s FINE. Say ‘focus’ for me.”
Then the rain started falling lightly and he got more nervous. Slowed down to 60.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s fine. It’s fine,” I said as I adjusted the radio, the air controls, the sun visors, the vent direction, my seat position — busy like the co-pilot of a doomed aircraft.
We sped along. My son and nephew in the back seat with headphones plugged into their electronics. My daughter reading in the middle seat next to her cousin who was busy with her phone. My husband softly muttering, “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” Me in the front passenger seat adjusting controls like a NASA mission commander preparing to dock with the ISS. The warm rain sprinkling against the windshield.
What was that?!
The carrier is gone.
Right there on I-95, the straps had torn and sent the large soft-sided carrier hurling through the air. It plopped onto the highway behind us as my husband, muttering all of the Spanish swear words, hurriedly maneuvered the car to the side of the road.
All six of us twisted in our seats and craned our necks just in time to see an 18-wheeler the size of Jupiter kerthump a few of its enormous tires right over the bag.
We simultaneously turned to face forward again. Stunned.
Then my daughter burst into tears.
What do we do oh my god we are all going to die someone call the cops how are we going to get that back everyone just CALM DOWN Spanish swear words let me just adjust all the controls here what are we going to do what is the number for 911 are we going to jail mommy Spanish swear words I knew this was going to happen are we just going to leave our stuff back there we can’t just leave our stuff back there I am going to give that thing one star on Amazon dot com.
“Well, that bag is gone forever,” said my husband.
“No,” I said, “We have to go get it! Everyone’s stuff is in there! EVERYONE STOP SCREAMING SO I CAN HEAR MYSELF THINK! IT IS GOING TO BE OH-KAY!”
I turned to my husband. “Go get the bag.”
I said it as if I were simply saying, “Go pick up a gallon of milk at the Iggle.”
He stared at me. “You want me to go get that bag that probably weighs more than 150 pounds? That bag that’s in the middle of the busy highway full of speeding 18-wheelers? That bag?”
“You gotta go get the bag. I’ll call 911. You go get the bag. You’ll be fine. Just look both ways.”
SPANISH. SWEAR. WORDS.
It was decided. By me.
My husband exited the car and headed the 70 yards or so back to the bag which still lay in the middle of the far right lane on I-95 near Richmond, Virginia as beach traffic careened around it.
“Nine. One. One. What is your emergency?”
“Yeah. We’re on I-95 — EVERYBODY STOP CRYING, SCREAMING, OR LAUGHING RIGHT THIS INSTANT OR SO HELP ME GOD — and we lost our rooftop carrier. It’s on the road. I’m worried someone might hit it and get hurt.”
“Okay, ma’am, what is your location? Okay. Okay. Got it. Okay, ma’am, we have a car nearby. Please, ma’am. Do NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE BAG. Do not enter the road. We will be there, ma’am. Again, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE BAG. Do you understand, ma’am? Do not enter the road … for your own safety.”
“Yeah, about that…” I turned in my seat to see my husband had already managed to drag the bag to the side of the road and had hoisted it onto his back and was now trudging slowly down the side of the highway, in the rain, bent over at the waist, with the enormous bag containing three suitcases and various small bags resting on his back like Atlas carrying the weight of the world. The bag was so large it looked like he was carrying two bodybags on his back.
I ordered the children to STAY like good obedient dogs and got out of the car as my husband neared. Step. Step. Heave his shoulders to readjust the bag. Step. Step. Heave. Step. Heave. Rest. Step. Heave.
I imagine there are many pictures of him on Twitter and Instagram all, “Look at this dude carrying a rooftop car carrier on his back in the rain. LOL.”
He gave me a look that I couldn’t place and then let the bag fall into the high grass with a thud. It was then I looked closely at him. Not only was he sweating in the light rain, but he was covered in brown powder and smelled strongly of cinnamon.
I looked at the bag, flattened and a huge hole ripped into it, and noticed it too was covered in the brown dust.
And then I remembered that I had found a huge canister of my favorite cinnamon-infused Mexican coffee in Richmond and had tucked it into the carrier at the last moment. It had exploded under the weight of the truck tire and sifted onto my husband with each step and heave he took.
He was shooting me Palpatine-esque death looks as we began picking through the bag to see what was salvageable.
Just as I reached down to open the carrier bag, a spider the size of Chris Farley’s face crawled out of the high grass and right onto the top of the bag. I’m pretty sure it reared up and hissed at me.
And that’s how the Virginia State Police found us as they pulled up behind us with their lights flashing.
An angry Mexican, coated in cinnamon coffee grounds that were gradually turning to sticky syrup in the warm rain, muttering about his wife not giving a shit whether he lived or died, shoving sticky cinnamon-y suitcases into any crevice he could find inside the vehicle. His wife, her hands covered in that same cinnamon syrup, screaming maniacally and using her now-removed flip-flop to repeatedly pummel a ripped and flattened soft-sided rooftop carrier. DIE DIE DIE DIE! Four children, all in various states of hilarity and panic, inside the vehicle. Two ten-year-old boys laughing hysterically at the situation. A six-year-old crying and screaming, “STOP LAUGHING! THIS IS THE WORST DAY OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!”
Minivans of families passing by, slowing down, snapping photos all, “HASHTAG CRAZY MEXICAN FAMILY!”
With each child sharing a seat with a bag, and with suitcases taking up every spare inch in the car, and with the entire car reeking of a putrid witch’s brew of rain, coffee, sweat and cinnamon, we prepared to re-enter traffic. My husband and I using the last five wet-wipes to de-stickify ourselves as best we could.
We were safe. No one had been hurt. My husband and I looked at each other — he browner than his usual brown. Me still shaking from my scary spider encounter. My daughter swallowing her sobs. The boys swallowing their laughter. My niece writing in her diary about the crazy Americans.
And we burst out laughing.
“STOP LAUGHING! THIS IS THE WORST DAY OF MY WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE!”
It’s a drive we’ll never forget and he eventually forgave me for stupidly risking his life like that.
My point is this, though: Soft-sided rooftop carriers that claim you need no roof rack … ZERO STARS.