A story.

“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.”

“It’s fine.”

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.

Quiet.

Lull.

Blink.

Bump.

Thump.

KABOOM!

What was that?!

Oh, look.

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.

Silence.

Then my daughter burst into tears.

Chaos.

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.

Amen.





27 Comments

  1. rj_inthe412
    November 8, 2013 9:59 am

    Don’t you know that when transporting something on a roof without a roof rack everyone sticks a hand out the window and keeps a hand on the bag/fence/mattress so that it doesn’t fly away? I’m sure it was there in the fine print of the luggage tag



  2. SpudMom
    November 8, 2013 10:03 am

    I cackled out loud multiple times.

    My sister also lives in Richmond and I’ve driven that stretch of 95 several times. It’s absolutely terror-inducing and the fact that David WENT INTO TRAFFIC for the bag – oh dear God. I’m glad he came out alive! If covered in cinnamon coffee.



  3. AngryMongo
    November 8, 2013 10:03 am

    Your Mexican husband was walking along with a soaking wet carrier on his back.
    As insensitive as it is, in that situation, how do you not make the joke? Especially after Twitter fights about being illegal!

    Great story!



  4. Marcy
    November 8, 2013 10:04 am

    Please tell me you posted this entire story as a product review on Amazon?



  5. NewBurgher
    November 8, 2013 10:05 am

    LOL that was great, glad everyone escaped unharmed. And I hope you went back on Amazon and did give that thing 1 star!



  6. Shannon
    November 8, 2013 10:10 am

    Made.my.day! TOTALLY needed the belly laugh this morning. …and I love that I know what the line “say focus for me” means.



  7. Heather Downey
    November 8, 2013 10:13 am

    Yes, this should definitely be posted as an Amazon review!!! Glad all are safe, and you came away with an awesome story/blog post :)



  8. la Reina
    November 8, 2013 10:15 am

    Same sort of thing happened to us on the Golden Gate Bridge in 1964, with my father risking life and limb to retrieve the wayward luggage. The only loss was my sister’s pajamas, which apparently blew into the bay. No cinnamon, thank goodness.



  9. Rich D
    November 8, 2013 10:18 am

    Bahahahahahahahaha!



  10. Dana
    November 8, 2013 10:18 am

    I’m literally laughing out loud over here. Poor David. Poor you. oh man.

    And I really want to know what kind of coffee it is and if David will ever allow it back in the house.



  11. Heisenberg
    November 8, 2013 10:43 am

    That was hilarious… laughing my head off at your writing as usual! You REALLY should consider telling this at The Moth Story Slam at the Rex this coming Tuesday (Nov 12). Coincidentally, the theme is “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Think about it… you could WIN!



  12. Jill M
    November 8, 2013 10:50 am

    I completely burst out laughing in my office reading this. Totally EPIC. We had a similar bag and after a rainstorm, found everything inside soaked!

    This bumped my previously favorite roof carrier story of my friend and I coming back from a dance comp with our girls late at night. The next morning, she (with the hard top luggage carrier still on the minivan), breezed right into the parking garage where we work and it JAMMED into the roof of the garage. No one could get in to go to work. Her phone call to her husband that morning was just as funny….



  13. PA Girl in VA
    November 8, 2013 11:12 am

    I-95 between Richmond and Washington is the most God-awful, scariest stretch of road known to man. My eyes got as big as saucers when I read the line where you told your hubby to GET OUT OF THE CAR AND GO GET THE BAG (????) Holy shit, I don’t like being on that IN a vehicle and I’m not sure there’s enough money in the world to make me get OUT of my vehicle on that road. I live in Virginia Beach and I literally just emailed a friend up in Arlington about coming to visit, but now I’m a little too terrified to make the drive. If you quoted the 911 dispatcher correctly, she was right but I don’t think she made it clear enough that NO ONE SHOULD ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE BAG FROM THE ROADWAY. Your hubby has cajones; you have bigger ones for telling him to go get the bag! I’m so very glad you all made him home safe and sound, albeit a bit sticky and cinnamon-y smelling.



  14. Charlie
    November 8, 2013 11:12 am

    I lived in Richmond for 2.5 years…your husband is the bravest man I know! I-95 is a TERRIBLE road North of the city!



  15. Mike G
    November 8, 2013 11:13 am

    Oh, BOY, is this a flashback engine.
    Not that any of my family’s road adventures had this kind of entertainment potential…why doesn’t it surprise me that if it’s Ginny’s family, it MUST be funny?



  16. Bo Jack
    November 8, 2013 11:16 am

    Good times!! :-)

    (BTW, I too belive that DC – Ricmond stretch of I-95 IS the true corridor to Hell!)



  17. Magnus Patris
    November 8, 2013 1:18 pm

    I lived with I-95 and the Beltway for 22 years before moving back to the bucolic roads of Greater Pittsburgh. My wife’s family still lives in Richmond and we go several times a year; but we take 522 and 17. That way we have to only drive on “La Autopista del Diablo cuello rojo” for about an hour.



  18. G-Man
    November 8, 2013 1:31 pm

    I had no idea your sister lived in Richmond area. I have lived in the Richmond area for 40 years now. I live maybe 3-4 miles from I-95 and Parham Road exit which is just south of where I-295 crosses I-95. Contact me by e-mail next time you come this way and I’ll treat you all to a meal at River City Diner at that Parham exit. Would love to meet you sometime. You and DK of the Trib are my connections to my long-lost hometown of Pittsburgh (Bloomfield). Oh, and I can give you a better route between Pittsburgh and Richmond that breaks off I-95 at Fredericksburg (Rt. 17 to Rt 522 to PA Turnpike) and takes you through Winchester VA and a tiny town called Berkely Springs WVA. It’s shorter in miles and about the same in hours. Much calmer and prettier and does not involve much Interstate overall. My e-mail is listed with the comment.
    Oh, and I can’t believe a grass spider scared you considering you have an effing TARANTULA IN YOUR HOUSE!!! (screech screech screech like in “Psycho” the movie)



  19. Shmiller
    November 8, 2013 2:50 pm

    Last Friday I was caught in a traffic jam on I-70 in Washington, PA behind a guy who discovered, the hard way, that strapping a 68″ flat screen TV to his Ford Focus was a bad idea. This story trumps that. Exponential trumpage.



  20. Josette
    November 8, 2013 6:43 pm

    OMG I am crying from laughing so hard. Hashtag crazy Mexican Family I wish were my best friends



  21. PA Girl in VA
    November 8, 2013 7:17 pm

    Now that all the construction is done on I-81 there’s no real need to take 522 through West Virginia. Sure it’s a nicer drive but it’s like taking the slow boat to China. Ever get caught in the backups in Berkeley Springs? ‘Nuff said!



  22. Danielle
    November 8, 2013 7:17 pm

    Yes. Please, please leave this post as an Amazon comment. I will upvote the crap out of it.



  23. lisa
    November 8, 2013 7:27 pm

    According to my kids, their best memories are of the trips I thought were the worst. The year we took shelter in an open pavilion as a tornado went by, the hurricane warnings while camping on Assategue,in TENTS. The year we got skunked, in the rain, with 3 3year olds, a four, a five, and two eleven year old boys. Skunked.



  24. Sooska
    November 9, 2013 2:15 pm

    Someone actually lives in Cancun and came to visit Pittsburgh? Imagine. it’s a crazy world.



  25. Joe
    November 15, 2013 11:40 am

    I’m not laughing as hard as everyone else because my wife and I bought the exact same carrier a few months ago! However, we have a roof rack so we didn’t run the straps through the car. We started out nervous as you did, but we drove to Wyoming and back with no problem. Do you think having the straps through the car as opposed to attached to a rack had something to do with it? Just wondering for my future travels.