Independence Day, Pt 1

Let’s rewind to 6 months ago. The 4th of July fell on a Wednesday last year, and the bar I work at was closed the following day. Having a Monday-Thursday schedule, that left me with a rare and glorious 5 day weekend. My mind was running wild with possibilities of ways I could get out of NYC. A trip to Florida to see my grandma? Renting a beach house down at Rockaway? Maybe going back home to Oswego to watch the fireworks with my old friends?
I eventually decided to start looking at lake houses in Maine, based on some intuitive feeling. I texted a group of my closest girlfriends and asked if they’d be interested in splitting a rental car and relaxing up north for the weekend. There was definite interest, but in the days that followed, one by one they started dropping off for various reasons and conflicts. The last friend standing was not able to make it happen because she couldn’t find anyone to watch after her dog on such short notice. My heart sank as I accepted that my dream of sunbathing on the dock, sipping fresh mojitos and laughing with my friends was not going to be realized.
I began to question what it would look like if I took my trip alone. I’d never traveled on my own before. I struggled enough to just go out to dinner or a movie by myself. But there was certainly something romantic about the idea; traveling to Maine for Independence Day weekend, sunbathing on the dock and sipping fresh mojitos without anyone around. As quickly as the idea to go to Maine popped into my head, I decided that going alone was the only option that made sense. An excitement infiltrated every part of my being. I could do this. I wanted to do this.

I viewed a lake house on Air BNB: a nice, quaint, quiet looking two story cottage in a small town called Glenburn, a place I’d never heard of. It sat directly on Pushaw Lake. The pictures were beautiful, and it was a brand new listing. There were no reviews, and it was incredibly cheap for how nice it looked. I wondered if I was making a foolish choice, booking something that seemed so unrealistically perfect, with no previous visitors to confirm that it was, in fact, legitimately as nice as it seemed. But the description written by the host, Luke, seemed so genuine and as if it was written by a kind soul. So on a whim, I pressed “check availability”, chose July 4th-7th, and booked it.
Renting the car was my next order of business. I knew this would be the tricky part. Being the absent minded, at times sloppy person that I am, I had lost both of my two credit cards in the past week, leaving only my debit card to make purchases with. Due to an incredibly difficult and frustrating experience months prior, I knew that a physical credit card was necessary to rent most cars in the US. So I specifically typed into Google “cars that can be rented with a debit card”. Several results appeared, and I chose the first one on the list. Everything looked as though it would check out. Again, I chose the dates and put the deposit down on my debit card, believing myself to be in the clear. When the booking confirmation appeared in my email, I read the fine print. “Cars can be rented with a debit card only under the circumstance that proof of an incoming and outgoing flight itinerary from the airport is provided at pick-up.” Dammit! This situation again! How could I have been so foolish? I went into problem-solving mode and quickly thought of a solution: I would order a new credit card from Chase and pray that it would arrive before I was supposed to leave New York. I had five days until then. I was pretty sure I’d be okay. Pretty sure. But I had to be confident. It was the only choice I had. Trains didn’t exist, buses took way too long, and flights were out of my price range. The card would come. It had to.

The next evening, the same friend who had told me she wasn’t going to be able to come due to her dog messaged me again. She’d found someone to watch the dog! She’d be able to come after all. I knew I was supposed to be excited about this news. I now had someone to join me on my trip. But rather than feeling excitement, I became overwhelmed with anxiety. I no longer wanted anyone to accompany me on this journey. I’d become enamored with the vision of traveling on my own. But how could I explain that to her? I’d already invited her, now I was supposed to uninvite her, selfishly to embark on my own personal trip? I sat on the corner of E 60th and Lexington for about an hour as the sun set, staring at the screen and debating myself over what to do and say. The Samantha from a month prior probably would have chosen the feelings of her friend over her own wants and desires. But that was the Samantha I’d been trying to depart from. I wanted to live a life that was true to myself and others. I wanted to learn to draw boundaries. I wanted to learn to say no. So on that bench, on the corner of E 60th and Lexington as the sun set, I drafted out a message to my friend in my “Notes” app. I reread it and edited it ten times before sending it. I apologized for my change of heart but told her that I’d realized I needed to go out into the world on my own. I hoped she could understand. To my surprise and joy, she did understand. Completely! She told me to have a good time, and that she would see me when I came back. I laughed at how silly it had been, spending all that time worrying and ruminating over a situation that had ended up presenting itself so much differently than I’d imagined it. I needed to stand up for myself more often. Who knows how many opportunities I’d denied myself, afraid of how others would react? From that moment, I made a promise to myself: I would do my best to stop making choices based in fear, as often as I possibly could. I couldn’t fathom how many bright and beautiful experiences were out there, waiting for me to take the reigns and gather them. This was a new beginning.

July 3rd came. I checked the mail before heading into work that morning. No credit card. Nothing. I began to panic slightly. I had no back up plan if I couldn’t get that credit card. I’d lose everything: my deposits on the car and the cottage were non-refundable. My first solo trip, ruined by absent mindedness and impulsiveness, without considering the possibility that things might not work out. But I refused to accept that possibility.
I ran into Chase bank, anxiously explaining my situation to the associate in his plain, under decorated corporate office. He was kind but sadly told me there was nothing he could do, as the following day was a holiday. He said if I’d come in one day earlier he could have expedited me a new card, but that it was no longer an option on such short notice. Insult to injury again. Why did I never think of these things? He noticed my sullen mood and offered to give me the information of my new card manually, and suggested I ask the car rental company if I could substitute using that information rather than presenting a physical card. I knew it was a long shot, but it was my last hope. I took the information and continued on to my bartending shift.

My regulars sat around me as I paced and we all racked our brains for new ideas. Unsurprisingly, no one was coming up with anything. I called the car rental company. They told me there was absolutely no way that they would accept manual credit card information, and that I could not use any one else’s credit card but my own, either. Everything was crumbling around me quickly. Seeing my frustration, a man named Alex at the other end of the bar called me over. He asked me to explain what was going on. I told him the story: how I’d booked the trip impulsively last minute, without my ducks in a row to make it happen. I told him how upset I was with myself and how excited I’d been to take this trip, and how it was really starting to look like it wasn’t going to happen. He listened intently before saying to me, “Let me see what I can do.”
I didn’t know Alex very well. He’d been coming into my bar for a while, but he was a bit elusive and I didn’t know much about him personally. I had always been a bit intimidated by him. He had sort of a “mob man” personality. I knew he owned an extermination company, and that he was a business man. And apparently he had a lot of friends with extra vehicles lying around. He started making phone calls, speaking in a hushed tone and asking me how much I was willing to pay. I was nervous and excited at the same time. I didn’t know who any of these people were, or why they might be able to help me, but I was open to the possibility that they could. I was ready for anything.
After about 45 minutes of making calls and not truly coming up with anything, I saw a light bulb go off in Alex’s head. He called me over again. He said, “I know! You can drive the hearse.” I stood for a moment, in disbelief. Why did Alex have a hearse in his circle? And how the hell was I supposed to drive it all the way to Maine? I had, of course, never driven a hearse before. But his face was confident, and I was desperate. So I said, “Okay. I’ll drive the hearse.”
He handed me his business card and told me to meet him at the corner of Astoria Boulevard and 28th St in Queens at 8 PM. Then he closed out his tab and left, off to take care of his own business. I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I was surprised, nervous, thrilled, and anxious. But it was happening. I was going to drive a hearse to Maine.

When I pulled up on 28th St in my cab, I saw Alex standing on the side of the street, swinging a pair of keys in his hand. I got out of the car and approached him. He quickly rattled off a short list of instructions, told me to be careful and to bring the hearse back with a full tank of gas, and to keep him posted on my whereabouts. Then he tossed me the keys, stating that he had to get out of there fast before his girlfriend came downstairs and saw him passing off his hearse to another woman. I thanked him, and he was off.
The hearse looked and felt so huge to me. It wasn’t just any hearse. It was bright blue, with portraits of cartoon bugs and the phrase “Taking Pests To Their Final Resting Place” printed on the side, on top of the name of the website for Alex’s extermination company. In the back I saw an actual casket covered with fabric. It smelled like chemicals. An ’88 Cadillac. It was already turned on and the air conditioning was running, a welcome relief from the muggy July heat that enveloped me when I stood outside. There was a cassette dock and an old radio, and a GPS unit hanging from the windshield. I looked in the rear view mirror and realized that I would have no visibility there. The casket blocked any view I might have had. Surveying the vehicle from side to side, I realized that my only visibility would be out of the front windows and side mirrors. That was incredibly anxiety-inducing for me, someone who never changes lanes without checking my blind spots and rear view mirror extensively. I sat idle for a few minutes, breathing heavily. Could I do this? It was such a big vehicle and I had no experience driving anything like it. My mind began running wild. I suddenly remembered that I had a warrant out for my arrest in the state of New York, after never having paid an open container from years prior. What if I got into an accident or got pulled over, taken into the custody of police, having to surrender Alex’s hearse to some unknown car towing lot in the middle of nowhere? He would never forgive me. Could I do this? Was I capable?
I tried to quiet my racing thoughts and put the hearse in drive. It was a smooth ride, but my knuckles turned white, gripping the wheel tightly as I tried to weave through thick NYC traffic the night before a holiday. After what felt like an hour, I completed the 20 minute drive back to my neighborhood, somehow found a spot big enough to park, and locked it up. I walked shaking back to my apartment and laid in bed, staring up at the ceiling. I was nearly certain I was not capable of making this journey. I began texting and calling friends, who all told me I was letting my anxiety take over and that I had to overcome it, that this was a poetic opportunity I could not pass up. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Alex, how I hardly knew him, and how upset he would be if I fucked up his precious hearse in any way. I texted him, saying “I’m nervous I’m going to get into an accident in this thing. I can’t stand not being able to see out the back. I sooo appreciate you offering it but I really don’t want to hurt it…” He instantly responded, “It’s up to you, I can’t pick it up now though, just leave it by the office and put the key in the mail slot.” In that moment, I had a change of heart. I was still terrified, but here I was, with the support of a man I barely knew, on top of the support of so many people who loved me, and I was just going to give up? No. I wasn’t going to give up. I was going to drive that hearse, and I was going to make an incredible journey out of it. I would make it my destiny.

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