After the death of her father, Jane Hill decided to take her mum on the US road trip they’d always dreamed of. What could possibly go wrong?
I wind down the window of the rental car and the cop leans in. I was speeding, he says. 55 in a 45 zone just outside a small Arizona town called Globe. He asks to see my driving licence. It’s in my bag, just behind the driver’s seat. As I lean over to reach it my mother grabs my arm. “Don’t move,” she hisses, convinced we’re about to end up dead – or at very least, banged up in a small town jail. “Look, he’s got a gun.”
He takes my particulars, including my weight (I lie) and eye colour, and writes me a ticket. He tells me he’ll let me off the fine this time but that if I get caught speeding again in Arizona there’ll be consequences. As he drives away, Mum and I look at each other. We burst out laughing with relief and delight. We’re outlaws. It’s our very own Thelma & Louise moment, only without that messy shooting-a-rapist subplot.
Like me, Mum has watched a lot of American TV and movies. We share an obsession with the romance of the wide open spaces. She’s always wanted to go on a trip like this. It’s something I’ve often done alone: hire a car and drive around the US, staying in motels and eating in diners. Mum has listened to my stories, looked wistfully at my photos and said, “One day I’ll come with you.”
And we wouldn’t say any more, because we both knew what the “one day” meant.
The “one day” finally came for the saddest possible reason. A few months after my wonderful Dad died, after 10 years of ill-health and a series of strokes, Mum rang me and said: “So, when are you taking me to America with you?”
“Which bit do you want to see?” I asked.
“Oh, you know. Like in the films.”
I put together an itinerary. We’d fly to Phoenix and visit Tombstone for a taste of the Wild West. Then head north for the old Route 66, across and onwards to Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley. West to the Grand Canyon, nip into Nevada for a side-trip to Hoover Dam and Las Vegas, and finish with two days riding on a dude ranch before heading back to Phoenix and flying home.
A 40-something woman and her 60-something mother, stuck in a small car together for two weeks and thousands of miles – what could possibly go wrong?
The speeding ticket, for one thing.
The unseasonable early autumn weather – we got soaked to the skin and frozen to the bone on our open-top jeep tour of Monument Valley.
There was the night my mother woke up sobbing. I thought she was crying about my father and that I’d have to comfort her, and I’m terrible at touchy-feely stuff. Words can’t express the relief I felt when it turned out she was just having a nightmare after a particularly graphic episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (aka “the one with that chap I like”).
But, most of all, we now have some wonderful shared memories. Little moments that will always make us smile when we remember them.
The unspeakably bad “re-enactment” of the Gunfight at the OK Corral that we watched in Tombstone, fists in our mouths to stifle the giggles. The tacky, indulgent gondola ride through Venice, Vegas-style, serenaded by a gondolier with a fake Italian accent. Cantering – well, ambling – through a desert landscape of saguaro and creosote bush on horses called Maverick and Red.
And then there’s the Grand Canyon. We drive there from Monument Valley, nearly 200 miles of near-desert through the Navajo reservation, barely a town in sight, the car buffeted by wind and rain. Heavy fog descends as we draw near the canyon and drive along the south rim. I can see just a few feet in front of me. I brake sharply for a deer, and Mum grabs my leg in panic, convinced I’m about to drive over the edge.
Suddenly the fog lifts. I pull into a viewing point at the side of the canyon. It’s dusk and there’s just enough light to see the magnificent depths.
“Mum, look. Isn’t that amazing?”
“Very nice,” she says, doing no more than glance at it, “but I’m absolutely desperate for a wee.”2063 Views
Jane Hill is a novelist who also does standup comedy. When she’s not doing either of those, she works for the BBC on local radio projects. She lives with her partner in rural Leicestershire and once reached the Mastermind semi-finals.