“Look at it this way,” I told my husband. “We’re probably the only people on the road who aren’t dead drunk. That’s good, isn’t it?”
Well, depends on your definition of good. Lightning split the skies open, the highways were slick and shiny, and he and I looked like two moles peering into the darkness as we crept forward in our rental car. It was either that, we decided, or spend the night in Dallas, since the airline had canceled our flight. We wanted to get home.
Sure, we’d been traveling for 24 hours and we were a little jumpy and extremely jet-lagged. But we could do it, right? It was only 200 miles. Of course. We could do it.
That’s when I began to notice some strange things about being jet-lagged. It makes you extremely stupid and slow-witted. It also messes with your physiological perceptions. I kept seeing things that weren’t exactly there. Like that tunnel, for instance, that had turned out to be a building in the distance. My field of vision was crowded with indecipherable lights and reflections. It was interesting — kind of like being in a hall of mirrors with fireworks going off — but not exactly the frame of mind you want when you’re some kind of co-pilot to someone who looks as bad as you do.
“We could sing,” I said to my husband. “That would keep us awake.”
“We’re not going to sing,” he said. “We’re not in that bad a shape.”
Boy, what a grump. I read him newspaper headlines from my Iphone, instead. The Iranians were holding an election. Some white supremacist had gone cuckoo in D.C. Everybody thought the state legislature in New York might possibly be the worst in the country. (Worse than the Texas Legislature? My God.)
I call our daughter, who’s in California, to report on our alleged progress. She reads me the riot act. We have no business on the road in our condition.
“I think we’re OK,” I say weakly.
“No, you’re not,” she insists. “You need to get a motel room.”
“She says we need to get off the road,” I tell my husband.
“We’re fine,” he says.
We go into a store to buy some canned Starbucks drinks. Both of us can hardly stand up, I note. Maybe we’d be better off driving if we were dead drunk. Jetlag carries its own dangers. We check into a motel. We sleep for six hours.
It isn’t till the next day, when we credit ourselves as being so much better that we get a stronger sense of our own limitations. We take the rental car back to the Austin airport. I’ve forgotten to fill it up with gas and my husband becomes apoplectic at the thought of paying $7 a gallon as a penalty.
So we trudge back to the car to look for gas, following another driver who waves us through the bar. We try to follow him after he goes through, but the bar crashes down on the roof of our car. We keep driving — gas! Gas! — for another hundred yards. That’s when we realize we have two flat tires. The tire spikes, presumably, had come up when the bar came down. We climb out of the car and walk back to the rental agency. We are treated quite kindly, given the circumstances. This is what happens when people feel sorry for you.
Then, feeling fortunate not to have been arrested, we search for our own car in the airport parking lot for 20 minutes. Turns out, we were looking on the wrong level.
You know what? Don’t do anything when you’re jet-lagged. You’ve dropped a mountain of IQ points, your judgment sucks, your formerly mild temperament flares, you’re an idiot, you can hardly put a sentence together. Do everybody a favor and just go to bed. You’ll save a lot of money and car tires and humiliation that way. Next time, I’ll know.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)