by Margaret Walton-Roberts from Kitchener, ON
In 2002 my sister Clare, her husband Terry and their two teenage daughters came to visit us from the UK. We arranged to rent an RV big enough for all of us, fully equipped with on-board kitchen and bathroom, and planned to drive to Chicago to take in some sights and listen to some blues. Coming from the UK my sister’s family had never seen a recreational vehicle so big, never mind driving one. So, with my husband Ben and I sharing the driving, and Clare’s family plus my one-year-old son and the dog safely in the back we set off. We crossed the border at Windsor, entered Detroit, and promptly got lost. By the time we found our way out to the I-94 we had driven a 30 foot RV through some of the less salubrious sights of the city, insults had been hurled regarding navigation and driving skills, tempers were frayed, and an unpleasant hush had descended.
We stopped at a rest area to switch drivers, and I announced that I was going to use the washroom. I left the RV, slammed the door and stormed off. When I came out of the rest room a few minutes later, to my horror I was greeted by the sight of the rear of the RV hurtling down the slip road back onto the interstate. I ran, screaming at the top of my voice, telling them to stop, but to no avail. They disappeared from sight, leaving me, I realized, with no money and no cell phone. Just at that moment the driver of an eighteen-wheeler, about to leave the rest area, pulled up and asked me if I wanted to jump in and try to catch them. Any sane person would, and should, have said “no thanks” but for some reason the earlier irritation over map reading insults drove me to hurl caution to the wind and hop right into the rig. As the driver rapidly accelerated away moving through the gears with the huge vehicle shuddering, I realized that I did not know our RV number plate and I could not even remember my husband’s cell phone number!
Back in the RV my sister Clare had volunteered my brother-in-law Terry, to drive. My husband was engrossed in directing Terry’s driving, when my niece began to wonder why I was taking so long in the RV’s toilet. She got up and opened the door to the empty toilet and cried “where’s Margaret?” At the very same moment, a car drew up next to them, signaling to Terry that something was up, and flashed a piece of paper against the window with the word “LADY” written on it and an arrow pointing back to the rest area. Pandemonium broke out in the RV: my brother-in-law, who was not at all confident driving the thing anyway, practically jumped out of the seat handing the steering wheel back to my husband.
Meanwhile the trucker and I had spotted them up ahead but just at that moment they suddenly pulled off the highway and took the overpass. They were heading back to the rest area…as we blew by under the overpass in the eighteen-wheeler! The truck driver pulled over as quickly as he could and using his CB radio he talked to some other truckers, explained the situation and asked for assistance. Some truckers listening on the CB radio started asking the driver of the rig about my age, my marital status, and whether I was pretty? But others told him they would look for the RV at the rest stop and tell my family where they could find me.
Back at the rest stop everyone frantically searched the washrooms. Torrential rain had begun to fall, and my husband’s mind was spiraling out of control with all the possibilities of where his highly annoyed wife, on a mission to prove that her map reading skills weren’t as bad as he had suggested, might turn up.
The American trucker and I, still waiting on the side of the highway, filled the time chatting about Canada, and how he often listened to the French Canadian truckers chatting in Québécois over the CB radio. After 30 minutes or so we decided the RV was not coming to get me and he radioed his dispatcher to send a state trooper to pick me up.
I was very grateful to that truck driver; I forgot to ask his name, so if he is listening I would like to say thanks! The state trooper eventually arrived and drove me back to my family at the rest area. While I stood very forlornly, he told my teenage nieces never to do what I had done; jumping into a vehicle driven by someone they didn’t know!
Nevertheless, when my family did all get back into the RV all the bad blood over getting lost in Detroit had vanished. The dog and my one-year-old son had slept through the entire affair. My brother-in-law never drove the RV again.