Now that I’m a parent, I’m much more cautious about things. All things. Everything. I try avoid anything slightly dangerous. I’m the mama bear who must protect her cub and keep myself safe and healthy so I am there for him.
I remember when S was a baby, I texted my sister each morning so that she knew I’d woken up. Being a single mom I feared that if something happened to me in my sleep, S would be stuck in his crib. I was haunted by that thought each night.
When he was in his big boy bed, I taught him how to use my cell – putting emojis and photos by the people he was to call in case mama couldn’t help him.
…It was the beginning of summer vacation and Spense and I were on the way to swim at his friend’s new house in the Hollywood Hills. I put the address in my Iphone maps and started up the hill. Here’s where I admit that I’ve lived in Los Angeles my whole life and still get lost more than most people I know – even with a GPS telling me where to turn. And so, when I lost my phone reception part of the way up the hill, I knew I was in trouble. I started winding around the hills hoping I’d recognize a street or better yet, run into the street. I’d passed this street many times before – why couldn’t I picture it?
We were hot and sweaty. The air conditioning didn’t cool us down quite enough. I came back down the hill and pulled over till I got reception and consulted my phone map again. I made a mental note of the directions; they seemed to say that I’d just run into my destination if I continued up the hill.
“Sorry, love. Let’t try this again,” I told Spense, who was ready to swim.
“Okay,” he answered, with a sigh that might someday be thought of as passive aggressive – but not now. My son is very patient and understanding for a 4 year old. It’s quite remarkable. He wanted to be there already. Understandable.
OK, I’d try this again. I headed up the hill and soon heard the familiar “re routing” voice telling me I’d lost service again. It was fine. I knew what I was doing. I headed up up up the mountain and before I knew it, I’d come to the top. Crap! Had I missed the street again? My options were to turn around and go back the way I’d come up, continue down the other side of the hill or turn left. With a little why not shrug, I turned left. I drove down the narrow, one lane dirt road and instantly had to stop as a white car in front of me was backing up to let a mail truck pass. The white car backed into a small shoulder and I had to pull into someone’s driveway. The mail truck passed and the white car went ahead. I pulled out of the little driveway and continued forward. I was hoping that the road would widen a bit but it seemed to be getting narrower. And suddenly, I was driving along a one car road on a cliff’s edge. And there were no guard rails. NO GUARD RAILS!
Something horrible happens to my body when I’m driving dangerously close to a fatal drop; my stomach lurches so hard it sends shooting pains to my hands and feet. Don’t look left. Don’t look left I commanded myself, but all I wanted to do was look left.
Many years ago, I was seeing a guy who loved to tell me how dangerous he was. His example was: “If you were walking in a forest and you saw a sign that says don’t go beyond this point because there are bears, what would you do?”
“I’d leave that area,” I’d say. “I wouldn’t go beyond the point.”
“Well, see, I’d just have to go there. And I don’t even like bears. It’s like when I’m driving on a windy road in the mountains, I always want to drive off the cliff,” he bragged.
Yeah, who’s danced with Danger? Me! Well, I guess I just “dated” the guy who danced with danger. At the time, I thought he was nuts, but now I kind of get it. Not about the bears, but here I was driving on a scary road and there was some kind of pull. Not that I wanted to drive off, but that I inevitably would – almost like a camera lens zooming in and out would hurl me forward.
I had to get the fuck out of here.
There were houses to my right. HOUSES? People lived on this street? What kind of people -weird recluses who didn’t drive? People who didn’t ever go anywhere at night? Because you couldn’t drive here at night with the no guard rails.
I was sweating and my mouth was dry. I slowed down as I followed the curve that took me on… a narrower one car road with no guard rail.
No. I couldn’t do this. My hands began to tremble. There was not much road between me and a wide, very deep canyon.
Another curve lay ahead and I couldn’t see where it led. Should I continue on and hope it would lead me down the mountain? I decided to pull to the side and park for a minute. I was too shaky to drive on. I took a deep breath because I’d barely been breathing.
“Are we here?” a little voice asked. “My back is sweaty.”
My poor sweet boy. I’ve taken you someplace I don’t know if I can get you out of. I felt like the worst mother. I had flashes of us just living up here, in my car. Forever. I thought I had a bag of Pirate’s Booty in the trunk.
“Not yet,” I told him as I began to text Bob, who’s house we were going to. My hand shook as I typed: stuck on a cliff can’t get out. For once, I was grateful for spell check. I tried calling Bob and got his voice mail. Had to leave a message that wouldn’t scare Spense. “Hey, it’s Evie, um, I took a wrong turn and I’m stuck somewhere…” I lost service.
Who would help me? If my service came back who would I call? My dad? My sister? What could they do? Nothing really. I’d just scare them. I thought of calling the police or a fire truck or a tow truck, but how would a tow truck even get down this road. That’s the thing – the people who live on this street cannot:
1. Call a tow truck
2. Have car trouble or break failure.
3. Order delivery.
4. Have friends over – I’d be furious if a friend invited me to this street.
5. Get a moving van or delivery van out here.
6. Drive home drunk… yes, we never should but you really can’t even have one drink if you live on a cliff!
7. Drive in the dark.
I should call Nancy. Nancy had gotten me out of some very scary water activity situations in Mexico. Plus she used to drive a taxi. Seriously, was I going to make Nancy drive across town just to turn my car around? Maybe.
The white car from before had come back. It needed to get by me so I had to drive up a steep driveway hill so it could pass. But first I rolled down my window. “Hi,” I tried to sound calm. “Does the road get wider that way? If I keep going will I get out of here?”
She laughed. She was young (and foolish, perhaps) “No, it’s a dead end.”
Blood pounded in my ears.
“You could do a U turn up there, but if you don’t like it here, you probably shouldn’t go ahead. Just turn around here.”
“Easy for you to say,” I heard myself mutter, as I started the car to inch up the dirt driveway that lead to nothing.
She laughed again and drove by, “Good luck,” she called back.
I looked at my baby in the back seat and said, “We are going to get out of here, okay?” Though it really felt futile. I couldn’t see any way out. My mouth was so dry and I couldn’t lift my water bottle to drink because my hands were shaking so hard. Besides, I’d need this water for the two of us to live on.
“Okay,” he said.
I then prayed to every fictitious god I could think of. I was going to do this. I would back up and do a 3 point turn and get us out of here. I mean the people who live here do this every day. I could do it. My hands were still shaking wildly.
I started backing up, hugging the driveways as much as I could, not caring about the hideous scraping sound that came from my car squeezing by a large rock. Could I just back up the whole way out of this road? That thought made me dizzy and my stomach lurch again. I stopped. All I had to do now was do a 3 point turn.
I put the car in drive and started to drive as if I was going to go over the edge. The wide, vast, deep canyon showed it’s full terrifying grandeur. No. There was no fucking way I could do this. I backed up again, and parked parallel to the house. That was it. I was stuck up here. I took a deep breath. Then I had one last idea. My adrenaline kicked into fight or flight mode and I did something I would not normally do.
I turned off the motor and got out of the car. I went to the back seat and got Spense out of his seat. “Are we here,” he asked again, so hopefully.
“Not yet, I’m so sorry.” I put him on my hip and held his sweaty back, using the walk to hug him close to me. I went to the first house with a car in the drive way. I prayed someone nice lived here. What kind of person would live up here? Someone fearless and someone with good eyesight… I knocked on the door.
“But mom, this is a stranger’s house.”
We’ve been talking a lot about strangers lately. “Yes, but I really need help right now and I’m hoping this stranger is nice.”
I try never to depend on the kindness of strangers – but I had no choice.
Small dogs started barking and I heard a man’s voice inside talking to them.
“Hi! I’m so sorry to bother you…” I shouted though the closed door.
There was silence.
“I’m so sorry,” I yelled again. “I just need some help.”
The man opened the door. He held two small dogs in his arms and wore a collared shirt that said Tofu House. He looked confused by my presence.
I thought about the old days when it was a thing for someone to ask to use your phone and then come in and rob you or whatever. Surely I wouldn’t look dangerous.
“Hi, I’m so so sorry, but I got lost up here and I’m having trouble turning around and I’m (I mouthed the word shaking)” and I demonstrated my shaking hand while holding Spense with the other. I’m not sure Mr. Tofu house knew what I was trying to say, so I just said….
“Could you turn my car around for me? I’m so sorry to ask… I just can’t do it.” I showed him my shaking hand again.
He smiled a little and nodded, “Oh sure. Yeah, I was just getting ready to leave anyway.”
This was it! I was saved! I wasn’t going to live here forever!
He put the dogs down and closed the door.”People are often freaked out the first time they come here.”
Ha. The first time. I handed him my keys and watched him climb into my old, dirty car. He expertly executed the 3 point turn, coming within inches of the perilous drop, but arriving safely pointed out of this hellish street.
“Thank you! Thank you!” I said running over to him. The thought of getting back in the car and driving back along this road made me weak. A panic waved over me again; a little mini PTSD. I couldn’t do it. He leaned out the window as if he knew I was going to ask…. “Could you drive it further down? I’m so so sorry. I just can’t.” If I hadn’t had Spense with me, I would have been sobbing.
“Sure, sure,” he nodded. “Do you want to get in? I will drive you out.”
“Yes, thank you!” I said opening the back door. I was about to put Spense in his seat as a wave of paralyzing fear washed over me. I couldn’t get back in. I couldn’t drive on this road again. “I can’t,” I said backing up. “I will walk and meet you there. I’m sorry, I just can’t. I’ll pay you! I’m sorry!”
“No,no, it’s OK.” So the man drove my car to safety as I jogged behind, a quarter of a mile or so, carrying my son. It was hot and I was panting, but the lightness of getting out of danger gave me fast feet. Then the nice Mr. Tofu House man had to walk all the way back to his house. I should have offered him a ride back.
We did end up finding Spense’s friends house and he swam all day.
So, if you are in Los Angeles, please do go to Tofu House, I feel I owe them some advertising or something!