As Charlotte passed Cleveland heading toward Toledo, she thought she should probably pull out her phone and finally check those messages. She reached for her purse and began to search. Suddenly all the cars were slowing down. Charlotte stopped looking and tried to see what was up ahead. Traffic creeped along for more than 30 minutes before getting back to freeway speed. There was no accident, no explanation for the sudden slow down. Charlotte shook her head and, having forgotten to find her phone, cranked up the radio and sang along.
When Charlotte reached Toledo, she realized she was hungry and really had to use the bathroom. She had already been on the road for over four hours! Four hours into her new life, her fresh start. She started to feel guilty since she didn’t tell her mom. Or Melanie. Ryan would find out when he got home.
Charlotte pulled into a Taco Bell just off the freeway. She was going to call her mom and Melanie when she got to the restaurant, but as she walked in the doors, she decided against it. She was enjoying herself. For the moment, she was the only person in the world who knew what she had done. It was strangely liberating to be alone on this grand adventure. She would call to let them know eventually. For now, all she wanted were some tacos to fill her empty belly and a toilet to empty her full bladder.
After eating, Charlotte went for a short walk to wriggle out some of the traveling tension in her body. When she got back to her car, she hopped in and headed back to the freeway toward Chicago. She’d never been this far west. She couldn’t wait to get to Chicago! She had always wanted to visit! She checked the clock – 1:00. She thought she was making good time. She would drive to Chicago and find some supper there before driving a few more hours to stop for the night.
Charlotte reached South Bend just before 3:30. Traffic was starting to pick up a little, but she wasn’t worried. She was from Pittsburgh. She knew rush hour wouldn’t be fun, but it would probably be fine. However, she probably should have planned better to not hit Chicago during rush hour. Charlotte laughed out loud at herself, shaking her head.
“Oh well. It’s all part of the adventure!” She imagined the scene in her mind, hearing the movie music swell as the camera panned out. She imagined Carrie Bradshaw narrating the scene. This was just like a movie! Charlotte was absolutely giddy.
An hour later, traffic had slowed to a crawl at Michigan City. Charlotte wondered how far it was to Chicago from here. She dug into her purse to find her phone and search on maps. She couldn’t find it. Traffic was now at a stand still. She used the opportunity to dump the entire contents of her purse onto the front seat. She didn’t have time to mess around. She had to pay attention to the cars around her.
Rummaging through everything, Charlotte still couldn’t find her phone. She cursed. Did she pack it in a different bag? Maybe she tossed it into the bag with all her toiletries. That’s where her charger was. She shook her head at herself. Sometimes she could be real dumb.
“Whatever.” Charlotte said out loud to herself. “I’ll find it later. Just stay on I-80 and I-84 and that will take me to Portland.” So once again, Charlotte searched out a radio station and cranked the tunes. Finally just before 8, traffic started really moving again. She saw the exit for Joliet. She couldn’t believe it. Three hours to get through Chicago! She was exhausted and starving.
Searching, Charlotte soon found a hotel right off the freeway. She took the exit and headed to it. Checking in, Charlotte was too tired to lug any of her bags inside. She opened the bag with her clothes and pulled out an outfit for tomorrow and tossed it in her purse. She would just use the hotel’s toiletries. All she wanted was food and sleep. She ordered room service and trudged back down to the lobby to request a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Back in her room, Charlotte turned on the TV to find something to watch while she waited. Her food came faster than she expected and she was grateful, tipping generously. She inhaled her food and stretched out on the bed. She was asleep in less than ten minutes.
Charlotte awoke just after 9. She sat up and looked around, trying to remember where she was.
“On the road to Portland,” she declared out loud to herself. She looked on the nightstand for her phone and remembered she couldn’t find it yesterday, that it must be in one of her other bags. It was surely dead by now, so it would take her some time to find. Charlotte crawled off the bed and got into the shower. She stood there for ages letting the hot water run over her body, taking all of her stress and worries down the drain with it. Finally, hunger dictated that she get out and find some food.
Charlotte packed up her few belongings, swiped the hotel toiletries, and heading down. She thought there was a continental breakfast, but couldn’t remember. If not, she would head out and grab some food on the road. She trailed into the breakfast area just as a hotel staff was cleaning up.
“Is breakfast over?” Charlotte asked.
“Oh, go ahead and get something. The less I have to clean up, then.” The staff smiled and scurried out of Charlotte’s way and busied herself with wiping down tables. Charlotte helped herself to the remaining 3 bagels and 2 english muffins, some cream cheese and jelly. She also grabbed some cold cereal packs and yogurt cups and dropped them in her purse. She helped herself to some plastic flatware, thanked the staff, checked out of the hotel, and after filling up with gas and beverages, got back on the road.
Charlotte munched on some of her spoils and thought about what she was doing. Suddenly, she wasn’t convinced she was doing the right thing, but she’d come too far to turn around now. Besides, the last thing she wanted to do was spend three more hours getting by Chicago. She figured it would be slow but not that slow. She shook her head just thinking about it.
As thoughts rolled through her mind, Charlotte started planning what she would do when she got to Portland. She would probably have to live in a hotel for a week or so while she found a place to live and a job.