ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
“All aboard, gals!” he hollered from the oversized U-haul truck after honking the horn three times.
Mom and I stood on the grass waiting to climb inside, still holding on to that last touch of the East coast under our feet. We exchanged glances and she rolled her glassy eyes. Dad looked ridiculous, sporting a Homer Simpson cap and matching t-shirt, his five feet seven inches, and a wide, silly smile. His forced southern accent was a bit of overkill for five AM. I’m sure the neighbors thought so too.
“It’s two thousand nine hundred and fifty-two miles to Seattle. One overnight stop, five meal stops, seven restroom stops, tops, so hold it, gals.” He honked the horn one more time.
“At least we got to stay here more than three years. It must be a record,” I said, mostly to myself.
“I know saying goodbye is always the hardest part. You’ll see, saying hello is going to be so much easier. I promise.” She turned around and wrapped her arms tight around me and kissed me on the back of my head. We both looked up at Dad, elevated up there in his man cave. He was trying to adjust both his cap and the rearview mirror. He nodded at the face looking back at him. I could feel Mom shaking her head. She whispered, “Go on, now.”
I climbed into the truck, followed by Mom, and we both sat down next to the testosterone-meets-horsepower-meets-Convoy truck driver.
Mom leaned over all the way from the window seat and honked the horn. “Okay. I see it is working. I wasn’t quite sure.” She looked at me and smiled. Dad made a move to honk the horn again when Mom grabbed his arm. “It was a joke, Frank. We know it works.” She turned toward me. “It’s a long way to Seattle, and I hope this strange man—who I no longer perceive as my husband, but just as some random truck driver—will become slightly less perky as we start crossing the country. I’ll need a Starbucks for starters. What do you say, Ella?”
I wasn’t saying that much. Squeezed in between Mom and Dad (and Dad’s hairy arms), I felt a little sick to my stomach. Maybe it was because it was still wicked early in the morning (I literally don’t have eyes until after seven), or maybe it was the thought of seeing my old house and neighborhood for the last time, or maybe it was the nasty smell of the citrus-meets-pine-tree-meets-hairy-Neanderthal-armpit-meets-Little-Trees in the front mirror. That sure didn’t help.
“What was that, Abby?” Dad looked at Mom. Slowly he removed his hand from the horn.
“We need coffee and pumpkin scones, and now. Step on it!”
Dad nodded his head, grabbed the keys from the visor like a true truck driver, and turned on the engine. “Did you know that the Space Needle was built in sixty-two and served as the symbol of the World’s Fair that year? And when I went there…”
I stopped listening and watched the street getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. I was so not in the mood for Dad’s little Seattle encyclopedic facts (which he eventually ran out of before we hit the drive-through window, thank God).
Suddenly a huge white van pulled out from a driveway so fast that I almost banged my head against the dashboard when Dad hit the brakes.
“Hey, watch it, asshole,” Dad yelled at the van, placing both hands on the horn. “Asshole,” he yelled again as the van disappeared down the cul–de-sac.
“Geez.” Mom leaned over and looked at Dad. “What an asshole,” she said, shaking her head, “but Frank, I thought you already used your asshole quota for 2012, mister big mouth.” She smiled and looked at me.
Dad sat up straight and cleared his throat. He whispered, “Yeah, I guess I did,” as he glanced back at me. Without looking at him, I just nodded and leaned back and closed my eyes.
It had only been a few weeks since the infamous asshole remark, but everything had happened so fast since then, and my whole life had literally changed in one sentence.
Dad had come home from work one day and announced that his boss was one “big British asshole,” which had come as no surprise to me or Mom; this was actually the first thing he would say every single day when he came home from work. The big surprise was that he had actually said it to the man’s face, that is, the big British asshole’s face. Well, I guess I can’t say it was it was that big a surprise. Dad has always been a firm believer in standing up for your rights—total Erin Brockovich style—even if it was going to cost you a job or two. And he would know.
Apparently, they had gotten into a big argument about the recycling policy of the firm, and when Dad—with his big environmental heart—and “the asshole” couldn’t come to an agreement, Dad simply got up and left, shouting, “Elvis has left the building!” which I thought was more embarrassing than the asshole remark. Elvis—aka Frank Jensen with an E—had left the building. And once again Elvis was out of a job.
At first Mom had gotten upset, going on and on about why Dad always has to act so proud, but after a bottle of the deep red Chianti she prefers, Mom relaxed a bit. “I guess he was a rather British asshole, not to mention his high horse British ass of a wife,” she said. Then they both giggled about it like two schoolgirls.
Dad and Chianti always have the same calming effect on Mom. “He’s my muse, you know, my rock,” she always tells me, especially after a few glasses of wine. She claims that just by looking at him, he gives her the confidence to go conquer the world, whether that be the world of cruel examinations, job interviews, root canals, or even the world of Grandma and Sitting Bill.
I opened one eye and peeked at “The Rock.” He was obviously enjoying the ride, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. I opened the other and gazed at Mom, the designated map reader. It was apparent that she was clueless as to where we were. I pulled myself out of my fake sleep, grabbed the map from her, and turned it right side up. “Maybe this will help?” She narrowed her eyes at me. “Then maybe you can figure out where we’re going?”
“Seattle?” I suggested.
“Ha ha ha. Nope. Here.” Dad leaned over and placed three fingers right in the middle of the map. “Best burgers in the world,” he explained and tipped his Homer cap. “We have to go there for lunch since we’re this close.” Again he held up a few fingers as a navigation device. “When we went to Penn State, that’s all we ever had. Well, except your healthy Mom that is. Back then, she went all nuts and became a vegan,” he said, emphasizing the last word.
“It was for two weeks, Frank.” She held up two fingers.
“Burgers?” I asked without the help of any fingers.
“Yep, and the best freaking curly fries in the world.” He licked his fingers and rubbed his belly.
Mom leaned over and looked at Dad with a heavy sigh. “Frank, I swear...,” she said, leaving it up to Dad to figure out what she was about to swear.
Dad peeked down at me and raised a conspiring eyebrow as if saying: See what I’m up against. I just smiled and pretended not to look at his protruding belly, knowing exactly what Mom was up against.
It’s not that Dad is fat or anything. I’d rather describe him as a warm and fuzzy bear; a lot of hair and a lot of belly. Aside from the hair and the bacon pouch, I kinda look like him. Or, more precisely, I actually look a lot like both of them, spot on! I mean, a lot of kids either look just like the dad or the mom, but I turned out exactly how I was made: fifty-fifty Mom and Dad. I have Mom’s curly red hair and green eyes (bonus); Dad’s square face (bonus); and a rather short, square, athletic body (bummer). Dad’s Dumbo ears (bummer) on top, and Mom’s tiny but ugly feet (both) on the bottom as well.
Dad shook his head, which seemingly made his big ears wiggle. “I know. I know. When we get to Seattle, I promise to go easy on the fries and heavy on the green stuff.” Dad turned toward me and bit down on his fist.
“They’re called vegetables, and they’re good for you, Frank.”
“I know. I know.” Dad looked at me. “But I tell ya, those burgers are worth a little detour. And technically fries are veggies too, right hon?”
“Whatever.” Mom rested her head up against me and closed her eyes.
My stomach rumbled. “And when do we eat?” I asked. “Four hours, give and take.”
It was more take than give when we finally—seven and a half hours later—drove into a tiny, rundown suburb in Pennsylvania. I had survived on a semi-dry pumpkin scone, three of Mom’s coconut granola bars, and three Diet Cokes. I was famished.
“Now where’s our burger joint?” Mom leaned over and waved the map at him. “I forgot.”
“I believe it’s just at the end of this street.” He made a big turn and rolled down the window.
“Dad, are we, like, actually going in, I mean, dressed like this?”
Dad turned to me and smiled. “You look lovely, peaches. The both of you,” he said over my head.
“Dad, we’re in our pajamas,” I reminded him, looking down at my ladybug pants.
“We’re in a suburb of a suburb of a suburb of Pennsylvania. Who cares? We’re having a couple of burgers. It’s not freaking fine dining, ma’am.” He leaned over and looked at Mom and honked the horn a few times too many.
I gave the typical teenage eye roll. So obnoxious.
Excerpted from "Miss Apple Pants: Lost in Seattle" by Charlotte Roth. Copyright © 0 by Charlotte Roth. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.