“Badass in the Badlands” by Melissa Fuoss

This story appears in the anthology “Not Your Mother’s Book…On Family.”

Old-time photo of the Fuoss family, taken during the trip.   L to R: Mom, Dad, Melissa and Eric

Old-time photo of the Fuoss family, taken during the trip.
L to R: Mom, Dad, Melissa and Eric

Let’s face it. Traveling anywhere with your family when you’re a 12-year-old girl is straight up embarrassing. Just being in my parents’ presence was enough to make me roll my eyes in disgust. I might have survived the family vacation if we were going on a cruise, or to a tropical island, but we weren’t. We were headed to the Badlands of South Dakota in our beat-up minivan.

Our vacations invariably began with us backing out of the driveway in the middle of the night. For some inexplicable reason, my parents were crazy enough to think that my slightly younger brother Eric and I would sleep in the car. Instead, the middle-of-the-night car trip made us slap-happy and downright obnoxious. My mother’s arm would lengthen in a freaky circus way as she reached all the way to the back seat to slap our knees. “You are going to cause your father to run off the road!” she would yell at us as we suppressed our giggles.

On this particular trip, my brother thought it would be a good idea to eat an entire bag of Rold Gold pretzels. This would not have been a big deal if he would’ve swallowed them after he chewed them, but he did not. Instead, he spit them out after he got them to just the right consistency and rolled them into a giant chewed pretzel ball. I thought it was ingenious. My parents disagreed.

They were also not impressed when we decided to throw our chewed gum out the window. We probably would’ve gotten away with it if our van had the cool back windows that rolled down, but this was 1993 and those didn’t exist yet—at least not in our world. So imagine sticking a bunch of chewed gum out of the small slit of the pop-out back window. If you are picturing a giant mess of pink goo stuck between the window and the frame of the car, you are right on the money. In order to remedy the situation, my brother and I stuck pens and pencils back there to try to push the gum through. Needless to say, this didn’t work and we ended up creating a strange gum/pen/pencil sculpture that prevented the window from closing. The circus arm returned.

Mom would also read to us aloud during these long trips. Somehow she was able to captivate us with novels that we would’ve never picked out on our own. We heard tales of grasshopper storms and broken families, and as she read, my mind could picture every detail seamlessly. These were the quiet moments of the car trip that I am sure my dad appreciated as he ate sunflower seeds and stared calmly ahead. Eventually, Eric and I drifted off to sleep.

I woke up to the sound of motorcycles. As I sat up and rubbed my eyes, I thought for sure I was dreaming. There were literally hundreds of motorcycles surrounding us. “What’s going on?” I asked as my eyes observed all of the black leather, white fringe and tattoos.

“I’m not sure. They’ve been like this for the last 30 miles,” Dad said while looking in the rear view mirror.

“They’re making me nervous,” Mom muttered as she closed her book and adjusted her sunglasses.

When it was time to stop for dinner, it was almost impossible to find a restaurant to eat in. There were bikers everywhere, like ants congregating on a melted Popsicle. Eric and I stared with our mouths agape. Many of the women wore tiny white T-shirts that looked as if they were painted on. I had never seen so much leather and denim in my life.

While we ate at the only restaurant that had one remaining open table, we tried to keep conversation about our trip flowing, but it was impossible not to gawk.

One of the bikers passed our table and Dad asked, “Where are all of you guys headed?”

stugis motorcycles“Sturgis. For the Sturgis Bike Rally this weekend,” the biker responded. I am not sure of his name, but if I was placing bets, it was probably “T-Bone.” And the tone of his answer was one of, “Duh, how could you not know about the Sturgis Bike Rally?”

Mom promptly gave Dad “the look” and said, “Max, how did you not know this was happening?” Dad shook his head and assured us all would be OK. That’s when he said to eat quickly so we could get back on the road to find a motel for the night. With all these people heading in the same direction as we were, finding an available room wasn’t going to be easy.

We did find one, though. The sheets were crusty, the bathtub had yellow rings of scum around it and the carpet had a variety of different stains, all varying in texture. We brought our own pillows in and did our best to fall asleep.

Within an hour, the roar of the motorcycles returned, soon followed by sounds of death-metal music blaring at an unnatural volume. The drinking began. And all of the sounds associated with vodka and cheap beer barreled their way through the paper-thin walls into our room.

“Could you keep it down?! There is a family sleeping in here!” Dad yelled as he banged on the wall. No one could hear him. motel signDad repeated the plea a second time. Nothing.

On his third attempt, he happened to scream it right when there was a pause between songs. “Could you keep it down?! There is a family TRYING TO SLEEP IN HERE!”

“Who the f _ _ k cares?!” was the response.

As the noise level elevated, so did Dad’s rage and Mom’s anxiety. After an angry debate between my parents, they decided it wasn’t safe to keep us here. Hearing more noise, Dad looked through the peephole on the door to discover that the party now involved hundreds of bikers and the chaos had seeped outside the rooms and flowed into the parking lot.

Pointing to a window opposite the parking lot, Dad said, “We’re going to have to crawl through the window to get out safely.” It was at this moment I actually felt scared. My dad, the big guy who never expressed the emotion of fear, wanted us to crawl out the window to avoid the drunken bikers. This wasn’t good.

Mom said she had to take a shower first because the sheets had made her itch. I wanted to tell her that she would never get clean in that bathroom, but I kept my mouth shut. Eric and I began packing our suitcases while Dad figured out how to take the screen off the window. Once the screen was off, Dad hopped out first and Eric and I handed him our luggage. The two of us followed, climbing out the window and fleeing to our getaway van.

And then it happened. While we were waiting anxiously in the van for Mom to crawl out the window, too, we saw the door of our motel room fly open. We watched as she sauntered out of the room and parted the sea of bikers, with her arm up and only her middle finger raised for all to see.

“Holy shit,” Dad said in a whisper. Once again, Eric and I were in awe, but this time not at the bikers, but at our mother.

We will never forget that family vacation, and the story has grown in hilarity as time has passed—Mom versus the bikers. And Mom won.

Family 250rgbMelissa Fuoss is an alternative-education teacher, mother of two adorable boys and a wife to a man who knew he would marry her the day he met her. She was raised in St. Louis by a dad who inspired her with his love of life and a mom who was never afraid to keep it real. She is currently battling breast cancer. You can read about her journey here: www.cancermademedoit.wordpress.com

Again, this story appears in “Not Your Mother’s Book…On Family.” The book is filled with 60 funny stories that confirm families aren’t always perfect! Purchase this book today from your favorite retailer, Amazon (http://amzn.to/1uWdwES) or Barnes & Noble (http://bit.ly/11HEQLy).

To submit your stories for consideration in future NYMB titles, go to http://www.PublishingSyndicate.com and click on the “Not Your Mother’s Book” tab.