I could pretend this was just another rock-n-roll road trip, but it wasn’t. Yes, I hung out with my beloved minor rock stars. Yes, I drank copious amounts of tequila. Yes, I slept in my car. Yes, I danced so much my feet still hurt today, and I’ve been off the road for almost a week. But. On this road trip, I closed a book deal. I closed it as I was driving along a freeway somewhere between (where the hell were we?) in a red convertible, listening to Paul Thorn sing about, “snake farm, just sounds nasty, snake farm, pretty much is.” My agent called and said I sounded like I had tuberculosis, and I explained that I had been screaming at rock shows for lots of nights in a row, and then, he said, in his straightforward, cut-the-bullshit way, “Well, I can’t understand a word you’re saying.” Which was his way of telling me to shut the hell up so he could talk. I did, and he told me Simon and Schuster wanted to buy my novel. Well, I already knew they wanted to buy my novel, because I’d spent three hours talking to them in a hospital the week before. (It’s a long story.) But the point was, as I was driving, they DID buy my novel.
So I didn’t do what I expected to do at a moment like that, a life defining moment, a moment that changes everything forever. I did, as I expected, hear echoes of my daddy singing, “Well, it’s nice to be alive when a dream comes true. . .” But I didn’t scream and holler and cry and dance. I went into shock. The world around me felt vaguely unreal, and when we (we being me and my adopted daughter, Serafina) stopped at a gas station, I kept bumping into things and knocking them over. Which, granted, is pretty normal for me, but usually, I apologize profusely and pick the fallen items up. This time, I just bounced off one display into another and kept going. I was like a walking game of zombie pong. I think the store owners thought I was on some really good drugs and hated my guts. I guess I was on good drugs. I was on dream come true.
As we got back into the car, I told Serafina in a sort-of catatonic voice, “This is too big. I don’t know how to say thank you for this.” Just after I said it, we pulled onto a freeway, and a sign that said, “Shrine of Virgin of Guadalupe” appeared by the road, as if by magic. I’m sure it wasn’t by magic. I’m sure the sign lives there all the time. But it felt like magic. Because the Virgin of Guadalupe and I have a long and colorful history. I love the girl, and months before, at a writer’s conference in San Miguel de Allende, I’d knelt in front of a shrine of her and asked her to sell my book. I met my agent at the conference, the agent who got me a smoking book deal within months. So saying “thank you” at the Virgin’s shrine seemed more than appropriate. “GO THERE!” I screamed to Serafina. Given the fact that I’d been sitting next to her in a silent stupor for some time, she was understandably shocked and almost careened off the road. But after that, she did as I asked.
We drove through breathtaking mountains, following signs to the shrine, and when we arrived, it was closed. We were the only ones there. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It was like a little slice of heaven. The trees were in blossom, and zillions of bees scrambled along the flowers. (Bees, in ancient times, were a symbol of the goddess, so this seemed perfect.) The air smelled like peace. A full moon (also a symbol of the goddess) was fully visible in sky above a tiny church on a hill, even though it was full-on daylight. We couldn’t enter the shrine, so we only had access to the two statues that were outside. One was a ten-foot tall (give or take—math is not my forte) bronze statue of the Virgin. I went to her and offered her dandelions, whispering prayers of gratitude under my breath. The dandelions seemed to be a fitting offering because the day of the hospital conversation with Simon and Schuster, I had gone to pray to the Virgin with my friend Julie, and then afterward, had wished on a dandelion for the sale of the book.
At the shrine, as I offered my dandelions, Serafina snapped photos with her iPhone. Then, we went to the other statue, which was Juan Diego holding a cloak bearing the symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe, his feet bedecked with roses. “This is Juan Diego,” I told Serafina. “The roses are the symbol of the Virgin. I’ll explain why later.” And then, for some reason, I decided later wasn’t soon enough, and I told her the story right there.
“So the first time the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared, she appeared to a commoner named Juan Diego, in the middle of winter at the top of a mountain in the spot where the temple to an Aztec goddess used to stand. People say that in ancient times, when a shrine was built over the site of an old temple, it meant the new god had defeated the old. Since the Aztec goddess was a violent goddess, and the Virgin came to bring peace, people say her appearance was a symbol of peace overcoming violence. The Virgin told Juan Diego she had come to bring peace to the world, and that she wanted the townspeople to build a shrine to her on that spot. A rose bush bloomed right there in the middle of the snow, and she told Juan Diego to wrap a rose in his cloak and take it to the priests in the town as proof that she had appeared to him. Juan Diego did, and when he arrived at the church, the rose had created the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on his cloak, the image that is so familiar to all of us now. So now, special roses, called peace roses, are the sacred symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe.” After my story, Sheraline and I took time to smell the blossoms and then wandered back to the car. As she drove away, I opened the pictures she had taken.
“Oh, my God,” I said. “The Virgin gave us a rose.” I showed Serafina the picture I was referring to, and she burst into tears. (Up to that moment, Serafina wasn’t sure she believed there was a God.) The picture was one of the statue to which I had said thank you, holding a rose that seemed to be made of light. There was nothing on that statue that could have made that happen. Some people will say it was a glitch of sunset bouncing off of dust particles, or whatever it is people say to explain away things they’d rather not believe. People can say what they want. I say the Virgin gave us a rose. She could have given us a daffodil. She could have given us a duck. She could have given us anything. But she gave us a rose, her symbol. What are the odds that the light would make a trick like that, right before I told my story?
So that was the rock-n-roll road trip to end all road trips. And that’s why. But as rock-n-roll road trips tend to be, it was also chocked full of other life lessons. What follows is a grand departure from the spiritual moment I just shared with you. Forgive me. I’m all over the map these days.
Road Trip Lessons with Tawni:
1. Even if you are in the middle of Bumfuck, Nebraska nowhere, and your bladder is on the verge of explosion, and there is not a tree or a gas station to be seen for miles, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, attempt to pee behind a cow.
2. When your favorite rock star in the universe tells you he’d love to see the world through your eyes, so you decide to make him magic glitter/butterfly sunglasses, don’t ask the question, “What could possibly go wrong with using glitter glue in the car?” (Upon seeing the photographic evidence of what COULD go wrong, a friend commented, “Oh no, Tawni got involved in some sketchy unicorn porn.”)
(But it was worth it.)
3. Know the difference between quasi-affair and full-on affair, because if you try to say you’ve had quasi-affairs in the past, your adopted daughter (with whom you can have conversations that would make your biological daughter pierce her eardrums with chopsticks and run screaming from the room), will call you on your shit. She will say, “Um, quasi affairs?” And you will say, “Well, they weren’t REAL affairs.” And she’ll say, “Weren’t you sleeping with them?” And you’ll say, “Well, yes.” And she’ll say, “Mom, if you sleep with them, they are REAL affairs. Not quasi-affairs.” And as it dawns on you what a slut you really were, you will say, “So, if it’s been in your. . .” And she’ll says, “Yes, if it’s been in your anything, it’s a real affair.” Damn.
4. If you have an uber-crush on a beautiful rock star, who is not just another rock star, because he happens to be brilliant, and kind, and sensitive, and just about everything that is wonderful in this world, but also incredibly shy, and he promises you that he will go out drinking with you the next night, DO ask him to pinky swear. He will, smiling beautifully as he does so. Someone will take a picture. But do not, I repeat, DO NOT, follow the pinky swear with this declaration: “You know that was like pinky swearing with the mafia, right? If you break your promise, I will send people to bust your kneecaps.” He will believe you and look like he might cry. File this behavior under, “Coming on too strong.
5. When another awesome rock star sneaks up behind you and puts his arm around you and your daughter as he is about to go on, nods toward the gray haired guy on stage setting up equipment, and asks, “Who is playing tonight? Some old guy?” don’t answer, “Oh, the guy who is actually playing tonight is WAY older than him.” While you will think you’re funny, he won’t. File this behavior under “first impressions that go terribly awry.”
6. Whatever your feet look like in the morning, you will never regret the night you got ridiculously drunk and ran barefoot through the streets singing with some of your favorite rock stars/humans in the world. Blisters or no blisters, you will be glad you did it. Do it.
7. Go to gay bars with rock stars. Call them Fernando. Take pictures you think are glamorous, wearing their hats. Wake up in the morning (in your car) to browse through the pictures and discover you actually looked like a drowned rat. Laugh at the pictures. But don’t post them on Facebook.
8. Get a thing for nachos. Eat them everywhere you go. In every town. Order them again and again and again. But. Never eat cold curry leftovers with your fingers on the sidewalk after the rock show, no matter how much you think you want them. The next day’s driving will be slow-going, at best.
9. Look, if you’re sleeping in your car, and you’ve had five long islands, and you have to pee, so you enter a nearby office building, only to discover it’s five flights up to the bathroom, just pee in the freaking street. Your legs will look so unsexy the next morning with all those bruises. (Not that it will stop you from wearing your little black dress.)
10. If you wait at a Greek place for 20 minutes to get fried zucchini for the people waiting in line for the rock show, and then, promptly trip and dump it all on the sidewalk, the one-minute rule goes immediately into effect. (Yes, I know it’s usually the ten-second rule, but at rock shows, it’s the one-minute rule.) Any piece of zucchini that makes it back into the box within a minute is fair game.
Bonus: When the girl behind you at the rock show pulls down the back of your dress and says, “What does your tattoo say,” smile as she reads it aloud. “Life is grand. Love is real. And beauty is everywhere.” Smile because you know it’s true.