I used to say that my Olympic sport was typing. I could type like the wind, whether on a typewriter or a computer keyboard, although any time I have to use a laptop, I plug in an emergency-backup Real Keyboard.
Now that using a computer is my number-one migraine trigger, I’ve had to find another event at which I can excel. After some thought, I have it figured out: the gold medal goes to . . . sleeping in the car! I’ve done it as a child, I’ve done it as a teenager, I’m still doing it now. I’ve mostly done it as a passenger, but there have been other, more interesting times, when I’ve done it while, yes, driving. More on that later.
Many of us begin life as babies who sleep in cars. Some babies seem able to only sleep in cars, which is quite a trial for their parents, who could use some sleep themselves. Uncle Clayton was one of those babies who always conked out in the car. Family legend has it that at least once, Grandma and Grandpa loaded him into the backseat, started the car, and he immediately slipped off to dreamland. They didn’t feel like driving around, so they picked him up, carried him inside, and deposited him, still sleeping, into his bassinet.
This was probably just as well, since Grandpa usually smoked his pipe while driving.
My own children had opposite styles when it came to car naps. If Allison fell asleep on the way home from the store, no problem; she was still fine with taking a nap at home. More than once, her dad carried her inside and put her into her crib, still strapped into her car seat. But Dan recharged so quickly, we did everything we could think of to keep him awake in the car. If he dozed off anyway, once we got home, he was up and at ‘em.
My talent at auto sleeping began early, on trips to Minnesota. Dad had a gigantic Buick station wagon and two daughters who did not want to sit together. Bonnie got the back seat, while I got a Pam-size rectangle of space in the way back, right next to the suitcases and boxes of food. This was probably highly unsafe at any speed, but I enjoyed being able to sleep lying down, and who used seat belts in 1962?
Even before my headaches commenced, I had trouble staying awake in cars. I remember taking my mom on a trip to see Coe College, and being so sleepy on the return trip, I was near panic. She never learned to drive, so I was it. Somehow I willed myself home.
I became an Olympic-class car sleeper during the two-plus years my husband Bob and I spent going back and forth to Ann Arbor for my headache care. Initially, I was still able to drive half an hour, even a full sixty minutes, so he could have a break. Eventually, I was so tired of being in the car on the same trip, over and over, I usually found myself, at some point, diving into the back seat for a completely prone nap. Yes, yes, I know. I’m the one who used to tell my sister, when she sat in the back and refused to put on her seatbelt, “That’s the Princess Di seat! Look what happened to her!”
Even though I rarely fly, I find myself salivating when I see those ads for business-class travel on Asian airlines, with the seats that convert to completely flat and cushioned. Sitting up in a car, sleeping, lends itself to bent necks and wide-open mouths, and even though I know I will never again encounter those people laughing at me from the next lane, I’m still embarrassed when I wake up all askew.
As I mentioned earlier, I have fallen asleep while driving. Aside from the terror when you awaken on Highway 61 with a semi coming at you, it’s interesting to learn that it is possible to fall asleep, completely out cold, if only for a few seconds, with one’s eyes wide open. Everything just goes black. Whoa! Turn off the cruise control!
Many of us are prone to this. A friend falls asleep, when her husband is driving from Dubuque’s west side to Illinois, by the time they reach the Julien Dubuque bridge. This is Olympic-level sleeping, folks.
I suppose it’s the headache drugs I guzzle daily that account for my increased inclination to sleep while moving, although the jury is still out on that. (The jury is, I think, not only out but also ordering pizza and beer and sending twenty-page notes to the judge while they debate about this.)
It makes me a less-than-entertaining passenger, I know. I have brought along CDs I insist on playing, a request which is highly unfair to the person driving, the person who is actually awake and able to hear the music. (The person we know is alive, I might add. Do you remember the movie “The English Patient”? How in the beginning we see the gorgeous Ralph Fiennes flying a plane with the equally gorgeous Kristin Scott Thomas sleeping beside him? We don’t find out until the movie’s end that she’s not sleeping, she’s dead. Of course HER lipsticked mouth is beautifully shut.)
All of this explains why I no longer take the wheel on trips over half an hour. I depend instead upon my ever-patient family and friends. I know it’s inconvenient, but I can’t help it. As my dad used to insist from the depths of his lounger, I’m only resting my eyes.