For the first part of this story, see Starting the Christmas Season in Chicago.
As we headed out from our hotel, it was overcast and a light rain had descended on Chicago. Traffic was heavy; half the city, it seemed, was headed out with us. LCB sat in the front and struck up a bit of a conversation with the driver, while the rest of us were quiet, immediately lulled into sleep-like states by the weather and the motion of the cab.
After settling in, I noticed the list of fees plastered to the back of one of the seats. Included in the list was a $50.00 vomit clean-up fee. I started laughing, thinking about what the fact that this is a posted fee suggests. Then, I started thinking: How many times over the years have I cleaned up after one of my kids threw up? I wondered, if I’d charged a $50.00 mom clean-up fee (to whom, I have no idea) every time, how much money would I now have? Then I started thinking about if there’d be any differentiation in my mom fee depending on whether the child was able to make it at least into the bathroom first versus throwing up en route (thus requiring a carpet cleaning) or in the bed (thus requiring a visit to one of Dante’s circles of hell). Because I think if a percentage of the throw up (sorry) still doesn’t make it inside the toilet, that should count for something, and if it does count, I’ve now made several thousand dollars after three kids and fourteen years of clean up duty.
And then I thought, if I get sick myself while cleaning up after someone else, would I be able to double-charge since technically there are two clean-ups involved? Because I almost think that should be allowed in this fake vomit clean-up charging world I’m crafting in my mind.
I scare myself sometimes.
So here’s what happened next, and here’s why I’m convinced God has the best sense of humor ever, even though it was also kind of awful. Within seconds of entering the cab, we began noticing heavy exhaust fumes pouring inside. As a bonus, the heat was cranked somewhere between (according to LCB) boiling and Hades. And remember, we’re from the South, so we have a high tolerance for heat. To complete the experience, we were soothed with an extreme push-the-gas and slam-the-brake sort of driving that would make the most obnoxious roadside carnival ride seem smooth. We had entered a trifecta of puke proliferation.
Therefore, during a lull in the cabbie/LCB conversation, Baby-Girl suddenly leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I think I’m getting sick.” I wasn’t immediately alarmed, not so much because I’m stupid as because she does this occasionally and it rarely amounts to anything.
Instead, thinking of the heat especially, I unzipped and loosened her coat and told her we’d hopefully be there soon. I debated about opening a window, but noted the rain and decided against it.
Traffic was of a stop-start nature at this point, however, and as I started wondering when it would break, Baby-Girl turned to me again and whispered, “I think I’m going to throw up.”
This specificity cued my full-on panic mode, so I rolled down the window, and as I’m pelted with rain, I thought quickly about what I could use for a “receptacle.” Initially, all I could think of was the large, cheap handbag I bought before the trip to carry a few extra things in. In a rush, I dumped out the electronics and my wallet and held the bag under her chin.
It’s important to note that during the entirety of this drama, LCB sat in front oblivious, in typical man-like fashion. And I’m trying to keep it quiet, because I don’t want the cab driver to charge us if Baby-Girl doesn’t throw up but he thinks somehow that she has, and because I still think she probably won’t. In my head, I heard LCB incredulously asking me about it later, saying, “You let her puke in your purse?” To which I replied, in my head, “It’s an all-utility bag. But you’re right. Next time I’ll try the cup-my-hands-and-hold-it-method and hope for the best.”
I get snarky when I’m panicked by puke.
Then, I was both embarrassed and relieved when it dawned on me that my son was sitting nearby with a couple of bags that contained snacks, paper products, etc., on his lap. I grabbed the bag with paper products and held it in front of Baby-Girl with one hand while I refilled my handbag with the other. After five minutes or so of suspense, I looked over at her and she was starting to fall asleep. That’s a good sign, I thought to myself, and I lowered the bag.
And then I heard it, this time from one of my sons. “Mom, I’m going to be sick,” he moaned, and I reached over Baby-Girl and handed him the bag. There was maybe a three-count pause, and then he began.
You know what’s not fun? Managing someone who’s puking into a grocery bag while riding in a hot, fumes-filled taxi jerking back and forth, all while another sick person sits between you and the puker, with the rain pelting your back the whole time. All you want to do is turn away and look and breathe anywhere else, but someone has to manage the puke.
And I was that someone.
After that, it went about as you might expect. When the boy finished, the girl began, fortunately mostly dry-heaving over the bag until her stomach settled. There was maybe a three-minute reprieve, and then the boy went for a follow-up round and afterward settled back in his seat.
Over the years, as a family we’ve managed to puke our way through the mountains of the Carolinas and the Virginias, through the side streets of Charleston and the highways of Houston, but we’ve always been in our own vehicle at the time. The cab setting takes this pursuit to a whole new level.
Throughout all of this, my other son sat there pale, turned away the rest of us, covering his eyes and ears with his coat to tune us out. Knowing he is prone to motion sickness, I refrained from bringing the subject up in the cab, but afterward he told me he was struggling to hold it in the whole way.
I’ve never seen people exit a cab as quickly as we did when we arrived at the rental office. As we gathered our things and walked toward the office, LCB (still oblivious to what had happened) said, “Man, that cab was hot and it reeked of exhaust fumes. I’ve never had a cab that bad. Did you guys notice?” This set the kids off on variations of “I thought I was going to die in there,” and the like, but no one immediately mentioned the puking to him. I stopped to throw the paper product bag in a nearby garbage can and reorganized a couple of bags, and then followed them inside.
Then, I had a quick thought: What if LCB had thrown something other than just disposable paper products in the bag I’d just tossed? I knew it was unlikely, but I thought I should ask him just in case. He was in line for the car at this point, so I made an attempt at being inconspicuous.
“Hey, you didn’t have anything you really needed in the paper products bag, did you?” I asked over the crowd of people, while three people overtly listened to our conversation as if we were having it just for them and several other people, I’m guessing, were secretly listening on as well.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because I just threw it away,” I answered.
“Why’d you do that?” he asked. I gave him a look that, after over two decades together, he’s supposed to be able to interpret, but of course he didn’t, and he continued to stand there expectantly. Our audience of three plus sat with bated breath. I struggled for phraseology a minute and then settled for, “I’ll tell you later,” accompanied by another look. When I looked back after settling the kids, a woman in line behind him, with multiple kids herself, was smiling at me and looked like she was trying not to laugh. She gave me a knowing look.
We’ve never even met, but I bet you she knew what I was talking about, and I bet you she’s also never collected a vomit clean-up fee either.