This one-woman play was written after a trip to the Grahamstown festival. It was turned down as part of the main festival this year (2012). It is the play I am the most proud of writing. I still believe it will happen in Grahamstown, under circumstances that will favour it. Would you like to produce it? I have a budget drawn up. Contact me on megan@improvision.co.za for more info.

Drive With Me

 A Road Trip

A monologue inspired by a ten hour solo car trip and the sad death of a dog

The audience is seated. Marion enters from the venue’s public door. She is a 47- year old professor type. She is slightly rumpled and academic, dressed in an ill fitting but informal suit. She has a bag and papers, and she gathers her stuff together and places them on a small table, drags a chair round in front of the table, takes her cell phone out of her pocket and turns it off. Then she addresses the audience directly.

Here I am. Not late. Right. Welcome ladies and gentlemen and thank you for joining me. I’m Marion Taylor. Phones off. Right. Let’s keep this informal shall we? Right. No need for pens and paper. Welcome to The Road Trip, on the Grahamstown festival’s think fest of 2012.

You know, the festival creeps up on you. Suddenly, a week ago, I realised that it was the end of June again and time to make my annual trip from Cape Town to Grahamstown. A strange anomaly has resulted in me being invited to the festival for the last sixteen years, first as part of the winter school and now the think fest, to present this bizarrely well attended talk on symbols in popular creative writing.

I have often tried to change my talk and offer another perspective on creative writing but this one has proved so popular that I am always asked to repeat this one, almost every second year. In fact, I am told people come to the festival especially for it, The Road Trip. So, since you are all here, I assume it’s what you’ve come for. Right. As you may or may not know, we’ll be taking a look at “the journey”, in both the actual and metaphoric sense.

Let’s open with a reference to the first literary journey in the 12,000-line Greek poem, The Odyssey, written by Homer in the 8th Century B.C.E. As I am sure you all know, it chronicles the adventures of Ulysses as he makes his way home after the Trojan Wars. What’s important about this journey is that it is a homecoming, and Ulysses, through his travels and encounters is confronted with questions around his identity, his deeds and how changed he is on his return.

Of course, a journey, a quest, a road trip indicates not only the passing of time, but also the growth and development of the journey’s undertaker. Our traveller is changed, moved, and his circumstances are forever altered by what happens on the road. Right.

As I have gotten older the ritual of preparing for my own ten-hour trip to Grahamstown has become more and more ingrained. Have the car serviced and all the tyres, including the spare one checked. Check the bulletin boards on both campuses for post grads or lecturers who might need a lift, and then turn them down in my head as being unsuitable; for many reasons, but only one of them true; I want to travel alone. This gives me a sense of total control; timing, length of stops, the ticking off of landmarks.

Since the death of my mother; another personal journey of great learning, I don’t need to call her and have her call daily in that week prior to my leaving with the endlessly repeated question “When are you leaving?” And her nagging, as if I never remembered to, to call once I arrive and my irritation that she will ask and nag the whole week and then forget which day I leave. I digress.

I spend days transferring music onto my iPod – being 47 means that this is not second nature, but something I have to think about carefully. Technology is still alive and malevolent to me.

I make arrangements for my neighbour to feed and stroke Jonathan, the street cat that has adopted my stoep, as far as the front door. I am allergic, both physically and psychologically. The idea of an animal needing me, and me loving it makes me hysterical.

I dig out and wash my flask cup, a ten-year old Starbucks gift from a colleague who went to a conference in New York in my place, and brought it back as a thoughtless peace offering. I pack a kettle, two packets of filter coffee, a bodem, a box of Oatso Easy sachets variety pack, for variety, and Cup a Soups into my most underused gym bag/now travel bag, in readiness for the res room that feels nothing like home ever.  Not that I mind. I don’t need more.

Take a pillow from the bed, change the pillow case to one in darker colours, first for the drive, in between my back and the seat, to prevent those low level kidney throbs from long hours of sitting, and then to use on top of the res pillow to combat squeamishness, and allow for sleep. Pack an extra toiletry bag full of cell phone charger, USB cable, laptop cable and spare two-point plug adapter – you never know.

The evening before, I always pack my clothes, and semi-pack toiletries, leaving out toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush and face cream, which will be used again before I leave in the morning. I always wake up every hour on the hour; regardless of what time I go to bed and then fall into a deep, chaotic sleep forty-five minutes before the alarm goes off.

Yesterday morning, or pre-morning was no different. The alarm went off at ten to five and it felt like I had just fallen asleep. I had heard the sounds of chewing; in my dream they were the big jaws of something eating through wooden doors with a dry crunch. Slowly, the reality of Jonathan eating his hard cat biscuits directly under my slightly open window filtered into my brain. It was cold. I was ridiculously proud of myself when I remembered to squeeze my slippers and gown into my bag; you see, I had left them unpacked the night before. Checked the back door, the fridge, left the passage light on, checked my bag for my damn Blackberry, lip ice, poured the coffee into the flask cup, made sure the landline was in the charger cradle, put the bags out on the stoep, closed the bedroom window, closed the front door, punched in the alarm code, opened the door, checked for my purse, panicked, went back inside, undid the code, looked for my purse, remembered I had zipped it into the lining of my bag for safety, with my ID book. Reset the code, locked the door and the security gate, piled the bag into the boot of my car, put my handbag with my laptop on the floor in front of the passenger seat, hooked up the face of the radio, attached the USB cable to the iPod and then to the little plug hole in the face of the radio, fumbling in the dark, and startling at the loudness of Morbee Khan and the Parlotones singing Giant Mistake.

I turned the volume down, started the car and turned on the headlights; it was still pitch dark. A liquid blackness caught my eye as it flowed over the wall and towards and behind me and my heart skipped a beat. Jonathan. Two cats on the roof of the garage across the road started yowling and fighting; the grimmest sound in the world. I locked my door and leaned over to make sure the passenger door had also locked. You never know.

A deep breath. I was on my way. Seatbelt, coffee in the little hold-all above the handbrake, music, and the demister on, but only just off cold, the heater makes me nauseous. 889ks to go.

One of my favourite journeys or road trips is the one taken by Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha. The self-named Quixote dons a hand made suit of armour and sets off on a quest for adventure, love and understanding. Because of the size and outrageousness of his tales he is thought to be completely barking mad. In comparison, his actual travels are very local and quite silly.

I believe you are only officially out of Cape Town after the terrible traffic lights of Somerset West. Up until then it doesn’t really count, even though one has been driving for at about half an hour. It’s that time when the sun isn’t up although the sky is constantly changing colour and shapes and forms are more visibly things in the streetlight and purple dawn.

I put my empty flask cup behind me on the floor with the smell of sugar -sweetened coffee drifting up from time to time. The iPod was in excellent shuffle mode. I had already heard Manu Chau, Michael Buble (I confess to that), Bob Marley, Joan Armatrading and Vusi Mahlasela. Neil Young was singing about him and Pocahontas as I started the curving climb up Sir Lowry’s Pass. iPod was still making mellow morning choices. I was starting to let my mind wander; starting to let down the filter of tight control and allow more arbitrary thinking to happen.

Pilgrimage. The Canterbury Tales (written mostly in verse, although some tales are in prose) are told as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Tales within travel tale, even though Chaucer seemed less concerned with the actual journey and more with the characters who were on it. The annual pilgrimage to Grahamstown, I imagine, is very similar for many other festival regulars.