In retrospect, my entry yesterday could have come across as a little morbid. To make up for it I decided to share a funny story about the time I left my Mom on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico.
This happened just over a year ago when she joined me for the second half of my “Grand Loop” road trip. We had strategically planned this leg of the journey to take us through some fun stretches of historic Route 66.
Now for the most part, Route 66 has been absorbed by the I40 but occasionally a little length of the original road is still accessible and you can detour from the 40 for a slice of history. It was on a stretch like this we saw the first Tarantula.
For the record, I am not a typically squeamish person. In fact, earlier that month I had held a Tarantula for fun and was pleasantly surprised by how soft and cuddly they seemed. But holding one of these guys in a safe place with trained professionals is different than one LOOMING IN FRONT OF YOU ON THE ROAD!
Let me set the scene – we were on a little two-lane road with desert stretching endlessly on either side of us. The road was straight for miles so it wasn’t like we turned the corner and the monster was suddenly there. No, we could see it coming before we were even within a hundred yards of it.
At first we were slightly puzzled. I leaned forward over the wheel and squinted, trying to make out what was moving in front of us. Somewhere in the corner of my brain, a warning light was going off but I tried to rationalize that there was no way this was a Tarantula. They weren’t that big, right?
As we neared the behemoth, it became increasingly clear what it was. It’s eight long legs stretched up and out for days and my brain and body went in to full on panic mode.
Gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles were white, I screamed and accelerated right over the top of the spider, not in an attempt to kill it but simply in a desperate effort to distance myself from the thing. Skidding to a stop about twenty feet beyond where it had been crossing the road, I dared to glance at my rear-view mirror and to my complete surprise, the thing was still on the road, as visible as ever.
We should have left then, before we descended into complete madness. I should have just locked the doors, ignored my mother and kept driving until we made it to civilization and safety. Instead, in a lapse of sanity and a misguided attempt to make the trip more “memorable,” I complied when my mother looked at me with crazy eyes and said “We have to go back!”
The beast had started out on the left side of the road and was crossing to the right when we flew over him. While he was mostly unscathed, the gust of wind from the car driving over him blew him back to the left lane. I put the car in reverse and we inched our way back until we were lined up with the spider.
In an act of defiant bravery, I rolled down my window and made eye contact with the little devil. I did feel a little bad that I’d almost squashed him with my tires (mostly because can you imagine how gross that would have been? There could have been legs stuck to my tires!) While I was busy staring him down and sizing him up, Mom took advantage of my distraction to JUMP OUT OF THE CAR!
In my best hostage-negotiator-please-don’t-blow-up-the-building-voice I said “Mom, I really think you should get back in the car.”
“No, I have to get it off the road,” she replied while trying to find a suitable stick.
“You really don’t have to though. It’ll be ok. Look at him, clearly he can take care of himself!”
Still, she couldn’t be swayed. She picked a stick and started making her way towards the spider. And talking to it.
“Hey little guy, I’m just going to get you to safety” she said as she tried to herd him back towards the left side of the road.
For some reason, we had John on the phone at this point and he was being super helpful, telling me “facts” about tarantulas that I was desperately repeating to Mom in an effort to get her back into the safety of the car.
“Wow, I didn’t realize they were so venomous”
“MOM IT IS GOING TO POISON YOU, YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!”
“This is interesting, they can jump up to five feet in the air when agitated.”
“MOM IT CAN JUMP! IT’S GOING TO JUMP ON YOUR FACE! GET IN THE CAR!”
Ignoring all my sage advice, Mom continued to use her stick to try and get the spider back to the left side of the road. He was having none of it, using his spindly legs to counter-attack the stick.
“I’m just trying to help you!” she said in the same impatient Mom tone all kids know. This was the last straw for the thing.
The devil bug REARED UP AND CHARGED HER! She side-stepped him but he didn’t lose any momentum and kept hurtling towards me.
With visions of him leaping from the ground through my still open window, I screamed again and slammed my foot down on the gas pedal. Much like when I left John to be eaten by Sasquatch, I put my safety first. And hey, that may sound bad, but I couldn’t help Mom if the spider killed me and took the car for himself. So, it really was the most rational thing to do.
Once I was a safe distance away, I did think about reversing the car to get Mom but at this point, protecting our ride seemed like a priority. Protecting the car would, by extension, protect Mom. Besides, the time it took her to walk to the car, knock on the window and insist I unlock the door, and climb in, gave her time to reflect on her poor life choices.
We rejoined the I40 about twenty minutes later and in that time, I had to strategically maneuver us around other Tarantulas, all similarly marching from the left to the right side of the road (see, good thing I had saved the car or we would have had to WALK through that arachnid mine field). We traveled mostly in grim silence as we watched them all presumably marching to join the armies of Hell somewhere in that desert.
Eventually we made it to a small town with a visitor’s center. I knew we had to tell someone about what was happening and the little old lady at the front desk seemed like as good an option as any.
However, as I told her our harrowing tale, she seemed completely unfazed. At the end of our story, she patted my hand good naturedly and said,
“Well of course dear. It’s Tarantula mating season. The males pick a direction and walk in a straight line until they find a mate. It’s nothing to be worried about, it happens every year.”
While her declaration that we shouldn’t be worried just because it happens every year wasn’t exactly reassuring, I could definitely see the humor in the situation. There was Mom trying to help when she only succeeded in proving an obstacle in this terrifying, horny Tarantula’s quest to find true love.
Well, true love until the mating was over. Because if the males don’t get out of there fast enough after the deed is done, the females will literally rip off their legs and try to eat them. So maybe not that cuddly after all.