TINA COMEAU: Taking a side trip to panic city

Tina Comeau tcomeau@thevanguard.ca
Published on July 15, 2014
It's My Life: Tina Comeau

Vanguard associate editor Tina Comeau writes a weekly column called It's My Life, that is a lighthearted look at family life.

My heart was pounding.

My stomach was turning.

My breathing was rapid.

And then my heart dropped.

It was like the predictable ending to that really bad movie.

You saw it coming before it happened.

Was I panicking? Hysterical? Freaking out?

Yes. Yes. And yes.

“We’re going to lose the bus!” I screamed. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”

And then the bus was gone.

For nearly two hours we had been following it. We had inched our way behind it through creeping Sunday, Fourth-of-July weekend traffic. We had weaved in and out of traffic with it. I had kept my eyes fixated on it.

“We can’t lose the bus,” I had mentioned once, twice or 84 times to my husband, who was driving. We had left Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, where my son had attended a weeklong hockey camp. While we had travelled via Nova Star to Portland and driven the rest of the way, he had travelled to New Hampshire by bus from Halifax. Now we were all going home on the ferry.

I know enough about how a teenage brain operates to know he wasn’t quite ready to jump in the car with mom and dad for the trip back to Nova Scotia so I asked the driver if they would be stopping in Portland. She said they would be stopping in Kennebunk.

Wherever that was.

“We’ll follow you,” I said, as I let Jacob and his friend Kirk, who was also coming on the ferry with us, climb onto the bus.

We’d pick them up in Kennebunk.

At one point during our drive behind the bus my husband commented about how we should be travelling with a map. A paper one.

“Nobody uses maps anymore,” I said. “If we need something we’ll just GPS it.”

Fast forward to that moment my heart dropped. There it loomed. A toll booth.

The bus veered into the Fast Pass Only lane. We would have to go through one of the cash booths and all of them had a long lineup of cars waiting to go through.

The bus kept going. We didn’t.

You know that moment when you lose sight of your child in a store? It’s not much better when you lose sight of them in the state of New Hampshire.  

By the time we got through the toll booth the bus was long gone. We drove. And we drove. And we drove. But we never caught up to the bus. Then like the sequel to that really bad movie I mentioned before, I could see an exit ramp ahead of us on the interstate. This wasn’t good. I called Jacob in a panic.

“After you went through the toll booth, did you turn or stay straight?” I screamed. “Hurry Jacob. Did you turn or stay straight?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Ask someone! Hurry!” I shouted. By now our vehicle was at a standstill with vehicles whizzing past on us both sides. He told me they went straight. So we did too.

After 10 minutes of driving I texted him again, given what we were approaching.

“So after you went straight you went through a toll booth, right?” I asked. “No, we never went through another toll,” he texted back.

They hadn’t gone straight. They had turned.

I nearly cried when the realization hit me. The bus he was on was headed to the state of Maine. We were on our way to the state of Massachusetts. It was a good 15 minutes before we were able to turn around and backtrack. By then the bus would have a 40-minute lead on us to Kennebunk.

Wherever that was.

I sent Jacob more frantic texts and made more calls. Unbeknownst to me he put me on speaker. Apparently he found my hysteria amusing.  Teenagers. Gotta love ‘em.

He’d tell me what interstate they were on but couldn’t give me a name or address of the roadside rest stop they were going to in Kennebunk, other than to say it was a round brick building.

“Just GPS it,” he said. Yeah because that’s going to work: round brick building in Maine.

Because the bus was on a schedule, and we had a ferry to catch, I thought about letting Jacob and Kirk ride the bus back to Halifax. But then I remembered I had Jacob’s and Kirk’s passports with me.

This ride was going from bad to worse.

I’ll spare you the details of the dark place I slipped into.

As we drove in the direction of Portland, hoping we were on the right interstate to stop in Kennebunk before the bus had to continue on its schedule, my husband said to me, “A map would have been useful.”


I can’t tell you the joy I felt when we passed a sign telling us Kennebunk was 25 miles up the road. Or the relief when we pulled off the interstate and the bus was parked next to round brick building.

Jacob, Kirk and their new friends all said goodbye and in that moment, seeing whereas I could breathe again, I was happy I had let them have that extra time on the bus.

Next week my youngest son is going to New Hampshire for his hockey camp, although this time I’ll be on the bus with him.

I’ve already visited panic city. I don’t need a return trip.