Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Road Hits Back

My mother and I have a long history of car debacles, so this whole thing shouldn't be a surprise. Here's a little back story hitting a few of the highlights:

First was the time she tried to kill me in Miranda, her little red VW bug. We were living on the top of a hill and had a long curvy road that led to the street. As is only fitting for one of our car stories the car wasn’t working right. So when I was around nine or ten she taught me how to pop the clutch and steer the car just far enough for her to push start it then hop in and take over. One day I lost control of the car and headed straight for the neighbor’s swimming pool, watching my mother in the rear view mirror as she ran screaming after me. Then there was the time in Lake Tahoe where all of a sudden smoke started spewing from the dashboard of her car. “Mama,” I said,” The car's on fire.” “Well”, she calmly replied. “Maybe we should get out.” Speaking of smoke, there was the beater she bought me when she was living in the mountains in Wofford Heights that caught fire three times on the two mile drive down the hill to Lake Isabella. That was the car that we limped into LA the back way because we knew it would never survive the Grapevine. Once we hit county limits the car gave up the ghost with an impressive sounding explosion, and the memory of my mother is indelible as she shrieked at the car and kicked its hubcaps with all her might, softly lit by the smoke from the engine. And speaking of the Grapevine, there was the day of her thirty ninth birthday when we were moving her to her new home in Sonora, in Northern California. After a crappy year of trying to salvage her marriage to my first step-father she’d decided to leave. Well you know there’s going to be car trouble in here somehow. The only sound louder than the carsick German Shepard in the backseat was the noise the clutch made when it completely went out. On the uphill side. In a borrowed van. In a rainstorm. When we somehow got off the road she went to the back hatch to look for tools and when she opened it a big box of her favorite clothes, handmade and antique silk, fell out right into a big mud puddle – opened side down. I watched the entire thing in slow motion and, god forgive me, I laughed until I cried. Even now, all these years later, I’m howling at the mental image. Can you imagine how funny that WASN’T to my mother? I can’t believe she didn’t kill me right there. It was close, though.

Back to present day, that same hysterical laughter bubbled right back up at the sight of the heat gauge. My mother gave me a look that could blind children and said NOT funny. Maybe in fifteen years, but NOT NOW. Somehow we managed to get to the top of the crest and what should be right there but an exit leading straight into town. We coasted down the off-ramp and what should be right there but a mechanics shop. The streak of luck kind of ended there, though. The very nice mechanic wasn't able to look at the car but did recommend an import place six blocks away. He even called them and they said they could look at the car right away.

This is where the comedy of errors starts. My mom didn't want to drive the car the six blocks because it was so hot. We couldn't call AAA from my phone since it was dead. I went back into the nice mechanic's shop and stood behind a woman talking for five minutes about some car part her husband had bought from them. Called AAA and was told it would be an hour for a tow. Said okay, but then my mom decided that an hour was too long and the car was cooler so we went for it. Made it, too. While the nice import mechanics were looking at the car we went and sat on a bench in the shade. My phone had started working again, just as mysteriously as it had stopped, so I canceled the AAA call and then my mom called Stu to let him in on the situation.

One of the things that is really important on road trips is the food. I have a list of things, going back to childhood, that make me think "road trip". One of them is Abba Zabba bars. If you aren't familiar with these (and if you're an adult you really shouldn't be) they are white taffy around peanut butter. (A lot like those halloween candies that took such a bashing recently on Jen's blog and almost resulted in a lot of people I like writing me off. Abba Zabbas are way better than those, but still very similar). I had bought one at the store with the postal woman, and now, with a little time on my hands I broke a hunk off and popped it in my mouth.

And promptly got my teeth totally stuck together. Just like the pig in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy who bit off more than she could chew. My mother, sitting next to me and watching them look at the car, finished her phone call and started talking to me but it took her a minute or two to realize that I wasn't answering. By that point my entire mouth was sealed shut and I was proceeding very carefully because I was afraid I was going to choke to death on a dirty bench in Kingman, Arizona just like a pig in a children's book. On a piece of candy no one over the age of ten had any business eating in the first place.

To add to my already lovely image, once I had gotten the piece of taffy to the point where I could actually chew it, I had these little peanut butter/taffy rivulets of drool running down each side of my mouth because I was still trying so hard not to die. My mother took one good look and paid me back (many times over) for laughing in the car. Payback is a bitch. The mechanic came over with a question. I still couldn't talk. Smile, nod, shrug and drool. My phone rang while the mechanic was talking to my mom. It was Stu calling back. My mom made answering the phone motions at me as she talked. Smile, nod, shrug and drool. I worked on that piece of candy long enough to rethink my attraction to taffy in general and peanut butter taffy specifically. Smile, nod, shrug and drool. Ladies and gentlemen - my new mantra.

We then went into automotive debates - they thought we needed a new radiator, Stu thought they were trying to sell us a radiator, they couldn't even get the part for 24 hours, we wanted to get the hell out of Dodge - they somehow got it worked out that the radiator should be okay. So off we went, compulsively checking the heat gauge every ten seconds. It stayed okay, even on the hills. As a matter of fact it stayed okay for the rest of the trip. One down.

Back on the road again, slowed down but moving, we breathed a sigh of relief. We got as far as Flagstaff that night, which wasn't far enough to stay on schedule, but it was considerably better than being in Kingman waiting for the UPS guy to bring a new radiator sometime in the next day and a half. We agreed that the trip had been delayed enough to extend into early Saturday morning - but no later. By the way, this is the kind of weird stuff that you see on the side of the road in Arizona

The next day we drove steadily, but seemed to have fallen into some weird time warp. Even though we were on the road most of the day we didn't seem to be racking up many miles. It was truly bizarre. Soon we were in wonderful New Mexico

and in no time we had crossed the line into Texas. Even though we were making progress, we still weren't where we thought we needed to be, so we kept driving. As it started to get late, we decided that we would stop in the next town and abandon our hopes of making Oklahoma City that night. One small problem, though. By the time we had given in to exhaustion and agreed to stop, the lodging options seemed to go away. We went through four towns in a row - four tiny, hole in the wall towns - that all promised gas, food and lodging on their highway signs but delivered nothing but deserted grain elevators, closed gas stations with signs advertising gas at $1.50 a gallon and motels that had not one light on nor a single car in the parking lot. The last one was the worst. As we drove by it (as quickly as possible) I observed that Norman Bates would not have looked out of place sitting on the front porch. Neither would his mother.

So, half asleep and just slightly south of cranky, we hit the highway again in search of a warm bed. We had one town left to try. After that there was nothing but deserted road for miles and miles. We crossed our fingers and sped forward.

to be continued (and finished - I promise)...

Slight change in plans:

The boys and I are going to spend a few days at the lake with the taffy laugher. We'll be leaving today right after they get out of school. So...

In the interest of finishing this interminable saga I'm going to forgo the Thursday Three this week and post the end of this instead. T3 will be back in full force next week.(And I'm taking suggestions, if you have any fun categories). But since I don't think you can auto post on Blogger, I'll put it up sometime tomorrow before I leave. (If you can auto post let me know, would you??) I'll be back posting Sunday and I swear that at that point my traveling days are over with.

No more road trips for a while.


ciara said...

abba zabba's are one of steve's faves. if we are driving somewhere that is more than an hour, he's stopping to buy one of those. i don't know how anyone can eat those things, because unless there's plenty chocolate to cover the taste of the peanut butter, it just ain't happening for me. as for the broken down cars...i can totally relate.

PixelPi said...

If you don't finish the story I'm sending you a carton of abba-zabba's. And a car repair manual. The cars in distress (and ok, your mom in distress) was hysterical. I have a family with an entire repertoire of Looks that Kill or just psychological damage. Waiting for the end of the Saab Sisters saga!

Flowerpot said...

this is turning into an epic saga!!!

laurie said...

PLEEEZE dont' apologize for a great serial narrative!! just keep serializing. we're all hooked.

i am laughing so hard doug is scowling at me over the top of his Pioneer Press. but the taffy sealing your mouth closed.....oh man.

you have a mom who wears antique silk clothes? no wonder you're so damn cool. my mom used to wear polyester pull-on pants and men's shirts.

(now that she's a glamorous widow, she wears black velvet from J.C. Penney.)

isn't a bitch to drive drive drive, finally cross the border, and damn, you're in TEXAS?

i love flagstaff, by the way. it's a very cool little town. it reminds me a lot of duluth, believe it or not.

Jen said...

Just catching up...Abba Zabba's sound more appetizing than those hideous Halloween taffys, but they sound a bit more dangerous. I probably would have laughed at you, too.

Everyone is writing sagas lately, maybe I should consider one. LOL

Jo Beaufoix said...

Love the car sagas, love the VW Beetle, and the pics are just how I imagine it.
Your mum sounds fantastic.
Have a fab time at the lake with the boys and looking forward to tomorrows post.

Amy said...

Charming Blogger just farted at me. Maybe my post will appear eventually....

Anyway, I want an Abba Zabba.

Diana said...

I just kept thinking of the headline: "Woman Killed By Taffy". I'm so glad you escaped such a frightful end. Funerals where the mourners are laughing at the deceased are not very dignified.

Kaycie said...

You just kill me. You actually had a goal that involved arriving in Oklahoma City. And not because of relatives. Wonders will never cease.

Of course I would have been shooting for OKC just to avoid staying overnight in Texas.

ped crossing said...

I am still laughing. Your road trips sound so familiar. But I will take your mom in a heartbeat.

And there must be some kind of law that says once you really want a place to stay, eat, get gas, etc. there are none to be found.

Glad you made it home. Good luck on the next adventure.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Gosh, imagine those close falling into a mud puddle. It must have been such an awful feeling at the time, but quite right, very funny now. I could feel myself cringing at the thought of breaking down. I wouldn't know where to start. And if my mum was with me I think the best place to start would be to lock myself in the boot.

Crystal xx

Akelamalu said...

You could make this into a film it's great!

Willowtree said...

I'm so with you on the breakdown thing! In fact I've broken down in a VW going up the Grapevine (no shit!)