The New Year’s Adventure, Part One
I got back from a week-long road trip today. A friend invites me to Albuquerque for her history conference; she presented a paper there, and I came along as her navigator, her moral support, her emotional bolster, and her familiar face. Everything goes as planned: I have the GPS system in my lap. We follow the green line until it turns into the blue line, and occasionally we follow the little grey lines to get to the green line.
We’re making really good time as we get to Flagstaff at about four o’clock. We have a minor incident on our way to lunch– the car stops running while we’re at a red light, but it starts up quickly as the light turns green– and we keep going. We eat a nutritious lunch of soup, salad, and bread, and get back onto the road. The GPS tells us to turn left at the intersection, and that would turn into the on-ramp we want. I realize as soon as we turn left that we really want to go straight through the light and that the road then turns left on its own. The GPS makes minor mistakes like that. They’re easy to fix. We veer into the next available parking lot to turn around and get onto the junction. As we initiate the three-point turn, the car dies. Completely.
During phone calls to the appropriate people and after curses from her that “she’s never going on a road trip ever again”, I survey our resting spot. We’re in a FedEx parking lot, and we had stalled in a spot that still allows access for employees and delivery trucks in and out of the lot. Once I watch a man limp into work through the hidden front door, I decide to tell the office personnel that we’re using their space. I walk in the office and there are four people standing in the middle of the hall, socializing. They stop talking when I walk in.
“Hey, just letting you know, we’re stalled in your parking lot. We’re working on a tow truck. What time do you guys close?”
They look at each other somewhat confusedly, and one tall guy pipes up, “I’m here ’till 7:30. You got plenty of time.”
“Great. Can you throw these away for me?” I hold out a handful or orange peels and wrappers. When pointed to the trash can behind the front desk, I deposit appropriately, then turn around and see that three men had walked out the door. Because they seem to have a purpose, I follow them. Wordlessly, they push our car a short distance to a parking space. I feel grateful; parking is obviously slim and I get the impression that this was someone’s spot. But they grin at us when we thank them, wish us luck, and walk back inside. I realize we probably look like two kids.
A few minutes later, I’m sitting on the hood of the car with my friend, waiting for the tow truck. We watch it pull into the McDonald’s parking lot in front of us, back out quickly, and head down the street in the opposite direction. I can feel her panic rising.
“Well, just think, M’Linda. It’s not dark, most of the businesses are still open, we have plenty of blankets and warm coats, and we’re not stuck in the middle of the street. It’s also not cloudy or snowing; the sun is shining. We’ve got cell phones with working batteries and there’s still plenty of time to get where we need to go.” I start bouncing and bumping her shoulder with mine; I transform into the intentionally cheerful one. She just told me, as we sat pondering what to do, that she wants to have fun on this trip because someone told her she was too serious. I start singing quietly. “Don’t worry. Be happy.” I get a smile out of her, and I grin myself. This is ironic because other people usually use these same techniques to cheer me up. “At least we’re not hungry. We just ate, and,” I raise my finger, “we’ve got leftovers. Those are awesome.”
The tow truck eventually finds us, and as the guy pulls in the parking lot, I lean in to M’Linda. “Just watch,” I comment, “he’s new.”
“I hope not,” she tells me. I stand next to her as we watch the guy do his job. I’m fascinated at the process; it’s exactly how I imagine a tow truck would work, but I’ve never actually watched one. I’ve always ridden by and just shaken my head in pity. As we drive, he tells us he doesn’t exactly know where this mechanic shop is; he’s been at the job for three weeks and he’s just moved into town. But he’s friendly and despite his missing front teeth, he’s kind-hearted too. After we learn that the mechanic will keep our car but can’t get to it until the next day, the tow truck guy tells us that he’ll drive us to a hotel before he goes home for the day.
We pick a hotel and unload our duffels. Then we take over the lobby. M’Linda is determined to get to Albuquerque today; she’s reserved the hotel and paid for it already, and she has to register at the conference. We make many phone calls and determine that we can rent a car and call a cab to get us to the airport. Eventually, the taxi came “in a few minutes”. I ask the guy how long he’d been working this job, but can’t hear his answer. M”Linda interjects a few “mm-hmm”s to his mumblings, then he starts answering phone calls over the radio and writing down the phone numbers of the clients. And swerving. In the dark. A co-worker calls him and says, “Uhh, you’re twenty minutes late, buddy.” Uh, yeah. I give him a two-buck tip.
It turns out you can rent a car if you’re under twenty-five. It is possible, even though there’s a fee. By 7:30, we’re on the road again. We’ve got one CD that we left in the laptop; it was our sound system as well as our GPS. The rest of the music is still in the mechanic’s shop. A few hours later, I am familiar with the musical Chess. We get in at 12:30. We have a small panic as he can’t find our reservation, then realizes that, somehow, it’s recorded with her first name as her last. I try to imagine someone with the last name as Melinda. Then, I know I’m in the right place when he recognizes the name of the high school on my hoodie.