Go West! (Part II)


or 

Westward, ho-----------ld on


One of the truly beautiful things about Youth is that whole underdeveloped frontal lobe bit. All things are possible when you don’t stop to consider why not all things are possible. Sure, I can drive across the US in a full rental truck. With no prior truck-driving experience. With some old, paper maps. I have a credit card and a cell phonewhat’s the worst that could happen? 

Dad, with full frontal-lobe capabilities, was more circumspect. 
We were driving away from his house in Baton Rouge, having added possessions from his mother, who had died the year before mine. The rental truck was officially full, and we were headed for my new home in California. 

I’d like to say that on that trip I made new friends and broadened my acceptance of life in This Great Land of Ours. In truth, I learned to hate a few people. The first one was my rental truck customer “service” representative, who didn’t so much represent service as corporate indifference. In that sense, she was a full-service rep. 

Somewhere around Shreveport, about 3 hours into the Grande Louisiana-to-California Tour, a loud bang shook us out of our complacency, and I pulled to the side of the road. My First Blowout. Not as magical as it sounds. It was around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The grass was dry as tinder, the highway a preheated griddle, and the inside right rear tire was flat and shredded. That was still OK, though, because we had a cell phone, and I had youthful optimism.

Well, we had a cell phone with periodic reception. And we had that unenthusiastic service rep who would only hear every third word I shouted, and wasn’t sure where we were or what our problem was, so she kept putting me on hold to go drink icy drinks, I assume, and complain about customers to her colleagues. We took another tack and called home for my stepmother to call customer service for us. I  y-e-l-l-e-d v-e-r-y   s-l-o-w-l-y   s-o   n-o   w-o-r-d-s   w-o-u-l-d  d-r-o-p   o-u-t.  I felt like a moron.

I was a moron stuck to my vinyl seat, with a pounding head. My scalp started tingling, and I recognized the signs of heat stroke coming on, with a light dusting of panic. A sheriff, who had been perched for some time on the other side of the highway in his air conditioned patrol car finally moseyed over to ask, with suspicion, “What’s going on?” When we explained our difficulty, he didn’t offer actual assistance, but did reassure us that he’d take time out of his busy schedule to come check on us in a hour or so, and sweep the vultures off our sun-dried faces. He may have phrased it a little differently. He probably intended to come back in an hour and see if a parking violation would motivate us to move on, since we did not have Louisiana plates on our vehicle. Then, he drove off to serve and protect… somewhere else. 

As the heat waves radiated off my forehead I began to hallucinate he was waiting in a cool coffee shop for us to die, at which time he would come steal my stuff. As the heat waves radiated off my eyeballs I was really hoping I would get to be the next relative to die. To cheer myself up, I thought about all the people moving westward who had starved or eaten saddles or died along the trail, their hopes of starting a new life perishing with them. I just had a flat tire; get it in perspective. 

But holy smokes, it was hot that day.


Courtesy: British Library




Eventually, an authorized “repair technician” we’ll call Cletus showed up to change the tire. Watching him get down to business, I was afraid he’d changed only as many inside rear truck tires as I had. Which would be none. I came to this conclusion after 1) he threw his cigarette into the dead, oil-spattered grass by the side of the road, and 2) lay down next to it to 3) crawl under the partially jacked-up truck with no parking break. After a lengthy examination, he began 4) whaling on the axle and rims of the stuck wheels with a crow bar, causing the entire vehicle to quiver on its jack. 

I stopped watching. Inside, I felt what must surely be a small piece of frontal lobe expand and develop, like a mushroom, and with this swelling in my head I began to anticipate other obstacles that might pop up during the trip. Obstacles I had not previously considered. Possibilities that were not of the hop-in-and-drive-while-listening-to-classic-tunes-and-take-in-America variety. Everything I owned was in a van that didn’t drive, and we were not even across the state line, yet. We’re going to California?!?!  

Somehow, when I turned back around, Cletus had removed the dead tire, stuck on a new tire and wheel, and wriggled out from under the truck with all his limbs intact. The roadside did not explode in a tinder fire. The AC worked when the truck started. And we were back on the road without further assistance from the venerable Sheriff of Caddo Parish. I was born again. 
I didn’t hate Cletus that day. I thought he was somewhat pleasant, very inefficient, and might get himself killed in an entirely foreseeable accident, rather soon. But he got us moving again, so the full flower of hatred took some time to blossom.

Meanwhile, we had some miles to lay down under the tires. We had to get across Texas, for God’s sake, and as the featureless scrubland unfurled around us, we wore out all our jokes about Cletus, then worked our way through the Bad Service I Have Had classics, which material trickled off and was replaced by silence, the occasional request for directions, and eventually a few of those questions you only ask each other while you’re both staring down the open road through the windshield. The conversation turned inward, and an examination of the current state of affairs in Life began.   

To be continued...

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