AWAI Writing Challenge Honorable Mention:
My Unintentional Best Road Trip Ever
My best road trip ever was not planned nor was it even a “road trip” in any conventional sense. Rather, it was more like an excursion through time in the badlands of Nevada. It began with a car wreck.
I was driving from my brother’s house in Santa Cruz, California to graduate school in Minnesota. I was driving between Reno and a town called Elko on what I expected to be a very long day’s drive to Salt Lake City. It was late in the afternoon and I was driving fast. I did not feel like stopping in Elko while I could still make it to Salt Lake City by midnight. Such is the curse of being goal oriented.
I took a sweeping turn at about eighty miles an hour when my car blew up. It didn’t actually explode, but you could have fooled me at the time. I hit a sizable rock in the middle of my lane that proceeded to wreak havoc under my car. My car began emitting a sickening sound. It turned out to be the smashed flywheel cover grinding against said flywheel. I sounded a bit like a chainsaw. I was not a “car guy” but I still pulled over to survey the damages. I looked in despair as gas streamed out of a hole in the gas tank. I knew that I was in deep trouble in hell’s half acre. Cell phones had not been invented yet, so I sat down and put my head in my hands while waiting either for help or the friendly local axe murderer who planted the rock in the road. Help came first in the form of a car guy armed with a bar of soap. He stopped and looked knowingly under my car. He gave me a bar of soap, of which he seemed to make little personal use, and told me to rub it across the hole in the gas tank. I did so with some trepidation but discovered that the soap created a makeshift patch. He also told me that Carlin, a small mining town with an abandoned mine, was located only 10 miles down the road. He also assured me that it had a relatively new gas station. I thanked him for his help and his bar of soap, and then limped off for Carlin. As far as I know, the car guy vanished and went back to heaven.
After reapplying my soap patch several times along the way, I made it to the gas station in Carlin, population 300, more than an hour later. I parked in front of the entrance to the service bay. It was 1973 and service stations still provided service. My latest soap patch just failed and gas began to leak out of my tank to the horror of the owner. He screamed to move my car away from his station fearing the loss of the only new building in Carlin. I parked by the telephone booth in front of the station and prepared to call my parents to ask them to help bail out their favorite graduate student. Just before I made the humiliating call, I noticed a boy walking toward me from the station. He was about 16 years old and introduced himself as Jimmy Black. He told me he knew a shop in town where they could fix my car for a fair price the next day and that I was welcome to spend the night with his family. I looked in his honest face. I could not see Freddy Kruegger lurking behind his open smile. I shook his hand and thanked him. He called the shop to arrange for my car repair. Next, he called his mother to let her know he was bringing home a guest for dinner. I left my car at the curb and stepped in a time machine; Jimmy’s well worn pick-up truck.
The Black family was not exactly poor, but there was no Mr. Black and Jimmy had a mother and brother living in a trailer. Jimmy’s mother was friendly but seemed wearied by her life while his brother had a striking resemblance to the Disney character Goofy with a personality to match. They were all quite taken by the fact that I had come from a far away land called California and I answered questions for about an hour before dinner. Dinner was surprisingly good and then the real entertainment began. The Black brothers took me cruising until well past midnight in Goofy’s car. It was an admittedly cool 1956 Chevy.
I felt transported into the movie “American Graffiti” as we cruised the streets of Carlin with the radio blasting and both Black brothers yelling playfully at other drivers. The movie’s advertising slogan kept running through my head: “Where were you in 62”? I knew it was 1973 but it sure didn’t feel that way at the time. We actually ended the evening drag racing on an abandon stretch of road near the west end of town. This was also familiar since the climactic scene in American Graffiti involved a drag race … only in our case, we weren’t racing against the pre-Han Solo version of an unknown Harrison Ford.
The next day brought repair of my car at the promised fair price, a thankful goodbye to the Black family and my departure from “The Land Time Forgot”. To this day, I remember the kindness of Jimmy Black and his family and have tried to “pay it forward” to others needing help in my intervening 35 years. This was an unintended road trip that changed my life by showing how catastrophe can be transformed into a positive experience. I even found myself laughing while recounting the car wreck. I sincerely hope God watches over the Black family and all helpful car guys.
That’s all I have to say about my best road trip ever.