real lj idol | week eight | 1125 words
A Traveling Travesty
I have witnessed the dark side of traveling, both during the holidays and less popular times. I've run through O'Hare trying to make a cross-concourse flight, suitcase in tow. I've been grounded in San Francisco and disallowed from submitting forms for my lost luggage because I had not yet reached my final destination (unofficial motto of United Airlines: "Jerking you around just because we can!")
I've ridden nine hours on a local train through Morocco, a trip without air-conditioning punctuated by station stops where the bathrooms could give you lifelong nightmares.
But the most memorable disaster-trip was a Christmastime visit to my parents, up in Oregon: four-hundred-and-fifty miles of hell both ways, with bonus points for added chaos at the end.
That trip is eight hours long in the summertime. In the winter, you aren't even guaranteed to finish it. Those who have driven I-5 through the Siskiyou Mountains know what I'm talking about.
Our journey began at the end of a workday, when we left Sacramento and began the long trek up Interstate Five. The first couple of hours were uneventful. In the winter, that's about all you can hope for.
It started snowing in Red Bluff, which the weather forecast hadn't even mentioned as a possibility. Driving mountain roads in the snow is very different from snow-driving on flat surfaces, and ideally, best avoided! We happened to spot the Highway Patrol office, but it was closed, so we couldn't ask important pre-Internet questions like, "Is the summit closed?" We pressed onward.
By Redding, the snow was coming down hard. The snowflakes were so fat, they reflected back the glare from our own headlights, conveniently half-blinding us. We slowed down, soon crawling at a mere twenty-five miles an hour on the Interstate. Let me just say that nerve-wracking and tedious is a bad combination…
By the time we reached Weed, we were ready to call it quits for the night. After eight hours of travel, we were only halfway to Eugene, and the last ninety miles had taken us five hours. Fortunately, the Weed Motel 6 had a vacancy.
After crashing at 2:30 in the morning, we were less than happy to be awakened at 5:30 by a bunch of other guests who mothers apparently had never taught them even the most basic "Motel Manners". People gunned their engines, slammed car and motel doors, and yelled their urgent messages-of-the-moment from the motel balcony to the parking lot and vice versa. There's nothing like being sleep-deprived and tortured by noisy idiots to bring out the homicidal manic in you. By six o'clock, we'd lost all hope of further sleep, and decided to be on our way.
That second day's travel was only slightly faster. Surprisingly, no chains were required for the Siskiyou summit. This was bad news for the person behind us, though, who decided we were slowpokes and sped past us, only to fishtail and slide nose-first into the guard rail. Way to go! The rest of the day was blissfully uneventful, other than the snail's pace travel that finally put us in Eugene after a second eight-hour trip.
I remember very little about the day-and-a-half we actually spent at my parents' house in Eugene, except that my sister's boyfriend proposed to her over dinner. Everything else faded into the background after that.
On the morning of our departure for Sacramento, my husband woke me with an ominous statement:
"I thought you said it never snowed in Eugene."
"I said it rarely snows here. Why? Is it snowing now?"
For reasons that must have made sense at the time, we'd parked the car one street down the hill from my parents' house. That resulted in multiple trips through the cold to schlep our belongings down the slippery sidewalk and around the corner, once we discovered that the car wouldn't start.
The Toyota's battery was too dead to take a jump from my parents' car, so we were stuck waiting around for Triple-A and watching the daylight traveling hours slip away. Luckier people would have postponed leaving for another day, but I had a radio shift scheduled for the next morning and a boss who never would have accepted my reasons for missing it. He hated women in general and me in particular, and not being back in time for that shift would likely have gotten me fired. Somehow, at the time, I still wanted to keep that job.
Once Triple-A came (with extra juice for our extra-dead battery), we were off. This was paranoia-travel at its finest, the kind where you take turns going to the bathroom at rest stops because you're afraid to turn off the car engine. We delayed getting gas as long as we could, hoping the battery would hold the charge while we refueled. Dinner consisted of the ham sandwiches my mother had packed for our trip, which were far more welcome than the kinds of things that gas station Mini-Marts had to offer.
The weather was much better on the return trip, and home finally loomed in our future like an end-of-the-rainbow promise.
That is, until we reached Red Bluff once again:
Ka-BUNK! Pluh, pluh, ka-thud, ka-thud, ka-thud, ka-thud, ka-thud…
"Good god, why did you run over that chunk of ice?!?"
"I thought it'd be like snow!" my husband said.
At thirty degrees Fahrenheit, a chunk of ice isn't snow. It's more like a rock—a really pointy rock. We pulled off onto the shoulder and started dragging our luggage out of the car.
"Why's the spare tire so small?"
If you've ever had a compact car, you've probably discovered that it ships from the factory with an undersized spare tire, which saves the manufacturer maybe all of five dollars over the price of a full-sized spare. You also wouldn't care, except that undersized spares can only be driven at a top speed of about thirty-five miles per hour.
There's nothing like being two and a half hours from home, and then suddenly screwing yourself over and being five hours from home. On New Year's Eve. When you're scheduled to work the next morning.
The universe was in a snit, and we were its punching bag…
We did eventually make it home that night, without killing each other or that traitorous car. Lessons were learned, including the importance of replacing car batteries before the 5-year-mark and having a full-sized spare (even if the car's storage compartment was too small for it to fit).
But even so, with horrendous journeys both ways and nearly double the holiday travel time, only one part of that Christmas disaster really mattered:
My sister's boyfriend proposed to her, and we were there to see it.
That single, heartfelt moment made the entire trip worthwhile.
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