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15 December 2011 @ 11:43 am
The Real LJ Idol: "Sleigh Bells, Schmay Bells"  
Sleigh Bells, Schmay Bells
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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Shadow Wolf Byrdshadowwolf13 on December 15th, 2011 08:25 pm (UTC)
Wow, what an experience. Glad you made it safely.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Xmas Penguinhalfshellvenus on December 15th, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
Me too! It still beats out the year where there was ice on the Interstate, and we discovered that the Siskiyou Summit was not the only important "high" point on I-5. The road would freeze over above 1700 feet, and we soon noticed that there are about five previously-unremarkable passes that meet that criteria between the California border and Eugene. Holy moly. :0
copyright1983copyright1983 on December 16th, 2011 04:14 am (UTC)
Having lived in Seattle, I definitely do not miss snow driving--or whatever you want to call it when the car skids around the streets. :) Great entry!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Xmas Penguinhalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2011 08:28 pm (UTC)
I got used to driving in the snow the three years I lived in Illinois, but snow-driving on hills is a totally different situation (and maintains a billion times worse).

And all the time I was in Illinois, I was never out in snow so heavy that you couldn't see very far through it!

I am SO glad for the Internet age and I-5 webcams, when it comes to travel. You get much more detailed and accurate information (and can decide which days are not at all suitable for travel. In theory). :D
theafayetheafaye on December 16th, 2011 03:00 pm (UTC)
Oh jeepers. What a nightmare! But at least you were there for the important event.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Xmas Penguinhalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2011 08:30 pm (UTC)
After awhile, it becomes kind of surrealistic: is this actually happening? Are we still on this Interstate? Because it's been hours.

The proposal made the whole, horrendous trip up there worthwhile, and there was still enough "shine" to get us through the trip back-- even with the sudden massive slowdown when the end was practically there!
Jennkickthehobbit on December 16th, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC)
oh sweet Jesus, I've made that trip in late fall. I can't imagine making it in December!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Xmas Penguinhalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
It's painfully long, isn't it, at any time of year?

Last Christmas, my sister (who now lives in Portland) repeatedly nagged us with, "It would be so much easier if you all came up to Portland instead of Eugene."

Well, easier for her. She never makes that trip, or she'd realize that turning an 8-hour (if you're lucky) trip into a TEN-hour trip is asking a lot.

My brother, who lives near me but 1/2 hour closer to Eugene, doesn't seem to mind that idea much, but I cannot say the same. My outside limit for being in a car or plane is about 3 hours, and I'll still dread three hours.

We generally go every summer and every Christmas season, but the weather is incredibly scary in the winter. o_O
Danmuchtooarrogant on December 16th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
Aw, well good for your sister, good for you for surviving, and finally good for you for not murdering the husband. *grin*

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Yikeshalfshellvenus on December 17th, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)

In his defense, I now realize that his having grown up in the California Bay area (mild coastal climate) with a few year in Eureka also means that he really has no experience with ice or snow.

I lived in Illinois for 3 years after college, and I've lived in all the snow I care to see, forEVER! ;)
Danmuchtooarrogant on December 17th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, chalk it up to innocent inexperience. *grin* Sometimes even a car can't crush that mean ice.

basric: BASRIC WINTER BULBSbasric on December 17th, 2011 09:38 pm (UTC)
Thinking of getting married. Take a long car trip. If you survive that then play a game of Monopoly. Survive that...wedding bells.

Luckily your spare made it over the snow and ice. It doesn't have much tread. I enjoyed traveling with you. (=
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: heh-hehhalfshellvenus on December 18th, 2011 05:19 am (UTC)
These are good barometers for stress and tedium, aren't they? And a good chance to see how you hold up under the circumstances.

I hadn't thought about the spare tire being skimpy on tread as well as size, so you're right-- I'm even gladder that we made it home on that same tire. :0

After that, we replaced both rear tires and saved one to be the spare. It made the back fold-down area of the car bulge (too big for the compartment), but better by far than being stuck with the too-small tire again. Yikes!
whipchickwhipchick on December 18th, 2011 03:03 am (UTC)
Awwww...what a sweet ending! Glad you made it :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 18th, 2011 05:23 am (UTC)
It's funny how the emotion of that wonderful moment surmounted everything else that went wrong with that trip-- and boy, did a lot of things ever go wrong. o_O

We had a trip years later with the kids, where we we got stuck at Redding (3 miles in 3 hours), and then the Interstate was closed. We tried spending the night nearby, but no go. The Interstate was closed for days, and we never made it North that year. But better than being caught in that blizzard.

Thanks for reading!
Myrnamyrna_bird on December 18th, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you ended that horrific story with a good memory!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2011 08:52 pm (UTC)
I'm glad there was one lurking in there!

Yeesh, what a nightmare. The trip up was bad enough, but I didn't expect more of the same on the return!
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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2011 08:53 pm (UTC)
It can sure make up for a lot of "wrong," can't it?

All other travel disasters pale in comparison to that one, including the stranded-in-S.F. plane trip mentioned above (that resulted in my having no luggage but my carry-on for 11 of my 14 vacation days).

I sure hope I never run into anything to top that! :0
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(no subject) - halfshellvenus on December 20th, 2011 01:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
nodressrehersalnodressrehersal on December 20th, 2011 12:00 am (UTC)
What a really well-told story - I loved it! And I adored the sound effects:
Ka-BUNK! Pluh, pluh, ka-thud, ka-thud, ka-thud, ka-thud, ka-thud…
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 20th, 2011 01:26 am (UTC)
Thank you!

I tell you, the sound a tire-going-flat makes is so ominous that it cements itself in your memory. Once it starts, there's no going back. That tire is doomed!

I also know the bicicle version all too well, plus the fssh-WSSHH-wsssh-wsssh-wssh-wssssssshhhhhhhh sound of a bike tire blowout. Ugh.

Thanks for reading!
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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 20th, 2011 04:47 am (UTC)
That silver lining shone far brighter than I would have expected, but it was such a special once-in-a-lifetime moment that it really did eclipse the horrible 3-day prolonged disaster of the to and from. :0
createdestinycreatedestiny on December 20th, 2011 04:15 am (UTC)
I have to drive from Chico to Yreka on Christmas Eve. We've never had any problems so far, but we've always been lucky with the weather, too. *crosses fingers*
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 20th, 2011 04:50 am (UTC)
We used to go from Sacramento to Fort Bragg over Presidents' Day Weekend, and ran into snow one year that was really unexpected (and that is a really winding road, as you probably know).

Here's hoping it's a smooth, dry trip for you next weekend!
lawchickylawchicky on December 20th, 2011 01:58 pm (UTC)
Glad you made it home safely! I hate driving in snow.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 20th, 2011 06:32 pm (UTC)
Me too! Mainly, I hate driving on hills in the snow. Flat land, I can take (3 years in Peoria, Illinois got me used to it).

But any kind of elevation is a completely different story. Fortunately, even with an automatic transmission, there are usually "L" and "2" gears you can use for driving downhill on snow/ice, so you don't have to ride the brakes.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 21st, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
My worst experience there was actually running between concourses with my luggage, trying to catch a connection. SO many concourses, SO far apart. Ugh! But Denver, with its yearly, "It's snowingggggg. We don't know how to deal with that!" has more black marks for me. Every.Single.Year. In a snow climate! Jeez. :0

I've had a lot of awful journeys, but this one really was the worst of many. At the same time, it's the only one that was completely counterbalanced by having something wonderful happen along the way. It's amazing what a difference that one little thing can make!

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. :)
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(no subject) - halfshellvenus on January 18th, 2012 02:36 am (UTC) (Expand)