I look at him, he looks at me. Something is wrong, it’s excruciating to say nothing, I manage but he can read my thinly veiled concern. At a mere 60 miles per hour, and an hour late already, the last thing he needs is me saying anything, sounding as though I doubt his ability to manage a crisis. He is plenty smart, and more capable of critical thinking than most, so I just look at him.
He’s taking the exit off the highway.
“Wow, that was lucky.” I say.
I’m hoping he knows what is wrong and why the motorhome is making such terrible noise…and I’m hoping he will volunteer the info.
That’s the best he can do?! (…Deep breath…)
“So…? Flat? …worse?” I ask, all nonchalant like.
There’s a long pause, he’s reviewing his options before he speaks.
More silence as he scans up ahead.
“Uh, I have no clue, sounds like a flat–doesn’t feel like one.”
I can tell he’s already shutting me out of the equation, he likes to work alone. Just wants to handle it all by himself, he thinks it will be hours of our time and a fortune. Time and a fortune we don’t really have, least not to tow and or repair the old girl, thirty miles from home.
Little more than an hour down the road a dozen friends and family wait in the wilderness for our rendezvous. Tents pitched, coals lit, beverage in hand, they are waiting for us…the thought that they’re waiting in vein enters my mind. Won’t be much of a party without us; we have virtually all the food, least all the good stuff.
At last we are off the highway, onto a side street at the far end of Petaluma, seeking a place of refuge to get out and survey the situation. Why did he just drive by the little tiny gas station with no cars and a garage?!?!?!?!?!
Steady, I tell myself, breath...I do my best, temper myself, (almost) silently freaking out that the further he drives the more broke whatever is broke will be.
I smile apologetically.
“Should we pull over at that gas station?”
We’ve been together too long for him to not hear it like it feels in my head; “PULL THE HELL OVER!!!!!ARE YOU INSANE??? THAT WAS A PERFECTLY GOOD SPOT TO GET OUT AND SEE HOW FUCKED WE ARE.”
Fortunately he calmly replies, “Lowes is one block away, besides having more room to work, they are more likely to have tools or parts if we need them.”
It sounds like part of the front end has ripped off and is thrashing wildly to get free. At last Big Bertha (aka, the motorhome) rolls to a stop in the Lowes parking lot. We climb out and gather at the front driver side wheel.
Impressive and we are so Lucky. That’s what ran through my head over and over, this is going to be okay–I think.
I inherited the motorhome from my grandpa five years ago. It’s a bit more than 20 years old. It’s saving grace is that it lived in his RV shop with virtually no miles on it (12,000) when it came to my house. I love it. I cannot be in it and not think of how much he liked a good adventure. His drive to explore and how much he loved having his family with him. Without being cliche, I feel like he’s there when an adventure is underfoot in the motorhome.
It’s silly, a metal and wooden box with six wheels, but when I go out exploring in that box I always feel like grandpa came along for the ride. There are almost no highways or freeways on the West Coast he
hasn’t had not driven.
When I told him I was moving to Santa Rosa he told me all about the various highways and freeways into and out of Sonoma and Napa. He cracked a smile and storied up a few memories of driving truck through here (one of his many ventures; he owned a freight liner company) and delivering or picking up livestock from various ranchers on the West Coast.
He paused to grin and remind me that when he started his trucking biz, big rigs were still gas (instead of diesel) engines. He shook his head recalling the paces they’d put a truck through around the San Francisco area, up and down those big ‘ol hills with a full load, rpm’s pegged out accelerator to the floor barely moving, when a/c was referred to as “2 down (or 2low) and 60” meaning you were hopefully going 60mph and had both manual windows rolled down.
He laughed mid sentence and brought to life a day when he’d been pulled over by a Stater…again. Recalling the time of year and the milepost marker he’d just past, all details I’ve long forgotten, explaining that he had a long history with that particular stretch of road. This time the trooper, feeling exasperated, asked him how many times in the last year he had already pulled over my grandpa, not how many times he had been pulled over, how many times “have you and I met in person? ” my grandpa smiled, at me. Six, maybe seven, he couldn’t rightly recall is what he reported to the Trooper but grandpa assured me it was closer to ten times that he had entertained that particular officer in recent months. He obviously liked my grandpa or was just out if ideas and desperate, so a bargain was struck that grandpa wouldn’t go more than ten miles over the speed limit anymore and that if the trooper pulled him over again grandpa was forfeiting his license. No ticket, no fine, ‘get back on the road young man and I never want to see you again’, that’s what the officer said before he turned around and walked back to his patrol car.
Anyway, I’ve been on a bit of a tangent, suffice it to say, these are the memories recalled when I’m riding shotgun in Big Bertha, wind in our hair and road stretching before us. When you know someone long enough you can read them, dance with them just by paying attention. Everything in Mark’s expression and mannerisms are saying his day is ruined. The tire has shredded off of the wheel and inner tube. It is hanging in twisted shreds, like a hula skirt around the old inner tube and the wheel–that tire is toast.
“Thankfully that tube held together; should we just put on the spare?” It seems logical but Mark isn’t moving.
“I’m calling AAA. That’s what they are for.” He says.
I scoff. It feels like we just gave up.
Mark sees my resistance to this idea. “…besides who knows if we even have any tools…let alone a jack.”
“There used to be all that stuff.” I say, body in motion…
“That was five years ago and two teenagers ago. Who knows where any if it is now.” He’s already got his phone to his ear, I feel like he’s giving up.
I walk around the motorhome, I don’t take defeat well, rarely even acknowledge it (generally to my detriment.) I know two things–well, at least two–1. AAA service providers always take their sweet time (we will be here hours if we wait for them), 2. if grandpa ever was predictable at anything it was roadside preparedness (for godsakes!).
My first car, grandpa let me drive it home then took away the keys until I changed a tire and the oil…in front of him, and by myself. You didn’t get far talking the talk with him–put up or shut up. Two or three years later he did the same thing with my next car. No amount of protesting was going to get me those keys and I knew it.
I could tell a dozen stories about him and his rigs…that’s a whole different post, the point I am making here; he’d have had everything on hand and there was every reason to believe it was all still in inventory.
Think what you want, (I am generally not so open about things that seem crazy,) but he was there, right then, and I had the conviction of knowing he was guiding me (I usually don’t sound like such a nut job.) I tell you I saw it all unfolding, like i was being shown what to do. He was in his element and feeling feisty about getting the show on the road.
I saw the Jack and the leverage bar, and a host of other tools I had seen for years in the storage compartments , and never considered what they were for, they suddenly flashed in my head. I even envisioned, like a movie playing in my head, where the jack was supposed to go under the Beast and heard his voice reminding me how to tell where it’s safe to put the jack…Pictures in my mind’s archives, think what you want…I set to work gathering a variety of things, some of which I was relatively unfamiliar with, except I knew that I needed them.
I was undaunted by remarks about corroded lug-nuts, nuts being put on at the tire store with too much torque, or various other comments about my likelihood of success. I was impervious to doubt and apprehension, I pressed forward, clear and sure of the outcome. And like I stated before, it was as if someone was playing a movie in my head. Call it what you want, conditioning, conviction, survival mode, but know this, I didn’t feel like I was in a crisis. I generally have no problems letting Mark decide what to do in a crisis and when I’m alone, and the “fit hits the shan”, I hold my own. There was no shaking it, or ignoring the feeling to go do it myself, not wait.
In the end I have to admit, I am a princess and princesses know to not steal all the glory. (Plus it’s my birthday weekend.) …so I let the boys lift the heavy tire into place, tighten the lug nuts and put on the finishing touches.
The Moral of the story, one of my favorite life lessons; If it has tires or testicles, it’s bound to give you trouble.
(But don’t worry, you can totally handle it…)