I’m from stubborn stock. No one in our family has ever met a challenging situation from which we’ll back down. Well, not easily anyway. We consider difficult situations as a call to action, whereby we don our respective big boy and big girl britches and get “in it to win it.” Most of the time this is a good thing. Every so often it all goes to hell in a quickly unwoven handbasket which really stocks up the story cupboard. Here’s one that landed on the shelf sometime in the late seventies.
At the tender age of 17 I drove across the country with my parents in a Winnebago headed for Texas in the middle of July. I know. You thought you had a challenging childhood. Oh, did I mention I was a teenager? Yep. I thought so. It is important to underscore the fact that I was an underage teenager fully supported by my parents, thus, when they yelled, “Giddyup!” I was forced to reply with “Hi-ho Silver.”
(Okay, you’re right. I replied in no such way. Rather I dejectedly hung my head, counted the days until my eighteenth birthday, and wondered for about the millionth time why I was the only person in my high school not to do mind-altering drugs. It seemed like a good time to rethink my philosophy.)
Let’s go ahead and assemble the multitude of elements in this travel package of doom.
There I was riding tall, enveloped in a smoke cloud that made the interior of the motorhome look like something out of a “Cheech and Chong” movie. Both of my parents chain-smoked until their doctor personally confiscated all nicotine-laden products querying them with, “Really? You don’t know why you have a cough? How is that emphysema coming along?” (Here is an aside: This same doctor had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth the entire time I knew him until his doctor confiscated his cigarettes querying him with, “Really? You don’t know why you have a cough? How is that emphysema coming along?”)
We were headed toward Freeport, Texas which is no one’s idea of a vacation destination, but rather a place to get away from when you live there and are lucky enough to get a vacation. It was hot, the air conditioner was a blowing, my parents were a blowing, and being a travel sickness sufferer since birth, I was trying to keep from a blowing chunks.
Now granted, the Winnebago was a better travel option that the myriad of travel trailers we had taken for a spin over the years because I wasn’t wedged in between my parents in the cab of a truck, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. I was already 60 kinds of miserable before we finished backing out of our driveway with my mother stationed outside the motorhome helpfully screaming “Clear! Clear! Clear!” to let my dad know there wasn’t any traffic coming. It sounded like she was administering medical aid with defibrillator paddles.
It gets better. This was my second time I had taken this trip with my parents. We had family friends who lived in Freeport and, much as I wished it not to be so, they continued to live there year after year. Thus, trip number two was scheduled after I swore on everyone else’s dead body that I would never return to Freeport, Texas, OR travel with my parents.
So I was on my way to Freeport and, Interestingly enough, we made it out to visit our friends without incident. It was the “on the way back” that got us good.
When my dad bought this rig he insisted that it be outfitted with a double fuel tank set-up, so that when he was low on petrol and traveling in some godforsaken area we would not be stuck. We thought he was quite wise to think in terms of the “what if’s,” particularly given his propensity to travel to anyplace where you could only get there with no less than five death-defying hairpin turns which had us looking at the back of our own travel trailer as we (please god) made those turns.
Let us return to the return trip.
There we were traveling at a high rate of speed on I-5 near Bakersfield. My father noted that the first gasoline tank was almost empty. My mother lit up a new cigarette with the butt of the one still in her mouth as she inquired as to whether it would perhaps be wise to seek out a gas station at this point. Maybe we could return to the small town whence we just passed.
We were assured by my stubborn father that all was well and he would make it to Bakersfield for a refueling. After my mother finished her second cigarette in record speed as she simultaneously unwrapped a piece of gum and grabbed her next one she asked him about the second tank we had for emergencies. He informed us this was not an emergency. And then it happened.
We saw that warning light go on notifying us that we were only going to make it to Bakersfield in time if we were already there. My father had miscalculated and I guess he panicked, which is something my war veteran, cop-turned-attorney never did. He yanked the wheel hard in an attempt to traverse the grassy knoll of a median divide in order to return to that last town. And then it happened.
He got stuck. Big-time. Up to the axles in lawn and mud. We made our own mud flaps. Everything was smoking...my mom, the Winnebago, my dad’s ears (figuratively like one of those cartoon characters). He got out to see how bad it was and, being the brave man he was, he disappeared under the Winnebago to get a close look-see.
In less than five minutes what he saw were two sets of shiny black shoes as worn by the the two nice Highway Patrolmen who stopped to find out what kind of idiot tries to flip a Winnebago around on a landscaped center divide. They asked him to come out from under that Winnebago, sir..slowly.
It all worked out once my father had a chance to explain the situation and tell them he was also a law enforcement guy. However, our Bakersfield sojourn allowed us to tease him with this question for years to come:
“Dad, exactly what DO you consider an emergency?” He would laugh and laugh...eventually.