My arrival in Arizona was not what I had expected. First of all, the people at Greyhound had neglected to take the difference of time zones into account when they made my bus ticket. That meant that I had arrived in Phoenix just about a half an hour after the bus to Casa Grande had departed, no problem, I could just catch the next one. Problem was that the next one wasn’t until the same time the following day. Call me crazy, I didn’t want to spend the next twenty-four hours in a bus station in Metro Phoenix. I called my mommy.
It took them a while to get there to pick me up. While the drive is only about sixty miles, it is over some of the busiest streets I have ever seen. When they did arrive, and I saw the chariot that was supposed to carry me from the depths of hell to my brand new life, I was really, really scared. The thing could only be called a “car” since it had the requisite number of wheels. Nothing else about it seemed to be car like, at least not in my eyes. Dune buggy perhaps, car, no. I figured I had ridden in worse (where that might have been I really don’t know) so I just threw all of my belongings (being a small duffel bag holding a bunch of cassette tapes and an overnight bag holding what clothing I owned) into the back seat. Then I got in, sat down, and prayed. I am not one that is normally into prayer, mind you.
Now imagine playing some old Atari game, Night Driver for instance. Further imagine that you are actually in the car, feeling all of the bumps along the way. But there has been an old dirt road substituted for the track. The car’s exhaust system isn’t working properly, thus pumping the fumes into the car. The car is traveling way faster than it should be (I mean that car in specific; some cars can do eighty or ninety with no ill effects, this car shouldn’t have crested twenty-five, ever.), like probably about fifty or so. I thought to cry out for my mommy, but she was in the car as well. That ride was one of the most frightening things that has ever happened to me, more frightening than many of the car wrecks I have been in.
Now a quick aside about said car wrecks. The first (that I remember) happened in southern Arizona somewhere around 1982. Mom, was driving an old Ford LTD that completely lost control for some reason or another. I don’t really know exactly what happened to make us spin out and careen off of the road, but I do know that as Mom was sitting there, completely white-knuckled, and breathing really heavy, I said something very close to “that makes it really hard to read.” Which, oddly, wasn’t meant as sarcasm, I was honestly trying to read a book in the back seat. Hard to do when your Mom is throwing the car into a horrible spin and flying off of the road (if you are reading this, Mom, and if my recollection isn’t completely accurate, just click that little thing at the bottom that says “comments”. It will give you a place where you can write a message and post it, that way you will straighten me, and the rest of the internet out at the same time).
The next wreck I was involved in was in about, 1996 or so. Mom and her friend Angie had decided to move to Arizona, which required a car trip. We had a lot of crap to haul, but only two very small cars to haul it in. I ended up in a 70’s era Honda civic with Angie, a couple of cats, and about three metric tons of our belongings. Now the 70’s era Honda Civic was noted for many things, gas mileage, being ugly, gas mileage, cheap maintenance and most of all gas mileage. What it was not noted for was its hauling ability. Thus, piling tons of books, clothing and other various stuff into the back of it had a noted effect on the handling. Meaning that the ass end of the car was touching the ground while the front end almost wasn’t. A corner was subsequently missed. We smacked into a huge dirt embankment. I, being ever so mindful of others needs, not to mention a huge fan of the Dukes of Hazzard, had the wind knocked out of me, but was not about to stay in that car until it blew up. I screamed “we have to get out before it blows!” and ran like hell. Nothing actually blew up. I did eventually get my wind back, and a small sense of how stupid I was for running from the burning wreckage minor accident.
The next wreck that I was in was self induced. I have mentioned it here previously, thus I am not going to write it again. If you care to read about it, yet can’t find it, let me know. I can’t seem to find it myself right now, once I do it will be at your disposal.
The next one was not actually a wreck, it was a near wreck. Were it not for my ability to think on my feet, act on a fraction of a second’s warning and basically just save the world in general, it would have been a wreck. Thanks to my heroic actions it was only a near wreck, that is something that you should all be proud of me for. Unfortunately it didn’t shake down quite like that. It was ultimately me that averted the disaster, the rest is just a lot of ego fluff. Here’s how that one went down…
Dad and me were going to go to some yard sales that morning. It was a nice day for it. Clear skies, moderate temperature, we could spend hours at it. We wanted to eat a bit of breakfast first though. Dad was a bit of a Breakfast snob, he would really only eat breakfast if it was at “the Owl” which was a restaurant that he was buddies with the owner of. This restaurant was also a good forty miles from the house, it took an hour to get there on a good day. Today would not be a good day.
We were actually on I-5 when dad started to lose it. It was, once again, a result of his taking an insulin shot without eating anything (that is why I always assumed that he did them like clockwork). Pretty suddenly, the van bounced off of the meridian (and thank the forces it was there), dad said, “stay in your own lane, buddy.” That was just about the point that I knew that he was not coherent. I had a hunch that he might have horribly low blood sugar, unfortunately the only thing in the van that could possibly have any sugar in it was a single cinnamon flavored tooth-pick. That was SO not going to work. I yelled “dad, pull off of the road” several times. Each time I did that he would pull off of the road, only to realize that he was no longer on the road, then he would steer back into traffic. I was only 15 at this time, and I really thought I was going to die that day. The thing is I really didn’t want to.
I continued to scream at him to pull off of the road, and he would, only to pull back on once he realized he was no longer in the lane. Sometimes pulling way too hard and causing us to hit the meridian again. I finally jumped into action. I sat in the passenger seat and buckled the safety belt. It was really only grassy fields that were were rolling past, we were only going forty or so by now, every car behind us was afraid to pass, it could work out on its own. Then I remembered the bridges. If dad decided to pull off the road just before one of the bridges that would have led to a lengthy fall, it would certainly have been most unpleasant. Then I really jumped into action.
The van was a 78 Chevy, it had those two “captain’s seats” with a void between them. Dad had built a small seat out of wood that he had placed between them (it was all padded and upholstered to match the van), why, I don’t know. I threw that mess out of the way. Now came the hard part. I had to somehow wrestle him out of the driver’s seat while maintaining control of the van. It is certainly true that his mind was not working at this point, his muscles however, never seemed to show any ill effect from low blood sugar. He outweighed me by quite a bit, I was extremely uneasy about how I was going to try to handle it. Suddenly it hit me. I stood right next to his seat and screamed “Dad, pull over!”. Once the van was off of the freeway I made my move.
The van had power steering and an automatic transmission, two facts that I was going to use to my advantage. The second the car was on the paved shoulder of the road I reached forward and turned off the ignition, then I pushed the shifter from drive to neutral, to my dad’s plea, which seems funny to me now, “don’t do that, you’ll ruin the transmission!” If you have ever tried to steer a car that had power steering while the engine was off, you would know that it takes a lot of upper body strength, my hope was that me trying to keep the car on the shoulder, combined with the inherent difficulty of steering it anyway, would let us roll to a stop before he was able to steer us back out into traffic. It took, and I am not kidding in any way, every ounce of strength in me to hold the van on the shoulder as dad was trying to get back on the road. Since he couldn’t understand what was going on, he just kept saying “what are you doing”, over and over again, each time trying to yank it back on the road. I tried to reach the brake pedal but dad’s legs were in the way, one of his legs was actively pressing down on the gas pedal. This went on for about two minutes I would guess, yet they seemed to each last a good hour or so. When the van was finally traveling less than five miles an hour I decided it was time, grabbed the shift, pulled it back and pulled it up with all my might.
It was a delayed reaction of sorts. It took a couple of seconds, well probably only fractions of a single second but my reference to time was pretty suspect at this point, of holding the shift near park before it actually went into park. The van was going less than five miles an hour, but it still threw me forward a bit when it finally engaged, dad actually bumped the steering wheel during the process, but his body was sort of acting like a bowl of jello at this point. Needless to say, no one was hurt. I swiftly pulled the keys from the ignition and threw them towards the back of the van. It was at about this point that dad said “Why did we stop?” I reminded him that he had promised to let me drive into town, which seemed to answer his question well enough. “Let me help you into the other seat” I suggested. He did let me help him into the other seat, where I promptly fastened him in with the safety belt. There was no way he could figure that device out in his condition. Then there were a couple of things that I had to take care of before we continued.
I needed to retrieve the keys from the back of the van, but that would have to wait for a moment. It seems that a couple of motorists, those who had been behind us as we had been playing bumper cars with the guard rails, were concerned and had stopped behind us. I jumped out of the van, ran to the concerned people, explained the situation, and asked if any of them happened to have a candy bar, of course none of them did. One mentioned that he was going to get to town and phone the police if I left the scene, now, I really didn’t know if low blood sugar could be fatal, but I wasn’t about to wait here until the police arrived. I offered to give him my dad’s information, which was housed in the van, if he really wanted to call the police. I even told him what restaurant we were going to be at. This seemed to sate the man, so we walked back to the van (where I figure I would just take a check out of his checkbook, write VOID across it, then add any other information the guy wanted).
When I opened the door of the van, there was dad, sitting proudly in the driver’s seat. He was merrily driving along, foot on the gas, hands on the wheel, all despite the fact that there were no keys in the ignition. I looked to the guy that wanted the information for a second, then back to dad. “Dad, you said you were going to let me drive us to the restaurant.” Dad didn’t say anything, just got back into the passenger seat. I jumped in, went to the back and grabbed the keys. I got back out again only long enough to tell the man who wanted all of the information to just follow me to the restaurant if he really didn’t believe my story. It was at that point that dad popped his head out the door and said “are you coming to breakfast with us too?” (wonderful timing, that.) The guy agreed to follow me to the restaurant, but took down the license plate just in case.
The guy really did follow me all the way to the restaurant. When I finally parked and got out of the car, the guy ran up to me asking if he (dad) was okay. “He will be as soon as I get a little sugar into him.” was my response. The guy helped me help dad into the restaurant. I didn’t wait for a waitress, I ran behind the counter and got him a cup of Coke, no ice. “Here’s a cup of coffee, Dad.” I said, as I gave it to him. The results were almost instant. Dad looked at me, then looked at the other guy at the table and said, to me, “Who is he?” A question that, thankfully, I didn’t have to answer.
“I’m just an acquaintance of your son’s,” Mystery man said, “He just wanted me to make sure the two of you got here alright.”
Dad looked at him for a second, then looked at me for a second, then said, in a vast understatement, “We got here just fine.”
Thankfully, just then, Jerry, the owner of the restaurant and a good friend of my dad happened to pop around the corner. While dad was talking to Jerry, I asked the guy if he really needed the information, turns out he didn’t. He just thought I was lying about everything the whole damn time.
Funny thing though, as mystery man got up to leave, Jerry yelled, “sure you don’t want breakfast? We have some great specials today.” Mystery man looked at his watch and said, “I am a half an hour late for work as it is, but thanks.” Dad looked at me and said, in no uncertain terms, “I don’t know who that guy was, but I don’t want you hanging out with people that can’t get work on time.”
After a shot of warm coke and a bit of breakfast, Dad was just fine. Until he actually left the restaurant, that is.
“What in the fuck happened to the van?!” You see all of the bouncing off of concrete dividers has a way to leave a mark on a vehicle. The van now had those marks in droves.
I tried to tell dad the whole story, much as it is written here. He stopped me short, “Well, we made it. That is all that matters.”
I am not entirely sure if dad was even coherent enough to have seen the mystery man, whether the mystery man was actually concerned or just thought someone was driving drunk, there are a lot of things that I am not sure of. This story, however, is something that I am completely sure of.
Now, that extremely long digression aside, I had been talking about arriving in Arizona. I got to mom’s house with only one extremely scary car ride as a consequence.
By this point, Hell was looking to me for pointers…