Editor’s note: It’s Sunday morning, Nov. 18. The rambling, nonsensical narrative below took place at various times earlier this month as we tried and failed to escape the clutches of Pierce County. Spoiler alert: Yes, in case you missed it, I had the behemoth towed home from the Tacoma Narrows bridge and then had it towed from home to a repair shop all because I ran out of gas.
And yes, there are more than 7 billion people on earth, and none of them are as stupid as me.
Just ask Max.
He’s 5 years old and petrified of running out of gas. He keeps a watchful eye on the gas gauge. If it slips as low as 3/4 tank, he begins lobbying for a stop. It’s a sad thing when you have to assume man-of-the-house responsibilities before starting kindergarten.
Late Thursday night, we had crossed over from Oregon into California. Max made Becky pull over and get gas. I noted it was $4 a gallon, a bit on the pricey said.
“Daddy, it doesn’t matter if it’s expensive,” Max said. “We need gas!”
Not much later, he added this:
“Daddy, on one hand I love you. On the other, you’re kind of nutty.”
Mea culpa, Max. I’m so sorry.
Start over, one more time.
Look at that photograph.
Yes, it is posed. My back conveniently rests against the door we can’t seem to pass through and begin our journey eastward.
Yet it remains an accurate representation of the perilous state of my soul, circa Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 6:38 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. The non-ironically torn jeans? I’ve been wearing them since Monday night.
The $6.99, 1.5-liter bottle of Vendange Sauvignon Blanc? That’s as real and terrible an indicator of my mental condition as the $2 bag of Chester’s Puffcorn cheese-flavored snacks and the three-day stubble coating my chin.
And that terrible “4 Aces” Phillies T-shirt that I recognized as market-driven, hubris-laden augur of doom from the moment it arrived in my mailbox courtesy of my sweet, loving and long-suffering mother?
I’ve been wearing it for three days, and only because the rest of our clothes are wedged into the bathroom of the camper. It’s one of those open-the-door-at-your-own-peril situations. Reminds me of this one:
Yes, that T-shirt’s starting to stink, but not nearly as disgustingly as the YMCA shirt I wore the four days before that.
I want to do some writing, but I can’t. I don’t know why. I’m neurotic and selfish and thin-skinned and jealous as any writer. I just can’t write.
An hour ago as I was frantically searching this hopelessly disheveled house for the USB cord which allows me to upload photographs to my laptop, I had what bordered on an epiphany: I am the problem in this family. I am the selfish, self-pitying father figure threatening to drag the enterprise into the abyss.
Perhaps I should start writing about our static journey from the perspective of my own damaged soul. That way it can be bad but still instructive. Has to be better than nothing.
But who wants to read about my endless and stultifying struggle to get outside, around or past myself: the 49-year-old, 200-pound roadblock to productivity?
On the other hand, my wondrous 5-year-old son and incredible wife are at best poorly drawn characters in the sad and wasteful plot of my life. And they say you should write about what you know best.
And so I thought, if only I could lay my hands on that infernal USB cord, I could unlock the sliding doors of my mental prison and get to work. Of course, I realized it was entirely possible that said cord was just the latest obstacle I had placed in the path of progress.
This is, after all, how it works.
An hour before the USB-cord obsession overtook me I got waylaid by the irrepressible need to learn how to take screenshots and paste them onto this electronic journal. That was absolutely imperative before any further writing could be done.
An hour before the screenshot detour I was transfixed by the need to learn more about and find video evidence of the guitar-playing legerdemain of the late Maury Muehleisen, about whose time on the planet I’d been ignorant about right up to the point where it became necessary to learn all there was to learn about him.
Yeah, mama, I got them steadily depressin’, lowdown mind-messin’ I shoulda been an accountant blues. Seems I suffer from a case of mistaken identity at least as crippling as the one afflicting the misguided bastard in Jim Croce’s song. Somewhere along the line I became stricken with the persistent delusion that I should be a “writer,” and it survives despite decades of evidence to the contrary.
That’s Mr. Muehleisen playing the tasty, bluesy licks in support of Croce. He might’ve become famous had he followed another path than the one fate had in store for him. He’d be 63 today if he hadn’t followed Croce into a large pecan tree at the end of a runway in Natchitoches, La., 39 years ago.
Yes, we are still here. We have outfoxed so many deadlines and departure dates I can’t keep the narrative straight anymore. We may never leave. Then again, we may leave in the morning, as the latest plan dictates.
As far as that goes, we were going to leave this morning, last night, Nov. 1, 3 and 4, not to mention unspecified dates in August, September and October.
We did actually make a bona fide effort at leaving on Monday night, Nov. 5. At about 9:42 p.m. PST, we backed the camper out of the driveway, shrugged off clinging blackberry vines and bid adieu to our little hovel in the hole.
And boy, we were excited. Max rode shotgun. Becky was in back. By now we’d be in California, if not Arizona. Max was tingling with road-trip electricity. Yeah, man.
As we neared the tollbooth on the western approaches to the east-bound Tacoma Narrows bridge, he offered a bit of reflection on the embryonic journey.
“Daddy,” he began, “I’ve decided it’s OK if we drive through a red state. The people who vote for Mitt Romney, they’re nice people, too. And that’s all I care about: nice people, toys, love from my family and shelter.”
Sounds like a compassionate conservative, which we now know is a political chimera.
(Editor’s note: It’s not like we brainwashed the kid. Becky just told him Mitt Romney wanted to take away his health care. The rest is on him.)
We stopped at the booth, happily forked over $5 and exchanged pleasantries with the toll-taker. Max couldn’t stop talking about how much he loves the camper. He wouldn’t trade it for another camper in the world.
Then we headed down the ramp back onto Route 16, and as we approached the bridge, the power began to ebb. Not wanting to be disabled on the bridge, I pulled onto the shoulder just ahead of the bridge. The engine stalled.
My first thought was how embarrassing it would be if I had just run us out of gas. On the first leg of the trip. In Pierce County. On the west side of the bridge.
I turned the key, and started it up. Hoping the previous minute had been a one-time aberration, a soon-to-be-forgotten fluke, I steered the behemoth onto the bridge. We made it a couple hundred yards before it died. I pulled over, started it again, and headed east. Another couple hundred yards, another stall. I kept repeating the procedure until we safely landed on the east side of the bridge and coasted onto the Jackson Avenue off ramp. It was dead again, and no way was it making it up that hill.
I called my friends at the American Automobile Association, and they promised to dispatch a tow truck.
We took it all on in stride. We thrive amid unexpected inconvenience. I put some White Stripes on iTunes, we did Jim Peterson’s prep-football-pool Mad-libs. Max said he wanted to play with one his games in order to “get my mind off the worry.”
The nice woman from AAA informed me that only two of us could ride in the tow truck with the driver, so I leaned on Kenny Via one more time. He’d be wrapping up the desk shift at paper soon, so it might just work out perfectly
Rondy Hooper was our tow truck expert du jour, from Gibbon & Sons Towing of Tacoma. We have come to rely upon the kindness and expertise of tow truck drivers.
He was great. He tried to diagnose the problem, manually messing with the throttle as I turned the ignition key. I asked him if he thought it could be something as simple as running out of gas. At first he refused to rule it out. After further thought, he hypothesized it might be a bad sensor that wasn’t permitting gas to reach the engine.
He masterfully loaded the behemoth onto his the bed of his wrecker, and Becky and Max rode with him. Kenny and I followed behind, watching the monster wobble and bounce all the way to the KP.
Rondy really was aces. At 36, he’s worked as a long-haul truck driver, an MP in the U.S. Army and a banquet chef at Ricciardi’s Italian Seafood House in Finley Point, Mont.
He’s done a lot, for sure. Hardest driving he ever did? Probably the time he guided his 379 long-nose Peterbilt over the mountains into Denver loaded down with 104,000 pounds of Budweiser.
“The day you don’t learn something new, it’s time to find something new to do,” he said.
I told him about my truck-driving buddy Jun, how he was scared to death when learning to drive a big rig. It happens, Rondy said. And he recalled helping a frightened buddy of his get through training and pass his test.
“Sometimes it’s not about helping yourself,” he said, “it’s about helping your neighbor.”
Like a good neighbor, Rondy was there when we needed him. He picked us up off the Jackson Avenue exit ramp at midnight, guided us home safely and set us up for yet another restart.
I’m the original douchejuice retard. Most of you know the whole story by now.
Happy to be home, we unloaded a few necessary items and moved back into our recently abandoned home. Good thing the foreclosure people are messing about on the job.
We woke up on Election Day, and I wondered when my once-beloved mobile mechanic was going to get around to returning my phone call. I waited and wondered. When noon came and went, I figured I better give him another try.
No answer. Left another message.
He called back in a few minutes, saying there was no way he could make it by until Christmas 2013. I exaggerate, but still.
So I called shop around the corner, Key Peninsula Auto Repair, the place I jilted for the once-beloved mobile mechanic. Jay, the owner, said he could fit me in on Thursday. There was an outside chance they’d lift the hood Wednesday.
Called AAA again. Another tow truck, this one driven by Dean from Bethel Towing, arrived and did the job.
And so I waited. Heard nothing Wednesday. It was 3 o’clock Thursday afternoon, and I still hadn’t heard thing. I called. Jay answered.
“Hey Jay,” I said, “you have a chance to look at my camper?”
Yeah, he said. Then he told me it was totally out of gas when it arrived.
They put in some gas, and it started right up.
My psyche found a new level of depression previously thought unattainable. My first thought was I’d bury this story deeper than Jimmy Hoffa in the Meadowlands.
No one would ever know. I’d have to concoct a story. Damn.
Somewhere between asking Rondy whether he thought we might’ve run out of gas and about 10 minutes after he answered, I completely forgot about the gas hypothesis.
I had walked to the convenience store at the gas station late Tuesday night to get a bottle of champagne. I might easily have brought one of our two plastic gas cans along and put a little petrol in the camper, just for old-times sake. Just to fucking try.
But I didn’t. Never crossed my mind.
Why would it?