Notes From the Road: I


I started off from home at about 7 in the morning.


“I hope Dan doesn’t want me to take his bicycle for him,” I said to Paul on my way out the door.


My first stop was at my brother (Dan) and his wife’s (Julie) house. They had recently moved to Portland and were renting a house that was right on my way. It had occurred to me only the day before that I could take something for them to my mother’s house since they were flying in later for my niece’s wedding. My laconic brother just said “yes.” I didn’t ask what. As I was thinking about it later, I wondered what it was. He knew I was taking my bicycle, so I wondered if it might be his bike. Dan is an avid road biker. I wondered if Dan thought that I had my bike rack, which I didn’t. I just crammed my old bike into the back of my old car. Then I wondered if Dan was so worried about me that he had decided to come along. I worried a lot about that. Dan has always tried to be the big brother that I never wanted. He is always looking out for me. But I definitely did not want that. This was MY road trip. The last time I had MY road trip, it turned out to be Paul’s and it turned out to be a disaster (See Preston the Disservice Dog, Chapter 16: Travels. With Charlie).


The first thing Dan asks when I arrive is if I can take his bicycle. I stammer…he laughs. Paul had texted him to ask me that question. It turned out that he just wanted me to take his suit and shoes for the wedding.


Dan and Julie’s dog, Ella, barked like crazy at me. It seemed odd since dogs are usually okay with me. Besides, I had already met her, although it had been a couple years ago when she was a puppy. To placate Ella, I went back to my car to get the stuffed dog that I had brought for “company”. She very sheepishly took it and, it was obvious, didn’t want to give it back.


“She loves to rip those apart,” Julie said nonchalantly, not looking up from her iPad. I immediately took Bella back.


Dan plied me with too much coffee. I left there and hit the road. It was amazingly less packed than usual in Portland nearing morning rush hour. I had to wonder how much working from home has decreased traffic in general. As we used to say in graduate school “Somebody should do a study on that.”


I was driving along at a great pace through the Columbia River Valley when, in the left-hand lane, there appeared to be something that looked like a backpack. The vehicle in front of me signaled and got into the right lane just as I saw the big black thing in the middle of my lane. I very quickly moved to the right lane, too, and hoped the SUV that had been following me a little bit too close would get the hint. There was a semi-truck in the right lane that I had just passed. I looked in the rear-view mirror and watched in horror as the SUV driver saw the obstruction and swerved quickly TOWARD the semi-truck. It was a very close one. I noticed later that the SUV driver was driving a helluva lot slower. I still think it was a stupid move on his part. Had it been me, I would have driven off on the shoulder. Anyway, it turned out alright.


About a mile later I saw a pickup with an open bed loaded with what looked like more backpacks. The backpacks were not even secured into the bed of the truck, they were just lying in there. A bunch of people poured out of the truck and started running back to get the one in the road. I do not know what happened after that. I stopped at a rest stop a bit later where a van with a bunch of sullen pre-teens were milling about. I wondered if those backpacks belonged to these kids.


Ah, Sophie, we have some bad news. Your iPad was run over by a U-Haul.”


I kept driving. At some point, I realized that my gas gauge was flashing a warning sign. I needed gas. I saw a sign for gas, but missed what exit it was for, and ended up driving around a little town on the edge of Oregon/Idaho and not being able to find my way back to the interstate. I drove in circles. I stopped and basically yelled at this older couple who were carrying groceries from their car to their house. They ignored me. I kept yelling “Hello!?” But they ignored me. Maybe they were deaf? Maybe they were assholes? Maybe they were scared? Anyway, I drove on down the road, beginning to panic that I might run out of gas. I came across a Mexican man getting out of his car and stopped and asked if he knew how to get back to the interstate. He told me to go back the way I had come from. So I did, and the road went on so far that I was starting to think that maybe he had played a joke on me. Eventually, I made it back to the highway.


I pulled into a gas station probably just in time before I ran out of gas. I filled up the Scion and drove to the side to check the oil. I immediately dropped the oil cap down between the radiator and the front grill.


“Oh, shit,” I thought. “The radiator is going to be hot as hell and I will burn myself if I reach down in there to get it.” Fortunately, it wasn’t hot, but it WAS very cramped and the cap was just out of reach. I had to keep trying to get my arm in deeper and deeper, like James Herriot trying to deliver a breached foal. After many attempts, I finally got the cap back and laid it carefully on a little shelf that was just under the windshield. I was covered with oil and grease.


I honestly could not read the dipstick so I just assumed it was near empty. I pulled out the gallon of oil I had brought with me and tried to pour some in. It went everywhere, including all over my hands. So I closed the hood and went into the men’s bathroom (since someone was in the women’s bathroom) and washed up.


I got back into the car and headed back down the road. I reached Ogden, Utah and thought I should look for a hotel. Unfortunately, I managed to miss all of the exits and just kept going. It wasn’t a big deal until it started to get dark and I had to drive around the curves and hills of Southeast Utah before heading in to Wyoming. My eyes aren’t very good at night driving anymore and, as I drove on and it got darker and I got more tired, I was starting to fear I wouldn’t make it to a place that would have some place to stay. The sign for each little town said “no services.”


After what seemed hours, I finally drove into Evanston, Wyoming and found a Days Inn for the night. My room looked down over the pool. Lovely, I thought. I was still buzzing from all the coffee I had been drinking the during the day and I tossed and turned for a long time. Not to mention, the air-conditioner was really loud and the whole room shaked when it was on.



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