Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Road Trip-Part 2: Boundary Conditions and their influence on Psychological States

I like to travel.  Though I am by inclination a 'home-body,' I do get this bug inside me ever so often to get out and see what's 'out that way...' 
At the start of a trip, though, there is always a moment when I...  Clench.  Right after they shut the hatch on the airplane before it starts to taxi.  Or, on a road trip, the point where I realize that the sign that says, "Welcome to..." refers to some place I know nothing about.
Back in 1985, I had not yet felt The Clench.  Travel held nothing but excitement and anticipation.  At the beginning of September, the first in my life when I wasn't about to start school, I was looking forward to all the things I had not seen or done yet.  I packed my little Chevette with all my worldly possessions, gave my friends hugs and kisses good-bye, and rolled out of Park City, Utah to greet that unknown.  I had survived the worst of the Curse of the Scottish play.  I was ready to roll on.  
The beginning of the trip was terrific.  The mountains east of Park City rise up on either side of the highway to tell you, "Straight ahead is the way to go!  Just keep rolling forward!"  The border station between Utah and Wyoming, with its super-bright safety lights  pushing back the encroaching darkness, looked like some small human outpost on an alien world.  By the time the sun was up, I'd taken the by-pass around Cheyenne and turned south on the 25.  The eastern edge of the Great Plains where they come crashing into the wall of the Rocky Mountains is like a vast brown ocean.  Your car dips into the trough of each swell until the land surrounds you like a giant wave, and then you climb to the top and can see it rippling to the horizon to your left, and cresting against the shores of the Rockies to your right.  I was one man vessel on that ocean.  I sailed on.  
It wasn't until after I swung left at Denver and was headed East again that the thought of stopping became too strong to resist.  My over-packed Chevette, which had around 330,000 miles at the time, needed fuel and I needed something to eat.  I spotted a name on my map that matched one on a sign coming up.  I made up my mind to stop there.  Deer Trail, Colorado.
When I pulled off the freeway, all I could see of Deer Trail were four gas stations situated around a three way stop just north of the 70.  Three were national brands and  an independent station.  Since I didn't carry credit cards at the time, something I was actually proud of at the time, I pulled into the easiest one to turn into on my left.  I went inside, paid in advance, filled up, used the change to buy a sandwich and something to drink, stuck my key in the ignition and got ready to roll once more...
Whrrr-whrrrr, click.  
This is the reason why, to this day, I remember the name, Deer Trail, Colorado.
Whrrr...  Click, click, click.  
Could I have...  Flooded the engine, or something?  It's a sign of my automotive skill that the first question on my diagnostic list was, "Did you flood the engine?"  I tried again.
Click.  Click.  Then... Nothing.  
Right then, the United States felt as big as the solar system.   And I was somewhere near Jupiter wanting to get to the Earth.  
I took a deep breath.  I told myself it would be fine.  I was parked at a service station and there were three more close by.  This would get fixed.  
Unfortunately, the mechanic of the station I was parked at was not working that day.  Labor Day weekend was coming up.  He'd decided to take off a few days early to go fishing. 
The mechanic at the station directly across the street had also gone fishing.  He had joined his friend, the mechanic of the station where my car was stuck.  I was told that I didn't need to go to the third national brand station either.  The mechanic there had joined the other two on the fishing trip.  
I went to the independent station.  "The mechanic here," I asked as I stepped into the office.  "He hasn't gone fishing by any chance?"  
"Nope."  The guy shook his head.  "He don't get along with them other guys," he said with a nod toward the other stations.  Before the relief I felt at that answer could take hold though...  "He's gone huntin'."  
Oh-Kaay...  This was worse than I expected.  But still...  Not impossible.  I had an Auto Club card.  I got free towing.  I could get my car to someplace where they could fix it.  
I got the clerk to help me push my car around to the side of the station, parking it right in front of the pay phone they had there.  Cells phones didn't exist then.  This was also the early days of the era of the "Baby-Bells."  I lost a handful of change before learning that the phone company that owned the pay phone made you dial your number, make the connection, THEN pay for the call.  Finally, I got a hold of someone at the Auto Club.  
"Well..." the nice operator said after I told her the problem and where I was at.  "We don't have anyone registered in Deer Trail to help you..."  I felt like telling her that even if they did, the guy had probably gone fishing.  "The two closest we have is one in Limon and another in Byers.  Which one did you want me to call for you?"  
Byers was west of me.  I had passed it a half hour or so before reaching Deer Trail.  Limon was ahead of me.  I remembered seeing one of those "X number of miles to..." signs with Limon's name on it.  Byers was a shade closer, she told me, but Limon was bigger.  
My first inclination was tell her Limon.  That would be in keeping with my momentum.  Keep going forward.  Don't turn back.  You're heading the right way.  Everything will be fine if you just keep going.  
But…  I just didn’t know.  As I looked at my car, basically a half-ton paperweight for all the distance it could carry me, my ignorance seemed profound.  It was echoed in the silence that came from the vehicles passing on the nearby interstate.  “What if…” it seemed to whisper to me.  It didn’t need to finish the question.
"Hon...?  You know which one you want me t'call?"  
I opened my mouth and said, "Byers...  Call the one in Byers."  It was closer to Denver, I told myself in that moment.  Parts would be easier to get, right?  It felt like a retreat.  
"OK..."  I could hear a nod in the woman's voice.  "It says here, the facility has a parts store attached to it.  That's something..."  
Yes, I agreed.  It was something.  
"I'll give him a call right now.  You just sit tight..."  I gave her the number for the pay phone in case the service guy needed to reach me.  She told me she hoped my day got better for me before hanging up.  
I hung up the phone.  I turned around and leaned against the station's wall.  I stood there, in the shade of the roof overhead.  I listened to the silence between the cars and trucks passing close at hand.  Heading east.  Heading where I wanted to go.  
As I settled in to wait, I could feel it in my chest.  This...  Tightness.  It was there earliest version of The Clench I can recall.  The realization that I wasn't any place I knew or belonged.  That I was away, and getting farther with each moment, from whatever place that I called home.  
Today when I get this feeling, I remind myself that I have means now.  I've still got the Auto Club.  I've got credit cards and insurance and all that jazz.  I remind myself of these things when I travel these days, and The Clench eases away.  
Back then, though...  I couldn't do that.  All I could do is stand there out of the sun, waiting for someone to come help me, feeling that tightness inside grow a little bit stronger with each moment as I wondered if I had made the right decision.  
If I were to do it over...  I would have asked for the guy in Limon to come get me.  


Blogger Sheila said...

Limon! Limon! Pick Limon! (says the Colorado native...)

Okay, neither town is huge. But yeah. I'd have gone with Limon. A slightly larger town, and more facilities for truckers and travelers.

Too late now, right?

March 5, 2012 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...

Yeah, way too late. I really wish I had chosen Limon. You'll see why next installment.

March 5, 2012 at 9:44 PM  

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