Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Road Trip-Part 3: Objects at Rest and their Resistance to State-Change

I've mentioned before that I've tried to write about this road trip several times.  
There was one story, called "And Tomorrow..." which was about a young actor, just out of college, working his first professional gig at a Shakespeare festival.  A strange woman is hired as an acting coach who turns out to be from the future.  She tells the young actor he'll be a key figure in some future conflict, but first he must be "cleansed" it a way that will cause him to lose everything...
I tried writing a novel based on the trip.  I forgot the title, but it was sort of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" as written by Kurt Vonnegut.  There's a scene where the hero, someone traveling cross-country by car, meets an old weathered man at a rest stop who claims to still be doing the same thing after untold decades.  The strange part is that the old man is wearing an army jacket that looks like a weathered version of what the traveler is wearing...
Another story was called, "Purgatory Loop."  It was about someone stuck in time, forced to repeat the same disastrous day over and over and over again.  Purgatory Loop was the only story I actually finished and submitted.  Unfortunately it was never published.  
After these efforts, I know that some noise has snuck into my recollection of these events.  I just want to assure whoever reads this that everything I've written here is true and actually happened.  Especially the parts I might have made up.  
And so it goes...
After speaking with the Auto Club operator, I waited.  And I waited.  Then, having nothing better to do, I waited some more.  
I listened to the sounds of the cars passing on the highway near by.  The whine of their engines, getting louder and then fading away, kept telling me, "Youuuuu'rreee STUCKkkkkk...."  
I tried to "sit tight," but was too restless.  I would walk into the street and stare at the road heading south under the overpass.  I'd wander around my car kicking at loose pieces of rock.  I even got behind the wheel a time or two to see my little Chevette had found a way to heal itself...
Finally, after enough time for the sun to clear the roof of the station across the street and arch high into the sky, the pay phone rang.  
I jumped up from where I was sitting, in the shade directly beneath the phone.  In my eagerness to be doing "Something" I knocked the receiver off its cradle.  I batted it about trying to grab it.  It swung on its metallic cord and smacked against the station's wall.  I grabbed it and brought it to my ear.  
"Yeah, yeah..."  I was afraid I might have hung up on whoever had called.  "I'm here!"  
I listened.  I wondered if there was something I was supposed to do with this strange, post-Baby Bell pay phone.  Did I have to...  I don't know, put money in to accept the call...?  Could I hear...  Someone breathing?
I started.  If it hadn't been clearly someone else, I would have thought it was my own voice echoing back at me.  
"Yeah, hello?"
"Yeah, hello?" 
Annoyance replaced surprise.  This was a crank call.  Some kids, having nothing to better to do the last week before school, had dialed a random number.  
"Ok, listen..."  
"Ok, I'll listen..."  
"I think you've dialed the wrong number or something..."  The words tumbled out of my mouth to get him off the line as soon as possible.  "You've reached a pay phone.  I'm expecting someone to call me.  I'm going to hang up now so they can.  Ok?"  
"Ok."  I started to return the receiver to its cradle.  
"'Cept for one thing...!"  
I brought it back to my ear.  "Yeah?"  
"I was given this number for someone I'm supposed to give a tow to..." 
I got a sinking feeling in my gut.  I looked at the phone, as if I might be able to see his face in its yellow plastic case.
"Is this...  The tow service from Byers?"  I asked the question as if afraid of what the answer might be.  
"Well now, that all depends..." 
"Are you the fella from California, needin' a tow?"  
"Then I'm the tow service from Byers."  
The clench I'd been feeling now got stronger.  It squeezed a gasp of air past my lips.  I closed my eyes.  I shook my head.  
"Can you tell me..."  I laid my words out as if they were parts of a bomb.  Had I said them too quickly, they might have exploded.  "When...  You think...  You'll be here?"  
"Well now, that's the thing..."  
"I'm calling ta'let you know, I'm not there yet."  
After that, I waited some more.  He was the only one in the shop, he told me.  He'd have to wait till lunch, when he closed up.  It was only a little while longer.  He'd be there soon.  
I waited some more.  He called again.  He'd gotten the directions wrong.  He'd headed west instead of east.  He was back at the shop.  He had the right directions.  He'd be there "right quick."  
I waited some more.  I paced a lot.  I kept staring at the pay phone.  I counted the change in my pocket.  I thought about pulling a few more dollars from my stash, calling the Auto Club again to get them to send the guy from Limon over as soon as possible.  
But the momentum of waiting was too great.  Before I got the energy to act, I saw a tow-truck appear on the road from under the overpass.  I watched it turn into the gas station across the street.  It drove around the station.  It then crossed the local road to the gas station diagonal from the one I was stuck at.  I turned in place as it cut across to the third station.  It looped around that one and crossed the street toward the one I was at.  
I turned to my right.  From behind the station the tow-truck appeared.  It was a white Ford that looked like it had been built in the 50's.  It had the big round symbol of the Auto Club plastered on its door.  It was clean looking, though.  I had to grant it that. 
Then the driver headed back toward the street.  It's right turn signal was on.  It was heading toward the on-ramp that would take it back west.  I stood there, watching it getting ready to leave...
The truck cut sharply to its left.  I'd been spotted.  It turned back around and pulled to a halt behind my car.  
The passenger door flung open.  But there'd been no one in the cabin but the driver.  The door slammed shut while I was still in the midst of my double-take.  There stood a boy, about seven or eight years old, with hair so blonde the sun reflected off of it.  He darted toward the driver's side door of my car.  He opened it.  Popped open the car's hood.  He dashed to the front of the car.  
"Git yerself away from there!"  The driver was lowering himself out of the tow-truck.  He was short.  Maybe a hair's width over five feet.  Round through the middle.  He wore a pair of thick horn-rimmed glasses.  His hair was slicked over to one side and glued in place.  He had a big wide mouth.  His mouth, combined with the big thick glasses, made him look like the descendant of intelligent frogs. 
"Was it making any noise when it wouldn't start?"  The boy was pushing my hood open.  He was too short to get it open standing on the ground.  He stepped on to my front bumper, pushing the hood up.  He grabbed the prop and lifted it up to keep the hood in place.  "Huh, mister?  Was it making any noise?"  
"I told you to git!"  The driver swung at the boy.  The boy ducked the blow and dove into the engine compartment until only his legs and feet were visible.  They were waving about like he was swimming.  
"You wanna try and give it a start?"  The boy's voice was muffled from some where deep inside the compartment.  
"If you don't git out of there, I'll give you a hinning..."  
"I'll tell Momma!"  
The frog-faced driver pressed his lips into a hard line.  I could hear his breath coming out of him like steam venting.  
"Someone..."  He said in a conversational tone as he glared at the feet of the boy, who I now took to be his son.  "Ought to try and give their car a start." 
I stood there until I realized he was referring to me.  I walked around and got behind the wheel.  I gave the key a turn.  
The frog-faced driver pulled the boy out of the way.  The boy backed off, an angry pout on his face.  
"Well..."  The driver leaned over my engine, propping himself with hands gripping the edge of the open compartment.  "It could be your battery..."
"It ain't the battery!" the boy declared.  
"Maybe the alternator ain't working..."  The driver was determined to ignore the boy.  
"It ain't that either!"  
"...So it's not getting the charge it needs..."  
The boy bolted forward.  He snatched a screwdriver from a pocket on the driver's jump suit.  The boy dodged the driver, and then thrust the screwdriver into the compartment like a toreador finishing off a bull. 
There was a small shower of sparks.  The engined clicked and wheezed in a painful way, like it really, really, really wanted to start but was ashamed it couldn't.  
"If the battery was bad it wouldn't spark like that!"  The boy danced back, but not before the driver was able to steal the screwdriver back from him.  
"Well, then..."  The driver was leaning over the hood again.  I'd see a number of guys strike a similar pose over open engines.  I was thinking now that he probably had, too.  "I supposed we'll have to get it back to the shop and see..."  
He helped push the car out of its stall.  He gave me his name.  I can't remember what he told me.  I'm going to call him "Arnold."  Frog-faced Arnold suited him.  
They got the car hooked up to the tow-truck.  Frog-Faced Arnold fumbled around a bit.  He tried once to lift it, but the car canted to one side.  The boy had to fix the restraints and hooks, then he jumped on to the truck to push the lever to smoothly lift my car's nose on to the back of Frog-faced Arnold's truck.  
While he did this, Frog-faced Arnold gave his son a tight-lipped look.  The look seemed to say, "I really wish I'd gone to get condoms instead of risking it that night."  
Frog-faced Arnold got into the car.  The boy opened the door for me and nodded for me to get in first.  He obviously didn't want to be squeezed in next to his dad.  
I got inside.  I already knew I'd made a mistake.  A couple, actually.  The first was picking the driver from Byers, Colorado over the one from Limon.  The second was one of omission.  Allowing the momentum of waiting to keep me from calling the Auto Club back to get the driver from Limon to come get me.  I took a deep breath as Arnold maneuvered the car on to the road and then up the on-ramp.  I thought to myself, "the worst has to be over."  
That was my third mistake.  


Blogger Sheila said...

I enjoyed this one so much I read it aloud to my Beloved Husband, who laughed in all of the right places. What a great story!

March 11, 2012 at 8:20 PM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...

Glad you enjoyed it, though I have to admit that while writing it I remembered all the frustration I felt at the time. It was a bit of a surprise to hear there were funny parts, but I guess there were.

March 11, 2012 at 10:11 PM  

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