Saturday, March 17, 2012

Road Trip-Part 4: The Temporal Effects on Objects falling past an Event Horizon

I need to offer an apology.  When I started this Road Trip series I told you it would take about six weeks to complete.  Well, I'm already up to the fourth installment and I'm even through the first day of the trip yet.  It's going to take us a bit longer to get to our destination, I'm afraid.  
I can only say that the original trip took a lot longer than I  expected, too.  Guess that's just the way it is.  
Moving on...
I didn't say much to Frog-Faced Arnold or his son on the drive to Byers.  I remember looking into the setting sun and thinking I was headed the wrong way.  Getting farther from the place I wanted to be.  
My impression of the town of Byers back in 1985 was that it was...  Short.  All the buildings I saw were single story.  They all looked like someone's home.  Even the businesses looked like someone converted the family home into a convenience store, bait and tackle shop, and the like.  
Frog-Faced Arnold's auto supply store was the same.  The garage was the same size as a single car garage you'd find on someone's house.  In fact, the sales floor, with its rows of standing shelves and double glass doors, looked like a giant add on to someone's three bedroom house.  
We pulled into the gravel covered parking lot.  The son popped the door open and sprinted off before Arnold even put the parking brake on and shut the engine off.  I grabbed my stuff and jumped out the passenger side door.  
As I was pulling my duffle bag out of the truck's cab, Arnold came crunch-crunch-crunching around the front of the truck.  He crunched his way across the parking lot, straight through the double glass doors.  
I stood there, staring at the front of the store.  I looked back at my car, still dangling from the rear of his truck.  Was he just going to leave it like that?  I grabbed my bag and made my way inside.  
Frog-Faced Arnold was behind the cashier's counter.  He acted like he was straightening up, but there wasn't much to do.  Everything was laid out in a neat, precise order.  There wasn't even a customer...
Someone came into view from one of the aisles just as I was stepping up to the counter.  I'm going to call this fellow, "Clem."  He would later tell me his real name, but I've completely forgotten it.  He looked like a Clem, though.  Tall and lanky.  A dark baseball style cap on his head, the logo illegible from age and grime.  Two days growth of facial hair.  He moved in a slow, measured shuffle that got him where he needed to be when he needed to be there.  
"Arnold...?"  Clem was examining some brass looking thing in his hand, turning it this way and that, as he approached the counter.  "Is this the only valve like this you got?"  
Frog-Faced Arnold acted like he didn't hear Clem.  He continued lining up a display of pine-tree shaped air fresheners with surgical precision.  
"I took a look at Mrs. Paterson's Kenmore yesterday," Clem said, his attention still on the valve dancing in his fingers.  "I thought it was a valve like this that it needed, but looking at it up close..."  
"Some people ought to wait until other people are ready to listen before they start asking questions."  Arnold was speaking in that same, weird, third-person way he had back in Deer Trail when he came to get me.  Clem nodded like he'd received his answer and started shuffling his way back down the aisle.  
Before I could say anything, Arnold spun around and existed the cashier's station from the far side.  He cut sharply to his left and disappeared behind a display.  
"What the hell...?"  I hoisted my duffle back back on my shoulder and followed.  
"Well, now..."  Arnold was seated in a big, cushy office chair just inside his office.  It was an old, brown leather thing that swayed back and forth too much to be safe to sit in.  His desk was fast by the office door to the left.  Arnold was pulling some forms from a stack so neat you would have thought it a single, solid block.  
"Are you going to leave my truck hanging like that?"  I pointed out the store windows.  The metal strips framing the glass made the image look like a picture.  The tow-truck was showing off what it caught like some fisherman.  
Arnold paused in the action of pulling a pen from a cup filled with identical pens.  With deliberation, he took the pen out and pulled its cap off to place it on the pen's non-working end.  
"Your Auto Club membership only gives you a certain number of miles for free."  Like a grade-schooler learning his letters, Arnold filled out the form with precisely crafted letters.  "We went over that some getting you here..."  
"What about my car?"  
Arnold paused again.  He gave a little shake his head and continued writing.  
"Some people," he intoned as if reading the lines from a book.  "Ought to take first things first."  Before I could respond to this strange narration of his, he turned and pushed the form across the desk toward me.  
"Here's the balance."  He pointed to a figure at the bottom of the form.  "Cash would be fine if you have it."  
I winced.  I knew he was right about the miles thing, but it still seemed like an awful lot.  I put it down to breaking down in the middle of nowhere and reached into my pocket for my stash.  
After taking the bills from me and giving me my change, Frog-Faced Arnold leaned back in his chair.  He laced his fingers of the top of his round belly.  
"Now...  About your car..."  I felt myself go on alert.  His wide-mouthed smile curled up in a way that reminded me of the Grinch.  "You probably want someone to take a look at it."
"Well, now...  The thing of it is...  That's gonna be a bit of a problem."  He started nodding, a broken bobble-head toy gesture.  "My mechanic, he's on vacation for the long weekend..."  
"Gone fishing?"  
For a moment Arnold's self assurance vanished.  "Matter of fact..."  He shook his head and carried on.  "Anyway, he won't be back till Monday..."  
"Is there someone else?  Someone close by?"  
"Closest fella that would be open is the station in Limon."  I started kicking myself mentally when I heard that.  "Now, you'll have to wait till Monday.  Or, if you're willing to pay for his overtime, I can call my mechanic..."  
"I can do it."  
I shut my mouth and turned around, forgetting the desire to through Frog-Faced Arnold's desk on top of him that had boiled up inside of me.  Clem was standing there.  He was giving me a steady look from under the brim of his cap.  
"You can take a look at my car?"  
"Shuuu-ure..."  A drawn out, musical drawl.  "I help people all the time with their cars 'round here."  
"What...  How much would you charge me?"  I braced myself, hoping Clem didn't share a thieving inclination with Arnold.  
"Whatever ya think is fair."
I looked back at Frog-Faced Arnold.  He had straightened up and was sitting on the edge of his chair.  His expression was tight and sour looking.  
"Well...  Now...  I..."  His body trembled for a moment, then he snapped upright.  "Then I'll have to charge ya rent for my tool!"  
I left with Clem after that.  He wasn't going to be able to look at my car until morning.  He told me his mom owned a motel after I told him I needed a place to stay.  
Frog-Faced Arnold backed my car into his garage while I was waiting for Clem in his truck.  He parked his tow-truck in front of it as if to prevent it from driving off without his permission.  
At his house, Clem explained my predicament to his mom.  She gave me a discount on the rate for the room.  $20 to stay the night.  
After she lead me to one of set of duplex bungalows built behind their house, I stood in the middle of the middle of the room for the longest time.  My eyes darted from the big bed that filled the small room from wall to wall, to the sink outside the bathroom by the door, to the color TV on a stand in the corner.  I couldn't seem to do anything but turn in place.  I was stuck there, in the middle of the room.  Stuck there, in the middle of the country.  Stuck there, having no idea what to do next.  
So...  I did sit-ups.  Hooked my feet under the edge of the bed and did sit-ups until I'd lost count and my stomach was sore and tight.  Then, I lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling.  It felt as if time had stopped.  I listened as a rain storm came tumbling out of the Rockies to fall right on top of the roof of the bungalow.  I couldn't even go out for a walk if I'd wanted to.  The clock didn't seem to move.  I was stuck temporally as well as physically.  Stuck, stuck, stuck. I settled myself in to wait the eternity it would take for the second day of my Road Trip to come.  
If I had known what was going to come, I would have kept on waiting.    


Blogger Sheila said...

Wow, what an interesting group of characters. And yeah. You *really* should have picked Limon.

For the record, Byers hasn't changed much since then.

March 20, 2012 at 7:28 AM  

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