by Paul Gerald
After 24 hours, one car repair job, 125 dollars and 17 different cuss words, I freed myself from Glendo, Wyoming, and got back on the trail of Lewis and Clark. The people of Glendo (Glendonites?) were nervous about me, Im sure. There are only seven commercial establishments in that town, and I had managed to write checks to five of them checks that were brand-new and had no printed name and address on them.
Since the radio was squawking about an impending Winter Disaster you know its serious when people in Wyoming are freaking out about it I drove 150 miles before I even hit the brakes. I finally did so in Laramie, where the first snowflakes were beginning to fall. But when I hit those brakes, it felt like stepping on a plum. Indeed, the Travel Gods were not done with me yet: My brakes were at least 90 percent gone.
I managed to nurse it into another mechanic shop, where I was told that two bolts were missing, a cylinder had popped out, and a disk was worn beyond repair. In other words, my man in Glendo didnt really know what he was doing. Shock. I should have known when he looked at my car, a Merkur, and asked what it was.
This was on Friday afternoon, and I got a room across the street at a Comfort Inn. By Saturday evening it had snowed anywhere from six inches to two feet, depending on where you stepped; the mechanic couldnt get into the shop; and I had watched more television than a typical family of four.
I watched a talk show whose theme was "Boyfriends who are cheating on their girlfriends but are about to find out that their girlfriends are cheating on them, too!" I got emotionally involved in an MTV celebrity basketball game, which I had started watching only because Linda Fiorentino was playing. At the end of the game, when some rap star was working for the game-winning shot, I was actually out of my chair and pacing in front of the set. I saw four football games. I stayed up until 3 a.m. watching Goodfellas.
I envied Lewis and Clark for not having cable.
By Sunday I had become an institution at the Comfort Inn. The lady at the desk, who had told me, "Oh, they always predict these big storms, but we never really get much," began to duck me as the snow piled up outside and I kept pressing her for her exact definition of "much." The maid saw me each morning and said, "Oh, are you still here?" One day she told me that she didnt really live in Laramie. "I came here last year and got stuck by the weather!" This didnt make me feel much better.
On Monday the Travel Gods finally let me out of Laramie, and I screamed through the snow-covered prairie to Ogden, Utah, where I got a hotel room with a TV set that didnt work. Fine by me: Otherwise, I would have been forced to listen to Dan Dierdorf throughout a dull football game. On Tuesday it was Boise, Idaho, where the weathergirl (weatherwoman?) informed me that a large welcome-to-Portland rainstorm was gearing up for my arrival.
But that storm really didnt matter, because the next day I reached the End of the Road. First, my car starting weaving slightly whenever I hit or released the accelerator. I compensated for this by steering in the opposite direction whenever I needed to change speeds, and determined to "proceed on," as Lewis and Clark always put it.
Then, after I had crossed into Oregon and seen a sign that said "Portland: 268," I was in the process of passing a pickup-with-trailer on a wet, downsloping bend in the highway, when I heard a horrible grinding noise coming from the good ol left rear wheel. It sounded like a piece of metal tearing into my wheel, or maybe the sound that kept coming out of Bob Doles campaign. Either way, one thing was clear: The Merkur was not going to Portland today.
Three kicks of the door panel, one tow truck, 50 dollars, 30 minutes of driving, and at least 27 combinations of cuss words later, I was standing in the shop of Contestant Number Three, in the town of La Grande, and he was telling me that I had ruined the rear axle. I told him the whole story (in four-part harmony, as Arlo Guthrie would have had it), and he actually added a chuckle to the proceedings by suggesting that "Maybe you should call that guy in Glendo and see if hell help you out with this." Sure except that guy is probably drinking my money right now, laughing with the rest of the Glendoosians about how much they got out of me.
I reached the ultimate point of defeat on any roadtrip about 3 oclock that afternoon: I walked a mile in the rain to catch a Greyhound bus.
I think Ill go back to reading about Lewis and Clark. At least they made it to their destination and back. Im still in Portland, waiting for word on my car. The last I heard was that a salvage yard in Spokane has the proper axle, but they broke three tools trying to take it off. The Merkurs are fighting back.
I wont be talking to any more mechanics, nor will I be watching the weatherpeople. Theyre all out to get me, in service of the treacherous Travel Gods. I think Ill see about buying a horse or a canoe. It worked for Lewis and Clark, after all.
(This is part II of a two-part story.)
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