The Hermit Poet

July 11, 2006

Neil’s Adventures Heading North (recap borrowed from a recent letter to a friend)

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:24 am

Day #1
I started out from Riverside on Friday after selling or giving away everything that wouldn’t fit in my car. I had spent two days carefully packing the car to fit the absolute most I could in without blocking my rearview mirror. I left Riverside at noon and drove to Los Angeles where I spent the evening hanging out with a group of friends for the last time. I crashed at my lawyer-friend’s place, had a good breakfast in the morning, discussed a few more details about a legal matter, then bid farewell for now (I’ll probably be back in September to visit).

Day #2
I spent the day driving up to Oakland where I had arranged to stay with Stephen (a friend from Kundiman) who had graciously offered his house as a stopping point. When I arrived, Stephen asked if I had a suit available — evidently one of his friends was moving away that same weekend and wanted to have her last night be a bit of a mock prom. So I dug out my suit, a clean white dress shirt, and my good shoes. I realized however that my ties were buried at the bottom of my packed car. I hadn’t expected to be dressing up for my trip — Stephen lent my a tie, which worked well enough with the suit. Before we all suited up, he swung by to pick up another friend in town and the three of us went to his office to pick up his uniform. When we got back to Stephen’s place, we got ready for the night. Stephen in his Coast Guard uniform, his friend in a borrowed tux (sans bow tie), and me in a dark suit. It looked like we were about to take over a small country — etiher by military force (Stephen), by wealth (his friend in the tux), or by the mafia (me with sunglasses). The night consisted mainly of going to In&Out (famous California burger chain) then heading to a local bar (which was odd since most of us weren’t drinking). In both cases we ended up with rather miraculous parking spots immediately in front of the destinations (in San Francisco, this does not happen — especially twice in the same night). All told, it was fun to meet new people, but I was pretty worn out and by 10:30 pm was ready to sleep.

Day #3
I left Oakland on Sunday morning and drove up the I-5 freeway, expecting to arrive at Yreka by late that afternoon. Instead I started having car trouble going through all the mountain passes. Evidently I had chosen the worse route for a 4-cylinder engined vehicle packed to the brim. The car power started fluctuating and when the warning lights starting flashing and the radio began stuttering, I realized I wasn’t going to make it. I managed to exit at a small resort town called Lakehead and coasted into the gas station with just enough power to pull into a parking spot. Once I pulled in, the car would not restart. I ended up calling AAA and since the tow truck company was down the road, I figured it would be quick. It wasn’t. I waited 2.5 hours before the guy (his name was Bobby) came and jumped the car. He said the battery contacts were corroded, but that there might be something else wrong as well. I took his advice and drove over to a convenience store to buy some things to clean the battery. The car was fine for 15 minutes and then the warning lights started flashing again. But by this time Bobby had already left. I drove over to his shop and parked. I called AAA again and they said he would be gone for at least 4 hours. They sent another tow truck along and this one tested the battery and confirmed what I hoped wasn’t the case — the alternator was dead.

Now I was stranded in a small resort town on the 4th of July weekend. I walked over to the diner next door, sat down and waited for Bobby to return (I had caught him just before he left for his next call and he had said he’d try contacting his mechanic about working on it on Monday). The waitress (her name was Angie) overheard the entire situation and felt sorry for me. Since the afternoon was pretty quiet, she spent most of her spare time on the phone trying to locate a place for me to stay and a mechanic who could do the repairs. She even bought me dinner! When it turned out that there wasn’t a single room available in the entire town, she located a sofa for me. I have rarely seen such generousity (in that respect she reminded me of my friend Chi on the East coast) — I count myself very blessed. Things could have been much worse.

She said that she had moved there about a year ago from Los Angeles and had run into all sorts of trouble dealing with the locals who took a long time to warm up to her. She had ended up living in a tent in the forest for 4 months and having to send her son back to live with her ex-husband while she tried to get a job and life together. Eventually through a lot of hard work, she was able to earn the respect and trust of the locals. And because of the respect, she was able call in a bunch of favors for me.

Day #4
Thanks to Angie’s efforts the previous day, I was able to catch a ride to Redding (the next biggest town) and buy the alternator ($140) from a shop there which had been recommended to me as having the best parts and the cheapest prices (good insider information from the locals I would have missed otherwise). My driver was RC — as redneck as you can find. A Vietnam Vet of two tours, adrenaline junkie, former deep undercover agent for the Federal government and the DEA (he used to go into prisons in deep cover), and accomplished spice gourmet. He was odd, intriguing, and a little alarming — but deep down, good-hearted in a gruff way.

When I got back, Angie had located a mobile mechanic and convinced him to install the alternator for $35 — that’s right $35. He did the repair quickly and I was on the road an hour later. I was blown away by everyone’s willingness to work with me. Angie had warned me that usually the locals love to price-gouge strangers in town — I don’t think I would have made it out without her help. She refused to take any money for the meals, accomodation, or all the assistance she rendered. She even insisted that I take some of her money to help cover the expenses — sacrificing part of what she had set aside to fix her own truck. In hindsight, I’m glad that my car broke down there.

Despite all this help and the new alternator, the rest of the drive to Vancouver, Washington (my next stop) was not without event. Going through the mountains my car began to overheat – the work of moving my heavily loaded car up and over hill after hill had used up all the engine coolant. I had to drive for a bit, pull over and let the engine cool down, then drive for a bit more. Eventually I made it to the next town and bought engine coolant.

Finally, at about 10 pm, I rolled into Vancouver, Washington and stopped at my uncle Jay’s place. I was tired and a little sick, so I didn’t do much but sleep.

Day #5
Fourth of July — I stayed with my uncle and ran a few errands during the day. I had decided early on that I wouldn’t travel on the 4th — too much traffic from all the people going to and from the fireworks displays. Fireworks were big and loud all night long — many Washington people buy their fireworks from Oregon where the limits on fireworks are much looser.

Day #6
I woke at 6:00 am and left the house at 6:30 am heading for the Canadian border. And for once, it was an uneventful trip. The customs people thanked me for preparing all my paperwork in advance and I was across in no time. I pulled into my new residence in the afternoon and began moving my things in. And then I slept.

In the future, I will hire movers rather than drive a car load of stuff across the country. Better yet, my next job will pay for the movers. Hopefully.

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