You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now, wouldn’t you?
Heading out the 40 I am, feeling pretty good about life (Santa Rosa provided me with two of the best meals I’ve had on this trip. A spanish omelette for breakfast, cheese enchiladas for dinner, both in family-type restaurants where the staff knew just enough English to take your order, as long as you didn’t get too fancy ab-libbing off the menu. Both buried in green chilies, not the canned stuff, but brightly colored and crisp like they might have been attached to stems as recently as that morning. Green chilies are _so_ much better than the harsh, sharp tasting bell peppers you get at home. But I digress…), when I notice a billboard for a Chevy Truck dealership and service center in the next little town (by the way, remind me to tell you about the billboards out here). Now, I’d already come to terms with the idea that I was going to be driving all the way to San Diego while alternating between 45 and 60 miles an hour, depending on whether or not the engine fans were running. But it crossed my mind that a small town place like this might have a quick opening for me, and I had already discovered that no one uses I-40 except to get their RVs and semis to the West Coast, so I could safely bet someone there had seen these things before…
By the time I’d decided that the billboard was a sign, in the higher sense, I realized that this upcoming town must be at least three times bigger than any New Mexican town I’d yet come across… because it had three exits leading to it. Being used to one exit per town, I hadn’t paid enough attention to the billboard to know where to turn.
Well, apparently that particular shop wasn’t my destiny. Because if I was truly meant to turn off, surely I would have noticed where… Have you ever heard the voice in your head actually trail off? As I was thinking this, there was the Chevy place, big as life just off the next exit. So what the hell.
The service manager did someting that no one else had yet taken the time to do: actually come out to the RV and listen to it. A good sign. He said he had someone who knew these things (another good sign), but they had started their lunch breaks. I said fine, where should I go eat, and he told me.
I had my third excellent Mexican meal in a row. Freshly rolled blue corn enchiladas with cheese (the taco may be more popular, but the enchilada is the true Mona Lisa of Mexican cooking). And the one woman there, who appeared to be hostess, waitress, cook, busser, and cashier, didn’t seem to mind that I kept asking for more iced tea while I read my magazine until time to head back to the service shop.
Everything sounded plausible. His best RV guy worked on it a while, it was a bitch to figure out what it was (which fit with the fact that the problem had stumped the best mechanical minds in the Mid-West, who for some reason now appear in my head looking like the “See No Evil…” monkeys), but it seemed to be the air compressor (which fit with a known problem that Sue and Bill tried to get fixed before the RV ever left North Carolina). Parts couldn’t be had for a couple to several days, which we both knew meant I was just going to head to San Diego with it the way it was. Cool, he’d have them close it up. I asked if I was doing the right thing by backing off the gas when I heard the squeal. He said actually, let it squeal, it’s not going to hurt anything any more. A minute later he was back, with the suggestion that they just cut that one belt off. I wouldn’t be able to use the air conditioner (which I haven’t been, out of sheer fear, anyway), but the squeal would go away. I reiterated what he told me, to make sure I heard right: no AC, and no squealing, and I can make it to San Diego. Bingo bango bongo, seventy bucks later it’s a done deal.
Hopefully, by now you’ve all made your side bets on how many miles up the interstate I got before it started again. Well, you all lose.
I was still on the on-ramp.
I made those noises that sound fakey in movies, where someone is doing something that’s not quite a guffaw-type laugh, but not quite an out-and-out sobbing cry. I got myself under some kind of control by the next exit (hell, I had almost 30 miles to do it. I had to use 1 and the area code to call the place from one exit up the interstate), and called and asked for Freddy, the nice service manager who’d been so helpful. I politely told him “It’s doing it again,” and even more politely refrained from adding “YOU FUCKING JERKOFF FROM HELL.” I mean, that wouldn’t have helped anything, right?
Guess what he said.
“Son of a bitch.”
I haven’t laughed that hard in quite a while. He, apparently having missed my last update, probably thought I was nuts. Boy, is he gonna laugh when he reads it… After talking with his RV guy again, he concluded that it was those belts (and here he went into some gobbledegook that could have been a valid point concerning belts and air compressors or might possibly have been the original recipe for my enchilada lunch, for all I knew) and that I could just not worry about the squealing. Again, I reiterated to ensure I heard correctly (because this process had served me so well, only minutes before, no?), “I can just drive as fast as I want, even with the squealing, and it’ll be okay… I’ll make it to San Diego?” “No problem,” sez he.
So, here’s where I’m at. I have done everything I could find a way to do. I have left a trail of credit card vouchers winding through the heartland (you know why they call it the “heartland?” Because the brain isn’t there…) as I did my best to buy Susie and Bill a new RV, piece by greasy, icky piece. I’ve hit the wall.
At this point, I’m just driving. If I explode in a huge fireball that scatters debris for miles and miles, well, Susie and Bill, you’ll just have to get reimbursed from my estate. If my ashes end up randomly scattered across the desert states, well, Jonathan and Suzy, I hope you find vacation pastimes aplenty in the fine international airports of San Diego and Reno, respectively.
Sigh. You would have thought I would have learned by now.
What’s that? Oh, yeah, the billboards. I’ve already alluded to the fact that the majority of square mileage in this time zone serves no other purpose than to keep RVs and tractor trailers away from the West Coast for another several days, although I’m not at all sure that the West Coast is using this extra time wisely. Back home, I’m used to seeing the same kind of billboards over and over, because every couple miles there’s another exit that has a BP station, a Cracker Barrel, a fireworks stand, and a Tanger Factory Outlet Stores mall. Out here you get similar billboards, for hundreds of miles, advertising the ONE McDonalds in the state, located at some remote exit number that looks more like it might be a zip code (the exceptions to this are the fireworks stands, which seem to occur every fourteen feet on every interstate everywhere except North Carolina. And, oddly, each one is the largest one in the world). I’ve seen stuff advertised as far as two hundred and ninety-five miles away (it was a campground in Arizona, lest you think I’m making this stuff up). Groups of hotels and restaurants have banded together to sell you on Exit 236, the Greatest Exit Anywhere! And as far as I can tell, the exits only exist so they’d have a place to build their hotels and restaurants.
Okay. I can tell when it’s time to go to bed when my paragraphs start looking like, well, like that last one there…