Some disasters are but a split second in the making. A word slips from the lips, an item slips from the hand – in my case, I slipped through Crescent City without stopping for gas. Waiting to fill up across the Oregon border seemed clever; gas is cheaper and this trip to the presidential inauguration needed to impact my family’s finances as little as possible.
What I didn’t understand was how far up the 199 we’d have to go to reach the border, much less arrive at an open gas station. We’d just blown through Gasquet when the car spluttered and died. My traveling companion didn’t realize what had happened at first – we still had momentum and he was deep into Marc Maron’s podcast with Dave Grohl. My phrasing didn’t help.
“Hey, Andrew, I need to get gas.”
“It’s a long way to the next gas station.”
“Well, I’m running out. I mean, I just ran out.”
“Wait – this is happening now?”
I cruised into a turnout in answer.
After exhausting every possible way of apologizing for being so stupid, so very stupid, oh my god I’m so sorry for being so very stupid, I took the next step of getting us out of this mess, to the side of the road, where I waved my arms overhead in the universal signal for “Please stop and save me!”
The car stopped, backed up. Two women agreed to give us a lift to the nearest northerly gas station. A long lift – Goff was right. The miles passed slowly in the backseat, my concern growing in proportion to the distance we were leaving the car behind. The car, in which I’d left everything except my wallet.
Including, I realized as I patted my pocket, my keys.
I tried to squelch the panic. Goff glumly watched our progress on a map — even without cell service, you can GPS yourself, apparently. The women chainsmoked and played teeth-grinding music – although I like to think they’d chosen songs with a hopeful message on purpose. For us. “Everything’s gonna be fiii-yiii-yiiine…”
They flicked their cigarette butts out the window. I refrained from sharing the fact that cigarette butts are the number one contributor to garbage on the beach. That the butts don’t decompose, but end up in the rivers and creeks, where they get washed out to sea and kill sea babies who mistake them for food. Nope, I quietly looked at the snow outside the window and thought about the news stories reporting about how some foolish travelers ran out of gas and ended up stuck in the snow and dying or losing limbs or eating each other. While I didn’t think Goff and I had been in danger of cannibalism, the knowledge that I was now one of those “What were they thinking?!” morons added embarrassment to the practical problems needing solving.
The sun set. Things looked dark.
We ended up in O’Brien, a tiny town over the border and about 25 miles north of my Civic. The O’Brien Country Store clerks graciously let me use the phone – cell coverage had gone from nonexistent to still not good enough. I called Triple A. Twenty minutes and multiple service representatives later, we had a plan to meet their driver at the car. How to get to the car remained a problem. Since it was in California and we were in Oregon, the driver would not be coming to get us. I hit up the store clerks. “Um, do you guys know anyone who would be willing to drive us 20 miles south? I have cash. I can pay for gas.”
Welcome to Irony Town, Savage.
They asked the sole customer, a portly, 50-ish fellow with a 12-pack of beer and a shaggy head of hair. He reacted with regret. He’d had too much to drink already, see, and shouldn’t drive. I understood, of course, and appreciated his offer to go to the bar across the street and ask around for us.
O’Brien is a store, a post office and a bar. Our odds weren’t looking good. Goff had vanished to the outside, roaming the perimeter in hopes of scoring cell coverage. I believe he also had hopes he’d reach a friend in Crescent City who would come rescue him from this ill-fated venture.
“You know, we have good people around here,” the older clerk mused. “If I see someone I know, I’ll ask for you.” He went out to the porch, presumably to look for some of these good people. I followed him out. The parking lot was empty.
“I guess I could try to flag someone down.” My breath frosted white as I spoke.
“Well, you could…” my friend answered. His tone suggested that what he meant was, “That’s a hell of an idea,” and by “hell of” he meant, “one that will end up with you shot and dumped down a river bank.”
He paused and followed up with, “We do have a lot of methheads around here, but you can usually tell them by their cars.”
I contemplated that for a moment and in that moment, a truck’s lights came on across the street. The driver exited the bar parking lot, eased into the street and pulled into the store parking lot.
Please please please be someone who will help us.
“Joe*? That you?” the clerk called out.
Joe looked leery of answering. He must have known he was about to commit to something. Maybe the earnestness on the clerk’s face. Maybe the puppy dog look on mine.
“This little lady needs some help.”
Situation explained, Joe acquiesced. I rounded up Goff and we set out for the car. A little ways down the road, Joe mentioned he was about three beers in and, “If you get scared, one of you’ll have to drive.”
He also shared how much he hates California. He really hates California. Grew up in Morro Bay area, got the hell out as soon as he could. Hates, hates, hates California. O’Brien may have its inbreds – “literally” – and methheads, but it’s “paradise” compared to California’s “gangbanging, Mexicans and taxes.”
Joe is also not a guy who “bends over and takes it,” he’ll tell you. That’s why he hates unions. He’s also a commercial fishermen who hates regulations. When he got around to asking what Goff and I do, I opted to not share my identity as an ocean protection advocate and instead answered, “Oh, we work for the local paper.” Technically, I am on a freelance assignment, so it wasn’t a total lie. I also didn’t mention we were on our way to the Obama inauguration.
We needed a ride and Joe provided.
Arrived at the car, where I’d left the keys in the ignition and the door unlocked to no harm. All contents accounted for. A few minutes later, the Triple A driver arrived, poured some wonderful, life-saving gas into my tank and we were back in business. Looking at a long and much-later drive to Portland than anticipated, but nobody froze to death or resorted to gnawing off body parts. I’d gotten us into this mess and out. Everything was going to be A-OK.
Goff even started speaking to me again… sometime around Grant’s Pass.
* Not his real name.
(Official adventures to be reported in this week’s North Coast Journal!)