2013.07.17 Driving away in a borrowed car 2013.07.17


Daughter Maddie is in California and sometimes that makes me remember when I was in that state. There were two visits, but I'm thinking about a week in San Francisco, and I'm thinking mostly about how I got there. It was a two-step process.

I had just finished my first year of living in Portland, Ore., where I served as a school aide in a classroom for special needs kids. Belligerent Joey. Mean Kathy. Jonathon who saw things so differently from everyone else in the world. Lawrence, who was fond of telling anyone he was angry with to "Cram it, pig butt!"

It was a wonderful year and one of the most interesting of my life, despite the challenging days in that classroom.

When summer arrived I decided to return to Maine for a visit and bought a one-way anywhere Greyhound ticket for $50. Can that be right? Was it really that cheap? 

This was the Butte, Bozeman, Billings and Bismarck tour right through the Badlands and on to the East Coast. I turned northward somewhere along the line and the driver was kind enough to drop me off at what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. Actually, it was a mile or so away from my destination, so off I walked.

Eventually it was time to head back west and I remembered drive-away cars. Someone would need to have their car driven from here to there. There were always ads in the newspapers and I found something in the Boston paper that was perfect: a car needed to be driven to San Francisco because the couple was moving.

I made the connection, hitched to Boston, went to their home and drove their nice Saab away. I soon stopped to buy fuel and discovered that the key wouldn't come out of the ignition. How was I going to get across the country this way? How could I ever leave the car? A gas station attendant had the answer. If I remember correctly, a little Swedish folk song had to be sung.

I was rather infamous in those days for not paying for lodging. The first night I stopped at Hampshire College, I think, and slept on a couch in a dorm. The second night I was home in Morenci. The third night I slept in the back seat of the car somewhere in Iowa City. The fourth night was at a truck stop in Colorado. The fifth night...wait a minute, this seems like too many nights.

The night I'm really remembering—no matter what the number—was somewhere in Nevada, in a park where camping wasn't allowed and petroglyphs were on display. It was the uneasiest night of all, out in the middle of nowhere. Incredibly quiet, except when a car would pass by or turn into the park.

I left in the dark and hadn't traveled too many miles before spotting an overturned car off to the side of the road out in the desert. I didn't want to stop, I knew I had to stop, I finally stopped and backed up in the dark, almost driving off into the ditch a couple of times. I was already feeling nervous about the situation. 

I reached the accident scene, got out and yelled something inappropriate like, "Anybody there?" No answer.

I got the flashlight out and started walking across the sand. The car was really smashed up from rolling and luggage was strewn across the ground. No answer to my weak inquiries. I didn't want to find what I feared that I might see.

I didn't see anyone. No one in the car. I couldn't find anyone on the ground. I gave myself permission to leave, figuring the ambulance had already arrived during the night. I sped off toward Reno, feeling guilty that I didn't do a better search through the darkness.

On across the Sierra Nevadas and down into San Francisco to return the Saab to its owners. I spent a few days in San Francisco, staying with Elaine from Maine, and then rode the Grey Rabbit back to Portland. That was the alternative bus line that had nothing but mattresses in the back. Cheap, relaxing, and very interesting company.

Maddie has done some traveling that I'll never do, but she hasn't done a drive-away car yet. Perhaps the next time we see her, she’ll pull up in someone's nice Saab, looking for a bed instead of a back seat.