Friday, September 12, 2008

Los Angeles, Part One

Pronounce that title as if you speak Spanish for me. Go ahead, say it out loud. The G is like an H – a throaty sound. Out loud, I dare you.

For those of you who actually said it aloud, good for you. More so if you’re in a place of work. For those of you who said it aloud in a computer lab, ssshh.

My mother believes in angels. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; I just wanted to get it out there.

Specifically, she believes she has parking angels, giving her an uncanny ability to find a good space. I inherited my father’s gene for parking far from an entrance because I like to walk, so I’ve never really needed parking angels. Less so now that I have no car, but I digress.

Recently, I drove from Charleston, South Carolina to Buffalo, New York in a car with five cats and a dog while my mother drove our moving truck. If I ever needed proof she loves me, I don’t any more. Once we got to Buffalo, where we left my car (ours – mine and my husband’s) and moved my things to a more comfortable but more expensive SUV for the longer leg of the trip – Buffalo to Tucson, Arizona. All in all, we did somewhere around fifty hours of driving in about five days, plus rest stops, food, and fuel ups.

When we set out, our first stop was the gas station to top off my tank and put air in my rear left tire, which had grown squishy in the month since my husband had left the country. The car had a complete tune up, including new front brakes, around the time he left, a month before this road trip, so I wasn’t at all concerned about car trouble. Mom and I made it to our hotel for the night, still in South Carolina because of our ridiculously late start, which I don’t have time to explain here, and I don’t want to anyway because it makes me look bad.

We woke early, went through the madness of orchestrating the cats back into carriers and getting everyone in the car. We drove to a nearby gas station, to top off, yes, but mainly to put air in the tire, which was already low again – eight hours later. We realized at the pump that I’d left my good pillow in the hotel room, so I drove back, the car being more maneuverable that the truck, with the plan that I would come back to her and we’d get on the highway together. I parked by the hotel office in the shade, for the sake of the animals, ran inside, explained myself, and ran to the room – door opened by housekeeping but not yet cleaned – and grabbed my pillow.

Relieved, I hopped back into the car and started the engine. Or tried to. Lights flashed, something clicked, and generally, nothing that was supposed to happen happened. After offering up a number of positive and (or) pleading thoughts to the universe, I tried a couple more times, and then called my mom who drove to meet me. I unloaded the cats and dog – because of the heat – while she asked for advice inside. The hotel staff’s only suggestion? Flag down a cab. One of the local companies does jumps for a small fee. Let me just say this wouldn’t likely have worked, given our location.

When she came outside, I noticed a group of young men hovering nearby, military haircuts like beacons.

“Ask them, would you,” I gesture and beseech my mom, loaded down myself with carriers, “if they’ve got jumper cables?”

Turns out these young men are all Army, stationed nearby, on their way somewhere, waiting for their sergeant, and one was a mechanic before he joined up. Two others obviously wish they were, so they launch themselves into my car while another calls the sergeant, who is on his way and, yes, has jumper cables with him.

I notice with a smile that they all have fresh matching tattoos of their unit number gracing their bodies in different places, an upper arm here, a shaved calf there, so I ask them about their service. I’m the wife of an enlisted man – I know how to play this. They appreciate the requests and my admiration. I mention, offhand, that my husband served for nearly nine years. They smile – kindred! – and ask which branch of the armed forces he was in.

“Marine Corps,” I say.

The two nearest me actually bow their heads briefly, as if recognizing a tribal elder in disguise, and one says, without hesitation,

“God bless him.”

This is the first information they pass on to their sergeant when he arrives ten minutes later. “Battery’s dead. Her husband was a Marine.” He jumps it, we let it run, and he advises me to drive for a while before I turn it off.

I nod. “I’ve got a full tank and over two hundred and forty miles to go before we change highways, so that shouldn’t be a problem.” I thank them as they begin loading their van, and by the time Mom and I load up the animals, they are gone.

One hundred and sixty five miles later, we stop for lunch. Surely nearly three hours has been long enough to charge the battery if that was the only problem, but I roll the windows down a little before cutting the engine, just in case, because I have to leave the animals here while we grab food. I turn of the engine, hop out, and try to lock the doors with the key tag. No dice. There’s no charge on the battery at all – even this small task is impossible.

We eat quickly, my mom going immediately to the truck stop shop to buy jumper cables while I go to the car to prep for the jump, though neither of us have done this in ages, if ever. My mother says something about the good fortune of “those military boys” being around this morning when a voice calls over my shoulder.

“You ladies need a hand?”

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