I stood it for as long as I could. I was okay as long as I had Pandora Radio. When the internet connection at the Green Valley Lake cabin got sporadic, I pretended it didn’t bother me. Usually, it came back on in a few minutes. I was good with that. I played with the dogs to distract myself until the connection returned. And then I could take no more.
No TV. No radio. No people. Let’s face it; I’m a people person! I was ready to get a volleyball, paint a face on it, and call it “Wilson” ala Tom Hanks in “Castaway.” My daughter called on the phone – the landline -because my brand new fancy-schmancy iPhone doesn’t get service in Green Valley Lake. I snatched up the phone and caller ID displayed “Chelsea.”
“Hi. I’m all alone!” I wailed into the phone, imitating Eddie Murphy’s “Donkey” personality in the movie “Shrek.” It’s a family thing. She knew exactly what I meant. It meant: Time to take action!
I had been avoiding the VAN. The van was a gift from the parents of my friends whose cabin and dogs I was care-taking. I had met these folks; the nicest people on earth. And Mom loved her van so much that she kept it for seventeen years. Even at that, she was reluctant to give it up. It had been perfectly maintained, and all systems were carefully checked before they released it to the car shippers.
It arrived from Texas in record time, and the jovial car-trailer drivers pulled up to the meeting spot right on time: the bench between the Green Valley Lake Post Office and the General Store, now known as Carole Jean’s Bench. I looked up and saw it for the first time and my mind flashed back to the last time I drove a van. It was a blue and white Volkswagon bus and it was 1968, the year I graduated college. I clearly remember driving it with its snub-nosed front, feeling high and exposed. I had been hired to work in a disco in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The construction of the nightclub had been delayed which meant the New York hired crew wasn’t earning any money. The owner, Ted, housed the entire group in his three bedroom mountain-top apartment in exchange for labor to get the club completed.
One morning he asked me if I could drive a stick-shift. Eager to be helpful, I replied, “Yes! I learned to drive on a stick!”
It never occurred to me that there was a huge difference driving a VW bus and a 1955 Chevy with four-on-the-floor.
The group of five piled into the bus, I jumped into the driver’s seat, adjusted the seat, waved a smiling goodbye to Ted, and off we went! I got to the end of the driveway and turned left to go down the hill into town. Oh yeah, it was a hairpin turn onto the road, and I took it too fast and too wide. Next thing I knew, the right front tire was hanging off the edge of the cliff!
I jammed my foot on the brake and it started quivering along with my heart. In my head I could hear the bumpity-bump sounds of metal hitting trees and rocks as we tumbled off the edge. I turned to Alan in the passenger seat. “Nobody move! Alan, gently open your door, quietly slide out and go get Ted. The rest of you in the back, stay put and lean back. Keep the weight as far back as you can, but don’t get out of your seat!”
Ted laughed when he saw my predicament, slid into the driver’s seat as I slipped onto the floor, and he got us back on solid ground. I relinquished my driving duties and went inside to do the dishes or make spaghetti sauce.
And now, forty-seven years later, I am in charge of the VAN in a mountain town. After driving it to the cabin from the bench in town, a matter of a few blocks, I parked it in front of the cabin and there it sat for a few days. I would glance at it from time to time, but was not yet ready to risk an outing.
On day three, I jumped up and gathered the troops. “Come on, guys, we’re going to Walmart! I need a Boombox. I must have music!”
Lobo, the Husky, Cinnamon, the Chocolate Lab, and Toby, the Extra-Large Chocolate Lab were delighted to pile into the van. I eased it out onto the road, hands clutching the steering wheel, back ramrod straight, and eyes darting from mirror to mirror. I had seen a Walmart at the base of the mountain in the metropolis of Redlands. It never dawned on me that it was Saturday – the day the flatlanders drive from L.A. to the lake.
There wasn’t much traffic going down the hill, and by the time I finished my errands it surely would have thinned out. Wrong!
I had the treasured Boombox loaded in the rear section of the van, the three restless dogs in the main section, and me still clutching the wheel driving up the mountain. I was going slowly, pulling into the turn-outs when the number of cars in my rear-view mirror reached six.
And then it happened. We were just past Running Springs, the town a mere seven miles from the cabin. The van lost power. It died. I was lucky to make it to a turnout. I was lucky to have a cell phone with a signal. It doesn’t work at the cabin. The signal drops just past the curve at Camp Pondo. I was lucky to have someone to call – someone who knew a tow-truck driver.
The dogs were rambunctious and anxious, it was hot with the sun baking the crowded road, and I was standing on the dirt shoulder ready to wave down the tow-truck. When he rounded the corner, he saw a wild-woman jumping up and down, and as he pulled in front of the broken down vehicle, he smiled and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll be outta here in a few minutes.”
He started to open the door when suddenly there was a kerfuffle. Three dogs made their presence known – three large sets of bared teeth, three sets of raised hackles, and and three large sets of barking and frantic panting . He withdrew his hand, smiled and ticked his head toward me, “Nope, I’m not getting in there – you are!”
He directed me as I cranked the steering wheel this way and that getting it centered on the narrow rails of the trailer. All the while, we ignored the honking horns and snarls of the annoyed drivers who shot us dirty looks as they went around the rescue operation. Yeah, like we really planned this just to ruin their day!
My happy driver, Artie, winked at me and said, “Stay put young lady. We’ll be at the garage in three minutes.”
I was a bit surprised as I thought there were rules about humans riding in the vehicles on top of the trailer while in motion. It reminded me of Costa Rica where you see pick-up truck beds loaded with fifteen or twenty construction workers on their way to a job. My three canine charges and I were bouncing along enjoying the scenery and didn’t think twice about it.
Don, the garage owner, assured me they would take good car of the van and have it repaired lickety split, but being Saturday afternoon, they would get to it early the following week. Artie, my hero, offered to drive me home to the cabin. “Is there anything in the van you need?”
“No, but I’m pretty thirsty. Maybe we could stop for a six-pack on the way home?”
Again, he smiled as he held up a box that he had retrieved from the van.
Gasp! “The BOOMBOX!” Thank goodness he saw that – my whole reason for venturing out in the first place. Good thing I did, too. Turns out there was a loose screw. No, not me – in the van! It coulda happened in a much worse place in a much worse time.
So, lucky me – the van is repaired and running well, I have the Boombox with radio and CD player, and all dogs are happy and healthy. Life is good!