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Sometimes You’re the Road Runner

… and sometimes you’re the coyote.

You know, the coyote of Saturday-morning-cartoon fame who takes a face plant over the side of a cliff in his non-stop chase for an ever-elusive reward. I guess it’s not our day to be the road runner.

We heard a pop, then tic tic tic. I coasted down the exit ramp before we died on the shoulder. Gary spotted paving guys at work across the way, so we borrowed a few tools and he got to work.

Somehow Gary jammed car parts back into their rightful places and we limped to San Miguel Mission a block away. While the engine cooled, we ate lunch, picking our minuscule refrigerator clean. Gary found an unattended hose, so we took advantage of unlimited water and bathrooms with real plumbing. Before I knew it, we were on our way.

Our next breakdown was at Camp Roberts, the National Guard station 20 miles up the road. “I’ll get someone to help you,” the fresh-faced MP told us. We waited, but when it became apparent that no one was coming, Gary hunched over the steaming engine, rerouted hoses to by-pass the heat core, and got our rig running again.

What’s a heat core? I wondered as I got out art supplies in the back of the van.

When Gary finished his ingenious repair, we pondered. North or south? Which way should we go?

We needed to pick up Lauren from summer camp in Oakland by noon the following day, but if we headed south, we’d have access to friends and services. Would we make it all the way to the Bay Area? There’s a lot of nothing between Camp Roberts and the Bay Area.

We pointed north. Just shy of the Lockwood exit, south of nowhere, we lumbered to a stop, no internet connection, spotty cell phone service. It was hard even to get a text out.

Eventually, a long pricey tow truck ride deposited us at Autobahn Service Station in Paso Robles. That shop is cleaner than our living room, so I’m hoping the cost of the mechanic’s manicure isn’t going to price us out of a repair. But that answer will have to wait anyway, since of course, these things tend to happen on Friday nights before long holiday weekends.

Our friends Ann and Denton bailed us out yet again, meeting us in two cars far from their home and letting us take one of them.

“Where’s the cassette deck,” I asked Ann when I glanced inside her fancy Prius. Except for the one that has the 8-track, all our cars have cassettes. Hers was like driving a computer and I sort of expected a half-caff-soy-latte-extra-foam to dispense automatically from one of many shiny gadgets on the dash. Our cool factor palpably rose the minute we sat in those unscuffed leather seats.

At 1:30 in the morning, we arrived in San Francisco, tired but in plenty of time our reunion with my favorite camper, the one who fell asleep right after we fed her lunch and took it on through to the next day.

Now we’re in a pickle. Our home is in Southern Cal, we’re in Northern Cal, our broken vehicle is on the Central Coast and we’re in a borrowed car. At this point, I figure our one night of glamping cost us about a thousand dollars a minute, but I’ve never paid much attention to math anyway.

The deets

San Miguel Mission: A beatuiful place to be stuck. I particularly liked the Garden of Peace with the Inviting Christ, where I said a prayer for my young cousin Eileen and her family. Eileen’s funeral was taking place while we tinkered with our engine. May God grant us peace in this time of grief.

Camp Roberts: Even though I look like a home-ec teacher from the midwest, go ahead and check out my steaming van next time I park for over an hour in front of your sign that says “Elevated Terror Alert” (or something to that effect). Really, I won’t take the slightest offense.

Lockwood Exit CA #271: Spectacular sunsets over rolling vineyards but not a great place to break down

Autobahn Service Station I can't say much about this place yet except that their property value could take a hit unless they get us out quickly. We're making all those beemers look bad.

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