Posts Tagged With: Driving

It’s Gratituesday! Thank Goodness for Trusty Dusty

For the past three years I’ve driven a Toyota extended cab pickup truck. I don’t know the name of the model, or even the year. Here’s a photo of it. That should give you an idea of the year. Ish.

Trusty Dusty

As you can see, it’s not a newer model vehicle.

In fact, I was recently transporting several teenage girls one evening in it. As we pulled into traffic I rolled my window down, meaning, I turned the crank handle to open the window.

“What they heck did you just do?” one of the twelve-year olds said in disbelief.  “Did you just open the window by turning something?”

“This is a really, really old car isn’t it?” another one said.

Stunned into momentary silence I shook my head. I suppose the truck is probably older than those girls are. Strange thought.

I considered referring to the Flintstone’s foot-powered vehicles, but knew they wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

But wait, there’s more!

My truck also has a cassette-tape player that works!  Luckily, the teens in my car didn’t notice that bit of antique hardware. I might have to show them next time we go somewhere. Won’t they be overwhelmed with awe! More likely they’ll be completely convinced of my total lack of coolness.

There’s also a back seat that holds three people with smallish legs. It’s only a two-door truck though, so getting back there takes some maneuvering and flexibility.

When I start the engine on this vehicle, you can hear it!  How’s that for amazing?

Sometimes when I drive my best buddy Kathy somewhere in her van, I inadvertently try to start it when it’s already running!  Oops. If I can’t hear the engine I assume I need to start it. That’s how mine works.

Her van, a newish one with power windows, power locks, powertrain warranty, and some get up and go is a delight to drive. In her van I can make left hand turns with ease and speed. In her van I merge onto the freeway without any puffs of smoke coming out the exhaust pipe.

My truck drives more like its get up and go has got up and went.  It wants to think about picking up speed. There’s some hesitation in its idling. If the AC is running while I’m stopped at a light, the cool air will stop and warm air will blow instead. Kind of temperamental, wouldn’t you say?

Is it wise to name your vehicle?

Kathy has named my little truck ‘Trusty Dusty.’ She named her van  ‘Chocolate.’  I’m a little jealous. But both names fit. Hers is smooth and delightful. Mine looks like it needs a wash all the time. In spite of its slowness and well-used looks, it gets me where I need to go.

I don’t usually take Kathy anywhere in Trusty Dusty because the shocks aren’t very absorbent, or whatever they need  to provide a smooth ride. Her bones can’t take hits from bumpy roads like my truck offers. So if her van is available, we drive that. (Well, I drive, she rides, let’s be clear about that, since as I wrote about in this past blog post, she shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car.)

We do own another car, but it decided to give out last week. It’s been on the brink for a while. In fact the mechanic had said, “don’t take it out-of-town, always have a cell phone with you and just drive it until it drops, then buy something else.” Three drivers, three work schedules, one vehicle makes for tricky math, but we manage. We have before.

I like my little truck. It’s handy. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve hauled stuff in it. Beds, appliances, camping gear, wedding decorations, food, top soil, bikes, plants, potting soil, water barrels, rocks, college kid supplies, moving boxes, even catering supplies and meals. It’s been ‘worth its weight in gold’ on many occasions. (I suppose if that cliché were really true I’d own some spiffy newer model year kicking it into high gear dual wheel truck with shiny all over it.)

Yup, that's over 200,000 miles your reading.

Yup, that’s over 200,000 miles your reading.

We thought last year that it was time to retire Trusty. I was sad and forlorn about it. Then my son decided he might be able to perform surgery on it and bring it back to life.  Our driveway looked a bit like Frankenstein’s laboratory for a few weeks. (Much to the HOA’s chagrin.) A spider took up residence between a wheel and the edge of the driveway. It thought it had found a permanent home, no doubt. But tools, skills, the internet, perseverance and desperation won out and Trusty revived for another 15,000 miles or more.

Sure I’d like to drive something sleek and shiny with a state of the art sound system, and all the bells and whistles. But that’s not really in the budget, nor has it ever been.  We paid cash for Trusty, so no monthly payments. That’s a nice bonus. Maybe someday I’ll drive something admirable and more reliable. Or maybe not. I’m just glad I have some means of transportation with AC for the desert heat.

Luckily, I can simply keep on keeping on! For the time being.

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Categories: Humor, Traffic, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Watch for Wolves, Or Cows

Long road trips seem to bring out the weirdness in our family. Things that we wouldn’t normally laugh at take on humor of epic proportions. I blame it on the monotony and the weird snack combinations that we bring along.

We left extra early one morning, and by extra early I don’t mean planning to leave by six and actually leaving by ten. I mean early, like the car is already packed and gassed up and all we have to do is stumble out to the car with our pillows and make sure to lock the front door . It was so early the garbage trucks hadn’t started their rounds. It was so early we could tell North by the stars for three or four hours. I wanted to arrive before dark, so that meant leaving while it was still dark.

We had actually left the night before, about five p.m. Not a really wise move. That’s rush hour. That’s the sun blasting holes into your retinas the entire time you’re driving west in rush hour so that you can’t read the signs and you miss your exit to turn north out of the burning laser beams. Once we reached open road we discovered that the car we were driving and the removable car top cargo box weren’t very compatible. At sixty-five MPH the thing let out a high-pitched brain-vibrating mind-numbing keening wail.

I figured we’d adjust to the noise, that after just a bit we wouldn’t even notice it. But what happened was we couldn’t carry on normal conversation. We had to yell at each other. And that was before we had even reached the irritation stage of the drive. I popped in some tunes on our cassette player and cranked the volume. The whistle and the music weren’t in the same key and we could barely hear the music. I soon saw that we’d lose our minds before we even got half way to our destination. We would either have to leave the car top cargo box on the side of the road or go home. We went home. In rush hour traffic still.

Once home, four hours after we’d started out, we repacked the car, without the bonus luggage carrier on top. It was a tight fit but it was doable. By then I was too aggravated to drive safely and it was late. We got some sleep and woke at 3:00 a.m. to leave.

Sleep deprived children are great on a drive, because they sleep or doze or star blankly at the scenery. When it’s too dark to see any scenery things stay quiet. There are no fights and no whining about who gets to sit in the front seat. Bathroom breaks are fewer and further apart. My mind is free to wander, imagine, remember, get into the flow of the driving.

Español: Lobo en el zoo de Kolmården (Suecia).

Lobo en el zoo de Kolmården (Suecia). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About three hours into our drive, with only eight left, morning was beginning to stir. A paleness in the eastern sky was creeping over the landscape. Those odd pre-morning shadows were everywhere. It’s a kind of magical hour between light and dark, my favorite time of the day, even in a car. I looked over my daughter in the front seat beside me who seemed awake but mesmerized or hypnotized or maybe asleep with her eyes open. I smiled but didn’t say anything, not wanting to disturb the quiet. I looked into my rear view mirror at my other daughter but couldn’t tell if her eyes were open or closed. She was probably deep into dreamland.

My shoulders relaxed, my hands rested lightly on the steering wheel. This would turn out to be a good trip. No flats, no car problems, no road closures or detours, no major fights between the two kids.

A few minutes later, from the back seat, my youngest daughter yawned and stretched. Then she asked, “Are those wolves?”

I thought she must be dreaming. “What did you say?” I asked.

“Are those wolves?” she repeated, “in that field over there.”

I looked to the right into an open meadow dotted with a few pine trees. It was still a bit dark, but the shapes she was referring to were fairly clear.

“Those are cows,” I replied, stifling a laugh.

“Are you sure, cuz they look like wolves,” she said.

And then my other daughter chimed in, “yeah, those are wolves that say ‘moo.'” And then she laughed her slightly deranged maniacal laugh.

“Well, they look like wolves to me!” my youngest shot back!

“Moooooooooo!” the oldest howled like a wolf.

Cattle

Cattle (Photo credit: CameliaTWU)

“Oh, shut up!” was the reply. She shifted in her seat, covered her head with the pillow and went back to sleep.

We kept driving.

The sun kept its schedule and rose slowly sending a basking glow of coral over the landscape. The car was silent except for the hum of the engine and the sound of the tires on the pavement.

“Look!” my oldest daughter said, pointing out the window at a herd of cattle. “Wolves!” And she laughed her maniacal laugh again.

“&#$^%&**” replied my younger daughter from under her pillow.

And thus began the longest part of the drive.

Every, single, time, that we passed some cows my oldest daughter would pipe up, “Look, Wolves!” and the youngest would reply with aggravation lacing her words, “Shut. Up!”

I had no idea there were so many herds of cows in the western United States. They’re everywhere. About every five miles, in fact. And if it isn’t a herd, it’s a single steer standing beside a fence or in a stream bed, or alongside the road.

Cows everywhere. “Wolves!”

And horses. If there were horses, the oldest daughter would yell, “Look, foxes!”

After only six hours my youngest daughter began to see the humor in her early morning mistaken identifying of cows versus wolves. But she still replied with anger and frustration in her voice. I begged the oldest to stop, but she seemed intent on milking it for all it was worth.

The last two hours of the drive, the youngest daughter would sometimes secretly laugh, but not enough to quell the oldest daughters enthusiasm for pointing out the “wolves.”

There were wolf sightings for the twelve hour return trip as well. We should have driven in the dark.

We laugh about it more now than we did then.

I think the only time we’ve ever really seen a wolf was at the zoo. And then, of course, my oldest daughter said, “Oh, look! Cows!”

Categories: Humor, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

How Many Ways Can You Say Stranded? #1

Before cell phones were commonplace, before cell phone towers dotted the country like stars dot the sky, car problems were trickier to negotiate.

Nowadays, if you have car issues, you whip out your trusty phone, call AAA or whatever service you pay for towing and flat tires, and within hours you’re on your way again.

Not that many years ago, it wasn’t that simple.

Driving North with two of my young daughters we crossed the Reservation, enjoying the strange and changing scenery, when the Honda van we were in started hesitating. That particular stretch of road was only two lanes, with a narrow shoulder. I pushed down the panicky feeling and watched for a pullout area, which was usually only the size of a car and just inches from the roaring traffic.

Vermilion Cliffs from Kaibab Plateau overlook ...

Vermilion Cliffs from Kaibab Plateau overlook  (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

As the van sputtered and lurched forward, I put on my emergency flashers, hoping there’d be time for the cars behind me to slow down before plowing into our backside. Fortunately, the next pullout we chugged up to was actually one of those spots built to accommodate sales of Native American trinkets, jewelry and fry bread. There were no people, and no cars, just us, the wind, and an occasional scuttle of clouds overhead.

I popped the hood and looked inside. I checked out the parts I knew about. Oil levels. Coolant levels. Loose belts. Battery terminals. We had plenty of gas since I’d filled up in Flagstaff. All appeared as it should.

Maybe the car just needed a bit of rest. We got out the snacks, had some water, explored the nearby sagebrush and torn up barbed wire fencing. Half an hour later, we all climbed back into the van and I started it back up. Everything sounded fine. So off we went. Ten minutes later, the chugging and spluttering began again only worse. Again I looked for a pullout.

This time we rolled into a large pullout with a Semi truck and trailer parked. I felt lucky thinking I could simply ask the trucker for help. Or at the very least, he could put out a call on his CB radio and send a tow truck. But as far as my knocking could tell, there was no one in there. More than likely, the trucker had crawled into the sleeping nook and was catching some Zz’s.

My next option was a quarter-mile hike to what looked like a tiny settlement, a small church, some kind of housing structures, a dirt path between them. And best of all, a thick wire hanging from the church to one of the buildings, indicating electricity or phone service. What I found was a solitary, ancient grandmotherly figure inside the open doorway of one of the huts who didn’t speak English. I did my best sign language for indicating the need for a telephone and she did her best to let me know I was up a creek without a paddle.

I hiked back to the van. We had plenty of water and food in our ice chest. So the heat wouldn’t be a problem. But what to do?

The girls were coloring on some paper they’d brought for getting through the boredom of the long drive. I decided to make a sign. “Please call AAA” it said in large block letters. Then I taped it, using their stickers, to the back of the van. Forty five minutes later a couple of women in a red convertible stopped to get our story, check on our status and offer to call a tow truck for us when they got to Flagstaff.

Hours later a tow truck lumbered into the pullout where we sat bored beyond all reason. It was nearing evening and I was relieved to not have to spend the night on the side of the road.

English: A car being loaded onto a flatbed tow...

A car being loaded onto a flatbed tow truck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The driver filled out some paperwork and then proceeded to hook our van up with a thick chain. Then he lowered the back-end of his truck at an angle and was ready to pull it up on the bed of the truck, which would then level out. He looked at the three of us and said, “you’ll have to ride in the van, I don’t have room in my truck up front.”

My heart nearly stopped. Surely that wasn’t safe. Or legal.

“Are you sure? I could hold one of the girls on my lap,” I replied, desperation in my voice.

“We do it this way all the time,” was his only reply. Conversation over.

Next thing we knew we found ourselves perched high atop the back of a tow truck, a stellar view of the sunset, the reddening cliffs and the heart stopping path ahead. A winding road barely clinging to the side of the cliffs.

As we proceeded up the cliff, the tow truck sputtered, the driver down shifted, the gears made a horrific grinding sound, and I was sure we would plummet in a fiery mass down to the bottom.

It was all too terribly reminiscent of another cliff side drive I had endured.

All the way up the mountain the gears ground and roared and argued with the driver. I told the girls to pray. I prayed like I’d never prayed in my life. Being stranded overnight on the side of the road seemed like a better alternative at that point.

After the longest ride I’d ever endured in a vehicle, we finally, miraculously made it to the closest town for hundreds of miles. The driver dropped us off at one of dozens of motels, our suitcases dragging pitifully behind us. He dropped the van off in the parking lot at the back. I was on my own to find a mechanic the next morning.

Oddly, the mechanic could find nothing wrong. We drove it around town, out on the open highway and back to the motel and it behaved perfectly.

“Probably some bad gas you got in Flagstaff,” he concluded. He was kind enough not to charge me for his time or his opinion.

For the rest of the drive to and from our destination, the van performed as if nothing had ever been wrong. Perhaps the precarious ride up the side of the mountain had scared it into submission.

Nowadays, the Reservation has some of the best cell phone reception in the western United States if I should need my trusty cell phone. But I’d rather not have to use it to call a tow truck.

Never again.

Categories: Humor, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Acrophobia Anyone?

High places terrify me. Having an overly active imagination I envisioned myself plummeting down a cliff face in an out of control car countless numbers of times. I’m not sure this is normal. Probably isn’t.

As a child we often took the mountain pass from our side of the valley over the mountains to camp, canoe, fish, ride motorbikes and go sledding. Every trip up from our side of the mountain we had to take the lane on the outside edge of the mountain.  I swear I held my breath for the entire ride up and all the way down until there were scrub oak thick enough to catch our car should it suddenly veer to the right off the side of the mountain.

The ride back home wasn’t as breathless since we were on the inside lane hugging the mountain.  It felt safer, although still plenty scary.

The other option to get to the fun side of the mountain was a narrow winding river road with both sides of the canyon closing in on top of us and cars racing toward us as if in a time trial.  After surviving that gauntlet we’d then have to drive along the tiny razor edge of the dam and the winding roads along side the reservoir.

Either road left me exhausted before we ever got to the “having fun” part of the day.

DEAD HORSE STATE PARK AND THE GORGE OF THE COL...

Dead Horse Point and the Colorado River – NARA – 545787 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my teenage years we went as a family to visit the Grand Canyon, Arches, Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands.  You’d think the Grand Canyon with its precipitous drop-offs would have given me palpitations.  The truth is I was so captivated with the beauty and magnificence of the place I forgot my fears, for the most part.

Fear came later. Total, paralyzing, utter terror.

We took a shortcut off one dirt road to another dirt road while towing the camping trailer in Canyonlands.

Can I just warn you now, in case you ever think you’re smarter than a map, that there is NO SUCH THING AS A SHORTCUT in Southern Utah or Northern Arizona.  What looks like a little quarter-mile jog off the side of the road is, in actuality, a cliff face, or an impassable road, or a road cut into the side of a mountain shored up by a few railroad ties.

Which is what we found ourselves on.

By time we realized there was no pass that cut through the mountain, but instead only switchbacks up the side of the cliff for an eternity, it was impossible to turn around, especially with a trailer in tow.  Our only option was forward, or rather, upward.

Each hairpin turn required a two steps forward, one step back movement, repeated endlessly. Dad would ease the truck and trailer through the hairpin as far as he could go, then back up while cranking the steering wheel, then forward a few inches, then back up a bit, then forward a few inches, until he negotiated the turn.  Fifty yards of straight dirt road or so later, he would repeat the process.

A couple of times Mom had to get out and direct Dad, letting him know how close the trailer wheels were to the edge.  Meanwhile, us kids were in the back of the pickup under a camper shell, huddled in blankets, chewing our nails, trying not to watch and praying our little hearts out.

I was sure we were all going to die out there in the middle of nowhere.  I had already replayed the scene in my mind countless times before we were even halfway up the cliff.  If and when park rangers ever found us, we’d be an unrecognizable heap of burnt metal and glass and broken bodies flung all over the red sandstone cliff.  There wouldn’t even be a funeral.

After two eternities and a stint in Hades, we reached the blessedly flat top of the cliff.  If Dad would have let me, I’d have gotten out and kissed the ground.

Our destination was Dead Horse Point, which is itself a dizzying narrow-necked mesa.  After what we’d been through to get there, it was easy to gaze out over the edge of nothing to the tiny river below.

I can look back now and say, “What an adventure!” I’m glad I lived to tell the tale. But, no thank you to any more high rise exploits in my future.

Categories: Family, Memory Lane, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Navigating Through Life the Traffic School Way

A traffic school for navigating through life sounds like a good idea to me. Anything that helps me avoid a big fine, a penalty, some heartache, frustration or pain seems like a great idea.

So I’ve come up with a few rules of my own.  Having done some significant amount of traveling, I figure maybe I’m somewhat qualified. At the very least, I need the reminders myself.  I’ll work on the slide show presentation later.

Old Truck

Old Truck (Photo credit: cindy47452)

  • Avoid rush hour if possible, morning and evening.

The sun is always at a bad angle at rush hour, low in the sky and in your eyes, or reflecting in your side or rearview mirror.  I aim for the middle ground when possible.  I can legally use the HOV lane between nine and three. I can easily change lanes, merge, keep space between me and some yo-yo on his phone.  This works in real life too.  Trying to do what everyone else is doing, when they’re doing it isn’t always the best course of action. Be yourself.

  • Don’t text and drive. Don’t drink and drive.

That’s a no brainer isn’t it?  Likewise, don’t drink and be online.  You’ll regret whatever you put online while under the influence.  An emotional crash, a friend bender, relationship dents, are all possible outcomes when you’re online under the influence. You are not wiser, wittier, more honest or pleasant when you’ve had a few too many. Angry texts and online rants aren’t generally productive either.

  • Use a map, or at least have one with you.

I used to always have a map in the car.  I used to always have a plan for my life, for my day, for my week, for the next hour.  Sometimes your plan just needs ditching and you need to take a detour. If so, go for it. You’ve got a map to get you back on course when you’re ready. Sometimes you need to stick to the planned route no matter what.  Only you know which it is.  It’s also okay to ask directions, get a different perspective, especially from someone who knows the terrain.

  • Have a contingency plan if you get separated.

Staying in touch is always a good idea. A weekly email to your sister, a phone call to mom or dad, a text to your brother, an instant message to a friend, an ongoing Scrabble game with your cousin. There’s also actual handwritten letters, not to mention live and in person visits. Don’t let those distances grow too far apart. Those connections are what really count. That’s what the drive is really all about.

Another closed rest area.

Another closed rest area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Stop for bathroom breaks more often than you think you need to.

I can tell you from experience, breakdowns happen and you don’t want to be squatting on the side of the road, no matter how big the bushes might seem.  You think you can go full throttle through your day with no breaks, no feet up, no ten-minute nap, but you can’t and you shouldn’t.  Step outside and breath real air, go up and down the stairs a couple of times, drink a bottle of water, actually go to the bathroom, do some deep breathing, read a page or two of a book, rest your eyes, do a few stretches.  Give your brain and body a break here and there and then you can put the pedal to the metal for a while longer.

  • Bring snacks, CDs and water.

Snacks provide entertainment value sometimes, but they also provide memories.  See my post about the Lonely Duck for proof of that one.  What’s a road trip without licorice, peanuts and m&m’s?  Not a real road trip.  Pop some music or a great audio book in the CD player and enjoy. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference, don’t ya think? A handful of laughter, a little dollop of whipped wonder or a spoonful of silliness, can make all the difference in life.

A typical speed limit sign in the United State...

A typical speed limit sign in the US showing a 50 mph restriction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • It’s okay to go slower than the speed limit.

Now there’s a revelation!  That number on the sign says it’s a LIMIT.  Not a suggested speed, but a maximum speed.  I know this is a new concept to most drivers.  It’s also okay to not race through your life.  Just because everyone else has their kids in fifteen afterschool events per week doesn’t mean you have to do the same with your kids.  Your to-do list could have one item on it, and that’s okay. Take life at the speed you’re comfortable with.

  • Take the scenic route occasionally, or at least take a different route.

Studies show, (okay I made that up, but it’s true) that a change of scenery is a great plan.  You don’t have to up and move to another state, like I did six times, for a change.  Maybe the change you need is simply a change in routine, or a change in how you react to traffic, or a change in how many breaths you take per minute, or a downshift in the urgency you place on whatever it is you’re doing. Smell those roses, pick those daisies, walk on that grass, take that photo, touch the wet paint, turn right instead of left!

road rage

road rage (Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan)

  • Don’t yell at, aggravate, cut-off, or flash random hand gestures at drivers.

I still talk to the traffic way too much, but I have changed how I talk.  I say quietly to myself  things like, “I sure hope his wife doesn’t deliver those twins before they get to the hospital.” Or I wish them well in “getting to a bathroom before the food poisoning hits full force.” I figure there’s a reason behind what people do, no matter how aggravating it is to me.  I also try to cut myself some slack when I’m the irritating person.  I try to say kinder things to myself, give myself credit for what I do right, instead of focusing on the few things I think I’m failing at.  Kindness never hurt anyone, in fact it often helps.

So, class…did I miss anything?  Would you add any pointers to my Traffic School Advice?  Let me know in the comments below.

Don’t forget to buckle up and have a nice trip!

Categories: Humor, Traffic | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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