I woke up at 7am to the sound of Creed. I heard three Creed songs in a row on the radio, or at least it seemed like it, and that was enough to scare me out of bed. I got dressed and tried to call Saab at 8am, but their message told me they opened at 9. The website had lied to me, and I wasn’t happy about it. Impatient, I decided to wait until San Francisco to take the car in. I rushed to check out and get on the road. The route to the 405 was under construction, and there were weird detours all over the place. The traffic lights weren’t working, and I realized that much of the power was out in the area because of the fireworks the night before. I finally found the entrance ramp, which was all torn up from the road work. I turned, heard a loud bang, and felt the front tire go flat.
At that point, I paused to consider my options. Ritual suicide was topping the list. If I had been driving in the mountains right then, I would have simply driven off a ledge, ending both my and the car’s misery. But such was not the case; I was in Bellevue, Washington, and I wasn’t even in a position to be able to drive home. So I went into disaster mode, employing one of the tactics at which I excel: not thinking. Just doing.
I pulled into the parking lot of a hotel across the street, popped the trunk, and unloaded everything into the back seat. I had to jump on the tire iron to get the bolts to loosen, and it took forever to jack the car up. Then I couldn’t get the wheel off the hub. We had had this problem before, and two girls and two state troopers were unable to budge it; it finally took a mechanic. I was pissed. I yanked and tugged and pushed and swore. I sat down on the ground and yanked some more, but it wouldn’t move. I was covered in dirt and grease. I got out my cellphone to call AAA, knowing I’d be waiting at least half an hour for the tow truck, and angry at myself for not being self-sufficient. I dialed the number, then hung up right away. I sat back down, leaned back on my hands, and kicked the hell out of the tire, over and over, with my heels. It was great stress relief, and finally, I felt it budge. I kicked some more until it was wobbling, and then I pulled it off and put on the spare.
I drove around to the front of the hotel and went into the lobby, sweaty and covered in dirt. I asked to borrow their phonebook, and looked up the address of Barrier Saab. I handed the girl back the phonebook, covered in dirty fingerprints, and ran out. It took me 15 minutes to find the place. When I got there, a salesguy came out and told me that it was now a Porsche dealership, and gave me directions to Saab. By the time I got there, the service department had just opened. I pulled in and told the guy that it was possibly the worst day of my life, and then ran down the whole drama for him. He struck me as kind of car-salesman-slimy, so I was immediately nervous. He looked at my tire and brakes and said, “Well, you’ve got some money to spend here.” I was freaked. I had to wait while he helped some other people who were there first. I was getting more and more upset by the minute. I went to the bathroom and scrubbed the grime off my hands, then stood around. I stared at my car and started crying. I was convinced it was going to cost a ton of money to fix, and I was going to have to turn right around and drive home.
He looked at the car again and said he’d try to find some used tires for me, so it wouldn’t be quite as expensive. He had the car brought into the garage so they could let me know what the brakes would cost. I called Heather and sobbed while the Audi salesmen stood nearby, politely pretending not to notice. The really nice girl at the front desk got me coffee. After ten minutes or so, the guy came and got me to show me the car. First, he pointed out a set of almost-new tires they had taken off another car and were unable to resell, so they were giving them to me for free. He and the technician both seemed really happy about their find. He said that the front pads and rotors were shot, which I had assumed. The total cost would be $560. He apologized that it probably wouldn’t be ready until noon. I was so happy, I wanted to hug them both.
He pointed me in the direction of breakfast, and I headed off. I walked all over looking for a place to eat. It was all fast food, IHOP, and Denny’s. I stopped at Starbucks, got coffee, and asked about food. I finally settled on Coco’s Bakery – total Baker’s Square action, but I could sit for a while and write, and hopefully find something vegetarian. Wrong! OK, the only thing I could eat on the breakfast-only menu was the oatmeal. I ordered it without brown sugar, cinnamon apples (they had sugar on them), or milk, which left me with raisins. I added a couple packets of Equal, and it was exactly the kind of comfort food I was craving, anyway. I sat there and watched the dynamics of the staff. All the servers disliked the manager in an extreme way. In fact, I overheard one of them whispering to another, God, I hate him! He walked by my table and was angry that there were two glasses of water sitting there, when there was only one of me. I was happy that my life was not so petty.
I still had time to kill, so I went over to Starbucks, got coffee, and had a long talk with the barista about car repair and road trips. I sat outside and called Heidi to tell her I’d be getting into Portland later than I expected. We made plans to meet for dinner. Then I decided to head back to Saab. On the way there, I walked past two people with sandwich boards advertising a mattress place. The woman (Marilyn) smiled as I walked past and said, “Pretty hair!” The guy said hi and asked me how I was. I was instantly happy. Sometimes, people surprise me.
As I got back, they were just finishing up with my car. They had checked all the fluids and hoses for me, too, since I had mentioned my power steering issue. Everything checked out fine. I paid, thanked him about ten times for the tires, and I was once again on my way.
The traffic leaving Seattle sucked. It was 150 miles to Portland, which took just under 3 hours. I drove into downtown with no idea about where I was going. At a stoplight, a car pulled up next to me and the girl in the passenger seat yelled, “Did you win your car on the Price is Right?” I parked and called Heidi to find out where we were meeting. She told me to find the Starbucks at Pioneer Courthouse Square, otherwise known as ‘Portland’s living room’. I had driven by it, so I found it easily, and sat down on the steps to write and look at the map. The farther I was getting into my trip, the less I had planned. Before I left, I had researched North Dakota and Montana, but that was about it. I figured I’d have time to read the travel guides as I went. That was proving incorrect, as I barely even had time to think. By the time I was getting back to my hotels at night, it was all I could do to stay awake long enough to shower.
The weather was perfect in Portland, sunny and cool. I sat there and watched the people in the square. The presence of hackeysack players was the biggest indicator that I was in the Pacific Northwest. I considered walking down to the riverfront while I waited, but forced myself to be patient for once, and just sit.
At 3:45, I wandered over to Starbucks, got coffee, and sat out in front to wait for Heidi and her husband, Dan. We were going to meet and wander around Portland, then get dinner. They arrived shortly thereafter, and we set off towards the open-air market. Feeling slightly out-of-touch with people who knew me, I’m pretty sure I was jabbering constantly. At the market, I saw more tie-dye than I’d ever seen in my life, lots of cool crafts, state-fair-esque food, and some really awesome tattoos and piercings. After that, we walked up to Powell’s. It’s no joke, it’s the IKEA of used books. It looks so small and unassuming on the outside, but inside you can’t get around without a map. Incredible. It was funny, we hadn’t been together that long, but I felt like we had already talked a ton. Heidi and Dan are such a great couple: they have all the inside jokes and goofiness just like me and Heather, so I was instantly comfortable. We walked to their car and drove to a nice little Mexican place for dinner. I was so hungry, I ate a bunch of chips, then ordered a black bean tamale and ate it all. I drank a ton of pop and had to go pee twice. The second time I went to the bathroom, I had one of those moments of total disorientation: what day is it? where the hell am i? I could’ve walked out of the restroom and not been surprised to find myself anywhere.
We drove back into town, past the jazz festival on the waterfront. They dropped me off at my car, and I thanked them for dinner and a great time. It was so nice to hang out with people I knew, even if technically I hadn’t met them before.
I got on I-5 and headed south, having decided to go as far as I could that night, hopefully all the way to California. I called Ryan. I called Heather and gabbed for an hour. I called my parents. I was out of it and overfull from dinner, already tired from driving. I considered driving over to the coast to see the sunset, but it was 9pm by the time I got to Eugene, and it would have been another 60 miles to the coast from there. I still hadn’t seen the Pacific Ocean, but I decided to wait until I got to California. I drove around Eugene, looking for coffee and/or food to keep me awake. I found a Starbucks, but it had closed at 9pm. What the hell? Eugene was an odd little town in general. Everyone was on bikes. I couldn’t find the downtown. I drove around for a long time, then gave up and stopped at a crappy little grocery. No protein bars, no Red Bull. I got two bottles of pop, a banana, and a bag of pretzels: $4.14. Awesome.
Worn out, I got back on the interstate. There were no lights and my contacts were dry, so I was having trouble seeing. I decided I needed to stop and find a shower and bed. At midnight, I exited at Roseburg, Oregon, and pulled into the Econolodge, because their billboard said $39 a night. The two guys behind the counter were punchy and giggling.
Me: Do you have a single room? For $39?
Oregon Boy #1: Sure. Just fill out this form.
Oregon Boy #2: Dude. You’re not supposed to just give out that rate.
Oregon Boy #1: Dude! It’s midnight! She’s tired!
Me: This form is confusing me.
I put my head down on the counter, unable to figure out the difference between ‘driver’s license’ and ‘car license’. Oregon Boy #2 continued their previous conversation as Oregon Boy #1 ran my credit card. #2 made some joke about redheads.
Oregon Boy #1: Dude! She’s a redhead. But she’s OK, it’s obviously dyed.
Me: You’re not supposed to point that out.
He gave me the key and I was halfway through the lobby before I stopped, confused. I turned and asked, “Don’t you want me to pay or anything?” Oregon Boy #1 waved the credit card receipt at me and said, “You are tired. Go to bed!”
I ran up to my room, took the fastest shower ever, ripped the beds apart and made my pillow nest, stared at the road atlas long enough to decide I was taking the 101 down the California coast, and fell into bed.
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random notes from my travel journal:
portland cop to a kid in the square: “no, i haven’t reloaded since last parade day.”
i can’t wait to get the hell out of oregon. eugene freaked my shit out.
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