Note: this was originally posted at Open Salon in November, 2013

Afternoon light streaming down on open country.  Heat.  Scent of dust and grass drifting through the windows.  Felice Brothers on the CD player - "I put some whisky into my whisky..."  It's an early summer day beneath blue sky and drifting white clouds and we're heading east down a gravel road about ten miles south of Cottonwood Falls.  

*** 

"Would you feel comfortable if I drove for a while?" 

I glance over at her.  "Sure.  I've seen you drive Tank Girl in Sam From Siska - if you can make navigating that urban hellscape look so easy, this here should be a cakewalk.  But I gotta ask; you ever driven a road like this?"

"No."

"Well, no biggie - just keep her under fifty or so on the straightaways, less on the curves, and allow yourself plenty of braking time when you want to stop.  Easy peasy."

I pull over so we can trade places, and after a few minutes watching her focused but relaxed manner behind the wheel  - this is a woman for whom, if something is worth doing, it's worth doing right - I go into passenger mode and let my mind drift.  We have no particular destination in mind, no deadlines to meet or tasks more pressing than following the moment, and as the miles unwind I marvel at how lucky we are.  The roadside is adorned with butterflies and wild rose, while meadowlarks, startled into flight by our passage, rise up to the left and right and inscrutable nighthawks eye us from their fencepost perches.  A plume of dust unfurls in our wake, and up ahead... 

Oh, shit. 

We clear the crest of a rise and right there, a hundred yards downslope but hidden 'til now by the grade, the road makes a hard right.  Cris is already decelerating - veteran driver that she is, she knows we're moving too fast to make the turn safely.  Just as I say "You might wanna..." I feel a slithery, queasy sensation in my gut as our tires lose traction in the deep gravel. 

Well, this should be interesting.

Time goes all weird, the seconds stretching out like warm taffy, and I watch her tap the brake - once, twice, three times.  The SUV yaws alarmingly to the left then pivots abruptly on its right front wheel, bringing the left rear forward with a sickening lurch.  The rear end rushes clockwise and in a moment will become the front end with who knows what consequences, but Cris, against all apparent logic, steers into the skid - I adore this woman! - then, while continuing her delicate heel-and-toe dance on the pedals, steers just barely the opposite direction. The vehicle reacts by pivoting violently on the left front wheel, which brings the right rear sharply forward.  We're now aligned with the road again instead of fishtailing at a right angle to it, but we're still out of control, whipsawing madly and moving way too fast as, scant yards away, a barbed wire fence and boulder-strewn pasture loom into focus.   The boulders, jagged limestone chunks glaring whitely in the sun, seem to rush at us gleefully, and in a strangely elongated moment somewhere between detached observation and stark terror I have time to think, "We don't want to go through that fence... don't wanna roll either, oh god no... there's all kindsa ways this could end and only one of 'em is the right way," and suddenly we're fishtailing again, but fishtailing in a controlled fashion.  Controlled fishtailing!  Our driver's side wheels (and intermittently the entire rear end) are in the ditch as we round the turn, but the passenger side tires, thanks to the Hyundai's AWD 'puter and my peerless travelling companion's agile footwork on the gas and brakes, are gripping the road like champs.  The fence and boulders recede to our rear as, with one final, bucking lurch-pivot - this time on the left front wheel, which brings the right rear forward just enough to heave us up out of the ditch and away from all those nasty rocks and barbed wire - we slide to a shuddering stop.

A cloud of dust engulfs us as we sit there and stare at each other. 

As I begin to breathe again, my brain flashes on Toad's Wild Ride.  I start giggling.

Cris isn't amused. "Why are you laughing?  I almost wrecked your truck."  She narrows her eyes, suspecting I'm making fun of her.  " We could have been killed.

I'm still laughing, can't help it, and after a moment she joins in.

"But you didn't and we weren't.  And see, this is why I love you so much."  I pause, making my usual correction to that statement;  "This is one of the reasons I love you so much.  With no prior four-wheeling experience, with no coaching or lessons and nothing in your favor but your instincts and all-around stellar competence, you did exactly what you had to do to get us around that turn without wiping out. There was little or no margin of error there, and no second chances or do-overs allowed, but you reacted superbly.  If you hadn't, the best case scenario would have been us smashing through that fence and across that field of boulders.  Did you see those things?  They would, at a minimum, have demolished my suspension and ripped out the oil pan and no telling what all else, leaving us stranded on a back country road miles from anywhere in 100 degree heat with no cell phone coverage.   And that's best case; worst case would have been to roll it.  I don't like even thinking about that one, but thanks to you it didn't happen.  Instead, because you're so phenomenally fucking fantastic, we're sitting here shiny side up without a scratch on us and me trying to remember if adrenaline is always so Viagra-like.  Which is weird 'cause I don't even own a reptile, let alone a dysfunctional one."

She's beaming her million-watt smile now, and once again I marvel at my luck in knowing her.  "God I love it when you go all alliterative, but that should be 'Viagrimose' or, less formally,  'Viagraesque.'  And waddaya mean, no reptile? Is that a monitor lizard in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

"Monitor lizard?   Puh-leeze.  Lucifer is a frilled dragon, madame, and I'll thank you to remember that."  

"A frilled dragon?  That sounds kinda fancy, but I gotta ask, is there a no frills dragon too?" 

"I'm no cosmetologist but, yes, one would assume so.  Still, only the rankest of hoi polloi would use such a  beast.  Wanna drive some more?"

"Yep. Which way are we going?"

"I kind of lost track during Slalompalooza back there, but, let's see, um... "  I pretend to unfold an imaginary road map and study it intently.  "OK, we're right... ah, lessee, we must be here, about three miles due west of Matfield Green and eight miles - that would be 2.4 hectares or approximately 5000 Lydian cubits give or take an Iberian league - north by northwest of Bazaar, so Highway 177 must be off to our left a few miles.  Says here there's a Stuckey's Chicken with salad bar, WiFi, an animatronic Wyatt Earp, and the world's largest ball of twine just off the second exit out of Eldorado, so maybe, hmm, what if we... or, wait, no, I've got it, how about... "

By now familiar with my navigational technique, she already has the little Hyundai in gear.  Road dust, backlit now by a westering sun, still hangs in the air around us, and as we pull away from the scene a tiny burrowing owl perched on a nearby fencepost hears Sirenita yell out... 

 

"Thattaway!" 

*****

 all images ©2017 by nanatehay

Views: 254

Comment by nanatehay on September 27, 2017 at 10:32pm

Comment by Rosigami on September 28, 2017 at 12:33am

I remember this post very well, and thank you for re-posting it. A!so remember a ride or two in Tank Girl, with you at the wheel; now THAT was a car. 

Comment by Rosigami on September 28, 2017 at 12:43am

Arghh oursalon is being a dick about posting comments. Just wanted to say that I think this is a really fine bit of writing. 

Comment by nanatehay on September 28, 2017 at 1:55am

Ning has been jacking my comments up for a couple weeks now too.

:-(

And yes, that's right - you've met Tank Girl!  We went to Flora Grubb nursery that day as I remember, and the pupuseria over on Mission, and hither and yon on those cool back streets around Bernal Hill.  Aside from one or two final trips to her doctors, I think that was the last time Cris was able to get out of the house; she was actually right at the border of not being able to, but was so excited about you being there that she was literally gonna let nothing  keep y'all from doing fun stuff.  

 

And you're right; Tank Girl was a sweetheart of a car, is a heck of a car actually, since Lee's daughter has her up in Seattle now and expects to be driving her for years to come. Volvos rule!

Comment by koshersalaami on September 28, 2017 at 4:12am

Great post

Comment by alsoknownas on September 28, 2017 at 6:46am

Hey...

Yep...this is the one I had in mind. I just read it, white knuckle grip on my chair's arms.

Heading out in a bit for some twisty roads up by Mt. St. Helens. I intend to avoid the gravel edges and just stick to dodging the potholes which are everywhere.

Comment by Tom Cordle on September 28, 2017 at 9:20am

Now that's my kind of woman – most women, and most men, faced with that situation would just slam on the brakes and completely lose control of the vehicle. It takes a big set to feather the brake and gas pedal and try to drive out of that sort of desperate situation.

I'm reminded of a time when my beloved was behind the wheel of our Saab 9000T on Memorial Day weekend on the I-75 by-pass around Cincinatti. Traffic was bumper to bump and traveling 75+, when some dipshit in an SUV who wasn't paying attention almost drilled a concrete construction barrier head-on. As he swerved to avoid that collision, his ass-end tossed one of those orange plastic barrels in front of our car. Beloved nailed the brakes and sent us into four-wheel disc lockup, at which point I yelled “Hit the gas” – and to her everlasting credit, she did so without question, and thereby saved us from being rear-ended and probably ended otherwise as well.

I also credit our Saab 9000T, which went from full lock-up to full acceleration without deviating an inch from a straight line. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't be telling this tale.

Comment by nanatehay on September 29, 2017 at 2:38am

Hi, friends. My apologies for the two consecutive postings that are sort of backward-looking and grief oriented, but I'm trying to work some things out in my head, or out of my system, or... something. The thing is, this week I sold the house that was one of the last tangible links I had to Sirenita and everything I used to hope the rest of my life was going to be like, so... I dunno. Thank you for your patience and your kindness and for taking the time here to share your thoughts with me.  

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 29, 2017 at 4:55am

This is a superb piece of story-telling.  It brought back a lot of similar "taffy pull" moments of my own when the laws of physics seemed to be suspended, and a moment as a passenger coming out of Eisenhower pass on the west side when the driver hit a patch of ice and we went backwards between two cars before the driver pulled it out of the 360 spin and we went on as if nothing had happened; a stunt car moment.

No need to apologize.  You've been through a lot, and this seems like a wonderful way to work through your grief.

And the comment button has grown numb for all of us.

Comment by nanatehay on September 29, 2017 at 6:37am

Thank you, Rodney.  Adrenaline is a wild sort of slow-mo rush, isn't it? Your story just now reminded me in turn of one of those excruciatingly strrrettcheddd out moments that must have been, lessee, 35 years ago I guess. We were on I-70 eastbound a mile or so from where it crosses into Missouri and I was a passenger in my best friend's '71 Chevy Land Yacht; we were in the passing lane doing over 60 mph just as the car directly ahead of us swerved suddenly to the right, revealing a Kansas state trooper who had pulled somebody over right there halfway on the narrow shoulder right against the concrete median divider and halfway in our lane - during rush hour!  I will never forget the expression of pure terror on the cop's face as he scrambled frantically up on to the trunk of his interceptor just as my friend somehow managed to steer to the right maybe a quarter second and a few inches short of impact and certain, bloody death for everyone involved. Can't remember if I peed my pants or not, but I'm hoping that particular Smoky took the lesson to heart and initiated a policy of pulling people over at less severely dangerous times and locations. 

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