Travel Misadventures or Why Waiting to Get Gas is a Bad Idea

Some disasters are but a split second in the making. A word slips from the lips, an item slips from the hand – in my case, I slipped through Crescent City without stopping for gas. Waiting to fill up across the Oregon border seemed clever; gas is cheaper and this trip to the presidential inauguration needs to impact my family’s finances as little as possible.

What I didn’t understand was how far up the 199 we’d have to go to reach the border, much less arrive at an open gas station. We’d just blown through Gasquet when the car spluttered and died. My traveling companion didn’t realize what had happened at first – we still had momentum and he was deep into Marc Maron’s podcast with Dave Grohl. My phrasing didn’t help.

“Hey, Andrew, I need to get gas.”

“It’s a long way to the next gas station.”

“Well, I’m running out. I mean, I just ran out.”

“Wait – this is happening now?”

I cruised into a turnout in answer.

After exhausting every possible way of apologizing for being so stupid, so very stupid, oh my god I’m so sorry for being so very stupid, I took the next step of getting us out of this mess,  to the side of the road, where I waved my arms overhead in the universal signal for “Please stop and save me!”

The car stopped, backed up. Two women agreed to give us a lift to the nearest northerly gas station. A long lift – Goff was right. The miles passed slowly in the backseat, my concern growing in proportion to the distance we were leaving the car behind. The car, in which I’d left everything except my wallet.

Including, I realized as I patted my pocket, my keys.

I tried to squelch the panic. Goff glumly watched our progress on a map — even without cell service, you can GPS yourself, apparently. The women chainsmoked and played teeth-grinding music – although I like to think they’d chosen songs with a hopeful message on purpose. For us. “Everything’s gonna be fiii-yiii-yiiine…” They flicked their cigarette butts out the window.I refrained from sharing the fact that cigarette butts are the number one contributor to garbage on the beach. That the butts don’t decompose, but end up in the rivers and creeks, where they get washed out to sea and kill sea babies who mistake them for food. Nope, I quietly looked at the snow outside the window and thought about the news stories reporting about how some foolish travelers ran out of gas and ended up stuck in the snow and dying or losing limbs or eating each other. While I didn’t think Goff and I had been in danger of cannibalism, the knowledge that I was now one of those “What were they thinking?!” morons added embarrassment to the practical problems needing solving.

The sun set. Things looked dark.

We ended up in O’Brien, a tiny town over the border and about 25 miles north of my Civic. The O’Brien Country Store clerks graciously let me use the phone – cell coverage had gone from nonexistent to still not good enough. I called Triple A. Twenty minutes and multiple service representatives later, we had a plan to meet their driver at the car. How to get to the car remained a problem. Since it was in California and we were in Oregon, the driver would not be coming to get us. I hit up the store clerks. “Um, do you guys know anyone who would be willing to drive us 20 miles south? I have cash. I can pay for gas.”

Welcome to Irony Town, Savage.

They asked the sole customer, a portly, 50-ish fellow with a 12-pack of beer and a shaggy head of hair. He reacted with regret. He’d had too much to drink already, see, and shouldn’t drive. I understood, of course, and appreciated his offer to go to the bar across the street and ask around for us.

O’Brien is a store, a post office and a bar. Our odds weren’t looking good. Goff had vanished to the outside, roaming the perimeter in hopes of scoring cell coverage. I believe he also had hopes he’d reach a friend in Crescent City who would come rescue him from this ill-fated venture.

“You know, we have good people around here,” the older clerk mused. “If I see someone I know, I’ll ask for you.” He went out to the porch, presumably to look for some of these good people. I followed him out. The parking lot was empty.

“I guess I could try to flag someone down.” My breath frosted white as I spoke.

“Well, you could…” my friend answered. His tone suggested that what he meant was, “That’s a hell of an idea,” and by “hell of” he meant, “one that will end up with you shot and dumped down a river bank.”

He paused and followed up with, “We do have a lot of methheads around here, but you can usually tell them by their cars.”

I contemplated that for a moment and in that moment, a truck’s lights came on across the street. The driver exited the bar parking lot, eased into the street and pulled into the store parking lot.

Please please please be someone who will help us.

“Joe*? That you?” the clerk called out.

Joe looked leery of answering. He must have known he was about to commit to something. Maybe the earnestness on the clerk’s face. Maybe the puppy dog look on mine.

“This little lady needs some help.”

Situation explained, Joe acquiesced. I rounded up Goff and we set out for the car. A little ways down the road, Joe mentioned he was about three beers in and, “If you get scared, one of you’ll have to drive.”

He also shared how much he hates California. He really hates California. Grew up in Morro Bay area, got the hell out as soon as he could. Hates, hates, hates California. O’Brien may have its inbreds – “literally” – and methheads, but it’s “paradise” compared to the California’s gangbanging, Mexicans and taxes.

Joe is also not a guy who “bends over and takes it,” he’ll tell you. That’s why he hates unions. He’s also a commercial fishermen who hates regulations. When he got around to asking what Goff and I do, I opted to not share my identity as an ocean protection advocate and instead answered, “Oh, we work for the local paper.” Technically, I am on a freelance assignment, so it wasn’t a total lie. I also didn’t mention we were on our way to the Obama inauguration.

We needed a ride and Joe provided.

Arrived at the car, where I’d left the keys in the ignition and the door unlocked to no harm. All contents accounted for. A few minutes later, the Triple A driver arrived, poured some wonderful, life-saving gas into my tank and we were back in business. Looking at a long and much-later drive to Portland than anticipated, but nobody froze to death or resorted to gnawing off body parts. I’d gotten us into this mess and out. Everything was going to be A-OK.

Goff even started speaking to me again… sometime around Grant’s Pass.

* Not his real name.

(Official adventures to be reported in this week’s North Coast Journal!)

Credit union switch nothing but stress and wasted time so far

UPDATE 8:45 a.m.: A quick call to customer service resulted in the following: a bank employee has to manually “push a button” to  make the direct deposits actually go into the accounts. Which doesn’t happen till 8:30 a.m. or so, when a person gets there. I’ll have to change my habit of waking up on payday and being able to get all the bills paid before work, but okay, only a minor inconvenience. (I’m still nervous Bobby’ll go to use the debit card on this trip and it won’t work, and still waiting for the online fix, but at least one problem is seemingly solved.)

UPDATE: 2:37 p.m.: Debit cards now working. Hooray!

Look, Chase is awful. Besides all your typical Wall Street bad behavior, they support Massey Energy’s mountaintop removal, and did away with WaMu’s free checking and user-friendly online banking. The overdraft fees are evil. But the bank’s Arcata and Eureka locations are as convenient as it gets, and the folks who work there have always been nice.

That said, when the Bank Transfer Day idea gained momentum, I decided to make the switch. I don’t have enough money that leaving Chase delivers much of a blow, but maybe on a local level, I could do a little good. So I went over to Coast Central’s Arcata branch and stood in line with another dozen Transfer participants. The place buzzed with a shared sense of doing something positive. We were taking action! So, that part was great.

What I knew was going to be a pain and has been, is changing over my direct deposit, student loan, car insurance, SallieMae transfer and other automatic payments. I couldn’t close the Chase account right away because I needed time to make all those changes. Well, it’s a good thing I left it open, because since moving to CCCU, I can’t get my debit card to work and haven’t been able to access the online banking. Essentially, I’ve had $50 sitting in a savings account at Coast Central while continuing to use my Chase account for all practical purposes. One more piece of unused plastic taking up space in my wallet.

But I finally worked out the direct deposit with my employer and even received confirmation that things were in place from Coast Central. Nearly three months later, I was poised to utilize my credit union checking account.

However, I was still unable to access the online banking, so I drove over to the Eureka branch to sort out the problem. Unfortunately, the very polite teller couldn’t help me resolve things in a timely fashion — like, now — so I had to fill out a form to change the PIN, which would be submitted to some other department, after which I’d hear back, probably at least a couple days.

So that sucks. Because like most working parent types, I do 99 percent of my banking online.

What’s worse is, I drove into town this morning to use the ATM (after having to reactivate my debit card so it would work), my balance is still at $0 instead of reflecting the direct deposit I expected. (It’s payday!) This is a real problem since my husband and son are leaving for UCSF Medical Center for a diabetes check up in an hour and need money for gas and food. Luckily we have some rent money set aside to “borrow” from, but jeez, the amount of stress added and time lost — and I still have to resolve the problems!

I don’t exactly regret leaving Chase — oh, wait, I haven’t actually left them yet. In fact, I couldn’t change my Sallie Mae transfer until mid-February, so if I don’t get the money from my direct deposit in the CCCU, then I can’t make a deposit at Chase to cover this one last payment, which means I’ll be overdrawn at Chase and incur that horrible $34 charge.

Wow, my head hurts. I did send CCCU an email this morning and am about to call customer service (which didn’t open till 8:30 p.m.).

Hoping for a speedy resolve.

Children scattered, thoughts collected

(For days, I’ve wanted to write, but each time the “Add New Post” page pops up, my brain empties, leaving my fingers with nothing to do. Desperate, I will start with where I am in the physical world and hope something more emerges.)

I sit on a bed in a SoHum cabin, pillows squished behind my back, another under the laptop. The Tempurpedic mattress adjusts accordingly; the flannel sheet, fuzzy blanket and fluffy comforter complete the sense of cozy. This place is not fancy, but spoils me nonetheless. Windows make up two of the four walls, an iconic butte rising tall through morning fog to the east. Trees — Doug firs, live oaks, madrones, those ones that burst into flowers at the end of their branches, bay laurels and more — fill in the valley below, alternating with beige meadows, all serving to make a postcard scene. A term come to mind because most people only see this sort of view on a postcard.

My neck and back ache slightly, likely from all the lounging about I’ve done the past day-and-a-half. My mouth is dry with the aftertaste of sleep. A cool drink of water helps. I’m in a tank top and thin pajamas, almost too warm under the covers. Different than my usual coastal wake-up chill. Bobby sleeps next to me, occasionally breaking into a snore. I poke him when he does and tell him to stop. “Honey!” I say. “You’re snoring.” Information I am compelled to impart.

“Ow,” he says. “Stop!”

“I’ll stop poking you if you stop snoring,” I offer. “If you stop snoring, everything will be perfect.”

“Perfect,” perhaps is an overstatement, but we’re close right here in this moment, spoiled by a child-free weekend in a cabin in the hills. We’re staying with friends because Nick scored a gig volunteering on Reggae on the River’s recycling team. We wanted to stay relatively close by given his imperfect record when it comes to decision-making — he has the brain of a teenager — and even more so given concerns over his diabetic management, which he typically handles quite well to be fair, but still. No one to check his blood sugar at 1 a.m.? No one to remind him to bolus or make sure he eats enough at the right times?

We expect him to take most of the responsibility for tracking carbs and blood sugar, but we’re the safety net, the back-up. If the influencing factors are well-attended to, diabetes doesn’t interfere much with normal living — but if something goes wrong, the resulting problems can get serious fast. What if he screws up and no one notices until too late? What if they don’t know what to do? We should have insisted he have a plan in case, had him connect with the medical people beforehand. I can’t believe we let him go for a whole weekend, out of cell range. I must be a terrible parent. He’s with a friend, a fact which I must count on disproportionately when seeking reassurance I did the right thing.

It’s a chance to step up, show responsibility, make connections and have an adventure. I believe in all these things. I just wish the leap from parental supervision to independent camping at a weekend festival had happened more gradually. I am not ready for this, but I let him do it anyway. Meanwhile, Kaylee’s at Lost Coast Camp in Petrolia for another week and Chelsea, who’s been out of the house for months anyway, expects to leave for Newport Beach momentarily. Why does my parenting world revolve around letting go? Or rather, trying to let go. Or, even more specifically, trying to figure out when to let go and when to hug tightly?

Sometimes I think it was easier having toddlers.

OK, not really. But the whole need for independence/need to be protected from their own impulses is horribly similar. It’s just with teenagers, the exhaustion tends to be more emotional than physical — and one can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Ideally.

If I were home, I’d have projects to work on, places to go, multiple ways of filling up this time. Since I’m ensconced in someone else’s abode with a bumpy, windy, miles-long dirt road between us and town, my options are limited to admiring the view, gorgeous in all directions, wandering through the cedars, book in hand, relaxing in a chair, reading, relaxing on the bed, writing, relaxing in the garden with a bottle of wine, drinking, snacking on dried mangos and chocolate trail mix, curling up with Bobby, chatting with our friends. Despite the worry, this is clearly the opposite of suffering. I am compelled to vow to refrain from complaining about anything ever, unless the seriousness of my complaint is such that the grief exceeds the gratitude I feel for the richness of my life.

If Nick survives the weekend, I might even thank him for necessitating this vacation. After he thanks me for being such an awesome mom, of course.

What’s the word for being worried-hopeful-trusting-aching-content all at once?

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