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800 MILES: Part 6

July 11, 2010

Featured Article, Words

mechanics' helpers | huntington w.va. | douglas imbrogno

“800 MILES: Rounding Third”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | PART 6

NOTE: Getting here late? Read the whole piece in a single blogpost here.

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There comes a point driving 800 miles in one day hauling a dead Honda homeward when your consciousness begins to resemble that of  a certain person. A person who has gone without sleep for several days on cocaine while the Columbian drug lords who’ve taken you hostage march you mercilessly through the jungle, lashed by whips to keep you stumbling down the narrow mountain path despite your feeble-minded exhaustion. And if you stumble, you tumble into the 800-foot gorge below and are never heard from again.

I hit this point about mile 697, somewhere in the late-night darkness of Interstate 64 after the turn-off from I-75 at Lexington, Ky. Problem was if I stumbled or fell asleep or strayed into the next lane, I would not disappear. I’d end up in in the local news: “U-Haul truck hauling Honda crashes into Dominican Mission bus, all perish. Film at 11!” So it was only through an act of will, intense concentration and yogic eyeball exercises that made me look like Rodney Dangerfield behind the wheel of a Ford truck that kept me focused on the white center lines dashing by through the night.

Also, there comes a point in the consumption of massive injections of caffeine when the caffeine seems to shift into reverse. It starts to make you tired as your body says, ‘Whoa, Charlie, that’s a wee bit too much, now. We are hereby refusing further stimulation. All systems on overload. Shutting down. Yo, Self, your endocrine system is taking a siesta …”

More stressful yet, I was in a race against time. My mechanic had promised to stay up until I got back to his small Cabell County shop, to help me offload the car from the dolly. I was not at all sure I could do it alone as the engine was dead and I had to do a gravity roll off the dolly into his lot, located up an alley on the edge of town. But it was now 12:05 a.m. and he said he could wait only “a little longer” as we communicated via phone. Then, in the wilds of eastern Kentucky, somewhere between the towns of Mt. Sterling and East Jesus (just across from West Jesus, Ky.), the signal dropped out on my iPhone back to town. I was alone with my addled thoughts while still more than an hour from the end of this infernal haul. Right then, I glanced up at my rear view mirror. Who was tailgating me! There was a car RIGHT on my bumper, out here in the middle of nowhere. Damn it, WTF?!!

Oh. Wait. That was the car I was hauling. It’s OK, man. It’s cool. It’s you. You’re tailgating you.

In the end, I got the Honda home without offing myself or any innocent Dominicans. The garage door was up and bright white fluorescent light spilled out into the alley from my mechanic’s shop, a sight for sore Rodney Dangerfield eyes. I eased the U-Haul into the lot. The dashboard clock read 1:45 a.m.  He and his partner, who have handled countless late-night deliveries of comatose vehicles, came outside and studied the dolly. These guy are members of the same karass as my dear friend Alonzo . We had the car off the dolly and nestled in for the night within ten minutes.

I had succeeded. After nearly 16 straight hours behind the wheel and well over 800 miles, through stick-to-it-iveness and moxie, willpower and determination, several Red Bulls and double cappuccinos, I’d successfully snatched, eagle-like — commando-like, even — several thousand pounds of steel from the fetid suburban swamps of Tennessee and humped it all the way home in a single day.

Note to Tennessee Tourism Division: Spot me some poetic license here — isn’t that a great line? The fetid suburban swamps of Tennessee … No, really, I loved your state, though it was hot enough to keep lasagna warm on the sidewalks. And I missed out seeing the South’s largest adult emporium, not to mention Ruby Falls. Do you have tour packages? And what is it with those roundabouts? Is that really necessary?

I heaved a satisfied sigh. Took several deep breaths. And several more. Then, I left the shop and my magnificent mechanical friends,  veritable Lords of the Honda. Wrench Kings they are, Transmission Titans. I set out on the last of the day’s labours of Herakles. For I had now to cross town, returning truck and car dolly, the dolly bouncing madly up and down along the potholed backstreets of Huntington. Gawd, what a racket it made! It sounded like I was hauling a washing machine on its side by a chain. Clank-thump-CLANK! Rattle-THUNK–clank! Rattle-CLUNK-CLUNK! And so on, every last centimeter of the way …

I turned up a street that deposited me straight into the part of town where some of the finest upscale houses are found. This being the sort of neighborhood where an English Tudor mansion sits on one corner and a Spanish villa the color of a desert sunset on the next, there were cobblestones, too. They cranked the volume up on the dolly past 10 to 11. It was now 2:30 a.m. and I was sure I was waking up people as I drove a-clanking past their bedrooms or was helping to generate interesting special effects in the dreams of sleeping people.

A few streets later, I hit the low-income side of town. These streets were alive with people on sidewalks, on porches, in the shadows. I had my window down as I passed through. “Hey, U-Haul!” a man cried from the sidewalk as I clanked on through. “Man!” someone else said, laughing. I ignored the jibes and cruel taunts, focusing my eyes straight ahead. I could taste the finish line.

I got to the U-Haul lot, crowded with vehicles and a large propane fuel tank. I pulled in. Backed up to straighten the vehicle. Uh-oh, the car dolly had gone all jack-knifey on me while backing up. I got out. Damn! The trailer was almost at a 45-degree angle to the truck. Have you ever considered the complicated physics of the relationship between a truck and trailer while backing in reverse? It’s complicated, OK? I got back behind the wheel, looked in my side-view mirrors. Let’s see — if I turn the steering wheel left, that would mean the trailer would go right. Right? Wrong! Some funky physics going on here that my road-addled brain could not figure out. I’m sure there’s a formula for this somewhere: If truck = X, then trailer equals y-squared, dependent on the quadrilateral forces exerted by the angle of backing truck hitch in relation to some frigging 5th dimensional force that only Werner Von Braun could figure out while on LSD. Moments later, I found myself piss-offedly trapped in the corner of the lot, trying not to accelerate accidentally into the big white propane tank and end my journey and life in a glorious fireball. I was tempted.

I could just imagine the scene in the morning when the U-Haul guys arrived to find a jack-knifed truck and trailer completely blocking their lot. “Oh, hell, another late-night dunderhead drop-off…” I got out again. Took some deep breaths to clear my head from my earlier deep breaths. I could figure this out. Was I not Rescue Dad? Was I not The 800-Mile Man? I had reached that most important moment, a la Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn: The Rule of the Final Inch! I would not be deterred. Summoning the last of my dwindling super-powers, I gently, inch-by-careful inch, figured it out.  After triumphantly un-jacknifing the trailer, I pulled the truck and rig into a neat parallel line beside some other trucks.

Well done, sir! A moment of deep satisfaction. Now, I could get into my car parked on an adjacent lot and head home to a well-deserved rest, putting this long day behind me. Then the dammits started up again. I suddenly recalled you had to return the truck with a full tank of gas or suffer a fiscal penalty. “Dammit!” I sputtered in the truck cabin. “Dammit! DAMMIT!”

Note to Men: When you are really upset, are you a ‘3-Dammit!’ curser or a ‘4-Dammit! curser?’ My father was a ‘4-Dammit curser,’ the last in the series being the most explosive and the one in which you had to most watch your head as in his fury he sometimes threw things. Not at you, mind you. But things flung in anger — I seem to recall a piece of wood arcing across the family room once — are equal opportunity ka-thunkers.

Instead of heaving something, I heaved the last great sigh of this interminable day. Carefully, I backed up the truck and dolly. I struck off, clanking, in search of an open gas station. Topped the tank. Returned to the U-Haul lot. Pulled the truck and dolly in neat as a pin and straight as one, too. Breathed out any last poisonous vapours from my soul. Cleaned up the cabin much cleaner than when I’d got it. Got out of the truck, locked the door and deposited the truck key into the drop-box by the office door. Got into my beloved Honda Civic Hybrid and shifted off into the empty streets of Huntington past 3 a.m.

It was a Zero-Dammit drive back home.

Read the whole piece in one post.

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