Man, I wish I’d thought of that “Godwin’s Law” thing before Godwin did. The closest I’d come was “Baruth’s Law”, which in its early form stated “Any museum which showcases the infinitely desirable, super-cool Messerschmitt 262 will eventually be forced to include an exhibit on the Holocaust, just to keep impressionable pre-teen boys from pretending to be Luftwaffe pilots during recess.” Here’s a newer version of “Baruth’s Law”: As the length of a discussion concerning automobiles and fuel availability increases, the possibility of some Manhattanite or Portland-dweller making an absolutely uniform, uninformed, completely ridiculous statement regarding mass transit approaches 1.
I know. No zing. I don’t know any other way to put it, however. Mass transit is wonderful, as long as the mass of people involved is dense enough. The response to the preceding statement is always something along the lines of, “Well, then, people should move out of flyover country.” This is one of those bits of advice which works for individuals but would cause bloody chaos if everybody decided to follow it at once. Perhaps, in the distant future, we will all dwell in fabulous Fullerdome arcologies while machines toil to grow our food in the blasted wilderness outside.
In the present, however, the immortal words of Young MC still hold sway for most of America: “Got no money/and you got no car/then you got no woman/and there you are.” Which doesn’t perfectly explain why, twelve hours after my car died in Franklin, Tennessee, I woke up in the frilly bed of a sixteen-year-old teenaged girl.
OH, COME ON! You fell for that? You clicked “More”? Sheesh. I bet you signed up for AutoWeek Fantasy Camp, too. You gullible reader. I treasure you. I really do. We need you to click on that “More” so we can show you more ads for the Prius. Thank you. Yes, I did end up sleeping in a little girl’s bed, but the little girl was nowhere around. Let’s back up.
I was in the middle of what was supposed to be a fantastic trip. In the space of twenty-four hours, I would visit some of the most musically important places in America. From Columbus, I would hit Nashville, then Memphis, then Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the bluesman Robert Johnson is reputed to have sold his soul to the devil. Approach the crossroads at midnight, the story went, and the devil will appear to “trade fours” or “cut heads” with you. I had my favorite all-American blues axe — a G&L USA S-500 Deluxe with a curly blond maple top — and I was ready to make it happen.
Only one problem: 423 miles into the trip, my water pump called it quits, stalling me by the side of the road south of Nashville. It was Saturday evening. Nobody was going to fix this car tonight, and since Sunday was the next day, nobody was going to fix it tomorrow, either. I had it towed to a Firestone shop and started considering my options.
Not surprisingly, mass transit was not among them. The buses don’t appear to run in Franklin, there’s no subway, and the only trains that pass through are carrying coal. Luckily, however, the hairdresser Mafia works everywhere; a friend of Vodka McBigbra’s lived just two miles from my car’s final resting place. I’d met this girl before. She was a fabulous, intense, slightly terrifying dark-haired beauty in her late twenties. When V. McB is agitated, her strict Mormon upbringing tends to show through. Rather than tell you what she said, I will simply quote the Bible verses from which her speech to me appeared to draw:
Vodka: Genesis 2:16-17.*
Me: Copy that.
Vodka Psalms 11:6.**
Me: I wasn’t even gonna. I just need a place to sleep.
Vodka Revelations 2:5. ***
Me: No, I get the idea. I really do.
Of course, Vodka’s friend, whom we shall call Drama McHourglass, had plans for us. She’d recently become quite infatuated with an oil-rig worker on furlough and insisted that we attend a party that his apparently rather wealthy family was holding in the VIP room of a Nashville club. As the tame race car driver among her group of friends, I was asked to drive a Nineties LeSabre the thirty or so miles to said club. When you have no automobile of your own, you are dependent on the kindness of strangers. Off we went.
The club didn’t have Ketel One, so I sipped a flock of grey geese and talked to a variety of gorgeous Southern women while D. McH made a variety of increasingly insane pronouncements to the assembled crowd. At two AM I’d had enough. “How much longer?” I asked.
“Three hours, tops,” she replied. “You’re the designated driver, you have to stay.” Wait, I’m the designated driver? Oh, yes. I was holding the keys. I made a quick sobriety assessment of the party, handed the keys over to the winner, and walked out to catch a cab. Cabs are the unsung heroes of mass transit in major cities, buttoning-up all the gaps that the glamorous monorails and whatnot can’t cover. My driver was Turkish, the cab was a 155,000-mile 2006 Kia Optima, and the ride back to Drama’s house was sixty-five bucks. Think about that. We’d spent perhaps $5 in gas to cover the trip one way and $65 to return. And yet… I was in this fix to begin with because my ultra-reliable personal freedom machine (not, I hasten to assure you, a Panther of any type) had chucked a $350 water pump.
I woke up the next day in the bed of Drama’s absent teenaged sister, clutching my G&L like a teddy bear and nursing a reasonable headache. The house seemed to be empty. Nobody had ever come back. It was noon. I was hungry.
Technology helps us bridge the gaps that increasing travel costs create. My son appeared on Skype, holding a magnetic letter “S” in his hand.
“Zizz,” he said.
“Ess,” I replied.
“Zizz. No. Zizz,” he corrected me. His expression said it all. The old man’s gone crazy, he thinks a zizz is an ess. Can’t wait till I move out of this place and start my own band.
Google Maps told me that I was 1.6 miles away from a Waffle House. It was pouring rain outside. I fired up Facebook and complained about being abandoned by my friends, tactfully failing to mention that I had abandoned them the night before. I received a text from Drama, who had spent the evening in what I presume was a deep-drilling adventure with Oil Rig Man.
pls feel free to take my car
This did not suit my growing sense of self-pity, so I elected to pretend that she had instead texted me
ur tauntaun will freeze b4 u reach the 1st marker
“Then I’ll see you in hell,” I grumbled, and went into her room to steal an umbrella. Using my phone, I began Google chatting with a friend of mine who lives in a major city. Maybe not a friend. This thing happened, you see. Didn’t go well. She thinks I ruined her life. Her husband thinks I ruined her life. I think Catch-22 is the greatest postwar American comedic novel. Only one of us is correct.
“I have to walk 1.6 miles to a waffle house,” I moaned, “and it’s raining.”
“I’ve already walked over a mile today,” she replied, “and you could stand to miss a meal.” She doesn’t understand. Where she lives, they have trains in the sky and a giant polished “bean” to ensnare idiots who like to look at their own distorted reflections. That’s all you see in a city — distorted reflections of yourself. People are opaque to each other. She hates me, or she just hates what she wanted from me. She’d thought I was taking her somewhere else, somewhere she wanted to be, but I turned out to be no more reliable than an old water pump, stranding her on the road away from her old life and forcing her to take an expensive cab back home. I wished for her to appear and stand next to me under the Tennessee sky, and when she did not appear, I headed up the long driveway and onto the blacktop.
Walking down a rural road serves up a full-frontal view of just how car-centric the world is. Trees and shrubs are only cut back far enough for trucks to pass, not far enough to walk out of the way of oncoming traffic. A few drivers honked at me. How dare I walk down a narrow two-lane? My shoes, “Tivoli” fisherman’s sandals from Allen-Edmonds, became soggy within a few hundred yards. There was mud on my feet.
Twenty minutes later, I saw a shortcut: climb up the landscaped two-story hill behind the Home Depot, hop a fence behind the Super 8, cross a sewer to Waffle House. It worked, cutting perhaps two-tenths of a mile off my walk. You don’t think about that kind of thing behind the wheel. Time, not distance, is what matters. On foot, in the middle of nowhere, distance and time are connected by an iron band.
The meal at Waffle House was served hot, by friendly people, and cost half as much as a single shot of Ketel One in Greenwich Village. There’s something to be said for flyover country, you know. D. McH and I texted back and forth. She was with Oil Rig’s family, doing something fabulous and riding the emotional wave from last night’s conquest and/or submission. I begged her to come back in time to drive me to the airport for my flight home. Airport shuttles don’t travel thirty miles each way, and I feared the Turk in the Optima might not find his way back to the house in a reasonable time. My flight was scheduled for 8:55. I figured I need to leave by seven, and told her I needed to leave by five. Irony: in six hours I could drive back home. This trip would be time-neutral for me no matter how I took it, but with no car, I was a beggar, a second-class citizen, doomed to take a charity ride to an airport and board a flying Greyhound with the sleeveless-shirt crowd.
i will absolutly be there by 5 she replied, but I just love his family. The second part, I realized, neutralized any promise made by the first, and while I Googled “nashville taxi”, it occurred to me that cars may break, trains may stop, and planes may delay, but in the end the most unreliable part of anyone’s life is always someone else’s heart.
* “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
** “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: [this shall be] the portion of their cup.”
*** “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”