First off, I think we should define terms: just as one man’s treasure is another man’s trash, one man’s perilous adventure is another man’s lark. Such is the case with my brother and me, or, just to make Mom cringe, my brother and I. He was the one who, at 3 years-old, I believe, climbed into Dad’s old Willeys Jeep and turned the ignition over until it lurched into and took out the garage door. Not many months after that he stood on the driver’s seat, gripped the steering wheel, knocked the gear shifter into neutral and “drove” across a few lawns and plowed into the neighbor’s fence. I would never have done such a thing. For instance, I intuitively knew not to set off fireworks indoors—Scot saw that as a ripping good idea. Even though I was in 6th grade and he in 4th it was Scot piloting both of us to school aboard the banana seat of his Stingray bicycle and crashing full-speed into the bike rack, pretty much daily, as I screamed, “Brake! Brake!” And that just might be the nub of the difference between me and my brother (sorry Mom): I have a highly developed internal braking system and Scot does not. More examples: I was content riding Dad’s little 125cc trial bike around the foothills, my brother acquired a Suzuki 400 dirt bike with a throttle prone to stick in the full-open position requiring Scot to steer into a patch of scrub oak to bring the beast to a splintering halt; I made my living alone in my basement, Scot flew warplanes around the world; sitting on my boat in a calm backwater sipping a Coke and eating a sandwich is my idea of a pleasant afternoon, rafting or kayaking a rollercoaster river and barely living to tell the tale is my brother’s idea of a day off. So, we are different, he and I— opposite ends of the spectrum, one might say.
With our lives defined, our differences outlined, I’ll offer up a recent “adventure” which may not fit snuggly into the parameters of this blog, but certainly stretched the edges of my normally sedate existence.
In synopsis it was this: a dog arriving in San Francisco from overseas needed picking up and transport to Utah. Simple enough. Anyone with at least normal intelligence could accomplish the task. There was a general looking around at which brains were available—mine was assessed and selected. Not sure I was the first choice, but availability is my strong suit and the lot fell to me. Besides, I was intimately acquainted with the cargo.
As the “first child” of my son and daughter-in-law, Dash, the boxer dog, was a frequent visitor during his rambunctious growing up months. After his move to The Old World, the wife and I walked him through dark, damp forests in Belgium and along cold, windy beaches in Denmark. He shared our guest bed on long, Nordic nights. But now the seasoned traveler was coming home.
For whatever reason, Dash was not traveling with his family (which now included our five-year-old grandson) and would arrive in California, not Utah, a few days before the rest of his people. The “reason” is a good one, but requires a wordy and unnecessary explanation. Let’s just say Dash is much loved and often travels better than many of his two-legged friends; and apparently Salt Lake International has been dragging its feet as far as accommodating canine first-class passengers and SFO has not. So, first off, I had to get to San Francisco also.
In this day and age where everyone is on the move, it may seem strange that I have never flown alone. I’ve flown plenty, multiple times across the biggest oceans, but it’s always been with my wife. In her presence I am the designated baggage handler and security officer. While she obtains our tickets and navigates to the proper gate, I’m always a step behind, loaded down but on the lookout for shady characters, the best restrooms or the nearest Cinnabon kiosk. My wife sensed my growing nervousness as she dropped me off at the airport that morning. She patted my knee reassuringly and gave me an encouraging double “thumbs-up” through the car window as I walked away. Nice, but I wasn’t buying her false positivity—I knew she thought there was a real chance I could end up in Guadalajara.
Because I am routinely flummoxed by ATMs, my phone and those new-fangled, touch-screen coke dispensers, my attempt at obtaining a boarding pass from an electronic ticket agent was doomed to fail. Vigorous head scratching on my part lured a pleasant and well-trained attendant who helped me through the process as if I were a man-child. I declined her offer to pin the boarding pass to my shirt and assured her I could find my way from there, but she walked me to escalator anyway and waited anxiously, hands clasped to her bosom, as I ascended. I’m not sure what it is women see in my face and why they take pity on me like they do, but she too gave me a big smile and an encouraging double “thumbs up.” Really? I thought as I nodded my thanks and then confirmed her notion I was a drooling Rain Man by stumbling at the top before gathering myself and heading to the security lines.
Turns out the security people are not nearly so helpful as the ticket folk downstairs. I had to learn on my own that the short pre-check line is, apparently, for those who have pre-checked, that your standard tube of toothpaste might as well be C-4 and that one’s lucky nickel will set off alarms multiple times. I received only grim smiles as they hand searched my carry-on and wanded me up and down before letting me pass. I felt like the intellectually stunted dimwit they all thought I was. Fortunately, the McDonalds Happy Meal breakfast I treated myself to bucked me up and I strode confidently to the correct gate on the first try.
Since I was doing my son a favor, and since he has about a buh-zillion sky miles, he bought me a first-class ticket. I have a strong egalitarian streak in my character and I looked for a military uniform or perhaps a nun’s habit with whom I could discreetly exchange seats, but I didn’t spot either end of the peacekeeping spectrum. So I accepted my fate and sat sipping orange juice trying not to make eye contact with my fellow workers of the world filing past me to the back of the aircraft. Sitting among all the suits finalizing one more deal before turning off their laptops and cellphones I felt like a traitor to the cause. Funny how I react to a little pampering though; by my second warm muffin, served to me with silver tongs and a smile, I wanted nothing to do with the riff-raff in coach. Couldn’t wait to grab my bag and get off without mingling with the commoners. Which I did. So much for principles.
Dash is not a small dog, he’s no St. Bernard either, but he travels in a crate suitable for a Great Dane. The crate was to accompany us to Utah, and even though I hold no political ambitions, knowing what Mitt Romney went through I didn’t want to lash it to the top of a Corolla, so a rental pickup truck was in order. I bellied up to the bar, slapped down my silver and ordered a full-sized, late-model domestic. In mere minutes I was behind the wheel of a pewter F-150 and turned loose on the unsuspecting, Prius-driving, Left-leaning, San Franciscan commuters. Ride ‘em cowboy!
The animal transport company was closer than I expected. I had just successfully merged to the center lane when I had to wallow back through all those little cars to the fast-approaching exit. Niffty, would not be the word to describe this maneuver. I reached the bottom of the exit ramp in a full sweat and thoroughly offended, both verbally and gesturally. It was a rude introduction to California culture and a lesser man may have slunk away, but I had nowhere to slink to. I was, as Sun Tzu puts it, on “death ground,” and my only option was forward into the teeth of battle. That’s probably overstating the situation, I mean, one always has options. After a few deep breaths and a little inward soul searching the idea of abandoning Dash, selling the truck and living on the beach faded almost completely from my mind and I made my way along backstreets to my objective. I believe that’s what they call backbone.
Dash’s exuberance on seeing me had the same effect as the Happy Meal from earlier in the day and the clouds parted. The plump Chinese-American gal manning the office was just what you’d expect of an animal lover and my impression of Californians brightened. She helped me load the crate into the truck and even showed me how to use the map app on my phone before Dash and I relieved ourselves behind a convenient hedge and then hit the road.
By now, just after five, rush hour was in full swing and we hadn’t gone a mile before hitting stop-and-go traffic. The freeway skirted downtown and followed the shoreline giving me intermittent views of the road ahead. It was miles and miles of bumper-to-bumper taillights snaking through waterfront buildings and over the Bay Bridge into Oakland. This was gonna take a while. My daughter-in-law had arranged overnight lodgings with a friend of hers in Reno and I figured on about a four-hour drive at normal speed, but, as I could plainly see, just getting out of the metropolis would add a couple of hours to our ETA. Bless that hedge. I adjusted the rearview mirror down and stole a look at Dash. He was sprawled on the back seat sleeping off jet lag. Lucky dog. Best he not see what lay ahead. I re-adjusted the mirror, loosened the top of my Pepsi Max, bit off a chaw of SlimJim and eased into one of the center lanes, fortified and steeled for the long grind out of the city.
It was fully dark when we reached the Oakland end of the bridge and, truthfully, the rest of the trip across the breadth of California was a blur. I recall brightness in the southern sky as we skirted Sacramento and at some point, before we climbed into the Sierra Nevada, I pulled off to drain Dash, but I couldn’t tell you where. We followed the deserted interstate up and down across the mountains seeing only what the headlights illuminated in front of us. Finally, on a steep downgrade, we rounded a bend and the lights of The Biggest Little City in the World spread onto the plain below.
Upon seeing those lights, I admit, I got a little emotional. Not the lump in the throat, tear in the corner of the eye kind of emotion, but more like the “damn straight,” pound the steering wheel, give a little triumphant whoop sort of reaction. It had been a long day. We were behind schedule, tired and hungry, but our goal was in sight. Dash sat up and gave me that tilted-head, questioning look that is so becoming in dogs, but irritates my wife no-end when I do it to her. “We did it buddy,” I said and reached back to rub his cheek. He licked my hand appreciatively and I thought: Wow—I really did do it—I crawled out of my basement and stitched together all the details of this complicated day into the beautiful tapestry it had become. Yeah…I can get a little carried away. I brushed a tear from my cheek, called our host to apologize for our late arrival and then entered her coordinates into my now useful map app.
Maggie opened the front door and two dogs bounded out welcoming us with yips of joy and full body waggles. Dash responded in kind and all four of us stumbled onto the terra cotta tiles of their beautiful new home. She showed me around on our way to the kitchen where Dash wolfed his belated dinner and then joined his new friends for a thorough sniff of the backyard toilet facilities. Maggie was a thirty-something single and lived here with her two dogs. Their names escape me now, but one was a mid-sized Labrador/hound mix with floppy ears and loads of extra skin. He had the delightful quality, much like Dash, of being a puppy in an adult body. Every time I looked at him he dropped his front quarters to the floor in that “let’s play” position. His housemate was a rather serious Yorkie who quickly lost interest in Dash and constantly stared at me. I didn’t detect any hostility or suspicion, but she followed me everywhere—just staring. It rather soon became a little unsettling.
It was approaching midnight and I had the distinct impression our host was an early riser anxious to retire upstairs. And really, I couldn’t blame her for cutting off the kitchen chit-chat with a travel-worn hipster-doofus twice her age. She let the dogs in and pointing out the fridge and swinging open the pantry door told me to have anything I liked before she hoofed it upstairs. It was then I remembered my daughter-in-law’s words, “Oh you’ll like her. Maggie’s great! She’s a vegan.” That explained the yoga pants and bony frame. Ah well, it had been a day of “firsts” for me and, late though it was, I was still game, as they say. I peeked in the fridge. Lots of foliage, both leafy and liquid. Nothing one would call filling. The pantry resembled Mr. What’s-His-Name’s dry goods store from the old TV show Little House on the Prairie. There were Mason jars filled with what appeared to be pebbles and the lower shelves bulged with burlap sacks of, I’m guessing here, all sorts of near-edible grains and legumes. I felt it beyond my guest status to root around for a pressure cooker and rustle up a pot of beans, so I slunk to the guestroom feeling like the SlimJim slaughterer I was. And because there was nothing soaking on the kitchen counter, I knew breakfast was a no-go.
In the guestroom Dash and Bags were sprawled on the bed, my bed, and the Yorkie, sitting in the middle of the room, locked eyes on me as I brushed, flushed and wedged myself under the sheets. I was beginning to dislike the piker. I am a fitful sleeper away from my own digs and woke up numerous times to find the little dog quietly eyeing me from the side of the bed. I know of watchdogs, but this was ridiculous, she didn’t sleep. I was overly tired and that may have had something to do with it, but I finally decided she was monitoring my breathing. I think, and this is where it gets a little creepy, but I think, as a canine subsisting on probably only lentils, she was hoping I would die in the night so she could gnaw off a short rib and have a real meal. I kept one eye on her until dawn.
I was anxious to hit the road and would have politely declined breakfast had it been offered. Instead we resumed our stilted conversation as Dash sated himself. Then I loaded our meager gear and expressed our thanks and said goodbye. As Dash jumped into the truck I stole a look at the Yorkie. She was easy to read now—the pleading expression on her face clearly said, “Take me with you.”
If I’m remembering my university days correctly, Nevada is an excellent example of horst and graben geography. It’s also an excellent example of mind-numbing boredom. The highlight of our entire trip across the state was a Burger King in Winnemucca. I left Dash in the truck and joined a handful of weather-beaten, salt-of-the-earth types masticating their Whoppers and glancing furtively at the out-of-towner. Made me glad I was driving a pickup, not a Volvo. And it didn’t hurt I was hauling livestock…sort of. The interior of Nevada is as fly-over as fly-over country gets and I couldn’t blame these men who scratch a living from the soil if they were a little wary of the metro-sexual driving a pewter truck and eating a lettuce-wrapped hamburger while his city dog waited inside the cab. In truth, I felt more at home in that rundown franchise than I would in a Panera Bread on Castro Street. I like no nonsense folk. I find people who shower after work, as opposed to before work, generally more honest and certainly more accepting of others. Pretty sure if I were to sit down among them and tell the tale of my recent encounters with airport security officers, Prius drivers and veganism, we’d share some laughs and part as friends with hearty backslaps all around. Can’t see the Left Coast crowd indulging me like that. But time was a wastin’. I finished my wrap, refilled my Diet Coke for the road and bid adieu to my imaginary chums.
We had a horse once you couldn’t ride within a mile or so of her pasture. One whiff of those marshy fields and she would bolt for home. There was nothing to do but hang on. After lunch I felt the same way—I had home in my nostrils. Dash and I charged up and over every horst and across every graben, or vice versa, guess I should look it up, but the point is we made time. It was a cloudless winter day and the 300 or so horses under the hood made full use of the 85 mph speed limit. Elko flashed past, then Wendover. When we crossed the Salt Flats I was glad to have the sun at my back; fighting a rising or setting sun on that straight, white stretch must be miserable, and dangerous. We intersected I-15 just after five but rush hour was nothing compared to San Francisco the day before and around six-thirty we pulled into our driveway here in Orem. Dash took a l-o-n-g pause at the first backyard bush he came to and I did the same at the first porcelain appliance I came to. I’m still not sure how we drove non-stop from Winnemucca to Orem, but we did.
My adventure lasted almost exactly 36 hours. I navigated new experiences and new roads with little sleep and minimal food, and, wonder of wonders, I stayed on course. When I showed up intact and unscathed my wife was either amazed I made it or aghast she lost a bet, I couldn’t tell which. But I’m going with amazed. Dash was home, after all, safe and sound.