Memorial Day 2021
I used to like my teeny-weeny Chevy Volt that I have been driving for 6 years. It’s a good car, cheap as heck to run. I can drive more than 275 miles on 8 gallons of gas on the freeway, way more than that on city streets. It also has an electric charge of 35 miles, and I barely use the gas if making short trips around town. I average 100mpg. It has 4 blind spots. This week I discover it has a blind spot in the blind spot. How could that be, you ask? I turn my neck as far as it goes and a car is right where I can’t see it because it’s in the other blind spot. I often cut people off which is a good way to get killed or maimed in California.
A couple of weeks ago the driver window freezes in the open position. I have it repaired. In less than a week, it breaks again. The window opens when I stop the engine, makes dreadful noises and stays down. In order to get it to stay closed, I leave the car running and climb out through the passenger door. I do this a few times and begin leaving the window wide open, unlocked with the keys in the car to see if anyone would steal it. Alas, no one does. Today, this momentous Memorial Day, en route to Arcata, Gretchen, my 16-year-old cat, and I set out for the 5-hour, 250 mile drive to Humboldt County. Some of us call it “Behind the Redwood Curtain.” Of late, there are bougie wine bars, upscale shops, and my favorite: Hatchet and Beer. That right, while drinking, one throws hatchets at a wall.
Gretchen and I get as far as Healdsburg. I need to pee and get a sandwich. I park in the Safeway lot under a tree but it’s 110 degrees. I could climb out somehow over the cat’s carrier but even so, there is a Mac, and Ipad, and $600 of sound equipment and said cat. I find Lola’s Market closer to the freeway. I have to take Gretchen into the store — I think, why not? I see a man, maybe an employee? “Puedo dejar mi gato aqui porque no puedo dejarlo en el Carro?” “Si esta bien.”
At this moment the day gets magical. I enter Lola’s and a space-time continuum to Mexico. The air conditioning feels amazing, the odors are perfect — disinfectant and fruits, pork rinds and lard. I want a Coca Light and there isn’t one. I get a Mexican Coke, a green Jarritos, coconut water, and Yerba Mate. I can’t leave and look down every aisle. Gosh, I want some cleaning products and a mop and toothpaste and little mangoes and crema. I have no cooler. I grab some plantains and Maria cookies and leave the store: the cool air, friendly employees, sun-drenched men with bandanas over their faces. In a step, I arrive back in California. A nice man watching Gretchen told me he loves cats and all pets. He has been in California for 6 years and works at a restaurant in Rohnert Park. It’s amazing how friendly people are when we have our guards down.
Kitty and I leave the parking lot and pull out into the street. A woman stops beside me to get my Ruffles off the roof of the car. “You were about to have a party all over the street!” Cheers, I say. I take an illegal u-turn which puts me on 101 South: the wrong way.
On and on we drive. The A/C is blasting and it feels great. I get gas in Hopland, quickly as I can – it’s boiling. In Laytonville, I am hoping to see the methy, toothless, cherry farmer who sold me 10 pounds of cherries last week. He is not there. A parking lot with 12 spaces has been constructed to charge electric cars and there are two white Teslas and their owners having a chat.
The next time I stop is past the Humboldt County line and past Garberville. This is a small town that is featured in the Netflix series “Murder Mountain.” Sydney tells me she saw a man pushing an air conditioner on a baby stroller at that exit. Never a good thing.
I stop at the shop called “Never Not Stop Here” and parked in the shade, same thing. 110. This time when I open the door, the window goes down and stays down. Really? I buy a Coca Light and move on. I ride with the window open and highest AC setting. I can’t hear Gretchen screaming anymore with the wind. My left arm is burning.
We drive over the Eel River many times, bend after bend. I see 100s of cars and families playing in the cool water with colorful floaties – unicorns and flamingoes.
The car thing is making me berserk. Anger seethes to the top and I begin to plot my revenge. The wife always gets the better car. The madder I get, the more expensive my new car is becoming. In my head I consider an American SUV, a Toyota Land Cruiser, a Honda Pilot, a BMW X1 & X3, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Volvo, Tesla (the biggest, baddest, most expensive this and that. Most of these have an electric version. I recall there is a Land Rover model that can lift the chassis up and down for a better view of traffic or lions in Namibia. Why not a Mars Rover? I am windblown and there is a cat screaming next to me. My left arm has a trucker’s tan.
With all of those Coca Lights, I need to pee again. All of the damn rest stops on 101 have been closed for months. If a Tibetan nun could pee at a passport check in front of many tour vehicles and buses at 12,000 feet altitude, I can do it on the Avenue of the Giants. If someone sees my ass, poor them. The next part of the drive is the heavenly view of Forests, those saved by the League of Redwoods, Sierra Club, Julia Butterfly Hill. By divinities unnamed. They are the final stands of these mighty trees, of those felled from Monterrey to Crescent City while our state was built. Clear cut areas. Stumps don’t lie.
The temps drop to 100, 95, 80, and when I arrive in Eureka it’s 62. The car knows the way through the clouds of cannibis smoke, (not smoakier than Smoakland,) past the new junk food KFC and In’n Out, past the ghosts of lumber yards and pulp mills, to my other home Arcata.