Sunday, July 11, 2004


I think that’s what I need. A vacation of some sort. I’m working on doing some exotic overseas travel in the upcoming months. But I’m itching to get away for a weekend soon – drive out to San Diego or San Francisco, maybe Mexico... go somewhere.

I don’t like driving very much -- except on roadtrips. That’s a whole different experience. I’ve gone cross-country twice and once went from LA to New Orleans and back in a week. Roadtripped out to Vegas so many times the highway patrolmen on I-15 know my name.

Quick jaunts like this can be spur-of-the-moment, but you gotta expect the occasional mishap. Flat tires, getting lost, road construction, angst with your co-driver – I took one of the NY-to-CA trips with my girlfriend at the time, and realized by Wyoming that the relationship was doomed. Kaput. Yeah, made that last 1000 miles really fun.

The one thing I don’t think I can do anymore is the in-the-car sleepover. Weird things always happen when you try to catch some Zs on the side of the road.

Hysteria in Iberia

Years ago, I went to Spain with my friend Dave. We rented a car in Madrid and made a loop through the southwestern part of the country, into Portugal, up to Lisbon and back.

Our whirlwind tour of tapas, sangria and sightseeing took us to Toledo, Ciudad Reál and Córdoba. It was late and it was Semana Santa, so a lot of the hotels in Córdoba were booked or closed down. Exhausted, we decided to just get some shut-eye for a few hours, then swing into Sevilla and start over with the fiestas again.

We found a spot off the main road, a dirt-filled lot up on a hill. We got out of the car for a moment to stretch, take a leak, and look around before we crashed.

I remarked that the area looked kinda spooky at night, but I was too wiped out to care as I put the passenger seat back and started to slip into unconsciousness. Dave must’ve taken that as a cue and decided to play a joke on me.

He was a real wise-ass, that Dave. At a bar in Madrid, he had introduced me to some locals he was taking to. He said, "Este es Miguel. Miguel es un maricon." Dave’s Spanish was normally atrocious – didn’t know his numbers past uno, dos, tres, so I had to handle all money transactions for him – but the guy knew all the slang. Maricon, I later learned, is a derogatory word for homosexual. At the time, I thought it sounded like "Americano." So when Dave said, "Right, Mike? ¿Tú eres maricon?" I said , and they all laughed. I didn’t get what was so funny. Dave’s international gay-bashing backfired when I put my arm around him and declared that he was a maricon, too. And proud of it.

So I think he was trying a new prank -– slinking around the car to try and scare me. I could see the top of his head go from my window, to the front, and back to my side again. Then he growled like some kind of monster. "Grrrrr!"

"Aw, cut it out, Dave," I said. "I’m too tired for your crap."

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

I looked over –- Dave was in the car with me. Laying back in the reclined driver’s seat, trying to sleep. He must have gotten back in the car while I had dozed off.

If Dave was inside... then what the hell was outside?!

Then we saw it: a huge angry black hounddog. It raised its jowls to display a set of saliva-dripping fangs: "Grrrr!" Steaming up my window.

Dave and I both screamed bloody murder. There was a lot of shouting, me telling him to start the friggin’ car, him yelling that he couldn’t find the damn keys. Meanwhile, the dog got up on his hind legs, scratching his front paws on the roof of our Ford Fiesta and began barking like a rabid Spanish Cujo, spraying spittle all over the place.

Finally Dave found the keys, gunned it, and we drove down the hill as fast as that compact would go. The perro de Diablo gave chase, galloping right behind us for a good hundred yards before we got away.

Back on the main road, when we calmed down, we figured that during our pit stop, we must have urinated on the dog’s turf. We had made a mark on his territory, and he needed to reclaim it.

Fine, the pissed-off pooch could keep it. We found the energy to drive all the way to Sevilla from there.

Fuelin’ Fine

Even in the U.S., if you wake up inside an automobile, you’re likely to be so completely disoriented as to have a coronary.

My friend Rob and I had decided late one night to take a roadtrip from New York and visit another high school friend who was studying at McGill Medical School. I had never been to Montreal so I was excited. I think Rob was too, but the guy was so low-key all the time, who could tell?

Halfway into the journey, both we and Rob’s ride were running on fumes. Oddly, all the gas stations in Vermont seemed to be closed at three in the morning. I suggested we pull over, put the seats back and sleep until daylight. So Rob put the car right at the pumps at a Chevron station and cut the engine. We’d be the first customers, he said. I wasn’t sure if this was the ideal location to zonk out, but I was too tired to object.

What had happened, I realized when I truly woke up, was that the station attendant came on his shift and saw a couple of disheveled youngsters passed out in an old sedan in front of the place. Were we criminals? Drug addicts? Better not take any chances, so he called the cops. The sheriff came down and tapped on the window, startling me out of my uncomfortable snooze.

It took about eight seconds for my mind to defog and decipher the situation. But in the interim, I was freaking out.

"Wh-what?! What the hell—"

Where was I? A fishtank? Outside the glass were a bleak sky and a towering Chevron logo. And gaping into the aquarium were two middle-aged yokels, one in a greasy jumpsuit and the other dressed like Smokey the Bear.

Rob was still asleep, snoring away. "Hey, Rob, wake up." I shook his arm, expecting him to go through the same panic attack.

But like I said, Rob was always low-key. I guess even when he first wakes up.

He didn’t seem fazed at all. Just sat up, nonchalantly rolled down his window and turned to guy in the jumpsuit. "Fill it up, super unleaded, please."


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