In my last post, I mentioned my lone trip to California taken in April 1997 when I left family and England behind in search of adventure. I listed some events that I would really like to share with you some day. Writing that short snippet has jogged my memory so I have decided to post these events, one at a time, for each is a short story in its own right.
Finally, I should add a disclaimer at this point. I do not intend to cause offence to anyone who may recognize themselves in these stories and although events are real, names have been changed to protect the innocent and the weak.
In no particular order and beginning today, here is my first short offering…
The Man-Mountain Sheriff and Me
We have been driving for a short time.
“I think we need to stop for Gas,” observes my new friend as we chug along Highway 1 just outside San Francisco.
I rose this April morning in a Motel 6 where I spent last night. It was not the most luxurious of settings. My view included a brick wall and the room was in permanent darkness. I had looked forward to getting out into the sunshine but as I closed the motel room door behind me and stepped out of the covered walkway to meet my friend, it was apparent that sunshine was nowhere to be seen. Grey clouds hovered above us and even as we set off for the diner and breakfast, the skies opened.
Rain splashes against the windscreen. This, although I do not know it, is to be the only rain we see in the entire three weeks and will remain memorable for that reason. Just a few weeks ago, California was hit by torrential downpours and floods that have left Yosemite closed to visitors and caused havoc across the country. I hope that this is just a shower.
The VW (camper van) is battered and old and it groans a little as we turn into the forecourt of the Gas station. Everything on the forecourt looks pretty normal to me apart from the obvious differences to home, like the *petrol pumps being labeled as **gas pumps and the dollar signs replacing pounds.
Part of the deal on this trip is that in exchange for hospitality, I will pay all expenses while we travel. Hence, I step out of the VW and head for the cashier’s kiosk. Ready for the inevitable questions, I smile and present my credit card to the chap behind the desk,
“Hi there, you’re from Australia right?” he asks, hearing my accent as he swipes the card and waits for the machine to work,
“No, I’m from England,” I reply – now on auto pilot since I have answered the same question at least fifty times since my arrival.
“Oh really? You get a lot of fog over there don’t you?” the attendant grins.
Of course, I put him straight, but honestly, is that what everyone thinks? Sherlock Holmes has a lot to answer for.
As I walk back to the VW I do think something is not quite right. My friend is turning the engine over – but nothing is happening.
“She’s cut out again – just needs a push or a jump start,” she states, standing by the VW, hands on the hips of her pink hot-pants. I look from her to the van. There is no way I can push that great hulk of metal anywhere.
My hair is feeling decidedly damp and the rain continues to trickle down my neck. My friend seems pretty dry beneath her battered straw hat.
“Maybe the engine’s just flooded, if we wait a few minutes it might start?” I try hopefully, my own experience of elderly vehicles and their foibles springing to the fore.
“Go ask that Sheriff if he has any jump leads or can give us a push,” my friend instructs, ignoring me and waving a hand in the direction of the Sheriff’s car that has just pulled onto the forecourt. I believe she thinks I will present a more pathetic sight than her and evoke sympathy. She is probably right on the first count, though much good it will do me…
Now normally, back home, I would have thought twice about the entire idea. Maybe I’d have looked around a bit first but hey, I am in California and I am ‘alone’ and I can do anything now… it turns out I personify ‘the tourist abroad’.
I lean down to peer in the window of the Sheriff’s car and smile.
The very nice Sheriff opens the door. I step back, he steps out – and up. My jaw all but hits the floor as he straightens up. He is at least seven feet tall and six feet wide. (Well, he must be, trust me). A holster sits on his hip at eye level. I don’t like to think about the gun concealed within.
“Yes Ma’am? Can I help you?” he is asking.
Looking up, and up, I ask him if he would help us start the VW, even give us a push. At this outrageous suggestion he shakes his head,
“”Sorry Ma’am, I can’t even push the vehicle for you. We get a lot of folks who tend to sue us if things go wrong.”
I stare at him, suddenly appreciating the British Bobby even more. Back home I like to think that even now, a kind policeman would still roll up his sleeves and try to help.
It is at this point that two more police cars screech onto the forecourt, sirens wailing.
“Excuse me ma’am, we have an incident here,” the man-mountain says calmly.
I jump aside as two men run out of the cashier’s office, shouting and brandishing what appears to be a gun in the air. The man-mountain Sheriff strides across and apprehends both as two more police officers run up to assist.
From within the office raised voices reach my ears and other people begin running hither and thither waving their arms in the air excitedly.
I make a hurried exit from the scene and jump up into the passenger seat of the VW. My friend doesn’t say a word. She turns the key and by some miracle the engine starts. We don’t hang around. As soon as the engine is ticking over nicely, we are off.
***Thelma and Louise we definitely aren’t!
As we leave the Gas station behind, I can’t help but wonder at what has just occurred. Perhaps I won’t let my husband know about it until I get home. No sense worrying him unnecessarily is there?
Oh and yes, the engine was flooded by the way.
*Gas station – Petrol station in the UK
**Petrol pump – Gas pump in USA
***Thelma and Louise – you mean you don’t know? Wow! Where have you been? Film 1991 directed by Ridley Scott.