Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Many Rooms: A Garage Near the Turnpike

A series begun 6/17/15: "During our lives, we visit certain rooms and places only once, or for a short time, and we don’t return except in memory…."

Back in August 1987, my wife Beth and I were driving from her parents’ home in the Chicago area back to central Virginia. We were soon to move from Virginia to Arizona; the moving truck was scheduled in a few days.

We got up early on a Sunday morning at our motel in northwestern Pennsylvania and made our way down the PA Turnpike, when our car began to smoke. Fortunately (since in my opinion the turnpike has poor shoulders) this happened as we approached a toll area. Pulling over to the side just beyond the toll gate, we got some help from the toll folks. They arranged a tow truck to take our car to a shop along some nearby state highway---a shop that would be open again the following morning---and the truck then took us to a motel just off a turnpike exit.

Everyone was helpful. But …. by 7 AM on a Sunday morning, we were stuck at a motel, eight hours from our destination, in an area without an abundance of businesses. We considered what we would do with the rest of a very long day.

We made the most of it, walking down to the nearby Wendy’s and a drug store. Those were the days before cell phones were common, and we made long distance calls through an operator. But we did call a few people. That afternoon, we watched a Peter Cook-Dudley Moore movie, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which we thought was terrible.

The next day, someone came and got us, and we sat at the garage for several hours while the repair fellows worked on our car. I forget what was wrong with the car but it was a long process. We sat in the seen-better-days waiting room of the garage. We agreed this would have been really miserable if we weren't together. The men were friendly and helpful, and when they finished, it was 5 PM on Monday, 34 hours since we arrived at the motel. Crazy to get home, and worried about the upcoming move, we got into the car and made our way all the way back to central Virginia by the early morning hours.

Most of us have stories of being stranded somewhere. Our worse experience was when Beth was in Manhattan on 9/11/01, an experience far worse than the garden-variety stuck-in-an-airport anecdote. She and her colleague finally could rent a car on the following Saturday and drove home; no airplanes were yet leaving New York five days later.

Being stuck in the Pittsburgh outskirts for a day and a half doesn’t compare to that awful week. We've had a few more typical, long delays in airports, notably in 2004 when the computers of American Airlines went on the blink and our flight from Albuquerque to Cleveland took a LONG time.

But ever since those two days in Pittsburgh (a city that I do like), I take at least a few books along when we travel. So in case of a long delay, I could do the reading and writing required for the work I do, and also I can have more leisurely reading. During that sojourn in a car repair shop, I had along Don Harrison Doyle’s history of early Jacksonville, IL, which I needed to study thoroughly for a writing project of my own. Motivation driven by unhappiness, I took plenty of notes! I was so grateful I had that and other books. I forget what Beth had along, but she, too, takes books along on trips for the same reason. We probably also purchased magazines at that drug store. Now, e-books makes for much lighter luggage!

Driving the turnpike in the early 10s, when our daughter was in college near Pittsburgh, I think I spotted the same motel in the distance at an exit. I didn't care enough to leave the highway to investigate. We’d have no idea where that car garage was, but I wonder if it still operates, and how many motorists have passed through its waiting room, where I learned how to stay content in situations out of my control.

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