“EUREKA! THE STATE MOTTO OF CALIFORNIA”: FORTUNATE SON (Willy and the Poor Boys album) – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Affordable road trip food at its finest
Grocery Outlet. What a brilliant chain of entirely affordable dietary product.
After shouldering the coast for far too long, through hours of scenery that eerily resembled the set from Jurassic Park, the thick fog that hugged giant boulders protruding from the sea and blanketed the weaving highway finally parted, revealing Eureka. I was in California.
With nothing distinctively alluring about the town, I decided to stop only for sustenance restock; the bright reds and yellows of this foreign food supply beckoning me. Inside, I marveled at the cheap price tags, perusing each aisle with the same fascination one might exude while admiring a string of Monet’s at an art gallery.
I walked out of the “bargain market” with a mountain-size block of cheese, a garbage bag of pepperoni, a lifetime supply of animal crackers sold in a barrel the side of my torso, a spring in my step, and far too much money left in my pocket.
Parking lot breakdowns, mental breakdowns
After indulging in a wee parking lot victory dance, I hopped into Van Morrison and turned the key. Nothing. I turned it again. Again, nothing. I sat back in my chair and took a deep breath, reminding myself that my beloved vehicle is a very old beloved vehicle whom often needs a bit of foreplay before being able to perform. Don’t panic.
I turned the key a third time. Absolutely nothing. Attempt four. Less than nothing. So much of nothing that the word nothing wouldn’t even begin to describe just how much of nothing was not being produced. As I found myself mindlessly trying a fifth time, the definition of insanity came to the forefront of my increasing panic. How many more times was I going to turn Van over before accepting that he just wasn’t going to start.
Many. The answer is many more times. When I finally resigned myself to the fact that Van Morrison was comatose, an immense hoard of profanities flooded from my exasperated lips. I sat for a moment, just like Van Morrison, doing nothing. Perhaps I thought if I just stood still for long enough, the problem would resolve itself and I could avoid the excruciatingly expensive headache that was about to ensue.
Serendipitous vehicle service
When more of nothing happened, I took out my phone, opened maps and searched auto mechanics near me. A pin dropped almost directly on top of the pulsing blue dot of which was me. I looked up through the windshield and out across the road. Leon’s Car Care Centre sprawled itself in large, bright letters across a multi-garage building not twenty feet from Van Morrison. If there is a god, at least he has a sense of humour. Now only to get there…
The parking lot of Grocery Outlet wasn’t empty, but nor was it busy. I stood behind Van Morrison sussing out potential life savers. A woman in a shiny SUV rolled slowly toward me. I stepped out in front of her way. She unnervingly rolled down her window. The woman had short, auburn dyed hair adequately covering her grey and a face that looked older than it should.
“Hi, sorry, my van’s broke down and I was hoping I could get a jump?”
She looked at Van, then at me, then back at Van.
“No, sorry. I don’t think so.”
I was shocked. And it showed.
“Really? I have cables. You’d hardly have to do anything.”
“Yeah… this is more of a job for a bigger vehicle. Mine’s not really made for something like that.”
“You’re kidding.” She wasn’t kidding. “Any vehicle can jump a vehicle. It’s not exactly a trying task.” I eyed her vehicle from back to front. “Also, you’re driving an SUV, not a Boston Mini.”
“I’m sure you’ll find someone else.” And with that she returned her foot to the gas, rolling up her window as she drove off, mocking me in her fancy, working vehicle.
Right. Well that was unexpected.
Eureka Effect: the sudden, unexpected realization of the solution to a problem
I leaned against Van’s rear end, contemplating the questionable existence of the human race when a small, red, rusted car slowed in front of me on its own accord. I walked around to the driver’s window which was already rolled down. A girl looking close to my age range smiled at my approach.
“Hi, hate to bother you, but my Van’s broke down and I’m kind of desperate for a boost. Would you mind?”
“Oh my god, of course not! It’s not a bother at all!”
“You’d be surprised.”
She pulled her car next to mine.
“I saw you coming out of the Grocery Outlet. I actually had no idea you had car trouble. I was only slowing down to let you know how beautiful you are.”
“Ha! What? Really?” My face exploded into a deep shade of red.
My grin spread like wildfire, from ear to ear. I tousled my hair not knowing how to respond. I grabbed the cables from under the passenger seat while she lifted the hood of her car. She wore a plain t-shirt and jeans, her hair mousy and long, her features structured yet soft.
My expression, as I stood beside her clutching the cables, must have been a telling one.
“You don’t know how to do this, do you?”
“I mean, black on black, red on red. The car needs to be on. Off? It needs to be off, then you turn it on. Or it’s already on. Black goes on first, off last. Or the red goes on first… or last.”
She laughed and I shrugged.
“We’ll do it together, yeah?”
Her conversation was comfortable to an almost familiar degree. We leaned against her car while we gave our connected vehicles, and ourselves, a bit more time.
And as Van Morrison roared to life, a part of me wished he hadn’t. The same part of me that wanted to ask this girl to join me on the rest of my trip when I hadn’t even asked her name.
“That should do it.”
“Do you want some animal crackers?”
“Yeah. I just bought a barrel big enough to feed the country. If you’re not in a rush…?”
“I’d kill for some animal crackers.”
We sat with our legs dangling from Van Morrison’s side doors, biting the heads off lions and lessening the gap between strangers.
“I had a van once. Was nothing like this though. This thing is really something”
“It’s the flower curtains.”
“Must be.” We both smiled and sat in a comfortable silence.
“I should probably get him sorted.”
“Oh, for sure. Van Morrison waits for no man.” She patted his orange wall in solidarity before getting up. “I won’t say good luck, I know you’ve got this.” She winked then got into her car and drove away; my nameless hero and her red, rusted wonder.
“You fancy that little red number, don’t you. You shameless minx.” I, too, patted Van’s orange wall then gently closed his doors.
An unorthodox overnight stay in Eureka, California
As I approached Leon’s Car Care Centre, two men came out to greet me. They guided me into an open stall and began to investigate my baby’s innards. I was a wreck. I hovered over the hood, wearing out the cool, cement floor with my incessant pacing. Everywhere they went, I went. Everywhere they looked, I looked.
“Did you want to grab a coffee or something?”
“I don’t drink caffeine.” I replied without lifting my gaze from under the hood.
“There’s cookies in the waiting area.”
I hesitated for a moment.
“No, I’m good.” I leaned in closer. “I just put a new battery in Van Morrison. That can’t be the problem.”
“Van Morrison.” I nodded to the spare tire mounted between the man and Van, his name proudly painted across the hubcap. He took a step back and chuckled.
“Right on.” He dropped the hood and continued, “Well, we’ve tested the alternator and it’s not that either. We’re not entirely sure what it could be at this point. But I’m afraid we don’t really have the time today to keep looking. We’re going to have to keep him, Van Morrison, overnight.”
He leaned on the hood with both hands and locked it in place, solidifying its closure with two rhythmic pats.
“Yeah, so here’s the thing…”
“You live in Van Morrison.”
“And if he stays overnight, you stay overnight.”
“…Would you mind?”
Again he chuckled.
“Ah, why not. We lock up the parking lot after close anyway so you’ll be good and safe. As long as you’re ok with being stuck here till morning? But by the amount of books I saw in there, I can’t see you getting bored.”
And bored I certainly was not. By morning I had polished off a Hemingway and was well into Thomas Harris (word to the wise: voluntarily reading The Silence of the Lambs while locked away in an empty car park in an unfamiliar town is not entirely the smartest road to venture down). I woke in the early morn to revving engines and the convivial hollering of men clad in navy coveralls.
They maneuvered Van Morrison back into the garage and kindly suggested I resign to the waiting area where they assured herbal teas and fresh cookies were stocked in abundance.
“Ok gents, you got this. No worries here. I’ll just be in there. Totally available if you need me. Any questions whatsoever, I can come running. Anything at all.”
The door closed behind them without a word.
“Yup, it’s all good. No sweat.” I swayed my arms at my sides and snapped my fingers feigning casual indifference.
“There’s a bit of sweat.”
I turned to see a man at the counter, brightly observing my talking to myself.
“First time owner?” He continued.
“I get it.” He beckoned for me to join him at the desk then passed me his phone. It was open to a photo of a very sharp looking motorcycle. “I got her a year ago. I’d be as much of a nervous wreck as you if she were behind that door.”
“They won’t let me in.” I passed him back his phone. “Apparently I hover.”
“Ah, you’re Van Morrison’s girl. The vagabond squatting in our parking lot.”
“That’s the one.”
“Ha! Ah, don’t stress. He’ll be fine.” His eyes we an impressive blue; his round, scruffy face appealing.
“Thanks. I like your bike.”
“Do you ride?”
“Not a chance.”
“Come back this way and I’ll teach you.”
An hour later, while wiping his blackened hands with a cloth nearly as dirty, the auto-doctor informed me that they could find nothing.
“You’ve got some corroded wires leading from your battery. We’ll replace those, but we can’t see anything else it could be.”
Two hours after that I’m hit with a $380 bill but a van that starts. So I swallow my devastation and carry on, not before thanking the universe for at least blessing me with the gift of food frugality, before smacking me sideways with a hefty mechanic bill.
For what is life, if not a perpetual lesson in balance.