Not every moment of the average vacation will lend itself to an attractive headline, a cheery anecdote, or a photogenic souvenir. Even the world’s greatest professional travelers have their share of failures, their horror stories, their occasional awkward faux pas, their incidental doldrums, their best laid plans gone awry. All of those not-shining moments are yadda-yadda’d from the eventual professional article, to the approval and applause of a hundred Likes, a dozen Follows, and a few cents’ worth of ad revenue generated by their hits. Selective anecdotal recounts can turn anyone with a travel budget into Hero of the Beach.
Full disclosure from this humbled amateur with complicated aspirations: Day Four of our road trip began not with entertaining travel heroism, but with ninety minutes of sitting off to the side of I-93 South during Boston’s mid-morning rush hour.
What seemed an innocuous start took less than two miles to turn topsy-turvy on us. We left the hotel, bought gas at the station next door, and pulled onto Massachusetts Avenue, with the intent to head south toward Quincy. At the next stoplight after the gas station, our rental car — a Ford Escape — stalled and died. I thought little of it, assumed the automotive equivalent of morning grogginess or whatever, restarted, and continued. We’d had no sign of trouble from it for the first three days — no warning lights, no difficulty steering, no egregious leakage, no suspicions aroused at all. In fact, when I first picked up the car, it contained a special surprise for us — the previous renter had left a burner copy of Taylor Swift’s Red in the CD player. How can you not like a car that greets you with a gift?
Several hundred feet into the interstate, the car died again. A little edgier now, I restarted once more with the intent to surrender and exit before third time’s the curse. Sure enough, the car wasted no time in calling my bluff. I had just enough momentum to reach the far right lane by coasting aggressively. That’s exactly as challenging as it sounds, but I did what I had to do. Coasting politely would’ve left us kindly, courteously trapped in the middle of Death Race 3000.
As we spent the next ninety minutes’ worth of loitering on the roadside a mile from the next exit, I had a long list of blessings to rattle off. It was a good thing that:
* We hadn’t stalled in the secluded sticks of upper-middle Pennsylvania on Day One.
* I’d finally relented from my previous hardline stance and bought a smartphone not even two months prior. I’d always told myself if I bought a phone, it would be largely for emergencies. Behold the prophecy fulfilled.
* My rental company had a toll-free hotline and a standing offer for free replacement in the event of breakdown.
* We broke down less than fifteen minutes from Logan Airport, location of the rental company’s nearest hub.
* A Boston police officer pulled near us to assure me that we were officially in a good spot out of harm’s way.
* No evil, sentient semis went out of their way to ram us anyway.
* We still had electrical power, so we could listen to the radio for entertainment and relish the air conditioner.
* My family understood this wasn’t exactly my fault and didn’t turn savage on me.
Once the AAA guy arrived with our replacement vehicle hitched to his tow truck, we counted but two drawbacks:
* After spending three days mastering the Ford Escape and keeping apace with traffic, our replacement was a Chrysler Town & Country van with the acceleration and maneuverability of a dump truck.
* The ninety-minute wait, plus the preceding struggle, consumed a large enough chunk of our day that we lost an entire afternoon time slot that I’d hoped to spend at one of several Massachusetts attractions on my to-do list. This shortage likewise lopped probably one to three entries off this MCC series. I seethe when I have fewer reasons to write.
Regardless, we were glad to be on our way at last to our first destination for the day. Also, the van had a special surprise for us — the previous renter had left a copy of There Will Be Blood in the backseat DVD player. How nice of the van to offer us a tribute.
To be continued!
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Oddly, after the fact I can see parallels between this incident and my experience with this site over the past sixteen months. If I stop focusing on my own contentment and stare out the windows at the other drivers, sometimes in my weaker moments I’ll find myself a little envious that they’re speeding more readily and assuredly toward their respective destinations, while I’m off in the margins waiting for the right time and tools to move forward to wherever I’m going. Sooner or later, though, I shake it off and take comfort in knowing that the boundaries and hurdles won’t keep me from running the race, even when the finish line seems hazy and far away, even if my finish line is in an entirely different time zone.
In that race, this marks MCC’s 500th entry. I’m noting the occasion not with braggadocio or pride, but with humble incredulity. That seems a ridiculously implausible total even for a site that shifts topicality whenever the wind shifts. Sometimes it’s about travel. Sometimes it’s about photos. Sometimes it’s about the reverberations of our intersecting cultures rattling around in my head. Sometimes it’s about whatever’s distracting, distressing, disturbing, or disarming me at a given moment. I never expected to pass one hundred, let alone keep going five times that distance without a meltdown.
For those who’ve been along for the ride, through all the various routes, amid all the dilly-dallying and digressions, despite the bouts of chronic verbosity and recurring pretentiousness…I appreciate you being there, providing your support in expressions great or small, chiming in with your input, making this curious hobby worthwhile even during the quiet times, and not threatening to burn the place to the ground.
Here’s to the anticipation and clueless wonder about where the next 500 will take us from here. If I crash and burn, maybe we’ll pick up the pieces of wreckage, jam them together into cool sculpture-looking shapes, and deem it Art anyway. Join me, won’t you?
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]