February 18, 2013 § 6 Comments
We found a way to travel freely, almost indefinitely, by insisting on paying double. The road gave back, with interest, on every dime we sacrificed along the way. I’ll admit the first harvest wasn’t easy, but those early anxieties have all but died, and someday, I imagine, we’ll be memorialized for restoring American nomadism.
“Where are you folks from?” the waitress asked as she lowered my cup and saucer with a rattle. “Cream and sugar, hon?”
“Black’s fine, thanks. Virginia, DC area.”
“The Capitol? Wow, no wonder I didn’t recognize the plates. That’s gotta be a first ’round here—unless you count that jerk who stopped by to take pictures but didn’t even taste the pie we gave him. What on earth brings you all the way out here?” she asked, then added with a nod toward Stephanie’s mug, “For you, hon?”
“Any chance you have soy? We’re just taking in the road. Finally got the time to see the country, you know.”
“Sorry, no soy, but I can run next door and see if they have any,” she offered with that hospitable smile we’d come to appreciate over the last few weeks.
“No, that’s not necessary. Don’t worry about it. Half and half tastes better anyway. Just don’t tell my hips; maybe they won’t notice the difference.”
“I won’t tell a soul,” she confided, miming a lock on her cheek and dropping the imaginary key into her apron pocket. “See the country. I always kinda pictured myself taking off like that someday. Sounds so romantic. My daddy used to talk like that; it just came through in his stories, but I kinda thought folks had given up on ideas like that some time ago.”
I couldn’t help laughing a bit before I cut in, “Don’t let her fool you. We’ve had a good trip, but it isn’t all romance and adventure. Just making the best of it since we both were laid off this year. We sold almost everything to move out to her brother’s place in Oregon. Can’t count on getting a chance to travel like this again anytime soon, so we’re taking the scenic route.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear it, hon, but I think that just makes it all even more romantic really,” she beamed. “I bet y’all have some good stories to tell if I ain’t bothering you too much to talk about it.”
An hour later, she stood with us on the gravel outside, looking at our well-used Bronco II. “I thought it was kinda strange to see y’all pull up in separate cars like that, out-of-state plates and all.”
“You’re not the first. We didn’t plan to drag this old thing so far west, but we’ve had a helluva time getting it off our hands. To be honest, it’s been bad luck of sorts as long as I’ve owned it.”
She lowered her gaze to scowl at the front grille suspiciously, speaking sideways, “Whaddya mean, bad luck?”
“It’s not the first time I’ve tried to sell it,” I confided. “Posted an ad a couple years ago and didn’t get a single call. We’ve offered to sell it for a damn good price in almost every town from Virginia to Nebraska here, and so far nobody’s been remotely interested. It’s almost like it refuses to be sold.”
“Come on, Tom, don’t leave out the best part. You know I wouldn’t feel right selling it if she doesn’t know everything.”
The waitress’s eyes swelled with curiosity only breaking away from mine to glance a couple times at the mystery vehicle she’d been ready to buy just a minute ago.
“It’s been stolen before. Well, not just that, but stolen half a dozen times since I’ve owned it.”
“Stolen? And you got it back every time? I can’t say I ever heard of anything like that before. Seems to me like that could be good luck as much as bad.”
“I know it sounds like a bad storyline, but I swear it’s true. If only I’d known it was going to be so attached to us, I might’ve at least named it or something. But I’d rather just have eight-hundred dollars in my pocket for gas money than keep feeding this old thing all the way to Oregon.”
“Eight hundred—and I always liked these little Fords, too. Maybe she was just hanging on so y’all could sell her to me.”
We regrouped in one of the diner booths after she’d jogged down the street and back to grab enough cash. A fresh round of coffee sat on the table and a thick envelope from which Stephanie pulled out the old title and a yellow legal pad. We passed the heavy cotton paper around the table, adding signatures and dates, then repeated with a pair of handwritten bills of sale, one for us and one for her. After a piece of fresh apple pie, “on the house,” and the long version of our mishap getting lost in Ohio, we said our goodbyes with a round of handshakes and hugs.
“Oh, thank y’all so much,” she gushed, ”Can’t tell you how special y’all are. God bless and safe travels. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of good luck coming to you in your new life.”
That night, as she pulled up to the curb a block away from where the unlucky Bronco sat in its new home, Steph turned to me, “We’re getting too good at this, Tom. I’ll have to get more keys made on our next stop, and we’re down to the last copy of the title.”