Monday, December 18, 2006

When Your Car Is About to Float Out on the Tide Toward Japan

This would've been February 1984. I was living at that time in Washington State, up in the Cascade Mountains. Not far off the Columbia River. About an hour upriver from Portland, Oregon.

Anyhow, one day in February, on my day off, I decided to head down to the coast for the day. I forget if it was a two and a half, three hour drive. Drove down the Washington side of the river, Highway 14. Through Vancouver, USA. Through Longview. And across southwestern Washington, now in terra incognita. I had never been to the Pacific coast before, but I knew I was getting close when I saw an old boat, a seagoing boat, lying abandoned in someone's back yard.

Got to southwesternmost Washington, and discovered that it's a peninsula. The Peninsula runs north and south, maybe 15 or 20 miles long, and no more than a mile or two wide, its western edge facing the Pacific Ocean.

Lighthouses. Towns. I drove up and down the Peninsula. Stopped off at a restaurant for lunch, wonderful home cooking, giant juicy hamburgers with a ton of fries, and home-cooked green beans just right, and they had on display inside a glass case a curiosity, a small mummified human head joined seamlessly onto a small alligator's body, so flawless you couldn't even see how it was done, it looked just like real, and you could put coins in a machine, and then put a penny in the slot, and it would take your penny and roll it out long and return it to you, a long penny with a picture of the Alligator Man stamped on the back.

Driving up the street, turn left, now I was on a road which led down to the beach. At road's end, there I sat, in my old muscle car, a bright red 1970 Torino with a 351 Cleveland V8 under the hood. I saw other cars and trucks driving on the sand, driving up and down the beach. Thought I'd give it a try myself.

I started out beyond the pavement, onto the sand, slow and easy. Suddenly I realized I was moving more and more slowly, slow, slowwww... Now I wasn't moving at all. My foot was on the pedal, my rear wheeels were still turning, but I wasn't moving at all. I stepped heavier on the gas— well, that was a mistake. Now wheels turning, no forward motion at all.

I cut the engine, got out and checked. Damn! My rear wheels were sunk into the sand, all the way up to the axle!

My Torino wasn't about to go anywhere. I turned my head and looked west. There the tide was coming in, surf crashing and breaking on the sand, not twenty yards from my front bumper. I had visions of the tide coming in, further and further, and then going out, carrying my car with it. I had lunatic visions of my Torino being carried right out on the tide, toward Japan.

I started trudging back up the street into town. Up this street several blocks, I had noticed, was a service station. Have to get a tow truck. Have them pull my car out of the sand. Greenhorn visitors like me, this must happen all the time around here...

As I walked up the street, I passed a young woman who was sitting there in an old Volkswagen Beetle. She was reading a book, and a big hound dog was sitting there in the seat beside her.

Walking further, now the service station was in sight. And all of a sudden a Volkswagen pulled up beside me from behind. The gal called to me out the window, "Hey, is your car stuck down there on the beach?"

I said yes, sunk up to its rear axles in the sand.

She said, "Jump in." I got into her Volkswagen, she did a U-turn, and we rolled back down the street to the beach, where my Torino was looking rather forlorn.

We got out to inspect. Just so happens right then her boyfriend came tooling down the beach in his pickup truck. You know, the type with big oversized monster tires. He hooked his truck onto my front bumper, and towed me up and free from the sand trap. He also explained to me how to drive on the beach without sinking into the sand— a practical detail which I have since forgotten.

At any rate, after thanking this couple for their help, I got into my Torino, and went driving up and down the beach. Right alongside the Pacific Ocean. No longer did I fear my car being swept out to sea, and floating like a piece of bobbing cork until it washed up, a seaweed-festooned piece of flotsam, on the coast of Japan.



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