Dear readers: this one’s coming to you from Rapid City, South Dakota, almost smack dab in the middle of our fifty great states.
It’s been a bumpy ride since last I wrote. The Mercedes has been a vortex of challenges, which has caused my stomach to be a vortex of anxiety and frustration. There were multiple overheating issues on multiple highways. A 4-hr trip from Rhinelander to Milwaukee took almost 12-hours. It was a wee touch less than great. However, for anyone wondering, let me assure you that Yes, it’s true what they say—you haven’t really lived until you’ve driven down a highway at 75mph with coolant geysering out from under the hood of your car. The diagnosis and repair took some time, and eventually cost some serious cash, but if you’re ever in Milwaukee and need a good repair shop, I’ve got the inside track.
I finally got back on the road this Wednesday. I made it several hours across Wisconsin and Minnesota before encountering more problems. Of course it happened right at 5pm after all the local repair shops had closed, because sometimes there’s nothing like a good shake of salt in that open wound to make you realize you’re still alive.
I was about as maddened as you can imagine. Tottering as I was on the edge between laughter and tears, the only sounds I seemed capable of making were guttural. I apologize to anyone who answered my phone calls in that moment.
Eventually I ended up spending the night in a park in Worthington, MN. For those keeping score in the ongoing battle between inclement weather and camping gear, my tent lost that round rather significantly. That said, should anyone need a proficient receptacle for rainwater, I’ve got just the thing.
Yesterday I made it almost across the state of South Dakota, which was a very long slog broken up with a stop in the Badlands. They reminded me of a juiced-up version of the John Day Fossil Fields in Central Oregon. I smile and played some Springsteen.
I was approaching Rapid City and psyching myself up to knock out a couple more hours when problems once again reared their ugly heads. I pulled over and checked the clock: what do you know?—it was mere minutes after 5pm. I waited on the car to cool then fiddled and adjusted, but it was became clear that despite my ministrations it wasn’t going to right itself.
There was nothing to do but wait and take it in to a shop today. Rather than be sloshed by the storms rolling overhead I got a motel, a cheesesteak sandwich, a six pack of Budweiser from a casino, and watched some football on TV. Casinos are everywhere out here, stuck among strip malls common as a hair salon or a Subway. And yes, they sell beer to go. What a world.
This morning, after conversing with the only local mechanics even semi-qualified to work on the car, it became tremendously clear that I was looking at an extended stay in South Dakota. Curiously enough, the trees out here do not grow parts for 1975 Mercedes; they have to import those. So much for making America great again…
I did some math: factored in hotels, rental cars and food, and an evening of whoring and gambling in Deadwood. All of these were guaranteed expenses, and given my ineptitude at games of chance none held any possibility of generating income. It seemed like a long and drawn-out way to spend more money than I could afford. So I dug around on shipping the car, called in some favors, and bartered away the few remaining shreds of my soul. The end result is that this will be my last night of this trip.
An anticlimactic affair. If it had a sound it would be a 7-year old boy making fart noises into his elbow. A jarring and frustrating end, but then one thing I’ve learned damn well throughout my traveling is that often things are frustrating.
Going through all the problems I’ve endured with this car, then sitting in a puddle in a tent in SW Minnesota at 5 in the morning was many things: annoying, tiresome, cold, and seemingly unending, as if God had turned my life into a Laurel & Hardy skit for His entertainment. One thing it most definitely was not was my normal day-to-day life back in Seattle. I left nearly six months ago wanting a change: I’m certainly in no position to argue with the results.
Friends, these are likely the final words I’ll be writing from out on the go. Hopefully in 24-hours I’ll be back in the Northwest. The car will be delivered sometime in the coming weeks, a period I’m already considering a reprieve. Won’t miss looking at her one bit.
I don’t have a clue what I’ll do once I’m back, but stay tuned: odds are good I’ll tell you all about it here.