Taking the road home

CHEAP EATS I'm back in the woods! To get here I had to ask my ex-pickup truck one last favor: get me there. Here. It was the middle of the night. We were loaded down with all of my clothes and musical instruments, and I was singing (a capella, of course) that old World War II song "Coming In on a Wing and a Prayer."

Remember: my car dies every now and again for no good reason and stays dead for an hour or more at a time. First gear had been hit-or-miss for many months, then mostly miss. By the night in question it was a distant memory. But this was new: every time I turned on a turn signal the headlights went out, and I had to jiggle the doodad to get them back, in most cases before I killed any road signs or had a heart attack.

I patted my old ex-truck on the dashboard. "Come on, baby," I said. "We're not into the woods yet."

It's been a long time since I stopped all the way at a stop sign. Now I couldn't signal my turns either. I'd gotten a hot dog in Petaluma, at a 7-Eleven, because nothing else was open and the last thing in the world I needed was to be pulled over by the cops on an empty stomach.

Before you get to the woods there are miles and miles of farmland. Small farms. In the daytime it's bucolically beautiful. At night you can feel the weight of your own death, as real as the smell of cow shit. Mostly the farms are dairy farms.

The roads there are what I aspire to be: dark and curvaceous. There was a hot dog in my lap. Right when I started to lose my AM radio signal I felt a chill, so I turned on the heater, and the headlights went out.

I jiggled the heater thingy, and when that didn't work I joggled the turn signal doodad, and when that didn't work either I slammed on the brakes. The road was there, but I sure as hell couldn't see it. The car stopped before hitting anything, but it stalled.

Then the lights came on. I was in the breakdown lane on the wrong side of the road. There were some cows on the other side of a fence, looking at me like I was flying saucers. I turned off the headlights, turned the key in the ignition, and it started. I tried to turn on the headlights, and the headlights came on.

OK. I was going to go the rest of the way without touching a thing, except the steering wheel and the shifter. And my hot dog. It was loaded with salsa, hot peppers, and pickles, most of which wound up in my hair and skirt.

If I'd known that my subletter had left behind a can of chili and a can of beans, I'd have saved the hot dog too for later. Of course, if I'd known that he'd also left behind three months plus of dirty dishes, a lot of little red beard hairs in the bathroom sink, and a good, thick carpeting of garbage across the wood floor of my shack, I'd have turned around and gone back to the city and put off my homecoming, or shackcoming, for another week or month. Or whatever, just so it was daytime when I arrived.

I told you I was dismantled. Well, I'm remantling. First things first: I made it back into the woods. For the first time since the end of June, I was home. There was the hammock, the bathtub, the chicken coop. The mess.

Second thing second, late afternoon the next day, while I was scrubbing and painting and vacuuming and scraping, Mountain Sam came over in Mountain Veronica's car and gave it to me. I use the word gave because it makes them out to be exactly as heroic and generous and beautiful as these two are, but the journalistic fact is that they bartered it to me in exchange for services to be rendered later. I have to caretake their place and yard and hot tub while they are, indefinitely, somewhere else.

Sound nebulous? It is! Especially compared to a car. A less-than-10-years-old one, at that. Which is a first for me. Working horn, headlights, everything. How often does that happen? First gear ...

As if I weren't already blown away, there was more.

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