Adventures with Murphy

By Beacon Staff

Every so often, my writing work requires a road trip. My latest sent me (and my pal Murphy) to the Olympics in Washington.

Because freelance writers are so massively overpaid, we took my 1965 Ford van, which I bought in 1985 or so with the idea of carrying my Kawasaki rice rocket in the back.

Ya see, Murphy had ridden with me on my motorcycle extravaganzas, too: Rain, hail, snow, blown seals, worn tires, sunburn, bird strikes, mad hornets, sandstorms, and yep, get-offs.

Somehow, being warm and dry, with a cooler full of goodies, a can of beans on the manifold, with a shiny clean bike, spare parts and TOOLS in back, made Murphy’s companionship tolerable.

But now, after about 400,000 miles in 10 states, two engines, two trannies, and three of every other part that hasn’t been welded up, it seems that Murphy is more creative than ever.

As usual, I did the usual pre-trip inspection, lube and “test runs.” On the big day, my horoscope looked OK, so I tossed my junk aboard, crossed my fingers and pointed the show West.

Sure enough, Murphy outdid himself. Exactly halfway between Point A and Point B, 400 miles from the nearest free workbench, the Happy Hum became a Mysterious Noise and then a Bad Vibration. No cell signal, of course.

Spark plug? Hah, you OPTIMIST! Head gasket! Yay!

Philosopher Hobbes would be proud. Murphy was overjoyed. My options: Plan A). Limp home, reschedule everything, beg or rent alternative wheels; or Plan B.) Marshal my brilliant engine-coddling and momentum-management skills, flog the carcass over mighty Stevens Pass and deal with the consequences later.

I chose Plan B. I pulled the plugs on the bad cylinders, put earplugs in my bad ears, and away we vibrated. Made it – in good time, too. Phew.

Next step in Plan B was to rent a tin box with four wheels and a windshield, for cheap. Murphy decided the only rentals available in Anacortes NOW were either a big crew-cab Dodge or a Cadillac SRX. The daily rate was the same (ridiculous), so I picked the Cadillac.

First of all, there’s no key, but rather a huge thingamabob with buttons all over it. You get in, step on the brake, and push a magic button on the dash.

Pushing the button gives you one reason Government Motors went broke: They blew millions on psychological warfare, as in “purchaser affirmation.” A video Cadillac medallion flashes before your eyes, and all the needles flail crazily in a “function check.” Finally, ANOTHER screen on the center console flashes “Driver Has Control” – a bald-faced lie.

The last person who drove it had to be three feet tall – and smarter than I. They programmed THEIR butt into the seat, which would try to stuff me into the headliner every time I started the engine.

Then there was the “climate control” console. It was set on “blowtorch” so I rolled the windows down, a small victory that lasted only until I had the audacity to walk away. The alarm system went off, of course, a final blow to my ego. Shamed, I opened the jockey box – Murphy had stolen the manual. Radio? Forget it – but I did manage to turn down the heat and shut up the alarm.

So, I did my Olympics interviews and pictures, and drove back on the freeway without hitting anything, or anything hitting me. Wow, was I glad to pull up to the car-return bay. Trouble was, the last couple scenic stops I’d made, instead of just tooting once, the horn was making a mysterious new toot. Why? The “key” thingie had disassembled itself. The real key (emergency) was attached to me, the rest was – fifteen minutes later – buried under the driver’s seat.

I guess that was enough for Murphy – and for me. I took Amtrak home (on time), my ride showed up, and I got my work done – barely.

I’ll head back and “recover” my van and all my stuff shortly. A head gasket is about a 30-dollar part – buried under not only about 200 pounds of iron, but about $800 worth of bolts that require $2,000 worth of wrenches to remove. Think Murphy wants to come along and help?

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