Week of Rental Car Disasters
was around this time that we discovered the corned beef hash. I
don't remember the name of the diner that saved our sanity, but
it was near our motel on the outskirts of Phoenix. It was old-school,
with a long counter and greasy yellow wallpaper. And it had this
amazing corned beef hash, it was warm and salty and basically the
purest expression of comfort food in the physical world. I had never
eaten corned beef hash before, and I've never had any as good since
then. We resolved to eat that hash at least twice a day for the
remainder of our visit.
next day, we had to go to the courthouse for the guardianship proceedings.
I was driving again, and I was trying not to dwell on how weird
this was, and my grandmother's dirty hair, and all the hassles the
attorney had warned us to be ready for, and how to keep my mom from
freaking out, and also ---
left into oncoming traffic. My mom screamed and I started to brake.
There was a semi barreling down on us. And then, when we were already
halfway into the opposing lanes, a green left-turn arrow flashed
into life, and we had the right of way that I'd somehow decided
already belonged to us. Miraculously, nobody had already started
into the intersection, or they would have rammed us. When we got
to the courthouse, I let go of the steering wheel very slowly and
then breathed at the top of my lungs.
I'm good in a crisis. I'm just not a good driver in a crisis.
all the lawyer's warnings, the court proceedings turned out to be
pretty straightforward. The judge more or less rubber-stamped the
power of attorney and guardianship, and the Army didn't object to
went back to Sun City to sit with my grandma, even though I wasn't
sure why. She wouldn't remember our visit, and we wouldn't get to
communicate with the parts of her that had meant something to us.
But we went anyway.
time, Grandma seemed calmer, probably because the nurses had medicated
her. We sat on folding chairs in the little patio at the center
of the rest home. She stared into space and made nonsensical stabs
at conversation, and it was almost worse than seeing her weep and
run from her pills. It was like she was already mostly somewhere
else, except a small part of her grudgingly rested in the shady
had no more traffic scares that day, mostly thanks to luck. Sun
City's drivers come in two kinds: the ones who've worked hard all
their lives and now nobody is going to stop them from driving 80
miles an hour, and the ones who are in no hurry and always go 20
miles per hour. You can't slow down too much, or the speed freaks
will crush you, but you have to be ready to hit the brakes the moment
you see a sedan (or golf cart) almost standing still in the road.
in Phoenix, I felt exhausted and sore in my load-bearing muscles,
as if I'd been carrying instead of sitting. I was maybe a lost penny
away from melting down, but I was also hyper-aware of the need to
keep from upsetting my mom. She just looked drained past the point
of having anything to give.
when we stopped at a drug store to get a few things, and I locked
the keys in the car. With the engine still running.
in the late afternoon, the sun was still kicking our asses, and
I just looked at the car and listened to the hum of the engine.
My mom swayed on her feet, as if snake-bitten in the desert. She
could start screaming or just pass out, and I wasn't sure which
would be worse. I steered her to the air-conditioned drug store,
and looked around for a pay phone.
sun did another gaudy desert fade. Our plans for our last evening
in town eroded with each passing minute. At least it was no longer
so hot that you felt like you'd been spitting for hours. I can't
remember what our evening plans had been, but they probably involved
eating more hash and watching a movie. Something to get our minds
off the week we'd had.
Department car cruised through the parking lot, and a cop got out.
He spent 20 minutes trying to jimmy the lock with a thin metal ruler-like
object. He said he had tons of experience breaking into cars, but
ours had some kind of newfangled security. I almost called the rental
place, but I was sure they were sick of hearing from us.
The cop finally phoned for a locksmith, who promised to come sometime
in the next hour.
mom wandered back from the drugstore. By now, it was fully dark
except for all the parking lot lights. I said I was sorry about
this, about all the automotive mayhem of the past week. My mom was
just glad I'd been able to be there for the whole Grandma ordeal,
car crap or no car crap.
some guy did show up and charged us a shitload of money for thirty
seconds' work, and we went back to our motel to collapse. Mom and
I cemented our friendship as adults that week, but she never again
got into a car that I was driving.
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