Back to the mountain and our journey to Garryowen. Jimmy’s eyes were bulging and arms straining as he leaned into the slope as though he was pulling the trailer up the mountain with a strap on his back. “My foot is on the floor. I don’t have any more gears!” he fumed as I slunk lower and lower in my seat. The route I’d chosen looked flat on the map. We crawled up to the snow-line and the temperature plummeted from a balmy 70°F to 40 degrees. With each twist of the road to the right, I could count the members of our procession in my door mirror. Before we could pull over we had accumulated eight cars, a motorhome, a pickup truck with trailer and five motorcycles – all following at a stately 10 miles per hour. How they must have enjoyed the opportunity to appreciate the scenery.
As we rose up out of the tree line we emerged into beautiful alpine meadows of wild flowers just as they were giving their short burst of summer color. Sweeping vistas for miles and miles to the horizon across the Bighorn Basin – once, millions of years ago, a sea bed – appeared and disappeared as we crawled up and up. “We’re at the top!” I cried again and again, hopefully, as each bend ahead appeared to be the last, until rounding it we could see yet another long loop of road – up.
As the air outside cooled, the engine temperature reached a record high. Thankfully, for me, the “Elevation, 9,430 feet” sign – matching the small print on the map I then saw – appeared before our car and my driver simultaneously combusted. We found a scenic turnout for a cooling lunch stop.
If I thought I was off the hook when engine and driver had chilled, I soon discovered that mountain passes don’t just go up to the top and then down the other side. Setting off once again, Jimmy commented “We seem to be doing an awful lot of steep up and not very much down,” oblivious to the fact that the descending miles flew past as he became a downhill racer hurtling ‘round bends.
The road was, thankfully, cambered but there was no guard rail on my side – a vertical drop to sure death – just dinky, little, single chevron signs > > > proclaiming the bleedin’ obvious as my speed demon careened down and around another hairpin bend.
On one steep descent, I got a swift glimpse of a brown information sign. “That sign just said that the granite here is 2.5 billion . . . no it can’t have been billion.”
“Yes, it said 2.5 billion years old.”
Oh, Lord, save me. He’s reading the tourist signs.
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Jimmy shouted, with a devilish gleam in his eye as he stood on the brakes and hauled us through a more than 180° loop of this rollercoaster ride. “There’s a lot of weight in the back when you’re going down hill,” he told me, grinning.
“Have you only just realized that?” I asked a little hysterically.
Then suddenly we were in the little town of Ranchester, traveling on a flat, straight road at a sedate 25 miles per hour. There were no cars in this western town, only pickup trucks and Harley motorcycles, and the finest building in town was the Cowboy State Bank.
Soon we were thunk-thunking along on an old, concrete stretch of interstate – from downhill adrenalin rush to flat tedium within a matter of minutes. After exiting the highway, we needed to drive three miles south on Frontage Road – only there were two Frontage Roads, one on each side of the highway. Naturally we took the wrong one to a dead-end.
Now that we’ve been to the site of Custer’s Last Stand I really don’t know what to make of the man. I’m tempted to say that he was a bigoted, blood-thirsty glory-seeker doing the bidding of unscrupulous politicians, but what do I know.
At the campsite we parked on a high bluff, overlooking the countryside. Jimmy’s driving must have repeatedly opened and slammed shut the cupboard doors in the trailer as it leapt behind us. Teabags and ginger cookies littered the floor on arrival at four o’clock – tea time. How appropriate – an invitation if ever I saw one. We had a good view of the interstate while we drank our tea and could hear the freight trains all night. We felt right at home.
Oh, and the journey was 190 miles zigzagging through the mountains, not the 140 mile easy route on a flattish road Jimmy had chosen. Oops.
Before we cast ourselves adrift again on our second homeless stint, we gassed up after waiting for 20 minutes at the cheapest gas station in town. We played dodgems on the forecourt with cars, trucks and motorhomes – other cheapskates – before ending up behind an old boy in a rusty heap. When it was finally his turn, he shot forward to the pump nearly crashing head-on with an interloper sneaking in from the opposite direction.
In this credit and debit card society, he tottered through a tangled maze of cars and gas pumps to pre-pay with cash in the shop for his fill up. Upon returning to the pump his gas tank swallowed $60 in short order so he limped back to the shop to part with more money. I’m guessing he paid another $20 but the pump shut off after $10.32. Bored and impatient we watched him closely.
He staggered to the back of his car (the temperature was in the 90’s, positively roasting for Pacific Northwesterners) and pushed up and down on the trunk. This caused his car to dance on its sloppy suspension like a “funny car” (those redneck motors that pump up their suspensions and rock side to side and forward and back for absolutely no reason at all) but he seemed to unblock an air lock because he was then able to pump another $2.55 before lurching back to the trunk to make his car dance again for another $1.97 of gas to go in the tank.
After another couple of slow mo moves by the old boy and the car’s lively quick step he gave up and put the nozzle back in the pump. But he didn’t get back in his car. Oh no, he tottered back to the shop for his refund.
“Do you know how much change he went back for?” Jimmy sputtered as we catapulted to the pump to claim the old boy’s empty space when he finally drove off. “Ten cents!!!” All the other things Jimmy said while we were waiting for Slow Mo and his boogying car have to remain off the record.
The rest of the story is so excruciating I can hardly bear to relate it to you. After waiting a week, Teddy, the grinning salesman, was anxious to conclude the deal and phoned us to check on the progress of our funds. Jimmy advised him that we were approximately $3,000 short of the total not feeling the need to explain why (sales tax booboo).
Teddy was asked if a post dated check for the balance would be acceptable and he agreed. We borrowed truck and drove a wearisome hour and a half in the snow up the busy Interstate 5 through Seattle to pay for and collect our car.
On our arrival at the dealership Teddy showed us the car, anxious to get rid of it and us no doubt, handed us the keys and our temporary license plates. We moved on to the reception desk to make payment with two checks, the second of which would be post-dated as agreed. Only at this point did dear Teddy decide it would be prudent to check with his manager if that would be acceptable.
We were left standing drumming our fingers on the reception desk for ten minutes, dangling the new keys and expecting at any moment to drive away in our new car. You can guess the rest. I’m a little too ashamed of my behaviour to relate it in full but I let the sales manager and finance manager know that I was displeased that they had all wasted our time.
Jimmy was angry as well but anxious to salvage the deal that had already been struck for the one car in the whole of the State of Washington that was exactly what he wanted.
Before embarking on a fourth trip up the tiresome Interstate, Jimmy took the precaution of phoning the finance manager to be told he wasn’t in on the day and at the time when he had promised us he would be.
The duty manager phoned back and told us that our now proposed plan of paying partially by check and the small outstanding amount on my brother’s credit card (our own credit cards were still an unresolved issue, No Credit !*#@!), as had been suggested previously by the finance manager, would be subject to a 3% charge on the credit card portion. Apoplectic, we got increasingly terse with this new member of the saga until he said he would take care of it.
Jimmy went in to conclude the deal while I was told in no uncertain terms to stay in the car until the transaction was completed. I pondered possible scenarios of outcomes at great length to amuse myself; the dealer would knock the outstanding $3,000 off the purchase price as compensation for our wasted trips and distress or throw in a motorcycle that stood oddly out of place in the showroom or give us free coffees. It was only the previously offered car keys and temporary plates with which Jimmy returned.
When we went back to collect our permanent license plates I asked to be dropped at IKEA on the way. Foolishly, I thought I’d seen the last of that dealership. There is, I’m sorry to say, a Part 3.
A Chevy Tahoe at Lake Tahoe. Well we thought the association was cute!
We drove the Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry (in St. Louis).
Pumped with excitement at buying a car in our new country, Jimmy phoned. “I found the one!”
“What color is it?”
“You’re such a girl.”
“Oh.” I guess I should have asked about the model, the year, the engine size and the accessories.
“You can see what you think of the salesman, Teddy, next week.”
“What do you mean?”
When we arrived into a sea of Chevys, Teddy, handsome in his Labrador-eyed, toothy way, grasped me warmly by the hand and hauled me onto my feet. “HI! I’m Teddy! You must be Carol! Would you like to see your new car?!” He grinned and bounced a bit. If he had a tail, it would have been wagging furiously.
In the showroom, Teddy lounged back proprietarily in his chair, hands behind his head, elbows up, feet up, chewing gum visibly but when he was gone a series of people raided the desk drawers. Teddy didn’t even have his own desk.
When he arrived back, I was surprised to see on a page of scribbles that the price of the car was $3,000 more than Jimmy had told me. “Were you aware that the price you agreed didn’t include tax?” I whispered.
“Yes,” Jimmy bluffed for the benefit of the salesman.I should have reminded Jimmy that, unlike in Britain where sales tax is included in the ticket price, it is always added on at the point of purchase in the U.S. as a nasty aftershock. It’s not so grave when the extra amount is $3 but $3,000, well; we were both a bit nonplussed.
Then expected to sign away thousands of dollars, give or take as Teddy put it, I asked “What do you mean give or take?”
“Well my math isn’t real good so I’ve guessed tax and licensing fees at 10%.” Jimmy and I exchanged looks of amazement and horror. Not only was Teddy guessing at a high ticket price, he was expecting payment in full.
“You realise I’m not paying for the car today,” Jimmy told Teddy and Teddy blinked blankly at him. “I told you yesterday on the phone that my funds haven’t come through from the U.K. yet.” No signs of comprehension yet from Teddy. “I’m here to put a deposit on the car.” Teddy smiled benignly at Jimmy. “How much deposit would you like?”
Teddy snapped out of his trance, “How much would you like to put down?”
“Well, how much would you like to put down?” Teddy was out of his depth again.
“How about 10 per cent?” This added more confusion so Teddy hoofed it for 10 minutes to get help with his numbers and then returned, pushing more doodles at us.
“You want me to sign this?” I asked Jimmy, dumbfounded. He shrugged. I signed. Teddy swept up the hand scrawled page of numbers and stopped chewing long enough to grin broadly at us as he whisked it off to the finance office. “I’m not comfortable spending several thousand dollars with a man who can’t add up,” I said.
“Nor am I.”
“What do you want to do?” But Teddy was back and explained that we were waiting for the finance officer.
Jimmy took the opportunity to try to conclude other issues, “You’ll give us the handbook for the car and the disk for the sat nav.”
“I’ll find you a handbook and I’ll give you a good price on the disk.”
“The car was advertised with sat nav so it should come with the disk.”
“I already know all that, Teddy.”
“I’ll see if I can get it for you at cost.”
“NO!’ we chorused.
Teddy sprang out of his chair and out of the door like a puppy after a stick. “He’s going to try to pinch one out of another car,” Jimmy surmised. Sure enough Teddy reappeared with a DVD box in his hand and promptly disappeared into the manager’s office.
“I’m really uncomfortable with all this,” I told Jimmy.
“If he messes me about any more I’m going to walk,” Jimmy spat.
“Shouldn’t we be talking to the sales manager?”
“Have you seen him?” Jimmy asked incredulously.
I turned to see a lumberjack trudge past. “You can’t mean that man with the walrus moustache, flannel shirt, torn jeans and cap with ear flaps.”
“Oh boy,” I said, not as in OH BOY! but as in oh help.
We were both gripping the arms of our chairs ready to bolt for the door – angry, cold, frustrated and heads fizzing with the raucous inane showroom TV when the finance manager appeared. He was well spoken, clean shaven, wearing a white shirt and a tie and led us into his professional looking office. He quickly took us through all the details of our purchase, came up with an exact price, then congratulated us on our new car and extracted a check for the deposit from Jimmy.
You didn’t really think that was the end of the story did you? Oh no . . . . . to be continued.
Homesick for my adopted country, England, I spent two weeks basking in glorious sunshine having left himself behind in his adopted country to contend with yet more torrential downpours. A daily occurrence on the Puget Sound he told me on the phone. Oh golly.
I was not allowed to pick up a rental car from Heathrow Airport on arrival after a night flight as my minder/usual travelling companion feared I would either circle London endlessly on the M25 or fall asleep at the wheel. Unable to defend myself I hopped on the tube.
After a day’s R & R from jet lag, I collected a teeny rental car and was completely flummoxed by a) a manual gearbox, b) a clutch, c) having to drive on the left again, d) sitting my bum so close to the road and e) an empty gas tank. I hadn’t touched a petrol/gas/diesel pump in over two years and the hand I usually had spare from not having to change gears had become accustomed to holding a cup of coffee.
Firing up disused neural pathways along with the engine, I successfully exited the rental car parking lot using an eleven point turn while pumping the clutch as though inflating an air bed. Had I been a fool to refuse the collision damage waiver to save a few pennies?
With intense concentration, I avoided all the other road users without a blast from their horns or angry hand gestures, sidled into a nearby petrol station on the correct side of the pump (ha!), filled the tank and drove up to the kiosk to pay. I felt I had achieved a major feat. Smiling triumphantly, debit card in hand, I was asked “Which pump?”
“Oh. I don’t know.” Deflated and much to the chagrin of the drivers in the queue of cars behind me, I squeezed out of the car having neatly pulled up an arm’s length from the kiosk so I could reach the window. I winced at the looks of pure hostility of the DRIVERS IN A HURRY. Three was my number and I slunk back to the car.
It’s shocking how I’d allowed myself to coast into blond tag-along mode. Having slowly and happily let my independence slip away over the years, I had to give myself a mental slap and take responsibility for myself for at least two weeks. Once that was accomplished, I enjoyed being responsible only for myself. Meals when I was hungry instead of at mealtime, trashy TV at full volume, junk food with no looks of disapproval, shopping more than was good for my wallet and a curious feeling of liberation when stepping out of the door without telling anyone where I was going or when I’d be back.
Driving on the wrong side soon became the right side even though it was the left side. And driving on the right when I returned to the States would then feel wrong even though it was right.