Bill Bryson in The lost Continent was looking for the prettiest town in America but falls short of finding one with all his desired attributes so goes about constructing his dream town of Amalgam from different towns with the bits he takes a shine to. A motel here, a Main Street there, a barbershop, a five-and-dime, an authentic and original movie theater, not the dreaded multiplex with screens the size of “bath towels.” A picturesque downtown with real stores were cherry-picked and, well, amalgamated.
As I pondered this we were on a long straight stretch of county road through rural Georgia. A gaggle of police cars with blue lights flashing appeared in the distance. A fierce-looking state trooper waived us down. My eyes fixed on the gun in his holster that bobbed on his disproportionately large hips. He approached, proceeded by his belly and a big cigar and grimly informed us that he was going to do an “equipment check.”
So it’s to be Georgia where we are disappeared by the local police – not Louisiana, not Alabama, not Texas as some so-called friends and erstwhile relatives had led me to believe.
Step out of the car. Hands behind your head. On your knees. Bang! was the scene that flashed through my mind and knocked out all thoughts of a pretty home town.
Before I had a chance to beg for my life the trooper had checked our headlights, blinkers, brake lights and horn. When he’d decided we were fit to continue to drive through his state his pudgy face softened into friendliness.
“You’ve come a long way,” he chuckled on seeing our Washington license plates. Little did he know that that was our second pass ’round the country – on track for 20,000 miles by the time we looped back to Washington State.
Jimmy replied, “We didn’t do it all today,” and they laughed companionably.
“Well y’all drive safe. God love ya!” and his toothy grin was topped off by twinkling eyes.
God and the State Trooper seem to love us enough to let us pass through Georgia.
If God really loved me He’d find me a house in Amalgam.
In my own little world as I often am when a passenger (most particularly just before we get lost) I was jolted out of my reverie by a loud obscenity from Jimmy and by the car (towing the trailer) swerving viciously towards some bollards marking out narrow lanes in road works. Being America, they were not just little cones, but beer-keg-like bollards. When I checked my door mirror, I saw three orange blinking monsters catapulting towards the work crew. Ping, ping, ping they went, like tiddlywinks.
Jimmy had had to make a split second decision to either let “some stupid woman in a white car” hit us or to rearrange the construction site. Fascinated with the incredible trajectory of the bollards, I didn’t notice at first the damage to our awning. But when I saw the awning struts sticking out from the trailer like compound fractures, I shouted “You’ve got to stop!!”
“We’ve got to! We’ve got to! The awning is broken and swinging around!!”
“I can’t stop here!”
“Yes you can! Yes you can!” I was beginning to sound like Dave Letterman with his annoying habit of repeating himself. “It’s OK here! It’s OK here!” I insisted, trying to browbeat Jimmy into pulling off the highway anywhere as he couldn’t see the dire state of our awning in his mirrors.
It was still furled up in place, near the roof of the trailer but the struts at either end had been snapped off at the bottom and were dangling from the top. The whole thing looked perilously close to crashing to the ground. The struts would then get tangled in the trailer wheels causing the trailer to jackknife or catapult or become javelins bounding along the roadway or the whole thing could sail away causing an interstate pile-up.
White knuckles gripping the wheel, Jimmy eased gingerly onto the shoulder of an on ramp of Interstate 95.
We could go no further, particularly on a road full of truckers and crazy Florida drivers who didn’t appreciate the danger of road works whilst wrapped in large pieces of speeding metal.
A State Trooper pulled up as we were standing beside our trailer, shell-shocked and scratching our heads. I was prompted to ponder the question Jimmy had posed a few days before; Do our license plates run out at the beginning of November or the end of November? Isn’t it funny how we feel guilty as soon as a policeman is in view?
The Trooper was big and imposing. His biceps bulged tightly in the sleeves of his neatly pressed tan shirt. He was so tall that if he had lifted his arm out to the horizontal I could have walked under it with inches to spare above my head. His children wouldn’t need outdoor play equipment. They could use their sturdily built father as a climbing frame. I pictured a tot swinging from his biceps or sliding down his broad back. No, he wouldn’t have children. He looked too mean.
An impending scene of degradation and disgrace, vis-à-vis so many movies we’ve all seen, loomed in my mind. The Trooper squinted at the license plate on the car and scribbled something on his little spiral pad (just like the ones they all use in the movies) and slid it meaningfully into his shirt pocket. I waited for it. He strode menacingly up to Jimmy, engaged eye contact and paused while we quaked.
I was convinced it was against the law to stop where we had and I scanned the trooper’s belt for handcuffs. If our trailer was confiscated would they junk it? All our worldly goods were on it.
Are Florida jails air-conditioned? How will I sleep? What is the diet like? I can’t manage on stodgy food.
Jimmy and I stood like two naughty children waiting for the punishment that we knew we deserved.
“You folks having some trouble?” he asked kindly.
To our immense relief after our babbling explanations he produced some plastic ties from his car, secured the wayward awning struts to the body of the trailer and informed us that there was an RV dealer just five miles down the road.
And so ends this sorry tale of great anxiety, vast expense and no one to blame – she got away.
There is a happy ending though. Adjacent to the RV dealer was an outlet mall and in the two hours it took to replace our awning, we used the free time productively. Jimmy purchased all my birthday presents, a matter that had been preying on his mind for some time.