Yes, we are wheels up and rolling down the road. As I type these words we are southbound on 405, heading to our annual stay in Cannon Beach. Last year we never made it. Thirty miles north of Portland our car coasted to a stop, stranding us on the shoulder of I-5 for an hour and a half while we waited for a tow truck. Once the car was dropped off at the dealership—late on a Wednesday afternoon—we checked in to the Riverplace Hotel to await the mechanic’s judgment. After two days of waiting, we discovered that the problem was a faulty sending unit. While the gas gauge in the car said we had three quarters of a tank, the tank said we were stone cold empty.
This year, we’re heading to Oregon two days after all the eclipse craziness, but it’s not the four day stroll on the beach we had anticipated. This year, Cannon Beach is being cut short by a detour to Killer Nashville.
In 30 plus years, Bill and I have driven the I-5 corridor many times, going back and forth to Arizona, going back and forth to Ashland, and doing book signings in the upper lefthand corner of the map. So we have lots of familiar places along the road, and they all come with a few key identifying words. There’s the “drug bust” Denny’s in northern California; Boney’s* cow pasture in southern Oregon; the spot where we were stranded last summer; the place north of Vancouver where a guy in BMW roared past us on the right hand shoulder in the middle of a snowstorm, veered off into the ditch, and then came to an abrupt halt when he hit some immovable object hidden in the snow. (We did not stop to offer assistance!) And speaking of snow, there’s the place in Salem, again in a snowstorm, where a guy in a pickup went sailing off the highway and right through someone’s backyard fence. And let’s not forget the time we set our mattress on fire at the Americana in Redding, but that’s another story.
When we drive past the Winlock exit, I remember the one time I went to Winlock Egg Days. When I see the signs for Mt. St. Helens, I remember my daughter asking, as we rumbled north, dragging our loaded U-Haul behind us, “Mom, is Mt. St. Helens going to interrupt again?”
There’s the “just throw it out” exit in Kelso. Bill and I were traveling in the Boxster which had no cup holders. I was holding a soda cup half full of ice from a recent Burger King stop and had no place to set it down. “Just throw it out,” Bill told me. This is clearly a case of faulty pronoun reference. By “it” he meant, throw the ICE out. I thought he meant throw the CUP out. I could hardly believe that he wanted me to litter, but in the interest of marital harmony, that’s exactly what I did. I rolled down the window and flung the cup, ice and all, out of the car and into the ditch. I was astonished when the next thing Bill said was, “What did you do THAT for?” So yes, it’s definitely the “throw it out” exit.
Today, as we passed the Vader/Ryderwood exit, Bill said, “a particular class of third graders.” That statement actually predates Bill’s and my history together. In the mid seventies, I was living in Pe Ell, Washington. I had worked as a teacher and librarian in Arizona, but when I applied for teaching jobs in Washington, there didn’t seem to be any. And then I got a call back from the principal at the elementary school in Ryderwood. During the interview he told me with some disparagement, “We have this particular class of third graders …”
I never met that class, but my class at Bisbee’s Greenway Elementary School was probably referred to in much the same fashion. We went through teachers like a dose of salts. Several of them died, retired, or just plain quit after we finished with them. In other words, we were tough on teachers, and I figured the third graders in Ryderwood had probably mowed through their kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers in an singularly similar manner. So when the principal got around to offering me a contract, I didn’t accept it. Instead, I went out and found a job in the life insurance business.
In 1982, while I was still selling insurance, my company offered to pay the tuition for anyone who signed up for the Dale Carnegie course. Winning Friends and Influencing People is actually a course in public speaking with everyone required to do talks on some predetermined topic. One of the talks was supposed to be about an event that changed the course of the speaker’s life. I gave a talk about crossing paths with a serial killer in Tucson back in the early seventies. When the talk was over, one of my classmates came up to me during the break and said, “Someone should write a book about that.”
And so I did. The resulting 1200 page manuscript was the first book I ever wrote. Although that piece of fiction was never published, writing it nonetheless launched my career. Since I hadn’t been allowed in the creative writing class at the University of Arizona, By Reason of Insanity became my on the job training for writing. The first book wasn’t ever published and won’t be, but the second one, Until Proven Guilty, was and so have another fifty plus books since then..
That’s the interesting thing about life. All steps are necessary; no steps may be missed. I’m a writer today—and writing this blog—because of that particular class of third graders that I never once laid eyes on. Deciding to dodge that bullet sent me wandering into the world life insurance, and that ultimately propelled me into writing.
So yes, whenever Bill and I motor past that Vader/Ryderwood exit, I’m always grateful to be passing it rather than taking it, and today was no exception.
I’m finishing this blog at the Inn in Cannon Beach. Traffic was non-existent. We had no car challenges. Everything is in order, and I suspect we’ll be having dinner at Mo’s tonight.
Clam strips anyone? When you read Proof of Life, you’ll discover that J.P. Beaumont has a soft spot for clam strips. That’s hardly surprising. It turns out I have one, too.
* Boney was a rescue half German shepherd/half Irish Wolfhound. When traveling with dogs, Bill fills the gas tank while I walk dogs. On the edge of the pavement for that filling station, there was a ditch followed by a pasture containing fifteen or twenty calves. The calves were curious about the dog who was approximately the same size they were, and Boney was certainly curious about them. I’m fortunate that, on that occasion, I didn’t get turned into a flying human dog sled.