A few week’s ago, I had a conversation with Matt, (one of my son Andrew’s college roommates). During our chat the story below, came up. Matt's positive feedback encouraged me to see the amusing qualities in my folly. But I said, "If you were responsible for someone, you wouldn't see it as comical if you endangered their well-being." He said, "After all these years, I'm sure the statue of limitations has run out." Before I could counter he added, "Besides, someone might avoid a similar mistake by reading it."
|I LIKE TO CALL ANDREW, TOM AND MATT (center), "THE ATM." BUT THESE GREAT FRIENDS AND ROOMIES PREFER TO BE CALLED, "DRUNKEN BRONUTS." A LOUD SHOUT OUT TO MATT BECAUSE HE'S STUDYING THIS SEMESTER IN GERMANY.|
In March 1981, my wife’s BFF Sami, flew out from Brooklyn, to visit us in Las Vegas. Sami was my friend too so when Sue couldn’t get that night off, it was no big deal for me to pick her up at the airport.
Sami was unattached at that time. She was (still is) a good-looking girl of exotic Brazilian and Egyptian lineage. Back in our Brooklyn College days, to avoid scaring off potential suitors, this six-footer used to down-play her height by saying she was five-foot-twelve.
We had six hours to kill after Sami landed, (before Sue got off work). Sami carried a heavy winter coat off the jet. She was amazed that compared to New York that the temperature was comfortable.
Sami had never gambled or been to a casino but she wasn’t keen on doing it without her buddy, (I thought it was cute that she brought five rolls of quarters for slot machines because as she put, “In case, we can’t get to a bank).”
She was hungry so after we buzzed down the fabulous Las Vegas strip, we continued to my condo and dropped off her stuff. I got my thin, denim winter coat and made sure she had hers as we headed further north and out of town.
For many visitors (and Vegas residents too) Mount Charleston is an unknown treasure…about forty minutes away. This unincorporated town has a sparse year-round population (in 2010, still only 357 people). During the summer, the area is much cooler and is a great place to beat the heat. In winter, the nearby trails in Lee Canyon and Kyle Canyon offer adequate skiing to intermediates and beginners. But our destination was the rustic ski lodge restaurant and bar, near the summit.
|(STOCK PHOTO) THE HIGHEST PEAK THERE, RAISES UP TO 7700 FEET. WHEN PEOPLE GO TO LAS VEGAS AND SAY THEY SNOW SKI IN THE MORNING AND DRIVE AN HOUR TO WATER SKI IN LAKE MEADE, THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT MT. CHARLESTON.|
At the Mount Charleston cut-off, (Highway 157), I brought to Sami’s attention, the end of the barren wilderness and the far-off glitter of neon behind us. She said, “With all the mountains around us, I didn’t realize how high we were getting.”
Two signs of interest are there, (one points the way to Mount Charleston and the other says in giant letters, NO GAS ON MOUNTAIN)! A quick glance at my silver, 1975 Chevy Monte Carlo’s fuel gauge satisfied me that even at less than a quarter tank, I had plenty to safely complete our journey.
Our new, winding, one lane (in each direction) byway brought new meaning to the word dark. Shrouded from the moonlight by ubiquitous forests, the only way to navigate up this country road was to concentrate on the glowing lines painted on the ground.
While seemingly driving straight up, Sami and I enjoyed a great conversation until she said, “It’s been ten minutes and I haven't seen another car. If I didn’t know you so well, I might panick about where you're taking me.” We were laughing as from out of nowhere, a car whipped around the bend and nearly sideswiped us. I was calling him an asshole as my eye flashed to my gas gauge. In the short time we were on that road, I went from nearly a quarter tank to being solidly on “E.”
What a lazy moron, I convinced myself that the upward angle of the car was affecting the gauge needle. Then I compounded my poor judgment by deciding it would be a drag to turn around, drive to town, fill-up and come back.
Seconds later, we crossed the snowline. The pavement was dry but everything else was blanketed in the white stuff. Sami was commenting on how pretty the snow in the trees made the scenery as the car sputtered. In no time, my Chevy, belched, farted and wheezed...until it lost power. At the apex of a sharp curve, I rolled onto the white shoulder.
This was twenty years before cell phones so after five minutes went by, I thought our chances of being randomly rescued were bleak. Then I came up such a stupid idea that the “THREE STOOGES,” would have retired early because their preposterous, asinine antics paled in comparison to me.
I told Sami that I would put the car in neutral and with her behind the wheel, I could push the car across the hazardous raodway, into a K-TURN. Then we could coast down the mountain…for a better chance of getting help on the Interstate.
There were many flaws in this plan. But the most glaring was…Sami didn’t know how to drive. But she was enthusiastic about helping…and there was so little that had to be done. I gave her a brief; how to use the brakes tutorial, and we sprang into action.
Still no knight in shining armor drove by to prevent the dangerous comedy of errors that was about to unfold.
It was easy for me to push and get enough momentum for the car to roll forward across the road. But I didn’t stress that Sami would have to continue “cutting” the wheel. When I did, she became indecisive. Sami was flustered enough that when I told her to use the brake, she hesitated and the car got caught in a shallow ditch.
My Chevy was now stuck with it's rear end up in the air, on a 45º angle. Much worse, it was exposed to traffic because 10% of it was sticking out into the road. To make matters still worse, it was in a blind spot that downhill speeders would have trouble seeing, (like the genius who almost sideswiped us).
I turned on my emergency flashers (clearly this was the only time I EVER really needed them in my forty-plus years of driving). Before we split in opposite directions, Sami asked if she should be concerned about man-eating bears or mountain lions. I was confident as I said, "No." But I was guessing. We took our positions up the road, to try to flag down assistance or at least warn speeding knuckleheads.
She and I were wearing sneakers, didn’t have gloves or a hat and froze up there. When the first car in twenty minutes finally came up, the bastards didn’t even slow down.
We were stuck in this insanity until a second car coming up indeed stopped. Our "savior" was driving a black, Triumph Spitfire. In that era, this sexy, English two-seat sports car was right up there with Corvette as the ultimate chick magnets.
|IN THE 70's, TRIUMPH NEVER ACHIEVED THE SUCCESS IN THE USA YOU'D EXPECT BECAUSE IT WAS HARD TO GET PARTS...AND OH YEAH, THEY WERE HIGH MAINTAINENCE TOO.|
Our savior was falling down drunk and reeked of booze. To keep steady, he held the side of my car as he introduced himself as Wyatt Winslow. Winslow was wearing a three-piece suit and mentioned that he was a blackjack floorman (supervisor) at the Dunes Casino. He seemed useless until he suggested that Sami and I push my car free while he steered. The car wouldn’t budge…even when he offered to push with Sami at the wheel.
Winslow’s fancy suit was filthy when he said, “I live on the mountain and I know a volunteer fireman…so I know where to get gas.” Wow, what a hero. At that moment, I would have kissed his ass in Macy’s window. So when he said, “I’ll take the girl,” I didn’t confer with my exotic beauty. I shrugged, “Sure.”
At the precise second the Triumph’s rear lights were out of sight, I realized my potential mistake could be of biblical proportion. First I envisioned him being so messed-up that he’d accelerate the car to impress her. I worried about a crash and Sami never being in gem, mint condition, ever again. It got worse when a fear of her being sexual brutalized crossed my mind…until the horror escalated to include a beating and murder too. Maybe I would be better off if a bear ate me alive...if Sami didn't come back in one piece.
Somehow, I didn't soil myself as I tried to estimate how much farther Winslow had to go and come back. But the next half hour was an eternal, internal nightmare. I turned my back on the lane coming up the mountain and stood, literally and figuratively frozen, staring in a silent vigil, hoping to see the Triumph’s headlights coming down from Mount Charleston.
I was engulfed by frustration and angst. In desperation, I was willing to throw down my atheism and start praying. But seconds before I reached for heavenly guidance, I heard a car engine and saw a glimmer of light ricochet through the woods. A smile came to my lips as the car came into view. But the driver didn’t slow down. I was trying to wave the prick down but he zoomed past me and narrowly missed clipping my car.
My heart was still beating through my chest when another car’s lights filtered through the trees. Except this time, I recognized the unique sound of a Triumph’s engine. Winslow, (still in his scuffed-up suit) was staggering as he carried a two-gallon gas can my way. I walked past him and whispered to Sami, “You okay?” She laughed as if it was an idiotic question and shrugged, “Yeah…”
Winslow unscrewed the gas cap and poured plenty of fuel in. I started the car…and nothing happened. It failed a second time and he said, “Pop the hood. I’ll put gas right into the carburetor.” From the little space between a gap in the steering wheel and the crevice under the raised hood, I watched him unscrew the wing nut that held down the air filter protector. Then I saw his shaky hand careful allow a few droplets to find their target. He stood away from the car and said, “Try it.” Again, nothing happened. He was more liberal with the gas the second time and even more so with the third. Still, my car wouldn’t start. On the fourth try, the jerk splashed gas all over the place. And my Chevy…DID NOT start. But to add to the fun, the car caught on fire!
|I MIGHT BE A STOREHOUSE OF USELESS INFORMATION BUT WHEN IT COMES TO PRACTICAL LIFE SKILLS, ALL I KNOW IS...FIRE+GAS=EXPLOSION! IT WAS TIME TO RUN.|
I rushed out of my car, grabbed Sami and hustled her away. She twisted out of my grip and stared at the carnage from about thirty feet away. Sami had a fascinated expression on her face and said, “It’s only burning the top of the motor…” I said, “No, I don’t care. It's going to explode. Let it burn…” She drifted towards the fire and said, “Get snow, we can put it out…” This crazy girl ran over and was doing it herself. I followed and then Winslow joined in. When her plan worked and the flames diminished, I took off my coat and smothered the last few hot spots.
There’s an old joke, (of extreme bad taste) that fits this situation; In the middle of nowhere, a man picks up a hitchhiker. On an especially quiet stretch of road, the hitcher brandishes a knife and tells the driver to pull over. The driver is stripped naked and handcuffed to a tree behind some bushes. His car and all his belongings are robbed. Dozens of cars go by until a truck driver notices the man and his predicament. The man says to the approaching truck driver, “Boy am I glad to see you…” The truck driver starts taking down his pants when he looks down at the man and says, “This just ain’t your day…”
For several minutes after the fire was out, Sami, Winslow and I stood in stunned silence. That's when, in the distance, I heard the strong vroom of an engine. It didn’t sound like an ordinary car, the pitch was too intense. The forest reverberated in this baffling noise. Soon, it became apparent that I wasn’t hearing one engine, I was hearing several.
A few seconds later, I regretted NOT praying to God when Sami’s well-being was in peril because if this noise was our “deliverance,” it was taking the absolute wrong form. The first motorcycle that came into view immediately slowed down.
The bearded rider was a huge, disheveled toughie wearing a red bandana. His dungaree jacket’s sleeves were cut-off at the armpits to fully expose his tattooed, python-like arms. He didn’t even seem chilly as he signaled his comrades to stop. In seconds, eight ornery motorcycle gang-looking dudes dismounted across the roadway.
The punch line to that bad joke made me think; this just ain’t my day. Except in addition to me, it was obvious, all three of us were getting raped, sodomized and murdered. Even my car’s butt stuck-out like a fluorescent silver welcome mat.
I had visions of Charles Manson and Hell’s Angels pin-balling though my mind. I knew running wouldn’t get me anywhere so against my instincts I stammered, “B-b-boy, are we glad to see you.” The leader smiled in a way that suggested that he knew that old joke. I was feeling the pressure of an elephant doing a head stand on my groin when he asked “Need help getting out of that trench?” I gulped, “Y-yeah.” The red bandana dude called the other gang members and said, “C’mon.” I’m not positive but I think I closed my eyes in terror as they rushed past me. In five seconds, they freed my car. On semi-level ground, (on the first try), my trusty Monte Carlo started right up.
It’s funny, these scary guys were like the Lone Ranger and eight Tontos because they didn't linger. I wanted to thank them individually so all I could do was shout my appreciation as they mounted up and left.
I heartily thanked Wyatt Winslow but he too without much fanfare followed the bikers up the mountain. Sami and I had enough, we went in the opposote direction, (on the way down, I noticed that the road frequently flattened-out for long stretches...so my orginal idea of coasting down wouldn't have gotten us too far).
I didn't want to take any chances so at the outskirts of Las Vegas, I filled my tank at a Husky Truck stop. We were "burnt-out" and starving. So we decided to do some one-stop shopping and eat there too.
|TRUCK STOPS ARE IMMENSE PROPERTIES THAT CATER TO LONG-DISTANCE HAULERS. IN ADDITION TO GAS, THEY OFFER MECHANICAL ASSISTANCE AS WELL AS LODGING, SHOWER RENTALS, FOOD AND A CONVENIENCE STORE.|
The clientele in the coffee shop were nasty-looking truckers...even our waitress was named Bubba. She was serving a goliath with an eye-patch, what looked like a nineteen-egg omlette, in a colassal, charred skillet. But, even 'Ol One-Eye didn't make me think of the trucker from that bad joke. Who's going to mess with us? NOBODY! Because by stinking of gasoline with soot on our face and hands...we were one of them.
We picked up Sue and shocked her with our near-death experience. She said, "You should have come here first, my boss said if you showed up, he'd manage to get through the shift without me."
Yes thirty-two years later, I'm still embarrassed by this incident. I doubt I'll ever live this haunting down...even if it's only in my own mind. So,"Danke" to Matt, for giving me the bravery to "out myself." And for the sake of avoiding your own embarrassment Matt, I hope that your German vocabulary has exceeded, "I am ticklish."