On Desert Storms and Good Parents

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.
Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

A four hour ride from San Diego, Interstate 8 descends from the Yuma mountains and parallels the Mexican border in a straight line for approximately a million miles. After a week of asking “is there anything interesting between Southern California and Southern Arizona?” and consistently hearing “absolutely not”, I resolved to take this featureless and mind-numbing road across the desert to my parents’ home in Tucson. There is nothing visible to the east except for a couple distant storms.

The motorcycle is enjoying this ride no more than I am. Cruising at 80 mph in 90ish degree heat, it’s no wonder the engine running hot. I decide 70 mph is plenty fast and back off the throttle, letting the semi-trucks fly past me. A tiny stutter in the engine has me look down at the tachometer and raise an eyebrow, then total and sudden engine failure has the bike engine-braking. Pulling the clutch and coasting to the shoulder I take a few deep breathes, get off the bike, eat some peanut M&M’s, and regret not having smokes or anything in my flask to ease the nerves. 58 miles east of Yuma, 17 miles from the nearest exit, 184 miles from Tucson.

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon: plenty of time to figure out why the bike won’t start. Thankfully, the two storms I’d been watching seem to be heading north and south away from me. And, praise the good lord, I have cell reception. Things could be much worse.

After a couple hours the bike is in several pieces and has yet to acquiesce to my prayers and curses. At about 4:30 the battery runs out of juice from all my attempts to start the bike. I stand at the side of the road with jumper cables for a while, waving at drivers. No one even slows down. Then my mom called.

Just calling to see what you want for dinner, honey.

Errrmmm… can you put pop on the phone?

one sec … Hey Case, what’s up?

The bike won’t start. I’m 2 or 3 hours outside Tucson.

OK, do you want me to come get you?

I rather you not have to. Can you give me another 30 minutes to try a few more solutions?

Yes. Call me back in a half-an-hour.

I spend the next 30 minutes calling around to see if my mechanically-minded friends can think of a solution I haven’t already tried. No luck.

Yes, I am on a road trip to South America. Yes, I am calling my pop to pick me up on the side of the interstate. Yes, my ego can handle that.

By the time I call my father back to give him the greenlight, he has already made a trip to the hardware store to buy tie-down straps and negotiated down the cents-per-mile price with the U-haul manager.

I decide to spend the next three hours studying the service manual, but am having a pretty hard time of it. The pages keep getting turned by the breeze, then a gust takes my hat off my head and throws it 30 feet down the road. Looking up, it’s apparent that the thunderhead to the north had taken a sudden turn south.

For some reason I find this turn of events right and fitting. Chuckling and zipping up my jacket, a weird sense of gratitude takes hold. I get to have my very own Lieutenant Dan scene.

I spent the next three hours with a shit-eating grin on, soaked to the bone, lightning crackling overhead.

When my father and I finally rolled into the driveway after midnight, my mom was waiting for us on the couch.

“So,” she asked, “what do you want for dinner?”

Epilogue:

After 5 days of head-scratching, googling, and tinkering, a vacuum hose was found to be melted shut against the engine block. An 800-mile test drive to the Grand Canyon with the mechanically-savvy, endlessly-entertaining Stephen Miller Haynes has restored confidence in the bike. Eastward into New Mexico.

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