The crunch was pretty loud. Oh, I didn’t know what it was, but I knew something pretty bad had happened. It was a crunch that sounded thick and noisy. I looked at my wife and asked her if she had any ideas. I thought maybe I’d run over a small deck chair we hadn’t stowed properly. Maybe fifty tin cans.
We had just finished packing our 29 foot Winnebago Minnie RV – which we’d taken to calling Winnie Cooper – after a lovely week on the Oregon coast. We had interviews to get to in California, but we had many days in between. There was no rush. I had put the new Dido CD in the player, took my coat off. I started the wipers on the big tin can. The rain was coming down sideways, the wind coming in, too, 30-40 mph. But the view was clear. We had finished cleaning the house we had rented for a few days, put the keys back in the lockbox, and we were headed out of the driveway. Until the crunch.
When I got out and got around the side, I saw the problem. The rain gutters on the front of the house had pierced the roof of the RV. We had chunked up against the house’s eave, a 2X6’ board under the gutter had been torn off, about a 9” chunk laying on the driveway.
The house looked okay. I was grateful I didn’t tear the metal gutters down. It would be an easy repair. A shitty break, but not the end of the world.
On the other hand, as I struggled to pull my gigantic ass up Winnie’s ladder, I kept thinking: “Please, God, I know I’m a sinner, a dirty dog sinner. I know I’m doomed. But this time, this one time, please don’t let there be a tear in the fiberglass.”
And of course, there was one. 24” or so. I could see inside the coach from the top, down to the Styrofoam insulation – I’m not making it up – down to the drop ceiling in the bedroom closet. And the rain kept on. The wind howled. I stood there on the ladder, 9 terrifying feet above earth, and wished with all of my strength for a pistol so I could blow my aching brains out.
But I trudged down. My wife and I left a contrite note for the house owner, and got rolling.
When you have a hole in your roof, and when you don’t really know where you are, it makes sense to drive just about any direction. They’re all the same. The storm was swamping the entire coast for a hundred miles north and south. We just started north on US-101. My wife started looking at the big RV guide, looking for something, maybe a big ad that said: “Are you in Oregon? Are you a dumbass? Do you need a place to park where the rain won’t ruin all of your belongings? Call 1-800-SHATTERED-DREAMS.”
20 miles later and we pulled over at Newport. We found a large tin building with a gigantic For Lease sign, and we parked tight on one side, letting most of the wind and the rain shoot over top.
It was the first break we had gotten since the crunch. My wife – bless her – hadn’t said a cross word. She knows me. She knows that the self-loathing was deep. She knew that I was beating myself up in exquisite ways, interesting ways, varied ways, ways that could not compare. We worked on the phone, looking for a repair place. We don’t carry every yellow page for every small town in Oregon, so we kept burning the cell phone for information.
Finally, we located a place, 90 miles north. It was Sunday. Noon. In this part of the state everything is closed on Sundays. The streets roll up. The gas stations close at 4 pm.
The phone rang and was answered at Valley RV in McMinnville, Oregon. The guy had the same name as me. He understood. He felt bad for me. He didn’t judge me. I loved him.
He told us to come his way. Their service bays were closed till the next morning, but, by God, they had a big awning and I could park there if I wanted.
The sun parted the clouds in my foggy soul. The rain kept up, but now the wind was behind us. My wife went back to closet every once in a while, and yes, what a surprise, the ceiling was getting wetter. The water kept coming in. Things were getting soaked. The wood was getting saturated. The RV was losing resale value as fast as I normally make my way through a big bowl of pudding.
But we got there. We pulled Winnie out of the storm. The nice man inside gave me the yellow pages and we found a cab that took us to a Best Western.
There’s a TV movie on. I’m showered, clean. My wife has brought me a beer. I look out at the blinking signs outside my window and I see a place where later – in several hours – I will go to breakfast. I will show these Oregonians who’s boss when it comes to biscuits and gravy.
And maybe, just maybe. The phone will ring. Winnie Cooper will be fixed. It will cost us more money than is reasonable. It will cost what it normally would to send a kid to a large state college for a year. But Winnie will be whole. We will load up again. Smarter. Better. And we will roll toward California.[+]
Some of this comes from W.T. Pfefferle’s travel memoir Poets on Place.
Did you ever contemplate the irony of being placeless as you interviewed poets on place?
Indeed. A couple of chapters deal specifically with our own rootless background. And there’s a realization about place that occurs in the last chapter of the memoir. (I’m likely to post that next month some time.)