Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Travel Hell Year or How I Stole a Car on an Expired License to Fetch D. from the Airport

Having been back in the Bay Area for three weeks, I'm setting off for Europe in a few hours after having combed the Internet for any evidence of French strike activity. Looks like things are on the upswing for me, though there's the matter of my suitcases, both of which need to lose a kilo or so. On the way here I happened to get caught again in the October 20th strikes, the second time this year (see here for February's sad EasyJet/Iberia saga). I certainly hadn't planned on going to Germany on that trip but ended up getting re-routed to Frankfurt, where, as if strikes weren't bad enough, I scored a weather delay. I can't believe they even let me on my re-booked flight to SFO; there was an extremely anal South Asian (who'd found the ideal rule-enforcing place on earth: Deutschland) just dying to deny me boarding. Showing up with 7 minutes to spare before an Airbus takeoff was, offensichtlich, nicht in Ordnung. I don't know why he changed his mind at the last minute and waved me on; maybe it was the range of emotions that must have flashed across my face, none of which included any anger or aggression. No, dear readers, I was at the mercy of the travel gods and I damn well knew it!

Things just kept getting stranger as I sat next to a happy baby who really wanted to play with me, while his barely more than teen-aged mother cried into his hair and wouldn't let him out of her clutches or even look me in the eye. Then on the other side of the world there was the guy just in from Manila who finally finished hitting on me on the BART, only to be replaced by someone who asked if I'd accepted the Lord God as my Personal Savior and whose response, when I said "I really don't want to talk to you about that right now " was, "Why, what happened?"! I suppose that these things have to be expected when one is living through a Wednesday that's something like 33 hours long, the vast majority of those waking hours, which seemingly will never end.

But hold on here, what I really want to write about is what happened 3 days later while I was still seriously in the clutches of westward jet-lag (always the worst for me). D. was only just getting back from reorganizing her mother's entire life in the space of 2 weeks after her diagnosis of Alzheimer's (D.'s mother's diagnosis, that is). I was determined to provide her with a calm, supportive home-coming (as I'm staying at her house). So, even though my license expired 2 months ago and I did NOT manage to get my Spanish driver's license which I really should have had in August or at the latest, September, but STILL do NOT have due to the exasperatingly dysfunctional inefficiency of, I sometimes think, the entire country, I was determined to risk driving the paltry couple of miles to the BART station to pick her up. However, her car was loaned out and I was told to drive the white VW loaner using the key on her dresser. It was a dark and stormy night but I spotted a light-colored Jetta across the street, which was unlocked so I got in and tried the key. No dice, it wouldn't even go in the lock. Damn! I got out and looked around, saw another light-colored car on the street, also unlocked (this is North Oakland west of San Pablo, for those of you who know what this means), but this time the key worked. Not a good sign, I suppose, that I couldn't get the windshield wipers to work or that the car groaned and screeched anytime the gearshift passed neutral. And definitely not a good sign at the one-mile point that I noticed the gas tank indicator was emphatically pegged at a point beyond empty, which is also not to mention that the brakes were definitely not what one would want them to be, even in dry conditions, but these were extremely wet. Well, I pushed through the rain, scrabbling around for some napkins I spotted in the space between the seats to wipe the windshield off, with my arm crooked out of the open window at the next stoplight. I got to the BART having seen only one set of flashing lights that fortunately weren't for me, only to find out from D. that that's definitely not her friend's car. Well, babe, I said, I don't know whose car it is, but I made it here, now you're driving back, and, BTW, there's no gas. So much for the calm, orderly welcoming committee of one; hell no, this was Kaos Katchita at her most inspired, but I have to say that D. is no shrinking violet, which of course is why she's my friend. After all, anyone who could do Nevada in '04, weekend after weekend (together with me in a big floppy hat, long Big Love skirt and big American grin) and still somehow survive to stay in this country for '08 and the disappointment that Obama has proven himself to be, is a better woman than me...

Well, I digress because I have to say that we returned without incident to her house, both of us imagining having to abandon an out-of-gas hot car, post-joy ride, by the side of the road OR any number of unknown hidden surprises the cops may have found inside that car if we were pulled over and searched. The upshot of it was we pulled it into the same parking place I had vacated 15 minutes before and the jalopy wasn't any worse for the wear other than the soggy napkins I'm now remembering are littering the driver's side floor. D. proceeded to tell the tale to her neighbors on either side of her who must have been expecting her and popped up like mushrooms in the middle of the cold rain, all of whom launched into descriptions of the numerous cars I could have easily and legally (or semi-legally, as that license is still and always will be expired) driven on my little jaunt to the BART.

Well as a little addendum to these tales from Travel Hell Year, I will add that that's not the only time I found myself driving illegally in California. The next time was (never mind dark, late-night West Oakland streets) in full sunlight on a glorious day on Interstate 80 heading back from Napa. With my comadre breast-feeding my very hungry and very insistent goddaughter. In the back. Out of her carseat. At any rate, the only flashing lights I saw were from a motorcycle cop who'd already snared his victim. Because as my comadre said, I'm sure a woman driving on an expired license with a child out of her carseat in the back would have really made his day.

Here's the little culprit, in her Halloween costume.

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