The Mediocre Escape

Grandpa Machen died of stomach cancer a week before the end of my junior year of High School. Mom flew home after attending to him through his final days. The three of us (Jeff filled out the passenger list) drove to Idaho Falls for the services in the blue Pinto.

The Pinto was the car Mom & Dad bought when the house by the airport sold and we moved to Federal Way. I insisted on continuing to attend Mt. Rainier in Des Moines so we needed another car and the Pinto was the choice. It was a fun car; four speed manual, glass pack muffler, headers, aluminum mag wheels, low profile tires, white racing stripe. Best feature: I was the only driver. It wasn’t “my” car but it was my car.

After the services and the mandatory family visits Mom suggested we continue on to Denver to pay a visit to eldest brother Lynn and his family. The summer stretched out before us like a never-ending joy ride so we gladly agreed.

We arrived in Denver to find Lynn & Co. in the midst of changing lodgings so we became conscripted to the project. Not simply moving contents but repainting the “new” place, stripping paint from ancient brass fixtures, etc. We pitched in, although I’m certain there was a good amount of reluctance, expressed or implied.

Before the move reached the zenith Mom took a call from Dad, who was working…somewhere. Nashville? Hard to keep track. Dad was an NC programmer job shopping (contracting) around the continent. His job had ended suddenly and he was about to move to…somewhere else. Columbus? Mom jumped on a plane to lend a hand with that effort.

I begged Mom to leave the Chevron card with us. Driving the Pinto around Denver was essentially our only entertainment option. Reluctantly she agreed, although this story would later change but it is a key point.

Remember, kids, in these days phones had fixed locations. If I wanted to call a friend I had to know the number and the friend had to be at the location at the time I called. It was hit-or-miss, mostly miss, and leaving messages at the other end was never a reliable option. No email, no SMS. The telephone was the only instant communications option. Mail was snail mail-only.

So once Dad and Mom abandoned the phone at the known location they were cut off from us until they initiated contact from the new location. We had no means at all of finding them.

Suddenly, the weeks began to fly off the calendar with no word from the parental units. That long, fun-filled summer leading up to my senior year was turning into babysitting my niece and nephew, playing (very badly) tennis, and cruising in the Pinto. We had no money, only the gas card. My friends back home had time to write and receive many rounds of hand-written mail. They were becoming increasingly distraught at the length of my absence. Eventually they pooled their resources and mailed me $40 (tank of gas: $5) to persuade me to come home. Thank goodness they did.

I felt stranded, abandoned. I should have been whooping it up with my friends and getting ready to do as little as possible during my senior year of high school, something for which I had a practiced hand. Instead I was bored to death in Denver. Lynn worked nights as a security guard while taking college classes during the day. His wife, Robin, cooked for an oil executive in the evenings. Jeff and I helped out by watching Oliver and Anadine while Robin worked.

One day Lynn presented us with a pair of tickets to the local minor league baseball team. It was a Thursday evening game (I still have the tickets) and they would get a sitter so we could see the game. Now, with this change in schedule a plan began to form. Jeff and I talked it over and worked out the details and agreed to do it.

We decided to run away to home.

The timing was perfect. Lynn was asleep before his night shift, Robin off to work. We had spent the day quietly packing so we could load the car in one or two trips. I wrote a note to Lynn and left it in our room. Then we hit the road. With luck the note wouldn’t be discovered until we were in Wyoming.

Ah, the relief we felt was thrilling. The open road ahead called out to us to hurry, like I needed any encouragement.

Late in the evening we drove into a thunderstorm in Wyoming so heavy I couldn’t see past the hood of the car, not even to pull over to the shoulder, so I just took my foot off the gas and coasted. Thankfully the highway at that point was arrow-straight for dozens of miles.

Somewhere in Eastern Utah we pulled into a rest stop to grab some sleep but found it impossible so we started again. Just before sunrise I let Jeff take a turn at the wheel for an hour or so to give me a break.

Near Jerome, Idaho we stopped for gas at a Chevron station that was just turning on the lights for the start of the business day. One of our biggest fears was that the card had Dad’s name on it and some operator might call us on that fact, maybe take the card away. The station operator gassed us up and I signed the receipt and was about to start the car when he turned back to us.

“Hey, wait a minute!” he shouted. My heart leapt into my throat. “Which one of you is Gilbert Miskin?” Here it comes. This is the end of the journey and we’ll be stuck in an even worse position than we had in Denver.

Nervously, I managed to squeak out an answer. “That’s our dad.”

“No kidding? My wife went to school with him. Tell him I said hello.” I agreed to do just that when the opportunity presented itself. It took several miles before the adrenaline started to recede but it didn’t last long.

Somewhere between Jerome and the Oregon boarder I got snagged for speeding. They had a nice little racket going, too. Nab the speeder then follow the cop to the nearby weigh station. Here they’d perform the shakedown for cash. Sign a form, pay the fine on the spot and I wouldn’t have to come back for court. The fee? $40.

After that the trip was quiet but long. We arrived home in the early evening. Sylvia was home and surprised to see us. There was, apparently, a huge uproar in the family over our exploits. More importantly, we found out about a dance that evening so we showered and hit the road again, after being up for 36 hours already.

I guess Mom took some heat from Dad about the gas card so she threw us under the bus, to use the current vernacular, claiming I had stolen it from her purse. Norm and Lynn were furious with us and I still can’t understand why. It’s not like we went for a road trip to Mexico. We went home, for crying out loud.

I don’t know how much that little stunt played a role but a little while later Mom came home and announced she was going on the road with Dad. The house would be rented out. I could go with them or stay with one of my older siblings.

After all that effort to get out of Denver, three weeks later I was on a plane back. My friends came to the airport for a teary send-off.

I enjoyed the plane ride. In Denver, I found my room again and unpacking required only a few minutes then: nothing. My heart filled with ache and loneliness. I wish I could say I sat in the basement and bounced a baseball against the wall but I wasn’t that clever.

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