Jenny and Tom in front of the bus, circa 1973
July 3, 2018
When I was 14, my mother decided to move to a new apartment near Fairfax and Olympic from her tiny second floor place in Glendale. I spent part of that summer packing boxes while she was at work and getting ready for the move, and at last moving day arrived. We left one of the most unpleasant tasks for last: draining the waterbed. Some younger readers—assuming there are any—may not remember waterbeds, so here’s a brief explainer: In the late 70’s and 80’s, a plague swept the nation, a plague of waterbeds. People raved about how comfortable they were (spoiler alert: they weren’t), and many people, including my mother, decided they just had to have one. However, while installing a waterbed was relatively easy, draining one was not.
On that long ago moving day morning my mother and I were trying to drain the waterbed with mixed success. The water simply didn’t want to leave the bed. I was balanced awkwardly on the partially deflated bubble, and my mother was fretting. “The movers are coming at 9,” she repeated like a mantra. I was engaged in trying to get the water out of the bed, a struggle I remember even now, and my mother was pacing the room, repeating the estimated time of arrival for the movers and repeating, “But they are coming at 9!It’s after 8 now. What are we going to do?” After about 30 minutes of her fretting coupled with my increasingly futile attempt to get the water OUT of the bed, I paused on my knees wobbling and attempting to manually express the water. “What are we going to do?” my mother said. “What will happen?” I can still hear my teenage reply: “Well, then the movers will get here, and the water bed won’t be empty.” This became shorthand in our conversations for the scenarios you have no control over, and even today, I can say repeat it to my mother and she will laugh. In the end, the movers did arrive, the waterbed was not empty, and they simply packed other furniture and boxed as I coaxed almost all of the water out of that God forsaken bed.
I feel I may be in a similar situation now. What will happen if Larry does not get the bus running today? Well, it won’t be in the 4th of July parade tomorrow, for starters. And as Robert says, we will still get it home. “It’s coming to LA on 4 wheels or 18,” he reminded me last night, as I was worrying. And will we rent a car to finish the trip without the bus? That will cost more money, but it is an option. One of the things I’ve learned is that there are some problems that can be solved or at least partially ameliorated by throwing money at them, and while I don’t relish the thought of throwing my savings into that, the other option is to simply drive home, which seems like admitting defeat.
If the bus is not ready, I’m not sure what options we have except to move forward in some way, but at times like this, it is impossible not to second guess all of the decisions that have left us here, however useless that exercise may be. If the bus isn’t ready, the world will not end. We will still have each other, and we will have some sort of a trip. But if the bus is ready and does decide to run, then we will move forward with this trip that I have only been able to imagine in the strangest sort of way, like trying to imagine finding a unicorn or talking animal (perhaps not as much of a stretch for me). We will move forward, and I am always a little nervous about wishing for things too much. Oscar Wilde said that “When the gods wish to punish us, they merely answer our prayers,” and I know just what he meant. All I can do now is wait for Larry to call, and then move forward. If the waterbed isn’t drained now, it will be eventually. Let go of the oars, tolerate ambiguity, and trust the process, all those mantras. But writing this as the sun starts rising today, I can’t help but hope it all works out. Among other things, it will be awfully disappointing to continue this trip in a Nissan.
I just opened my email and my friend reminded me to listen to Steinbeck, quoting this passage from Travels With Charley:
“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.”
This seems like a great place to leave things, except I can’t.
After I wrote this I realized the problem was the either/or way I was framing the issue: either we take the trip down the coast, or we don’t. But then I had an epiphany: why not let go of that if needed? Why not compromise? Now we have plan b (Give Larry more time, spend time here, drive down on I-5). Sure, it wouldn’t be the trip we had planned, but we would get home, with the bus, and there would be some perks, like spending time with the family, driving the bus on its old route down I-5, and most of all, letting go of these stupid oars.
Update: What if it isn’t either or or?
9:09 PM July 3, 2018
I hoped to post a triumphant picture of Robert driving the bus here, but instead allow me to share my diary of recent phone conversations with the mechanic:
July 2nd 10:30 AM
Calling shop, on hold. Still working on it. Will call this evening, will call 5-6.
Larry does not call at 5-6.
6:30 PM: calling Larry
No answer, left message.
Call back: Won’t idle, will replace carburetor.
At work early tomorrow. Checked everything else.
July 3, 2018
1 pm. Carburetor located.
Ready at 3-4. Directions to shop.
Call at 4. Will be ready at 5 pm tonight.
5 pm: 2-3 hours.
…no answer on cell.
(after troubled dinner. Dad’s take—the owner of the bus–“This is bullshit.”)
“I’m looking for Larry.”
“He’s working on a car.”
“I think it’s my car.”
“Is that with the bus?”
“I think he’s close to done. He’s gonna finish it tonight for sures.”
“I just need to know what’s going on.”
“I’ ll tell him you called.”
9:18 pm. Larry calls.
It still won’t idle, dies all the time.
Going to try again tomorrow.
Now I am going to sleep.
Jenny sleeping in the bus, circa 1975?