February 19, 2003 – Travel Day 17
– New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland -
Margie sounded so confident when she described a “quick jaunt” to the Department of Motor Vehicles that I pushed aside everything I knew to be true about state-run agencies and actually believed her prediction of an “in and out” experience. I didn’t expect that while Margie could search out and find a dropped poppy seed in a large SUV she wouldn’t be able to locate a government structure on a country hillside. Nor did I anticipate that, even though we consciously chose an agency in rural upstate New York, there would be a line that curled around the side of the building. And, I could never have guessed that at some point during the transaction, Margie and I would be mistaken for a couple and service would come to a standstill. Add the three hours we spent replacing the front license plate we lost in the accident in Montana to the two hours we wasted waiting for Margie’s carpet cleaner and by the time we finally arrived at the mechanic’s to pick up Sylvia – the Airstream Trailer – we were five hours behind schedule.
We arrived at the shop expecting to find a clean and functional trailer. After five days, the only discernible change was a bill for $2,065 taped to the door and a pile of honeycomb near the back fender. I wasn’t sure what they claimed to have done anywhere else, but judging from the size of the bits of hive on the floor, there was no way a whole colony of bees could have lived in what they removed. I guessed that there was at least 50% of a very angry community still living somewhere in Sylvia’s duct system. Given that, Margie decided to run down the entire list of repairs that needed to happen, “heater, hitch, brakes, lights.” The mechanic responded with the status of each item, “Disconnected for safety, rusted, don’t work, blown fuse.” I didn’t hear anything after “disconnected.” They’d shut-off the heater, the only part of Sylvia that I was looking forward to using.
To actually do the repairs that we requested would cost another $600 and another hour and half of our time. Margie and I went to the Red Rooster Burger House and when we returned, the owner gave us a tour of the changes. He prepped us with the caveat that there were no exacts when it came to auto repair, just the industry safety requirements and the gray area that was still in the “range for safe travel.” The hitch should rise 19 1/2 inches, give or take an inch either way. Sylvia stood at 17” but was miraculously still “in the range.” We could replace the fuse, which blew three times during his demo, with a higher amperage as long as we stayed within two amps of the original. Of course, the three-amp increase he gave us was still “in the range.” Even the scatterings of mouse dropping that covered the carpet indicated a presence that was just inside “the safe range” of an infestation.
All the talk about latitude gave me some hope. I pointed towards the heater, “That should be safe enough to use, right?”
The mechanic looked at me as if I was trying to light a bonfire on top of a propane tank, “oh no sir. I would never turn that on.”
Our patience had officially left the range. It was time to move. By the time we had reached the end of the service driveway, the brake lights had stopped working. But that didn’t matter; we were five hours behind schedule and headed towards the freeway. Brakes were the last things Margie planned on using.
We were scheduled to have dinner with Margie’s family in Maryland thirty minutes after we merged onto the Garden State Parkway. It was clear by the way she shuffled in and out of lanes, that Margie still believed she could make it. The way we ripped through Pennsylvania, it seemed like she had a personal vendetta towards the state. Carpet cleaning, DMV, pick up Sylvia, three hour drive, and dinner; Margie had planned the day down to the minute. Even if the day had gone as planned there was no room for scenic highways, extended breaks or even photographs. At some point Margie was going to have to come to terms with the nature of our trip. We were dragging a nineteen ft. metal bedroom across the country while documenting restroom keychains. An old man on an electric mobility scooter could beat us home.
It was 12:30 AM, when we pulled up to Margie’s brother’s house. Her parents had left two hours ago, and all her nieces and nephews were asleep. The tour of the house that her sister-in-law gave us consisted mainly of pointing to closed doors and explaining which relative, and distance they traveled, was sleeping on the other side. In the kitchen, the grand feast that was prepared for us was all packed in Tupperware. The dinning room table was still set with fine china and fresh flowers. We arrived just in time to view the corpse of the party.
What should have been a celebration became another reminder of how wrong things were going for us. It was enough to finally make Margie begin to change her approach to the journey. “No more plans. They just don’t work.”