Summertime is always so busy and often takes my mind away from my writing. However, my eldest who is also my only daughter, came to visit for a week inspiring me to get back to this project.
After our wonderful late-night parade, we traveled on without incident aiming for an herb farm in Western Pennsylvania. Paul’s sister lived there, married to the owner of the farm and had promised us some day work. We knew we were running low on funds, so we stopped in Illinois and played some music on the street which was fun but not very profitable and ate up too much of our daylight traveling time. We finally got as far as Ohio when the car broke down on the side of the highway in broad daylight. Ugh! What now?!
Our flywheel fix from the summit of the Rocky Mountains finally gave out, and our flywheel was shredded. As we stood there looking sadly at the engine wondering what to do now, a young man came by and offered Paul a ride to a dune buggy shop he knew of. The shop specialized in VWs, turning them into dune buggies and maintaining them. The shop was called Mud, Sweat and Gears. Then he offered to take me and our kids to his house. His parents were away and had left him and his sister home alone. So off we went. My kids were used to strangers and had grown up learning how to stay safe and feel out people’s vibes, so they were good to go. I always found that children seem to have a better sense about people than adults do sometimes and always listened to them if they felt uncomfortable around someone.
While Paul was off doing car business, we all showered, and I napped on a real bed while the younger folks played with my kids. The sister was making chicken and dumplings for dinner and invited us to stay. At this point, we’d lost most of that day already, so staying put with a real meal sounded good to me. Both kids were having a great time and also looked forward to trying dumplings for the first time.
Meanwhile Paul arrived at the car shop where the owner gave him three flywheels, just in case we needed them, with the understanding that the payment was to help out three people on the road in the future. Whew! That was easy. We did that all the time anyway. He made the repair, came back for a shower and dinner and announced that we could now travel at night and had better hit the road. The kids were disappointed but also anxious to get to our destination which was their grandparents’ house. We said a tearful goodbye and headed out again.
As dawn approached, Paul and I realized that we were never going to make it to the farm on the gas in the tank and also didn’t have enough money to make up the difference. We thought long and hard then made a detour to Wheeling, West Virginia to pawn his twelve-string guitar. He loved that guitar, having bought it in Santa Cruz many years before. We didn’t have a lot of choices left, so we left it in the pawn shop never expecting to see it again. Paul kept that ticket safe in his wallet for many years until he gave it to one of my uncles who had heard the story and decided to go to the pawn shop and see if he could retrieve the guitar. We assured him that way too much time had gone by, but he insisted. He actually got the guitar, drove it up to a cousin of his who was going to visit in-laws in Chatham, NY. My mother went to Chatham to pick it up, and Paul was reunited with that much-loved guitar more than 10 years later.
We arrived at the herb farm and breathed a sigh of relief, forgetting that Paul and his sister were like oil and water. The visit didn’t go very well, but we did work for a couple of days, long enough to make enough money to pay for the rest of the trip and even get a motel room, with cash this time, our last night on the road. We were exhausted by now and wanted to arrive in New York well rested. Plus, the kids had been such troopers, and a motel room was a huge treat for them.
We woke up excited, knowing that in a few hours our trip would finally be at its end. We ran outside to the bus only to find one of the tires not only flat, but with chunks out of it. So much for well rested and relaxed. Now even the kids, who had been totally engaged in the trip until now, were done with this adventure. We got the new tire and headed toward Albany, NY. We had been on the road for over three weeks now.
My parents lived in East Greenbush, a suburb of Albany. We got off the thruway in Albany and started heading east to cross the Hudson River when suddenly Paul jumped out of the driver’s seat and started running alongside the bus, trying to stop it with his feet and body. I thought I was watching Fred Flintstone for a minute, remembering the way Fred would drive his car with his feet on the road. Both kids started laughing, not realizing the dangerous situation we were in. I was sure that Paul had finally lost his mind and wasn’t sure what to do. Then he turned sharply into a Mobil gas station and crashed into a pilon, stopping the bus abruptly. Apparently, we had lost the brakes.
We briefly discussed what to do. We were so close to the end of our journey now. We decided to go on, as slowly as we could, using our gears to slow us down when necessary. We made it to my parents’ house, pulled into their driveway, making a huge entrance by crashing into their stone wall. I sat silently in the passenger side of the bus watching the stones come down like dominos as my family came running out of the house to see what all the commotion was about. There were no cell phones back then, and they had no idea when to expect us, although I did call a few times from a pay phone so they wouldn’t worry. I wish I’d had a camera to take pictures of the looks on everyone’s faces, or maybe I’m glad I didn’t. Anyway, seeing their grandchildren made everything a little less intense. A journey that should have taken less than a week, took us more than three. The kids were thrilled to be there; My parents were thrilled that we had finally arrived safely; and the next day, Justin, who was 3 ½ years old, decided to “fix” the bus for us. He found a can of oil and poured it all over the engine. The engine in those old VW buses were in the back, easily accessible to a 3-year old, especially if the hood is not attached securely. Luckily, the only harm was the smoking as the oil burned off, and at that point, all we could do was laugh.