- Where We Started: Lone Pine, Calif.
- Where We Ended: Palo Alto, Calif.
- Miles Driven: 463 (11,674 total).
- New States: None.
- States So Far: 19 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
You know what they say about best-laid plans. Our original idea for Friday had us going to Manzanar National Historic Site, an old World War II Japanese internment camp, and then on to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. But once we made our late-night entry into Lone Pine on Thursday with a donut on the car and an injured paw on a beagle, we decided the day needed to be dedicated to rehab.
Our first priorities were to find a vet and a tire. Joan asked at the hotel about a vet, and was told one came to Lone Pine only on Thursdays. Since Fred was inconsiderate enough to need a vet on a Friday, that wasn't going to work. So we decided we'd take Fred to a vet in whatever town we found a tire. The problem is that the P245/50R17 tires for our Acura are not easy to find. In 2003, we got a flat tire in Yellowstone National Park, and had to drive all the way to Boise, Idaho -- almost 400 miles -- on the donut to find a replacement. So I knew finding the tire wouldn't be easy. Predictably, calls to tire stores in Lone Pine, Independence, Ridgecrest and California City failed to turn up the tire I needed. One tire store in Bakersfield had the tire, but the guy there told me that he wasn't allowed to change just one tire on an all-wheel drive car, but needed to change all four. I looked at my drivers license, confirmed I wasn't born yesterday, and passed on that "opportunity." I was desperate, but not that desperate.
I tried Superior Acura in Bakersfield -- 172 miles away -- but they had no appointments available until next Tuesday. But after several more calls failed, I decided to try the pathetic approach. I called Superior Acura back, and told them that, if they had the proper tire, I'd be glad to buy it and get it put on myself. That way I wouldn't need an appointment. My hope was to shame or guilt them into squeezing me in. They didn't quite sign up for that on the phone, but did agree to sell me the tire. Once we had that appointment locked up, Joan located a vet not too far from the dealership to get Fred a tuneup as well.
The next challenge was repacking the car, since a huge flat tire was now in the trunk, not a small spare. It took about 15 minutes, but I finally wedged most of the stuff back into the trunk, though some bags had to tossed into the back seat, making the ride a little cramped for the beagles.
So, finally, on a donut that's only supposed to be used for 50 miles -- and already had 40 on it from our drive home the night before -- we set off on a 172-mile ride to Bakersfield.
This was not a fun ride. I believe it's been established that I drive fast. But since you're not supposed to go faster than 50 miles per hour on a donut, I was forced to settle comfortably into the right lane and crawl. Now, I won't lie, I didn't go 50 the whole way, but I did try to keep it under 60. But sitting there, watching 18-wheelers, minivans and senior citizens whiz by wasn't fun.
About halfway through the drive, as we were puttering through Cantil, Calif., we saw a man jumping up and down on the side of the road, trying frantically to get someone to stop. Now, you don't see this too often anyway, but the fact this was happening a mere 18 hours after we'd gotten help from benevolent strangers sure seemed like a sign to us. So we stopped to see if he needed help, and indeed, he did. Turns out Martin had been driving down California 14, towing a motorcycle trailer with his truck when one of the wheels on the trailer just shredded. He'd wobbled his way far enough to reach a paved pulloff area, and had walked out to the road to try and flag someone down. He'd been there 10-15 minutes, and hadn't been able to get anyone to stop. Now, this was a busy road, where at least 10 cars were passing per minute. So he'd seen between 100 and 150 cars, and not one had been willing to stop. Martin did not look like a scary guy, so we could only assume the reason people didn't stop was they were too busy or didn't see that he was attached to a car, since he'd pulled it off the road a decent distance. Either way, we saw him, both knew that this was our opportunity to pay it forward, and pulled off.
So we stopped our slightly injured vehicle to get Martin help for his critically injured one. We called AAA for him, gave them Martin's location and chatted with him for a few minutes before taking off. He was just as appreciative as we were when Bill and Jessica stopped for us on Thursday night. There's something to be said for karma.
The rest of the ride to Bakersfield was uneventful, and we arrived at Superior Acura sporting our extra-pathetic looks. And it worked, thanks to the lovely Nicole Fuentes, who not only got someone to put the tire on the car, but found us a jack and got the car washed. With her husband and baby son waiting, she stayed late to get this done for us. The bad news: the rim was bent, so we had to pony up some serious dough to get a new one. All in all, it was a successful visit, and for the second time in as many days, we were appreciative that someone went so far our of their way to help us. The dealership even let Fred and Hank hang out inside in the waiting area.
The fact we needed a new rim not only cost us money, but time, and a a result, we weren't able to make it to the vet in Bakersfield to check on Fred's paw. The good news is that the paw seemed much improved over the day. There was some chewing, and an occasional limp, but for the most part, the day of relative rest seemed to serve Fred well.
Once the car was done and we were back at full power (and with a jack, no less), I immediately returned to my full A.J. Foyt persona, and we made it to Palo Alto in less than four hours, hoping we'd seen our last flat of the trip.
- When it comes to bathroom breaks, I'm usually the problem. That's largely because I drink way too much soda -- in fact, I'm hardly ever without one in the car, and usually have backups. But on Friday, it was Joan who was in urgent mode. We didn't want to stop much on the ride from Lone Pine to Bakersfield, since the tire was already way past its allotted miles, and the fewer surface streets and turns we needed to deal with, the better. But we were both ready for a stop by the time we encountered a hopping Martin on the side of the road. After that 20-minute stop, it was Joan was hopping. But there isn't anywhere to stop alongside that stretch of the highway, and it was nearly 30 minutes before we finally reached Mojave. Joan had been steadily shutting down her systems along the way. First, I was told I was not allowed to make her laugh. Then, she said she would no longer be able to speak. Then, violating her own rule about not speaking, she told me I was told I was no longer allowed to speak. By the time we pulled into Mojave, she was down largely to grunting and pointing. We saw an AM/PM convenience store, and before I could even pull into a parking space, she declared, "I'm getting out." She did, and -- for the second time in two days -- I saw her run, though this was that legs-crossed, I-really-have-to-go run. She was back 30 seconds later. "There are two people on line. Find someplace else. And step on it." So, while trying to be easy on the tire and Joan's bladder, I tried to find a place as quickly as possible. Finally, we saw a scummy travel plaza with shady clientele out front, and Joan directed me to it, and once again, raced out of the car before it came to a complete stop. She soon returned, with a relieved smile, and confirmed that the exterior scumminess of the place was indeed matched by its interior, but that nothing she was going to stop her by that time.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Your Smiling Face," by James Taylor. I won't lie: I am not a big James Taylor fan. It's all a little too soft for my taste, though I do think "Fire and Rain" is an excellent song. But this random play was just funny because we'd just had two days that challenged our ability to keep smiles on our faces. And, for the most part, despite some stress, we did.
- Most-Played Albums: Because I had to drive slowly, anything loud and raucous was out, since I tend to drive faster when the music is driving as well. So I decided I wanted some mellow, atmospheric music to keep me grounded. So, from Lone Pine to Bakersfield, I listened to "The Thin Blue Line" and "The Fog of War," both by Philip Glass, and the "The Thin Red Line," by Hans Zimmer. All three are movie soundtracks. One trivia note about Zimmer, one of my favorite film score composers: Before he got into scoring movies, he was a member of The Buggles, the band whose song, "Video Killed the Radio Star," was the first video ever played on MTV.
- Lunch: McDonald's, Mojave, Calif.: While we were desperately searching for a bathroom for Joan in Mojave, we also decided to get lunch. Seeing how tight our day already was, I decided I needed a rolling lunch -- i.e. eating while driving -- so we stopped at the Golden Arches. I got the Chicken McNuggets and fries, and Joan tried Chicken Selects for the first time and was highly impressed. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 star (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale). Joan voted for a 5 on the power of her Chicken Selects, but I'll bring it down a bit since the McNuggets weren't particularly good.
- Dinner: Il Fornaio, Palo Alto, Calif.: After our power drive from Bakersfield, we met our friends Len and Janice Downie for dinner. Len, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, was out here doing some work at Stanford, and we were lucky enough to overlap with them in Palo Alto. This restaurant, right next to our hotel, marked the first time we've had Italian in some time, and we took full advantage. I had the seafood pasta, and Joan had the squash ravioli, and we were both happy. I liked the tuna tartare appetizer more than Joan did. Jim Nutrition Rating: 3 stars (out of 5). The pasta wasn't great for me, but at least the seafood was healthy. Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5).
- Garden Court Hotel, Palo Alto, Calif.: This wonderful boutique hotel in downtown Palo Alto was just what we needed after a few long days. It's a small, quiet hotel within walking distance of a ton of shops and restaurants. They were also fine with us leaving the beagles in the room while we went out for meals, and even left a special mat in front of our room for the dogs. The room was big, the bed comfortable and the shower powerful. And the hotel gets an extra fist-bump for not charging extra for the high-speed Internet connection, as most expensive hotels do. Hotel rating: 5 stars (out of 5). We liked it so much, we decided to stay a second night.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO