Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Story Behind The Story

This van looks very innocent, doesn't it?

I had started to write a tale of my first true, teaching, Vagabond stop in New Jersey--but to understand that, I realized it perhaps makes more sense to tell the Story Behind the Story...and so here it is.

I remember once, a young friend of my family idly, dreamily mentioning how charmed my life was, how she wished to "just run away" and do the same thing I was doing. I chuckled under my breath; this was not the first time I'd heard this, though I excused the girl's young age for this fluffy bit of thinking.

She couldn't know that this sort of thing didn't JUST happen, at least not to me. There's always a Story Behind the Story, and mine always involved a careful and long bout of planning. Trust me, I'd never been the sort to just roll out of bed, grab this strange, storied gypsy gold that I'm sure people think I have, and GO. I actually envied people who simply seem to effortlessly do things, on a whim, blindly jumping into any and all situations, and who are buoyed, unscathed, by luck--though I strongly suspect that they, too, have a story behind the story.

Indeed, I am no wealthy traveler, I do not stray, fully feral sans a trusty map--it is why I do, in fact, teach classes. While I enjoy this self-made occupation, it also quite literally pays the bills and the travel--a clever way to remain self sufficient, I'd at least hoped.

This would seem quite simple--call hosts, schedule classes, get on the road, teach classes, see the country, repeat. Except that sometimes unlucky things happen...and this go-round has been a passel full of curious new misfortunes I'd never seen before.

The Romany people believe highly in luck, good or bad (known as Baxt or Basht). Any number of things influence it, and if you speak with superstitious people (and I shall neither confirm or deny that I am in this category), you will be followed by it for some time.

If I were superstitious, I could say that the cutting my long hair (you DO remember I cut off seven-years worth of Mountain Woman dreaded hair, right?) was probably the pinnacle point for the level of crazy I was about to experience....indeed, it would unfold in such a way that would have near-grave consequences.

It started simply enough. See the beast in the top picture? Once affectionately known as "The Jalopy," it was a second-hand landscape work car that got me through my adventures in Pennsylvania, and actually managed to drive me from New York all the way down to Florida. A tough old bird, it was a well-worn traveler, like me.

Then winter came. WINTER. Now, mind you, Florida winters are pint-sized mutts compared to the Wolves of the upper half of the United States. Still, for a few days there was ice, there were freezing temperatures. Later, in March, when I tried to start the thing, it wouldn't move out of the driveway. The van was promptly taken to a HIGHLY recommended mechanic. I was told the springs were shot but also--since it was a Northern van--that the brake lines were heavily rusted, likely the result of salting the roads up North which were now wearing through the bottom of my vehicle,  and that one line was slightly leaking brake fluid. I dangerous situation, indeed.

Several HUNDRED dollars later, and I was told that three lines were repairs, springs replaced, and it was ready to go. I still had a full couple of weeks before I was set to leave, plenty of time. I breathed a sigh of relief...

...sort of. In the middle of all of these mechanical acrobatics, I was finding out from my first two hosts that they could not garner enough attendance for the classes, and would cancel them. There was no blame to be had; these fine women hosts had been prepping and posting on line and bugling them here and there in the world--one simply couldn't say whether people would be interested in bees or art or sustainability. It was a disappointing blow, but nothing could be done with it.

At the same time, I had scheduled another fine appointment to show off a bevvy of clocks at a National Halloween convention with another fine art hostess, rolling with the punches in fine fair. So, bags were packed, boxes sealed and--with lots of lifting and shifting---the old Jalopy was set to roll again.

Or so I thought. With two days grace, I had planned to drive from Florida to my sister's home in Virginia, then off to Pennsylvania, where I envisioned meeting thousands of people, talking about clocks, and perusing tons of Halloweenware.

Of course, with my backwards luck, I would have to leave the day it decided to thunderstorm and tornado. I actually wasn't worried, I'd spent thousands of hours on the highway, and this particular stretch from my home to Alabama was far less traveled, a safe little two laned labyrinth that had only two traffic lights for two hours.

So for two hours, no problems. I then reached my first light at the cusp of the Alabama border. I had a small side cross road at the other end of the red light. I pushed my foot on the brake, barely thinking about it...except I wasn't slowing down fast enough. Newly panicked, I pushed down on the brake, hard. I suddenly felt a slight give, and the car slowed down, but I still managed to roll past the red light. Even though the car in the opposite lane saw the incident and did not move, I then shot straight through, only to swerve into a side lot, shocked.

What had just happened there? It couldn't possibly be my brakes, I had just been bled solid for solid brakes. It must be the slick roads and the heavy load the van was carrying, I reasoned. Yes, I can be a genius, no?  Even smarter (do try not to laugh), I decided to continue driving, reasoning that if I just slowed down farther away from all cars, I might possibly make it. All. The. Way. Up. To. New Jersey.Right. I made it through three lights before I experienced the same thing with a MACK truck parked at a red light. Even stopping SIX car-lengths ahead of the goliath, I still had to swerve into a right hand turn lane to keep myself six feet above ground.

Long story short(er), I promptly turned back, driving like an obnoxiously slow grandmother all the way back. I took the newly named Beacon Of Death to Sears, where I was eventually told that--yes, the mechanic DID repair the brake lines, but only to the joint (middle part) of the car, but he did NOT extend this out to the WHEELS, and the front left brake line there had rusted out and leaked out brake fluids--I was DRIVING WITH NO BRAKES!

So folks, the next time you see your friendly Vagabond, or any traveler for that matter, give a tip of the hat and a nod. It sure looks fun, but there is usually a Story Behind the Story, sometimes fun, sometimes fearsome, but definitely something to tell tales about!

1 comment:

Emily said...

horrible and scary. i'd have a mind to go to court but that might be a big ol headache. Still, very glad you're safe.