It’s been a long time since we were all sent on a time out. In the beginning –back when none of this was normal yet and Mom still thought that wearing sweatpants every day was a treat– we used to fight to keep our life the way it had always been. We made some little compromises, but as a life coach I wasn’t going to let this little setback get our family down!
…Now that we’re into our third dog year of this house arrest sentence, Mom has had some time to calm down and think about what she’s done, and I’ve started wonder why we’re fighting the most epic invitation to chillax ever in the history of the world. What I’ve learned is that once you’re fully chilled, it’s not good to sit in your Stuck House all the time like a jar of moose-turds in the back f the fridge just waiting for things to happen.
So I was really looking forward to a big Thanksgiving adventure. I planned to take Mom to the desert outside Las Vegas, which has kind of become a Thanksgiving tradition for us. Mom wanted to stop in the Moon-Havi desert on the way, partly because Las Vegas is a big drive for one day… but also because she’s forgotten how to leave the house and so she took the wrong freeway and added 2 hours to our trip by going in the wrong direction.
Most sand dooms are infested with doom buggies, but last year we discovered some dooms tucked so deep into the desert that the doom buggies would never find them. To get there, we had to drive down a dirt wagon track that got lumpier and bumpier the further we traveled, and eventually got so crumbly that we got out and continued our expedition on foot. Mom used trigomometry to figure out that if we walked wild across the desert, the route to the dooms would be shorter. We did eventually discover the dooms, but by the time we got there we were tired and needed to get back to the Wagon in time to drive back home before bed time. Once we were safely at home, our Doom Discovery Adventure became one of Mom’s favorite adventures because we’d used our wits and won against the wilder-ness. So this year we planned to be even braver and properly visit the dooms.
“I bet that road isn’t as scary as we remember…” Mom said confidently as she pulled off the freeway and drove around all the signs blocking the road and flashing that it was closed. “With everyone taking road trips this year, I bet that dirt road is in even better shape.”
“Mom, are you sure we weren’t supposed to turn around at all those flashing signs and fences back there?” I said, climbing into the copilot’s seat and nudging her elbow for pats.
“It says it’s closed to through traffic. They mean all the other people; the ones going to Joshua Tree. They don’t mean us; we’re special. We’re not passing through, we’re aiming for the middle of nowhere,” she explained. “If they didn’t want you to drive around the road blocks, they wouldn’t have made this little bypass where you can drive on this dirt over here.”
It was true: it may have been bumpy and dusty, but every time the signs dammed Route 66, there was a little dirt road that would take us through the desert to where we could join the pavement again. After more than 20 miles of road, and dirt, and more road, and more dirt, we stopped to let a choo-choo trainf cross our path, and once all seven miles of it had chuga-chuga-chugged by, we crossed the tracks and the pavement disappeared for good.
The desert sun blew straight through the front of the Wagon so that all we could see were the shapes and shadows of the desert on the bright white screen of the window. Even though I couldn’t see what was coming, I was sure that adventure would find us all the way out here without me having to look for it. The Covered Wagon rattled and roared over the dirt like machine gun fire, and the rocks like bombs until we reached a place where the road had crumbled into a wide stripe of wild just longer than the Wagon. This may have been where Mom chickened out before.
Mom got out of the Wagon and looked at where the road was supposed to be. “I think we can get across this!” she announced getting back into the driving chair and backing up for a rolling start before we braced for impact. The road kicked the Wagon in its soft underbelly and it made an exciting clatter, but in no time we were on the other side, still rolling down the road.
“Yahooooo! I think we’re going to make it!” Mom said triumphantly as The Witch announced that we were arriving soon. But The Wagon didn’t feel so confident. It was swaying like it had just made itself dizzy chasing its tail.
“What’s wrong with the Wagon?” I asked.
“It’s this sand,” Mom said. “It’s having trouble getting traction. I read somewhere that as long as you keep moving that you won’t get stuck in sand. It’s a little bit like snow. Every time we’ve been stuck in snow, it’s been because we stopped, remember?”
At long last we arrived in the car kennel. We left the Wagon behind and walked out into the dooms, which curled out of the desert like they were trying to imitate the jagged mountains on the horizon, but hadn’t quite gotten the knack of crinkliness. “You see,” Mom said. “The trick to not getting stuck is to just keep moving. Eventually you’ll find solid ground again. It’s a metaphor. You should put that in your blog.”
There was something about that that didn’t feel quite right, but I couldn’t put my paw on it. “But like what if you’re not on solid ground and you do get stuck?” I asked. “Or like what if The Wagon you’re traveling in gets hurt or something?”
“Well then I suppose you’re supposed to figure it out like we figured it out the last time we were here,” Mom said. “Sometimes we see too much danger everywhere and get spooked. But then we miss out on really wonderful experiences. See? Isn’t this lovely?”
“Yeah, but…” but what was squigging me out was still just a little bit out of my wisdom’s reach so I stopped trying to think and rolled down the slope of a doom instead.
We walked through the dooms in whatever shape seemed most interesting until Mom had to ask The Witch how to get back to the car kennel. When we got there, Mom made herself a fresh cup of poop juice, and we turned The Wagon back toward the freeway behind the 20 miles of closed road, behind the train tracks, behind the 13 miles of crumbling dirt road, behind the 2 miles of sand. I was relieved that we had already crossed all the dangers, and that there would be no surprises on the way back out.
We had only been moving for a few seconds when the Wagon gave a satisfied little wiggle and settled in like it was time for a nap.
“You’ve got to keep moving,” I reminded Mom, noticing that she’d stopped just outside of the car kennel.
“Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” purred The Wagon in a way that sounded less contented and more panicked.
“Oh dog doo,” Mom said. She got out of the driving chair, and then she disappeared toward the ground where I couldn’t see her anymore. She stayed gone for a long time, and I saw sand fly out from under The Wagon on first one side, and then the other.
Was she digging?? Without me?!
When Mom reappeared a very long time later, she was much dustier than when I’d last seen her.
“We are… we’re really in there…” she said. “But I dug out the wheels and all the sand that was under the undercarriage, and then I cleared some tracks to the more solid ground. If we can just get moving again…” She got in the driving chair and woke up The Wagon.
“ReeeeeeeeEEEEEE!” cooed The Wagon.
“Okay, now go!” I encouraged her.
“I am,” Mom said.
“No you’re not,” I said. “See, we haven’t moved.”
“Maybe we can reverse out of it?” Mom said, moving a lever with a flourish. The Wagon wasn’t into it and continued to whine-purr.
That’s when Mom let me come back out into the desert with her. I inspected the Wagon while she talked to The Witch about what to do. “I know what the problem is!” I announced. “There’s sand half way up the wheels and up to the belly of the Wagon on both sides!”
“Yes, I’m safe, but I’m in trouble,” Mom told The Witch.
“It’s no use trying to roll on the wheels. I think you’ll have to lift it from the top and move it a few wagon lengths that way,” I announced.
“It’s okay, I have food and water if I need to be out here for a few days, but I’m hoping you can send someone with a winch,” Mom said.
“The Witch can’t help with this,” I told Mom “You just need to try something different so we can keep moving, because our usual way isn’t going to work.”
“Not a witch, a winch,” Mom said putting The Witch back in her pocket.
“A wench? I don’t see how…”
“A winch. Something to pull us out like a fish on a hook,” Mom said.
“Well where are you going to find one of those all the way out here in the desert?” I asked.
“Bub, I had to do something that I hate to do.”
“Talk on the phone? I know, I was standing right here. Remember?”
“No, I had to call for help!”
“Oh,” I said. “Are they coming?”
“Yeah, they’re coming.”
So we settled in to wait. “What should we do during our adventure?” Mom asked.
“Why don’t we go play in the dooms some more?!” I said.
“Oh, I don’t know. I just poured the sand out of my shoes,” Mom said. “How about I drink my coffee and write?”
“I guess,” I shrugged, flopping down in the cool sand under a bush and watching the beetles just as black and muscular as me, but only half my size eat the turd that I had left there earlier.
So Mom pulled out the chair that had seemed like such an exciting idea when she bought it, because it has a hole in the arm for a drink and she always thinks it would be very nice to sit still in the outside and drink a drink and think a think. That chair almost never comes out because we never stop moving and she drinks her drinks and thinks her thinks in the driving chair. Now she plugged her dented mug that she loves so much because it cost her almost nothing at a Wal*mart (just like the chair), and it has been her companion (unlike the chair) and served her hundreds of happy cups of poop juice and tea on so many roads in The West.
Then Mom sat her big butt in the chair. The chair clenched under her weight, and its toughness pulled on the arm where the poop juice was sitting and tipped it into her lap, which was also where her laptop was sitting.
“Ah! Ah! Ah!” Mom screamed, throwing the laptop into the sand as she shot out of the chair. Then she screamed and sat down to pick up the laptop where the sand was mixing with poop juice in its holes. But when her butt hit the chair again, more poop juice poured into her lap and she made another noise that letters can’t write. After that, she wasn’t much in the mood for writing anymore, so I sat under my bush and watched her pace back and forth in the sand, asking The Witch questions, and looking anxiously down the road.
We paced, the beetles ate, and eventually we ate too. Mom’s pants dried, and then it got wet again when she sat back in the chair, and then she paced until they were dry again, and then she made a fresh cup of tea to replace the poop juice that her pants had drunk. Finally, I saw the sparkle of a truck coming toward us in the desert. It was a knight in a shining Ford named Ruben.
“I really ducked up,” Mom announced the moment Ruben got out of his truck, in case he needed an explanation and hadn’t noticed already that the Wagon was sitting on the sand like a duck sits on a lake.
“Hey! You’re from Arizona?” I said when I saw the name tag on his truck. “I’ve been to Arizona! I bet they’re still talking about me!”
I sat in the driving chair while Ruben crawled around in the dust and knocked on The Wagon from below. I watched Mom’s shame crumple her like the mountains while she watched Ruben. Finally Mom got in the driving chair, and Ruben’s truck pulled The Covered Wagon on a leash for a few miles. Every once in awhile, Ruben’s shiny truck yanked on our leash like Mom does when I’ve been distracted by a pee spot, and then The Wagon cut it out followed obediently behind him again.
I had thought that when our savior came, he would need to tell us about how manly his truck is, and how this desert is no place for a little lady with an ugly Wagon. I had been ready to puff up my chest and bark big woofs to show him my manliness, and Mom had prepared herself to square her shoulders and woof in her big, bad, business voice to show that she was no dumb princess. But Ruben didn’t make either of us puff up at all. Instead, he told Mom that he thought that even his big, strong truck might get stuck a couple of times. The way he said it had some respect in it for how brave and clever we’d been for getting that far. Then he looked at me sitting responsibly in the driving chair and told Mom about his life parter named Bruno, who wouldn’t be there to help him with Thanksgiving leftovers for the first time this year. And then I heard Mom (the same Mom who had been screwing up her manliness just a few miles before) say, “Stop, you’re going to make me cry too!” And even from way far away I could tell they both meant it.
We set Ruben free at the train tracks to go back home to his two Thanksgiving chickens, and his brother to eat the chickens with, and no dog to share the leftovers with. The Wagon chased his truck for as long as we could (so Mom could honk if we got stuck in any of the other wild spots), and when we reached the first Road Closed fence, Ruben waved out the truck’s window one last time before driving around it and away into the desert in a puff of dust.
“I can’t help but think there’s a lesson we’re supposed to learn here,” I said. “What does it mean when you think that you can do everything by yourself, and then you get stuck and someone leaves their family Thanksgiving and drives for hours to come out and save you in the middle of the wilder-ness… and then they have to pull you for several miles until you’re back where it’s safe… and then they don’t even make you feel bad about it?” I asked. “Is it something about not doing everything yourself? Or maybe it’s something about having the courage to stop when it’s wiser to slow down and continue on foot? Or maybe something about Friends? Do you think it’s about Friends?”
“The things you come up with, Oscar!” Mom said, like what I was saying was silly. “Obviously the lesson is that we need a truck.”
Oscar the Pooch
PS As we were writing this, Mom said, "Oscar, all of your Friends are going to tell us to be careful. You've got to tell them that we were being careful."
You guys, we were being careful.
"The way you tell it, they're not going to know that before we took the risk knowing that we had several days of food and water in the car and that there would be cell reception along the whole route."
Guys, I promise. I had a brand new bag of kibble in the car and two packets of water bottles, and Mom had food too. Since we'd been there before, we knew The Witch would be talking to us the whole way, and we'd seen the condition of most of the road already. And we also knew that we could expect to see at least a few other cars on the unmaintained road in a day, so we could always walk or find a ride out if we needed to. Mom is stupid, but not that stupid.
"And make sure that they know that AAA didn't cover the tow, and that I had to pull a lot of money from my emergency fund to pay Ruben. And that I tipped him very well."
We made sure that Ruben knew how much we appreciated his help, and that he knew we appreciated how very lucky we were to spend part of our Thanksgiving with him. Kids, don't try this at home.