Tuesday, December 29, 2015

We Had A Merry Christmas, Eventually

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published January 6, 2016] ©2016

Will we remember 2015 as the year of holiday crises? The day before Thanksgiving, a possum died in the crawl space under my kitchen permeating it with an odor like, well, a dead possum mere hours before the family was due to arrive. But for Christmas, we were going to L.A. where in the rarest but happiest of occasions, we would have both sons, their wives, and all five grandtots under the same roof.  Life doesn’t get any better than that.

Anyone who knows me well knows that ever since we were hit at 85 miles per hour by a drunk driver on I-5 several years back, I regard freeways as dangerous places to be avoided whenever possible. I told myself that if I could just survive two and a half hours (we should be so lucky in L.A. traffic) it would all be worth it.
Alas, we didn’t get through two and a half minutes.  We had just passed Del Mar Heights Road on I-5 when our left rear tire blew out at 70 miles per hour. Just as with our auto accident, this is a time when you want a former Air Force pilot at the wheel. The quintessentially calm Olof managed to maneuver us across several lanes of fast moving traffic, out of the path of a semi, and off onto the shoulder while I did what I do best in scary freeway situations:  scream.

There’s never a good time for a blow out, but especially not on a freeway. Olof’s little BMW  was an engineering marvel of packing: every square inch of available trunk and seat space that was not occupied by him, me, or our granddog Winston (an English bulldog) was precision packed with gifts and luggage.
We have AAA, of course, but they could take forever on Christmas Eve. More to the point, in Olof Land, Real Men change tires themselves. Except, of course, that the spare and the jack were under all those suitcases and gifts (which even AAA would have had to access). But Olof patiently (another quality I don’t have) unpacked it all onto the side of the freeway, got the tire off, and tried to get the spare on. Unfortunately, the crummy little jacks that come with the spares just couldn’t raise the car high enough to get the spare on which didn’t keep Olof from spending an hour trying. Real Men don’t give up easily.

A couple of things about standing on the side of a freeway when the slowest car is going 70: It is deafeningly loud. Olof and I could only communicate in sign language. I kept tenting my index fingers together in a sign that I hoped was spelling out “AAA?”  It is also absolutely terrifying to be so close to cars going that fast. One swerve that they’d be sucking up our remains with a shop vac. Third: it was freezing. I know that our Swedish (or even Detroit) friends reading this are laughing hysterically that we were complaining about 58 degrees but there was a stiff wind blowing and we were in shirt sleeves. The Swedes have a popular saying, Inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder which means “There’s no bad weather, only bad (unsuitable) clothing for it.” Excellent motto for a country with a lot of crappy weather. And in our case, true.
Ultimately, Olof had to concede defeat and had me call AAA, for whom we had to wait another hour shivering on the road side since the car was up on the jack. The AAA guy pulled out his honker industrial-strength jack and had the spare on in five minutes. He insisted he was required to personally check the mileage on the car for his paperwork but when he opened the car door found himself face to face with Winston, he decided “or not.” Meanwhile, Olof and I had had plenty of time to ponder whether we were happy about driving to L.A. on tires that were the same age as the one that blew out. They didn’t LOOK worn but there’s only so many times you can cheat death in one day.

Fortunately, there was a barely-still-open Discount Tire Store off the Lomas Santa Fe exit and we quickly ordered up four new tires. Olof had repacked the car from the freeway shoulder but now we had to unload it all again so they could get the spare back in the trunk.
A mere three and a half hours after we’d originally departed, we repacked the car yet again and left Del Mar for L.A., Winston now sitting on the food bag (sorry, Christmas Eve salad!), and hitting all that traffic that we’d left early to avoid. But so well worth it when we finally limped in! My daughter-in-law puts on a Norman Rockwell Christmas. Their house was decorated like a magazine layout. One amazing meal after another appeared. Both sons together. While some of us stayed in hotels at night, there were 20 people in the house during the day. The grandchildren raced around the house in a frenzy of sugar-and-Santa-fueled psychosis. The L.A. kids were thrilled to reconnect with Winston (their former dog) and with their cousins.

The excitement of the day was not quite over: our credit card company emailed us with an urgent fraud alert which at first I assumed it must be the $800 worth of new tires from earlier in the day. I called them only to learn that even though my credit card was in my possession, someone had just purchased over $3,000 worth of stuff with a copy of it – another $1,500 of charges pending - at a Wal-Mart in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Somebody had a very merry Christmas!  Fortunately, it won’t be our money. Just a giant hassle.
On the plus side: Winston, who for mysterious reasons has become allergic to something in his former home and had begun having seizures whenever he visited there, fortunately didn’t have any this time. This was probably less a Christmas miracle and more the phenobarbital our La Jolla vet loaded him up with before we left. OK, so he looked pretty stoned most of the time. But I’m thinking that the next time we get on the freeway, I might appropriate some of that phenobarbital myself.
 
 
Olof gets the spare out of the trunk
 
 Finally had to call AAA
 
 Winston, Hour 6: Are we there yet?
 
Olof gets help with spatial skills from 18-month-old grandson
 

Four-year-old granddaughter and the stoned Winston
 
 Meals to remember 
 
All the travel hassle was worth it
 
 

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