Previously on Off the Syllabus:
- Sully embarks on a solo road trip. It’s his birthday, and things are going great.
- Until they aren’t.
- Car troubles ensue and Sully misses out on his birthday milkshake.
- Really you should just scroll down to the previous post and read it if you haven’t already. It’ll take three-ish minutes tops. I’ll wait.
Hello again and thanks for coming back! We left off at the point in the road trip saga when the nice (but also scary because I felt some hardcore judgment based on the state of my car) man told me things were not looking good. Now I’m going to do that thing TV shows do where you return from a commercial break and they replay the last few seconds of the scene you were watching before an ad came up with Jaime Lee Curtis telling you how good Activia is for your bowels. Here we go:
“It’s looking bleak,” he said…well…bleakly. “There are a lot of problems and there isn’t much I can do here. I definitely wouldn’t suggest trying to continue on your trip. There’s a dealership in town that will be able to do more for you.”
“How far away is it?” I asked, knowing that if the answer was anything other than “right next door” it would be a stretch.
“It’s about two miles,” he said. “You won’t have to get back on the interstate so you should be fine.”
I did not feel fine. Not at all. But I figured this man knew what he was talking about and if he said I could make it, I probably could. So once I texted my family, told them I loved them, and left instructions on what to do with my four-leaf clover collection in the event of my untimely demise, I got back in my car and left the station.
The car was shaking as if I was driving on a gravel road. During an earthquake. With no hands or feet. Drunk.*
*That is comedic (hopefully) hyperbole. I have never driven drunk and I don’t intend to. You shouldn’t either.
About one mile into the trip my speed maxed out at a brisk fifteen miles per hour. I’m no car expert, but I’d seen enough movies to say with 95% certainty that the car was going to explode at any minute. In this movie, I really wanted to be one of the characters walking away from said explosion in slow motion looking sexy, not one of the characters who never reappears and is forgotten by the time the credits role.
During the next fifteen minutes, I single-handedly became the most hated person in Winchester, Virginia. Turns out people don’t think it’s cute to drive thirty miles below the speed limit. When I finally saw the sign for the dealership, it was kind of like the moment when a sailor sees a lighthouse during a hurricane. Or when a moviegoer finally sees the credits begin to roll at the end of a Sharknado film.
There was one empty parking space in the lot. If we’re being totally honest, it was more like 90% of a parking space. The car in the next space over had channeled his inner toddler-with-a-coloring-book and decided staying in the lines was overrated. My ideal parking situation on a good day involves three empty spaces in a row, so bumping my way into this quasi-space was iffy to say the least. All this was happening in front of the glass double doors into the dealership, so I had the smiling receptionist behind the front desk as my audience. As I pulled in, I gave the steering wheel one final turn. It didn’t spring back to its neutral position because at that moment the power steering died, along with my hopes, dreams, and spirit.
The receptionist was still smiling and staring at me through the glass front doors when I exited my car, so I didn’t kiss the ground or angrily kick the car for putting me through this. When I walked into the building, she asked, “Are you Sully?” (My dad is Superman and was seven steps ahead of me this whole time, calling all the appropriate people while I lamented the loss of a birthday milkshake.)
I explained everything and she called one of the employees from the back, who told me they could look at the car in the new year. I told them that — while my time in Winchester had been nothing but fun and delight — I needed to get on home. They expected as much and told me one of their employees was going to drive me across town to a rental car agency so I could continue on my merry way.
Now, I’m sure you know as well as I do that you should never get in a car with a stranger. Unless you contacted them via app. (What can I say? Stranger danger is different from when I was a kid.) But desperate times call for desperate measures and the guy who walked out from the back looked friendly enough. Or at least like he wouldn’t murder me the second I got into his car.
The trip was relatively uneventful, unless you count the driver-guy telling me (without provocation, might I add) why his political opinions were the only valid ones, asking me to navigate before refusing to follow Siri’s instructions, and showing me his old high school while explaining to me that he had broken up with his teenage girlfriend, not the other way around. Suffice it to say there were no heartfelt goodbyes apart from “Thank you very much for the ride and I hope your old sweetheart doesn’t send back her Christmas present this year,” when he dropped me off at the rental car agency.
You may be thinking, “But Sully, if this was your twenty-fourth birthday, what good was going to the rental car agency? Don’t you have to be twenty-five to rent a car?” Turns out you can rent a car at the age of twenty-four. You just have to pay a zillion dollars. And promise seven years of manual labor. And your first-born child. But I’ve already given up all those things for my education anyway, so it was a price I was willing to pay.
Thirty minutes later I was driving out of the town of Winchester, Virginia in a vehicle that wasn’t trying to fulfill its dream of being the bucking bull at a rodeo. The situation wasn’t peachy. As I left town, fat snowflakes began to fall thick and fast. This North Carolina native has about as much experience driving in the snow as he does diagnosing shaky cars, so I was more than a little anxious. About 100 yards from the rental agency, the car’s check engine light came on. But I was several hours behind schedule and still determined to get home by the end of the day, so I decided I’d go with the “ignore it and it won’t be an issue” method (which I recognize is probably what got me into this mess in the first place). The car also had no CD player, so my audiobooks were of no more use to me. Likewise, if you don’t like country music (no comment) the radio stations in northern Virginia aren’t for you.
Driving down the road with no calm British voice reading me a book and no birthday milkshake in the cupholder, I was left alone with my thoughts. We’ve all heard some version of the saying, “It isn’t the destination that’s important, but rather the journey.” It’s a nice sentiment, I guess. But it’s kind of like the saying, “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” In a perfect world, sure, but tell that to my landlord next month and then find a park bench for me to call home. I learned something on this disaster-filled road trip that was never on any of those inspirational posters at doctors’ offices and was certainly off the syllabus. Yes, sometimes the journey is more important because that is where you grow. But sometimes the destination has to be more important. If it isn’t, every pitfall and obstacle the journey throws at you will be enough to make you throw your hands in the air and give up. When the going gets tough, the destination is the lighthouse you need to remind you that there is a positive end goal.
I know you’ve been on the edge of your seat, dying to find out if I did in fact make it home safe and sound. The answer is yes. I did. Did I make it home that day? No. Did I get my birthday milkshake? No. Did I finish my audiobook? No. But did I die in a car that shook gradually more and more until it met its end in a Hollywood-style explosion? No.
About the Photos:
Picture featuring Pierce Brosnan in a scene from Roger Donaldson’s The November Man. Taken from Kaori Shoji’s “The November Man: ‘Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond sheen is fading'” in the Japan Times: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiltdaFrI7hAhXNmOAKHZVOAMMQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.japantimes.co.jp%2Fculture%2F2015%2F01%2F14%2Ffilms%2Ffilm-reviews%2Fnovember-man-pierce-brosnans-james-bond-sheen-fading%2F&psig=AOvVaw0YZhC9ugNycv_2zTM7U_2v&ust=1553089589303278