The Great Escape – Part Thirteen

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Lost It. Sorry.

Sorry about the gossip, I mean. Sometimes I get so tired of my own misery, I’ve just gotta say, “Hey. Let’s talk about someone elses misery for a while!” Bad, I know. I need to change that someday.

So anyway, I’ve got this story to tell.

It’s not bad, I’m not planning on saying anything terrible about anyone or that I think is going to hurt anyone’s feelings or anything. I’ll try to keep the bullshit down to a minimum.

Ok, so here it is.

There was this art show at the Sun Valley Art Center I was going to be in. I don’t remember the year, late 1980’s, I think. It was January in Idaho and it had been snowing a lot. We had to get the art there. Rich Post was helping me put it together, but we were picking up Dave Moreland and his paintings along the way in Moscow. Dave was an art professor at the university there. My son Tai later graduated from there. Faith went to college in San Francisco. The reason we didn’t just ship it to Sun Valley is that the shipping companys won’t ship art unless it’s heavily insured and the insuance is really expensive. Most small museums and galleries don’t have pockets deep enough to pay for it. Most artists definately don’t have that kind of money, so we have to get it there any way we can. Art was a cause. So it was three of us on a guy’s weekend out, on the road. We were escaping. We were going to make this fun, right?.

We’d put all my paintings in crates and loaded it all into my old orange 1979 Datsun pick-up. It had been modified, turned into a four wheel drive. It was kind of beat up, but we were impervious to adversity and it was all we had. Actually, it was a big improvement over my previous pick up, a 1955 forest-green Chevy which was only two wheel drive and was sitting up against the garden fence gathering rust. The motor in the Datsun still ran which was the biggest plus, and the fenders didn’t flap going down the road, it went over 50 and the heater and windshied wipers worked too.

It was the weekend and the opening was the next day. I’d taken Friday off from work. We were going to be traveling most of the night, setting up the show in the morning and hoping to nap a little in the afternoon in this borrowed condo they had set up for us before the show opened in the evening.

By early afternoon, we were packed and ready to go. I kissed my wife, Cherie and the kids goodby and we pulled out of driveway in Hope, Idaho. I loved them. I still do, but they may not realize it. Cherie and I are long divorced. My fault, actually. We stopped in Sandpoint at the Gas-n-Go for snacks and gas and headed south across the long bridge on highway 95. Escapees.

The road was clear of snow. It didn’t start snowing hard until after we got passed the indian reservation, so we made Moscow in good time. We re-packed the pick up in Moscow to fit Dave’s work in, got it all tied down and tarped again and set off, the three of us crammed into the little cab. Smokin’ and laughing and stinking to high heaven.

Soon, we were past the stinky paper mill in Lewiston and were out of the Paloose country headed up into the Salmon River Mountains. It was beautiful, the mountains and the snow and the river, jokin’ and laughin’ and driving down the road. Then it was getting dark and it was getting colder and the snow was getting deeper, but the plows were out, we were in four wheel drive and we never even slowed as we passed all the cars putting on chains on White Bird hill.

Somewhere between Riggins and New Meadows, the truck engine started acting funny. All of the sudden, it would start racing. We would start picking up speed and letting up on the gas pedal didn’t do anything to stop it. It just kept going faster and faster. The only thing I could do was turn off the engine and roll to a stop. Then after waiting ten or fifteen minutes, I would start it up again and it would be fine for another twenty or thirty miles. Luckily, there was almost no traffic on the highway. Most people had sense enough to stay home on stormy nights like this.

Somehow, we made it to McCall. We found a restaurant and had some dinner. It felt good to stretch our legs and fill our bellies and we had fun flirting with the pretty waitress. We would have liked to have stayed longer, but we were on a mission. We decided against looking for a mechanic because the engine was running fine now. What would we show him, anyway? “Yep, it runs.” What’s the problem, right? He’d just fix something that wasn’t broke and charge us for it. Plus, we didn’t have time or any extra money. We didn’t even think twice about it. We just gassed up the truck and kept on going. Anyway, it probably had something to do with the high altitude and it was all downhill between there and Boise. What else was there to do?

We didn’t even stop in Boise. I’ve never liked big cities and I try to avoid them. The truck hadn’t acted up at all since McCall and we were tired and just wanted to get there. We still had a half a tank of gas so we just kept on truckin’. We were on the interstate freeway now and were making good time, it was clear, At Mountain Home, we left the interstate and started climbing into the Sawtooth mountain range on a windy two lane. The snow was deep here. The road wasn’t as well maintained. The only way you could see where the road was the white on white tracks in the snow and the occasional row of fenceposts. The falling snow was blowing and swirling in the headlights and giving me vertigo as well as making the tire tracks disappear. The windshield wipers were barely keeping up with it. We hadn’t smoked any pot but we sure felt stoned. Dizzy stoned. Swoosh, shwoosh, swooosh, swoosh, over and over, shwoosh, swoosh.

We went through a little town. We were getting low on gas. There was no gas station there. We kept going. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.

Towns are not close together in that part of the country. This is an area of low population density. The needle on the gas guage kept dropping. My knuckles were getting as white as the snow outside. We still had maybe fifty or sixty miles to go. We weren’t going to make it. Nobody was talking inside the truck. Damn. Damn. Swoosh, swoosh. The gas guage was on E. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.

Then we came to another little town. It was late. The gas station was closed. The only place open was a bar. We nosed into the parking lot with a lot of other pick ups and there we were, three hippy arty types walking into a redneck bar.

The door closed behind us. Everyone in the place had stopped talking. There was complete silence and they all had turned and were staring at us. It was scary.

We bellied up to the bar and Rich said, “We’d like to buy the bar a round.” God, I hoped he had more money in his pocket than I did, but the tension in the bar disappeared. Everyone was smiling now. They thanked us and went back to their coversations and laughter.

We asked the bartender if there was anyplace where we could get some gas. “Only gas station ‘tween here and Ketchum is here, and it don’t open ’til six.”

“Is there a hotel or motel in this town?” I asked.

“Nope. Not till you get to Ketchum. Twenty five mile fruther up.”

“How long are you going to be open?”

“Another half hour. We close at two.”

“Oh.”

We sat there glumly drinking our beers.

“Course I could try calling Fred, he owns the station. He’s prob’ly sleepin’ now though. He might come down if you offered to pay him something extra for the trouble.”

“How much extra? We don’t have much money left.”

“Oh, five bucks outta do it.”

“Would you phone him please?”

“Sure. Give me a quarter for the phone. We just got the pay phone here.”

A few minutes later he was back. “He’ll meet you there in ten minutes.”

We left our half drank beers on the bar, damn it would’ve been nice to get drunk, and headed back out into the snowstorm.

The gas station wasn’t really a gas station. It was more like a garage, it had no pump, but there was a gas station sign, and he had several five gallon cans of gas in there. Fred filled our gas tank grumbling about “stupid hippy skiers too dumb to stay home on a night like this”. We asked him about the engine problem. “Prob’ly ice. Maybe oxygen mix.” was the cryptic answer he gave us hippies too dumb to understand. “Ah.” we all said in unison.

We got into Sun Valley after the sun was up. The storm had passed. It was a beautiful morning. The craggy Sawtooths were glistening white jagging sharply into the clear blue sky. The engine had acted up maybe a dozen times more and we had to wait longer each time for it to run right again so it took a long time to go a short ways. We found a pay phone and called the gallery guy to come and unlock for us. We backed the truck up to the front door and unpacked everything. By noon everything was hung, the track lighting was adjusted and we were soaking in an outdoor heated swimming pool that was covered over by cloud of steam. We could dimly make out the shapes of several pretty girls in the mist. None of us were skiers.

When it was all over, neither Dave nor I had sold a single piece.. We were wined and dined and got our egos stroked alot, but to tell you the truth, it’s more pleasant to be the stroker than the strokee. And we didn’t make a dime. We were modern artists and this was cowboy country. And we were dumb hippies. There was another opening in a gallery next door that specialized in western, cowboy art. We all agreed that the art over there was crap, not original at all, but the artists that were showing there sold everything they had. The owner said it was the most successful show he’d ever had. We thought our show was a success too, and I never heard one complaint about all the trouble we went through to get there or anything about sacrifices or how lucky or brave we were. We didn’t think we had done anything daring.. In fact, we hadn’t yet thought much of anything about it. We thought it was sucessful and truely miraculous just to have gotten there at all. No one said a word. Not one word. It was a miracle just to be.

To be continued……

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