Grand Theft Auto

One spring morning long, long ago, in a faraway land called Tumwater, Washington, a young dentist walked in the back door of his clinic, joyful to be alive, employed, and soon to celebrate the first sunny warm weekend of Spring!  After all, in the Puget Sound area, that first day of Spring often didn’t arrive until July.  But this Friday, the good doctor, while rolling down the driveway, lowered the top on his aging red 1966 Plymouth Fury convertible clipping low hanging branches from the neighbor’s trees, anticipating the year’s first road trip at the day’s end.

On lunch break, he came out to the back lot and discovered neither his ride for the weekend, nor the keys in the ignition, were where he left them.  A later phone call from the local police confirmed that after a high speed chase on Highway 101, the California Highway Patrol arrested a couple ‘kids’ in Eureka, who like me at that age (which I was), could not resist the temptation and stupidity. 

I write this in March of 2021 while boondocking by the tracks at the Redding, California rail station.  I’ll be sleeping in my van.  On the streets like the rest of the houseless, unsheltered, ‘travelers,’ gypsies, ‘outdoorsmen,’ and otherwise displaced humans.  Into the wild as we welcome another spring.  It’s my biannual trip to the Golden State, and I figured I would add a special touch by slumming at the now-tattered Amtrak depot where I stepped off the Coast Starlight at 3 a.m. one morning decades ago.

The insurance guy said they would simply pay me for the car, but the adventure of trying to recover it assured me the getaway I had been longing for.  Just like Roy Rogers on the trail of the horse thieves, riding hard to recover Red Fury.

The next day I called in “well” for work and got myself to East Olympia for the midday departure on the Coast Starlight.  I chuckle when I remember getting aboard with only a backpack, a sack lunch, and a pillow.  A nudge on the shoulder in the middle of the night sent me stumbling onto the platform and into the dark deserted waiting area.  I fluffed the feathers on the end arm of an old wooden bench and managed a couple more hours of sleep.

Leaving my pillow behind for the next overnight guest, I walked out to CA 299 and stuck out my thumb while gnawing on a wrinkled cold peanut butter sandwich.  This was Trinity County, California in the seventies.  My driver was smoking a dose of their main cash crop most of the way to the coast and was quite funny and chatty.  It was a lovely scenic drive when we managed to stay in our lane and he stopped talking long enough for me to take in the view.

I was dropped off at the Eureka cop shop, signed some papers, and was given the keys.  I didn’t ask, but wondered if the bad guys were behind bars in the back somewhere.   I urged to slap these punks around and snarl, like the detectives on TV, but thought it wise not to make a scene.  So I jumped in the Fury, fired ‘er up, and headed north.

The engine blew up a third of the way into Oregon spilling oil, water, and dreams all over the highway.  Triple-A towed the two of us into Coos Bay, and State Farm eventually sent me a check.  The Greyhound stop was in front of a tavern where I passed a couple hours for the bus to Portland and got back to Olympia on the Amtrak.  Once home I found the car keys in my jeans.  A lesson learned too late, but a memory worth sharing nonetheless.