Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Day I Almost Lost the Car

Today we went on a hike to a local promontory. It was extremely crowded because of a fundraiser that was heavily advertised. Normally we avoid the place when it's crowded. But for some reason my wife wanted to us to squeeze ourselves into the place.

Parking was terrible, and no police were around to help folks who parked on the opposite side of the busy, two-lane state highway.

I found a grassy spot to parallel park, thanks to the patient driver behind me. Then we crossed the road and hiked for about ten minutes to enter the park and reach the trail head.

We climbed the short but steep rocky trail. Our normally sluggish daughter out-paced us. We joked that it was because she was afraid there would be no sweets left by the time we arrived. That's our daughter -- Kung-Fu Panda girl! The other explanation is that she's starting her oppositional teenage years and wanted to match our snail pace with mountain goat-like swiftness. On other walks, she has stumbled along behind us like a zombie, making us wonder whose genes she inherited.

Well, I carried the backpack and walked beside and a bit behind my wife, with my hand on her back. It wasn't meant to be romantic as much as it was functional. I was applying constant force with my hand, pushing her up the incline. Her chest burned from asthma, and her legs burned from neuropathic pain.

We reached the summit, pausing only a few times to take photos of the view. My wife and daughter made their way to the treats table and came away with a nice healthy cheeseburger for my daughter. They sat at a picnic table and sent me back for something to buy with the remaining two tickets. The request was for donuts, but we had to settle for an ice cream sandwich. This was for my daughter, who had nearly polished off the cheeseburger by the time I returned.

I chewed on my Cliff bar and drank water. I then used the empty restroom that was attached to the building, rather than one of the port-a-potties that folks were lined up in front of. As I headed back, I told them about the restrooms.

Eventually we headed back down. This time I took the lead because the faster pace was easier on my knees. When we reached the trail head, my wife decided that she and daughter would wait while I should go get the car. The parking area was thinning out quickly, so it would be no trouble to bring the car in. No trouble, that is, unless you can't find the car.

That's right. I couldn't find the car. And all I had to do was cross the road and walk along it until I came to the place where I parallel parked. But I kept walking and walking, crossing side streets that I didn't remember crossing before.

I walked until I could see no more cars. I turned around and walked back up, wondering which group of passersby I should ask to call the police. I imagined myself reporting the car theft to the police:

"I parked it on this side of the road. It was behind a dark blue mini-van." I recited the make, model, color and year of the car. I even remembered the license plate, which I was amazed at. (But maybe I shouldn't be. When you're so cheap that you drive the same car for several years and then reuse the plates on the next used car you buy, the plate numbers tend to stick in your mind.)

Then I started to worry about what my wife would say. She left her pocketbook in the car. And even though I wasn't the one who decided to go on the hike, it would be my fault that the car was stolen. I hope the police officer would be the one to break the news to her.

It did dawn on me that I might've walked by the car without noticing it. But to me, that was even worse than it being stolen. How could I have walked past it and not see it? I'm supposed to be observant and mindful.

I resigned to hope that I would find it on the way back. And sure enough, there it was, about halfway back up the road. I wondered if my wife and daughter had gotten impatient and started to walk to the car. I doubt if they'd get to it before me. But as I drove back, I watched carefully to make sure I didn't pass them if they were walking back. I already missed the car pretty effortlessly. It would be a breeze to drive by my wife and daughter.

I delivered the briefly-missing car safe and sound. I was too shook up to think of a good excuse for my long absence. So when my wife predictably asked me what took so long, I said simply, "I couldn't find it. I walked right by it."

I won't describe the scorn with which my wife responded. Defensively, I blurted, "I think I had a seizure. Why else would I completely miss the car?"

"How about because you're stupid!"

"No seriously, what about two weeks ago when I drove right by our exit? I think I had a seizure then, too."

"I do that, too. You just need to pay more attention."

"But it's a huge, two lane exit! You can't miss it!"

"So go tell your doctor that you're having seizures." The intensity with which she rolled her eyes told me she thought I was an idiot. And I wasn't even looking at her because I was driving.

And now for some questions. Did I have a seizure? Or is this just an attention disorder? How much does it cost to get fitted for an ankle bracelet?

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