I sat in my dad’s house, empty except for a chair and the phone. It had taken me weeks to sort it out, clear it out, give a lot away, ship books, letters, photos, and throw the rest out. Most of the time I languished at the Firefly coffee shop nearby trying to get organized latte by latte. At one point I recruited a 19 year old bisexual nymphomaniac with chlamydia from the Firefly to help. She was ultimately just there for immoral support: after watching me pack for awhile we sat on the futon burning one while we looked at my dad’s old Playboys.
Angie had finished the housecleaning and left with Pop’s wooden sailing canoe. The plan was for me to leave immediately after cleaning, for even 15 more minutes of my presence in the house would reduce the pristine condition requested by the real estate agent. I finished my last calls and headed out of town to catch the train 25 miles away in the morning.
I fired up my dad’s ‘78’ Impala after sweeping four inches of snow off of it and nudged it up Interstate 69 for its last ride. The old beast, a good match for the broken-down old man, drove smoothly and even the heater worked. (The only station I could get on the AM radio was Christian music so I rocked with Jesus through the snow.) On that last night in Indiana whenever I came back to my room at the motel in Auburn, seven miles from the Waterloo train station, my eyes fixed upon the green rust covered machine which I would never see again.
The power went out that night attracting a group of us lodgers around the fire in the lobby, a Midwest redneck mix dominated by a couple of itinerant West Virginia roughnecks incessantly talking about deer hunting, squirrel hunting, and other good-old-boy yammering. When the lights went out the Quickie Mart next door was immediately robbed, later there was a knock on my door--the cops took one look at me and went on to other suspects as the robber was clean-shaven.
In the morning power was restored, I found that the train was running its usual two to three hours late so I sucked down newspapers and watched TV. When the time came to drive to the station I stupidly started the car and took off instead of coaxing it with an adequate amount of warm-up time. Oops I flooded it, it was stuck half way out into the motel drive, I waited another five minutes but it wouldn’t start again. There were no taxis or other public transportation from Auburn to Waterloo. I excitedly told the motel host my dilemma but she couldn’t help. I called AAA which was a joke as the time was ticking away and the train was due in 15 minutes.
In desperation I ran over to the previously robbed Quickie Mart where a new Ford Explorer was the lone car parked in the lot. The customer, a very rotund individual, was just waddling to the exit with a six pack of Sprite. He was my only chance to make the connecting train to Chicago that day.
“My car broke down and I need a ride to the train station!” I blurted out. He hesitated for a second then said okay. He drove me back to the motel, helped me push the flooded Impala back into the parking spot, and lent me his cell phone to call St. Vincent's to tell them to pick up the car at the Country Hearth Inn in Auburn instead of the train station in Waterloo. I grabbed my bags, ran back into the lobby, and told the lady that the car would be picked up in a day or so.
Steve drove me very methodically the back way into Waterloo as I sweated it out--we made it with seven minutes to spare, and I had another story to tell. In Chicago I hooked up with my connection to Texas which turned out to be another nightmare Amtrak trip 13 hours late into Austin, but I had a sleeping car so I just enjoyed looking out the window at the Arkansas ice storm.