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Risen Apes: Speed Bump

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Risen Apes: Speed Bump

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S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Speed Bump,” Park talks about driving routines, suspicious motels, road rage, and car maintenance.


I drove a thousand miles to my brother’s farm for Thanksgiving. That’s a long hump for a guy my age but I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager and have probably driven to California (and back) a hundred times over the years.

With few changes to my routine, i.e. telling myself for weeks beforehand how this time I’m gonna tamp down the road rage and take my time.

Then the car’s packed and the tank’s full and I’m halfway down the driveway when I gun it. Race ten or twenty miles over the speed limit from Port Townsend to wherever I’m headed, consciously limiting fluids so there’ll be no piss stops between gas stations (where I eat while fueling up).

Why? What’s the &%$#@ hurry? I’ve been asking myself that since those childhood viruses rewired my brain and I’m no closer to an answer than I ever was.

Hell, when it comes to impatience I think I’m losing ground. It was ten hours to my Ben’s farm from Portland (which I’d do in a day), but Port Townsend’s another four hours north so—in a grudging concession to age—I split the trip in half now. Stopped at a Comfort Inn in Grants Pass, Boregon on the way down: $108-a-night for a room with a blurry TV screen and a balky heater. I managed a few hours sleep, then went to the bathroom at five to shower, only to discover there were no towels in the room.

This was a new one on me (even the Motel 6’s have something to dry yourself with). I put on some clothes, walked down the hallway to the front desk, saw it sported the same OUT TO LUNCH—BACK SHORTLY sign that had been there the night before.

I returned the way I came, began rattling unnumbered doors until I found Housekeeping; discovered it was open and helped myself to some towels. Thought while showering that with unemployment being what it is a motel maid really is the bottom of the food chain now.

So I left her a ten spot and an edible (just to confuse the issue).

Connor, the nine-year-old son of my nephew Jake, would not have approved. He’s an old soul in a kid’s body and I wrote about him in an earlier column (“A Fine Line”). I’d hoped he’d become a cartoonist, too, and though that’s still a possibility he certainly inherited my height. (He’s already suffering the fierce growing pains that marked my childhood.)

“I feel like a piece of taffy,” he told me, as I visited him in his room that weekend. Then he pulled out a wallet my brother had given him.

“Check out the wallet from grandpa,” he said.

“Yeah?” I said. “You got any money in it?”

“Sure.” He opened it to show me a sheath of bills. “I’ve got nine ones, three fives and a couple tens.”

I stood up, took out my money clip and peeled off a twenty.

“Here,” I said, holding it out to him. “Now you’ve got a twenty, too.”

He threw up his hands and shrank back. “Hold on!” he said. “Why are you offering me money?”

What a question: I would have killed for twenty bucks from one of my uncles (even in college).

“Well, I don’t know, Connor,” I said. “Because you’re my grandnephew?”

“Life doesn’t work that way, Uncle Wilson. There’s no something-for-nothing deal, you can’t just give your money away.”

“Really? I do it all the time.”

“It figures,” he said, “but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

With that he jumped up, left me with that twenty in my hand and the Puritan Stain in my craw.

That’s the High family, though … you’d think principles were part of the genome. After Thanksgiving dinner (delayed until Saturday night because my niece and her husband are cops with conflicting schedules), Connor and his five-year-old sister and cousin rose to sing God Bless America at the table.

This seemed about right (I was in Trump Country, after all), except they signed while doing it. When they were finished I asked if they had deaf kids in their classes.

“No,” said Connor. “It’s just inclusive to learn.”

Good ol’ California. (I talked to a friend in San Rafael recently, who told me his alma mater, the politically incorrect “Sir Francis Drake” High School, has been renamed for a black track from the ’30s named “Archie.”) Fortunately it’s still the stomping grounds of Ned Gumbo, too, who lives an hour north in Browns Valley. I drove there to see he and his wife Lisa on Sunday and it was touching to spend a day with my old running mate.

Because it’s not only how far back we go, but how far down we went. Like sitting in a room with Hunter S. Thompson (you know there’s adventure ahead … if you live).

Ned and I made it this far, though he, of course, with his beautiful, loving and supportive wife, is still getting the better of the deal. It’s why when he finally experienced the d.t.’s last year (after guzzling an ocean of booze since his teens) … well, I didn’t throw a party, but I thought about it.

I got my drinking done young while he’s still at it. I can’t blame him for that: if I had the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol I’d have drank myself to death, too (probably around twenty-five).

I got my drinking done young while he’s still at it. I can’t blame him for that: if I had the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol I’d have drank myself to death, too (probably around twenty-five).

But dragging Lisa in on the deal? That’s the sticky part for most of the alkies I’ve known, this ruining the life of a mate in the bargain, the way she has to dance around, hide the bottles, make excuses for their sneaky asses, etc.

Do it alone! should be the first rule in the Alkie Handbook, except you’ve gotta admit your problem first and most drunks, when they marry, are still in denial.

Ned would be retired if he’d ever had a job and was, as ever, trying to get Lisa to tell him where she’d stashed the liquor. (If he finds it he hides it himself, then can’t remember where. Last month she cut her finger, ran to the medicine chest to get a Band-Aid and when she opened the container there was nothing in it but airplane-sized rum bottles.)

So I was grateful when Gumbo coaxed just a little wine out of her. After a day in Grass Valley we enjoyed dinner and a Niners game before retiring early, then I rose at six to head home. Drove nine hours to Salem, Boregon and was about to pull into a Motel 6 when I spotted a Holiday Motel across the street.

What the hell, I thought, can’t be any worse than The Six, so I drove over there, parked the car and walked to the office. Knew something was fishy when the lobby door was locked and the clerk was sitting behind a takeout window.

I passed it off as more COVID nonsense, handed my debit card and ID through the slot. The girl checked them out, told me a single room was seventy a night and the deposit was fifty dollars.

“Deposit?” I said. “For what?”

“You get it back if you don’t steal anything.”

On the road in modern America. I admit she’d piqued my interest, though, especially after the first two rooms she gave me had no television in them (I wanted to watch the Monday Night Football game). Finally, on the third try, the TV was there but the drawers in the bureau beneath it were gone.

Who steals empty drawers? There were mysteries aplenty at the Holiday Motel, including why—when I went out for pizza later—I was the only guy in a mile radius without a hoodie.

I didn’t get much sleep as a consequence (jumping up every time I heard a noise outside, worrying someone was stealing my catalytic converter). I finally gave up around three a.m., told myself that beating the traffic on Portland’s I-205 was worth doing it in the dark. (Like most people in their seventies my night vision is history.)

And the drive went pretty well considering (i.e. I wasn’t stopped for speeding), at least until I reached the foot of 101, the twisty highway that tracks the Puget Sound to Port Townsend.

I’d just started up it when a pounding rainstorm hit. It would have been blinding except I couldn’t see shit in the dark, anyway, and in my hurry to get home was pissed to spot a large big rig ahead of me.

Then I realized he was pulling away. He had an empty bed behind him and was lit up like a Christmas tree with a string of red and yellow lights, so I slipped into his wake, followed him up the narrow road. He hit seventy at times and when an unwary driver appeared in front of him he’d get up on their bumper, lay into the horn like some madman from a Stephen King movie.

They pulled aside quickly; shook their fists at me when I slid past.

Damn! I thought, is this the long-haul trucker I would have been?

I followed him all the way to Quilcene, and when he turned off I honked, gave him the thumbs up.

He reached out and flipped me off in return. I was home by nine a.m. and was sitting in my studio a few hours later when there was a knock at the door.

This was bad news (unexpected visitors always are for a guy like me). I looked through the glass panels, saw it was a neighbor I barely knew.

Whatever he has to say, I thought, it’ll start with ‘Did you know …?’

I rose, walked to the door and opened it.

“Hey, Ben,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Did you know …”

Uh huh.

“… that your right front tire is flat?”

I stepped outside, walked to the front of the Accord and sure enough, the right front had maybe ten, twenty percent of its air left.

Which meant what? It had been at fifty percent when I took Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride up Highway 101, or even the two thousand miles before that?

Also on The Big Smoke

I thanked Ben, got in and limped to the local Les Schwab Tires store. Left my key at the desk and was sitting in the waiting room, contemplating the vagaries of luck (particularly who gets it and why), when someone called my name.

It was a mechanic named Duane. He beckoned to me from a doorway.

“I’m working on your Accord, Mr. High,” he said. “Come out back with me.”

Another bad sign. I followed him to where my car was hoisted on a lift, its two front tires leaned against the wall.

“Your flat?” he said, pointing to the one on the right. “That’s a goner … it’s worn completely through. But I can replace it with a similar model.”

Then he pointed to its partner. “But your other tires?” he sighed. “They look like this one … they’ve got some of the worst dry rot I’ve ever seen.”

I didn’t even know what that meant. Turns out it’s why you see parked RVs with covers on their tires, protecting them from the weather. (And here I thought it was just a weird vanity.)

Most of the cracks and crumbling rubber were on the inner half of the tires, which is why I hadn’t spotted the damage when my friend gave me the car (they looked good if you didn’t look too closely).

“So,” said Duane. “You don’t have to replace the lot, but if you don’t?”

“Yeah?” I said.

“I wouldn’t drive too far.”


S.M. Park is the author and illustrator of his memoirs High & Dry and The Grass Is Greener, both published by University of Hell Press.


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S.M. Park

S.M. Park lives two blocks from the Salish Sea in Port Townsend, Washington. His passions include walking, wondering and weed. Park, in his guise as Wilson High, has written and illustrated two memoirs, High & Dry and The Grass Is Greener, both published by University of Hell Press.

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