From El Paso to Phoenix

From where we parked on the University of Texas El Paso campus, we were right across I-10 from Mexico. We woke up from a nap ready to hit the road at 23:00 – it was time to move on to Phoenix.

Brad was driving the first stretch with the goal to switch every couple of hours. In a car, Phoenix would take about 6 hours, but in Harvey we had to give him time to love the road. As usual, semis continued to pass us. This time we jokingly noted their intense gasoline smells. Soon thereafter, we started to become quite drowsy – something wasn’t feeling right. The gasoline smell persisted and we thought it would be best to pull over in Las Cruces, NM.

We got out and rounded Harvey to find his rear gas tank to be overflowing with the cap still on! This was worrying. I think that I may have overfilled it earlier that day, but we still haven’t found a reasonable explanation as to why the pressure built up at night. I ventured into the gas station to grab some coffee and watched the cashier walk to the door to yell at a lady near the pump.

As Brad stood next to the pool of gasoline, a woman smoking a cigarillo approached him. He looked at her as if she were missing a few brain cells and pointed to the exposed gas laying feet from her. “Could you do that somewhere else?”

“Excuse me! Please smoke that away from the gas station!” yelled the cashier.

I hurried out and we left as soon as possible. We found a place to relax for a couple hours as we thought the problem would subside. Sure enough, after some midnight frisbee, we were back on the road.

We kept Harvey at about 55 mph passing through Arizona and missing a couple of opossums chilling in the fast lane – really? You can’t find a better place to spawn out?

I was driving when the clicking started again. We were extremely privy to this click, so we knew it had to be the exhaust manifold again. Thankfully we weren’t in the middle of a desert…

The hills that stood between us and the next city of Benson challenged Harvey to the point of 20 mph exhaustion. Brad directed us to the nearest Napa Auto Parts in Benson by about 5 in the morning. The heat had begun to creep through the windows as we napped for a few hours, but we were soon interrupted by the sweat that overtook us once again.

I went to open the shop door only to find that it was Sunday and that all Napa stores in Benson were closed. Brad and I deliberated for an hour. Was it worth it to attempt to drive to Tucson and maybe Phoenix? What was our opportunity cost?

Since we were already within 100 miles of Tucson, AAA could tow us there, but our real goal was to reach Phoenix since my friend Zac was willing to let us crash at his place. We didn’t want to quit being productive, but we also didn’t want to destroy Harvey.

We decided it would be best to take the risk.

There is a certain feeling that comes just before the drop on a roller coaster. You know what lies ahead – the impending drop. The unconscious moving of your stomach upward. The clenching of your butt-cheeks. The whitening of your knuckles on the bar that protects you from plummeting to your unfortunate death.

My hands gripped the steering wheel. My butt-cheeks pinched together making me rise in the driver’s seat. My stomach wound itself around my heart so that it would be reminded the blood was still pumping.

Left blinker clicked as we moved back onto the two-lane I-10 W going 40 mph. Here goes everything.

The semis flying by toyed with us like cats toying with a mouse. Each near miss caused Harvey to sway and made us question our decision to move forward. After 30 miles, Brad hopped in the back to grab an extra white board and a marker. He wrote “SLOW” in large red letters with an arrow pointing to the left and bent it to fit in the back window. We hoped it would help.

Pulling into Tucson was a relief. However, the roller coaster was far from finished. We gently eased our way into an open spot at a gas station just north of the city. Brad and I gathered all of our empty water bottles and sauntered into the gas station to ask the cashier if we could fill them up with ice water. Of course she obliged, but her counterpart gave us a nasty eye.

Even after we filled up, the second cashier was still giving us the stank eye. From her perspective, we looked homeless not having showered in over 6 days, but let’s be honest, we just purchased $75 worth of gas. Aren’t we allowed to use the bathroom if we fill up? Because, if so, we could have let the water run for hours. We, instead, chose to be conscious, healthy, and frugal citizens, filing up our water bottles with ice water. For her sake, I hoped that she spent her weekends volunteering to relieve her stress.

We got back in Harvey and made ourselves chip, bean, and Sriracha tacos. This has definitely become a common meal for us. Can’t go wrong with Sriracha – unless it squirts in your eye…which happened to both Brad and I independently.

Finally back on the road. Stomach still hugging my heart, butt still clenched, knuckles still curled over the leather steering wheel cover. 115 miles until Phoenix.

The road began to bottleneck into two lanes and the anticipation grew stronger. That’s when Harvey stalled again. We pulled over at the sign that read 62 miles to Phoenix and let him rest.

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OK. This is it Harvey. We are so close. Let’s make it all the way to Zac’s. Please…

We pulled back onto I-10 during a break in traffic and accelerated at a pace slower than most middle schoolers run a 50 meter dashWe hadn’t driven a mile before an Arizona police officer drifted into our lane. Brad and I were excited. Finally, we had someone to escort us!

Nope.

The lights erupted as the siren spouted its massive wales. We were definitely getting pulled over. I awaited his arrival on the driver’s side and nearly shat myself when he knocked on Brad’s window. He looked at both of us and asked for the registration and my license. Then asked for me to get out of the vehicle. I was nervous about exiting Harvey on the driver’s side due to the oncoming traffic, so I asked if I could exit through our side door facing the shoulder. He said no. Shit. So I sprinted around to his side.

The officer asked me to retreat to the front of his vehicle where he inquired about our drunken state. “Have you been drinking alcohol? Because I smell alcohol in the cab of your vehicle”

“No sir.” I replied. “It may have been the gasoline that was leaking or the fact that we haven’t showered in a few days.” He proceeded to ask me to follow his finger, which I did without hesitating. We discussed Harvey’s treacherous condition in the slow lane and our goal to revolutionize student’s attitudes toward volunteering. He was worried, needless to say, about everything I said and ducked into his squad car to finalize my paperwork.

When we returned to me, he was holding a breathalyzer.

“Officer, don’t you need my consent before I do this?”

“I am merely following up on what we have already started,” he replied.

“I understand, but don’t you need my consent for this?”

“Well, yes,” he said, faltering.

I cut him off asking “Well what if I do not give you consent?”

“We will have to go through the entire sobriety test.”

“Ok, well I know I haven’t drank anything. Does dehydration hurt me when blowing?”

“No. In fact, it may help you.”

I consented and carried out the breathalyzer test. Keep breathing. Keep breathing. Keep breathing. Finally it was over and he turned the device to face me.

0.000

Finally back on the road. At this point, the officer had not given us any advice as to how to get to Phoenix besides suggesting we wait until traffic dies down. We looked for back roads and found a couple, so we were on our way.

After passing through a few small towns our vision was broadened by the expansive farmlands of southwest Phoenix. Field. Field. Road. Field. Field. Walmart. Wtf. Field. Town. Field. Field. Expensive community. Field. Field.

We broke down twice more before managing to inch our way to the Safeway where Zac planned on meeting us. I wandered through the parking lot delirious and hungry. As I was walking back to Harvey, Zac pulled up. What a relief.

He noted that we looked like we had been living in a bar for the past week. Then offered his shower.

More to come on Zac and his organization.

 

Stefan

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