The Darkest Hour
Note: Don't expect this to make much sense until you've read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three…
They say one picture is worth a thousand words, but like most cliches, it's not always true. The photo above -- shot through the windshield at a wide-open, one-second guesstimate exposure by the glare of our rental truck headlights -- does indeed capture the culmination of a long day where everything seemed to go sideways, but although it tells the essential truth of what happened that night, by no means does it tell the whole story.
Not by a long shot.
Still, it could have been worse, and therein lies a life lesson, kiddos: never forget that no matter how dire the situation might seem in your darkest hour (whatever that may be), things can always get worse -- and if you're not careful, they will. Minutes before I snapped this photo, the Gods of Karma had just ended their busy day with one last haymaker, a sledgehammer left hook worthy of the late, great Joe Frazier that caught us completely by surprise. That blow stopped our journey back to LA dead in its tracks, leaving both of us in a much more sober and humble state of mind.
Cue the violins.
Earlier that night…
With a new but considerably less-than-perfect wheel bearing now enabling the genny to roll without the axle melting down and catching fire, we crawled on through the Utah night at a steady fifty-five miles an hour. By now it was clear as beer-piss that the fun part of our Sun Valley/Anita Bryant adventure was officially over, and the road back to LA would be one long grind.
But we were also aware how fortunate we'd been, and how tenuous the membrane between "everything's fine" and complete flaming disaster really is. Thus far the windshield of the truck cracked, but did not break, then we managed to dodge the long arm of the Idaho State Police (and probable arrest on open-container and/or drug charges) despite an inexplicable and inexcusable lack of registration papers on the truck, and now we'd narrowly avoided having one of the genny's wheels come off while blithely barreling through Utah's scenic wonderland. Rather than being in jail or marooned by the side of the road, we were still on our way home, with hopes of making LA by dawn.
It's all good, right?
So it seemed. We rolled along at a steady pace, eating up the miles while stopping only for gas and food. We weren't going particularly fast, but every turn of the wheels brought us that much closer to home.
As the clock approached midnight, the map took us off the smooth highway and onto a very dark and rough two lane road. The truck bounced around like an airplane caught in heavy turbulence, which -- much to the ire of the big eighteen wheeler following close behind -- slowed us down considerably. With no safe shoulder to pull off, and no way for him to pass, he sat right there inches from our ass for a good twenty miles until we finally reached the lovely, smooth freeway again. There, that semi blew past us and steamed on into the night.
Good riddance. Still at the wheel, I heaved a sigh of relief and began to relax as we resumed the 55 mph grind. A minute later, the truck gave a slight lurched as a ball of sparks materialized in the rear view mirror. But as soon as it appeared, it vanished, swallowed by the darkness.
"What the fuck was that?" my partner in crime asked.
I eased off the throttle and gently applying the brakes, not wanting to stress that genny any more than was strictly necessary. With the truck safely parked on the side of the road, we got out to see what had happened… and found only the steel tongue of the genny dragging on the ground, still attached to the truck's hitch.
The generator? It was gone, baby, gone.
Leaving the emergency blinkers on, we walked back down that highway until we found the genny by the side of the road, facing backwards, the sheet metal panels bent and twisted like the broken wings of a dead bird. When that steel tongue broke, the genny instantly nosed into the pavement, then flipped and tumbled for a hundred yards before coming to rest -- thus the ball of sparks.
This ugly day, which began so sunny and bright, had darkened at every turn in one long crescendo of ever-deeper trouble -- so now I couldn't help wondering what fresh hell the dark Utah night might have in store for us? Which is when it occurred to me just how dangerous it was to leave a big chunk of dark metal on the side of that highway at night. We ran back to pull off the hitch, then backed the truck up and parked it -- blinkers still flashing -- between the road and oncoming traffic.
The hard lessons administered by the Joe Frazier School of Higher Education all day long were finally beginning to sink in.
It was only while contemplating this latest turn of events that it dawned on us just how lucky we'd been this time. The genny could have broken loose at any point on the twenty miles of bad road we'd been bouncing along just minutes before, and with that semi following much too close to avoid it, a crash would have resulted that could have hurt or killed the driver, wrecked the eighteen wheeler, and demolished the cargo it carried…. all of which would have been laid squarely at the feet of two young fools from Hollywood dumb enough to pilot a truck across three states with no registration papers while carrying a half-empty bottle of whiskey and a handful of illegal amphetamines.
It was only by the whim of those fickle Gods of Karma that we'd narrowly avoided a very real flaming disaster, one that could have done incalculable personal and property damage, and likely sent us both to jail.
As the saying goes, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
It was with a rather giddy sigh of relief that I took the photo above. Yes, the genny was destroyed and our return journey to LA stymied, but this thing could have turned out so much worse. Then again, here we were at midnight in Utah with no way to get that wrecked generator back home. The question dangled there before us in the dark night:
Next: Part Five: Long Nights Journey into Day