Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The prompt: A roadtrip, Witchita, red, Friday, cowboy

Susie, a dear friend in college had contacted me six months ago in an attempt to “catch up with old friends”. We had talked frequently since the initial e-mail. Although we had changed from the people we were in college, we found it just as easy to relate to one another now that we had entered our sixties. Oddly, our situations had not changed that much. We still dreamt of breaking the glass ceiling, finding a man to love, and traveling extensively. We’d each had opportunities and experiences, but neither of us could claim we’d fulfilled any of our dreams.

It was with great excitement and anticipation that I accepted her invitation to join her retirement “dream chasing” plan. On Friday, February 14th, I officially retired from Bank of America and packed my suitcase. The plan was to meet in Witchita and then rent a car for a meandering scenic drive to the San Diego port where we would embark on a retired singles cruise to Hawaii. Our cruise date was flexible. We’d have ample ability to see and go anywhere we wanted to on our way to the port without being tied to a timeline.

This is what appealed to me most about the trip. I’d always wanted to see the mountains and valleys of the west. I wanted to hear my voice echo in the Grand Canyon. I wanted to feel dwarfed by the giant redwoods. Route 66 was even a possibility. Most importantly, I wanted to get out of the Midwest.

The drive to Witchita was eventful. I’d given myself a week to make the 12 hour trip. I spent many afternoons visiting quaint little shops, eating at mom and pop diners, watching the people at parks, enjoying sunsets from hill tops and river banks, and listening to stories from anyone who wanted to share. I wrote all of my experiences in a notebook and relished them each night when I climbed into bed. I loved the freedom leaving my high level job afforded me. But I missed having a companion or even co-worker to talk to about my experiences. As I pulled into the Witchita Marriot, I was glad that I would see Susie at breakfast the next morning.

I checked into my room, tipping the bellboy for bringing up my luggage, and fell asleep reading my travel journal. The sun shone through my naked window early the next morning. It was a pleasant waking although my old body acted as if it was being asked too much to be expected to move. I donned my swimsuit and swam a few laps before returning to take a shower.

At 7:30am promptly, I entered the small breakfast nook and took a seat. Susie was always late in college and I fully expected to have to wait for her. She arrived 15 minutes later. I would not have recognized her had she not worn her Willmington College alumni jacket. It fit her poorly. She had put on quite a bit of weight since I last saw her 35 years ago. Then again, I had changed quite considerably in that time as well.

“Susie!” I waved at her, patting the seat next to me as she headed over with her belongings. She gave me a quick embrace before settling her weight on the chair. Small talk lead into grabbing breakfast. I had a strawberry yogurt with granola, banana, and glass of iced tea. I finished my food in little time and then chatted amiably with her while she finished the equivalent of the Perkin’s Tremendous Twelve platter. Watching her eat made me feel a little queasy. I excused myself under the guise of tidying my room and gathering my luggage so we could be on our way sooner than later.

By 8:45am, we were headed down US 400 on our way to the unknown in our leased corvette. We veered onto I-135 South when a large semi truck came up beside us, forcing our little car into the guard rail. We were unsettled and unprepared as to what we should do next. The car was badly damaged. The passenger side mirror had broken off, the convertible top was torn, paint had been scraped off the entire length of the car, the front tire was shredded and the back tire was flat. Finally, we remembered the on-star system and pressed the button to request assistance.

“Hello. I am your On-Star assistant, Theresa. How can I help you today?” Her voice was young and sweet.

“Yes. This is Carol,” I yelled at the screen. “I’m afraid there has been just a terrible accident. The car is ruined and we need to have someone come get it and us as soon as possible.” I wondered how Theresa could hear me through a screen and the rumbling of such fast paced traffic.

There was only a slight pause before Theresa spoke again. “Okay Carol. I am looking at your GPS location and it has you just past the exit from US 400 on I-135 South. Can you verify if that is your location?” I didn’t understand technology much, but I was always amazed at what they could learn about you from its use.

“Umm…. I think so. Does that sound right to you Susie? You had the map.” I wanted to double check.

“Yes. That is it. I believe we are at mile marker 48.” The map rustled and scraped loudly as it caught on her things and abdomen while she attempted to fold it back into the neat little packet it came in.

“Great Carol! And hello Susie. Before I send someone out, I just want to check and see if anyone has been hurt. Is there a need for an ambulance or fire truck?” Theresa’s smile could be heard in her voice.

“Goodness gracious, no. Don’t you think we would have told you that first?” I said it more crossly than I meant. I am always surprised at how oddly companies and their young employees think about things. Although, I guess when I was young, I may have overlooked the most serious concerns first. At least my 65 years had taught me common sense.

“I am sending a tow truck from Pioneer Son’s. They are about 7 minutes from you then. It looks like the driver is Clint. He’s a good guy. He’s been sent on a lot of these calls. He is an older gentleman and he will have ID with him if you care to see it. He’ll also take you back to the shop and help you arrange transportation as appropriate from there. Is there anything else you need?” Her voice really was charming to listen to and she had been a Godsend in our current situation.

“No thank you” I yelled at the screen.

“Okay then. Would you like me to stay on the line with you until Clint arrives?” She seemed genuine in her offer, but it seemed silly to keep her talking to me when I had a travel companion.

“No. We’ll be fine. I’ll push the button if we need anything else. Thank you again, dear.” I yelled for the last time. “Have a great afternoon and remember On-Star if there is anything else you need.” With that, Theresa was gone.

“Well Susie, I think it is a good thing we aren’t in any rush. What do you think about seeing if this kid Clint can take us back to the Marriot and we can stay here in Witchita another night?” Her face seemed sour and I couldn’t tell if it was from the climbing heat and heavy exhaust or from the idea of staying in Witchita another night.
“Okay Carol. One night won’t hurt anything. To tell you the truth, I’m feeling kind of ill all of a sudden. I think I would have made for a poor travel companion this afternoon. A little rest will certainly make things more enjoyable. You don’t mind do you?” She seemed relieved to be staying in Witchita. As much as I would like to be standing at some wonder tomorrow, Witchita had many possibilities I could check out.

“I think that would be just fine. Better one night than several if you don’t give yourself a break.” As I finished my thought, I saw a bright yellow tow truck pull up behind us. “I think Clint has brought the tow truck.” I sat silently watching him climb out of his cab and saunter over to the car, letting his eyes slide down the body of the car as if it were a young woman. My eyes slid down his body. He was an older gentleman. His hair was solid gray and his face looked weathered. He was very fit, although I couldn’t say muscular. He was the kind of man I hoped would be on the cruise.

Forgetting that objects in the mirror are frequently much closer than they appear, I was startled by what seemed like his sudden approach. “Carol and Susie I assume?” he said with a soft drawl that didn’t sound like Kansas.

“Yes, that’s us.” My voice was a little too vibrant, too excited by such a simple statement. I tried to tone it down. “I’m Carol, the one who called. My companion here is Susie.” Susie looked up and raised her hand only to drop her head back down quickly. “I’m sorry. She isn’t feeling real well. Is it possible that we can get her settled in your vehicle so she can be out of the heat and exhaust? I think she would be much more comfortable?”

“Yes ma’am.” He stared down at me with a small smile on his lips, as if he wanted something. I smiled back, trying not to squirm like a little girl under his intense focus. It felt good though. I only wished he would look at me like he looked at the car. The thought made me blush. He just continued to stand there staring at me.

I thought I was going to jump out of my skin when Susie laid a hand on my arm. “Carol? We are waiting for you to move so I can get out. Remember, the car door is up against the guard rail on this side.”

I was humiliated. My blush became even deeper. My hands fluttered to my face. “Oh my! Of course. I am so sorry!” I stuttered as I hastily moved my body out of her path. Clint reached in and helped her cross over the center console. It took him a lot of effort and I could see perspiration beading up on his forehead as I stood and watched. Finally, Susie was freed from the car and escorted to the tow truck.

“Carol?” I hadn’t seen Clint coming back as I fished our luggage from the backseat and trunk. I jumped again, feeling like a fool. “I can get those for you at the shop. There won’t be room in the cab. Why don’t you settle yourself into the cab while I get everything taken care of here.”

I knew I should go to the cab, but I wanted to continue being intoxicated by this man. I hadn’t felt this light and school girlish in a long, long time. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t remember a stranger made me feel this way. “If I won’t be in the way, I would prefer to stay out here with you. A mildly ill companion is not a fun one.”

He nodded and tipped a hat he wasn’t actually wearing. He was a great conversationalist. Over the next few hours between hoisting the car and finally getting back to the hotel, we talked about his growing up as a cowboy in the open fields of Montana, the things I had learned in my life as a mid-level executive in corporate America, what we hoped we could still achieve in our lives, and many other trivial and important things. I knew I was drawn to this man deeply and was sad when he tipped his non-existent hat in good-bye.

That night, laying in my new Marriot bed, I took out my notebook and wrote every detail I could remember about Clint. I put my notebook away, pulling the office like chair over to the window. In the distance, I could see what looked like a nature preserve. The sun was just setting in the sky, making it look the bright red of a fire. On a bridge, I saw the silhouette of a man. As the red sun finished setting that Friday evening, I realized I had found myself a cowboy I could love in Witchita.


  1. This is a fun story. I liked it quite a lot.

    I think you may have rushed to finished it up as you have all but one of the prompt words in the last sentence. And you never used road trip.

  2. Damn! I meant to say it was a road trip with her friend! I only insinuated it. Damn!

  3. How in the world were you able to do this? WOW! I ought to give it a shot, though, I'm not sure it'll come out quite this good!

    Awesome fun story!
    don't worry about the road trip...it was there...sort of...she did go on a 12 hour trip. :-)