Week in Paradise

It’s me again, after another fine weekend in the country of the sun. Friday afternoon I decided to go to Phoenix for a few days since I had the rare occurrence of a weekend without work, homework, and plans for Flag other than the usual social bunch of evenings. I was scheduled to go trick-or-treating for a food drive but canceled that without hesitation since trick-or-treating has lost some of the luster it once held to me.

Another reason I went to the valley was to test the integrity of my new used car. I’ve driven it several hundred miles in Flag since nearly losing a front wheel on I-40 a few weeks ago and wanted a long drive to prove that I might be able to venture out of state someday with the Subaru. As usual, the several hour drive to Phoenix was spectacular; the road curves through sun burnt mountains all along the way with cactus and the occasional herd of pronghorn antelope the prominent signs of civilization. And as usual, I was waxing all romantic about the sky and the scenery and getting way more out of life than I thought humanly possible, the car humming along quite contentedly as it was.

About 60 miles north of Phoenix is an exit that leads to the ghost town of Bumble Bee, smack in the middle of the final curvy drop down out of the range of mountains which rims the valley of Phoenix. Around Bumble Bee there are forests of Saguaro cactus with little else to interfere with viewing pleasure other than the hazards of the highway. By this time it was dark and I was picking out cactus silhouetted against the sky and cactus on the hillsides with only light from the stars and moon. In Arizona these things actually provide light. This was the setting of my car breakdown. It came as the sound I recognized from when my front wheel almost fell off—a loud grinding, followed by a swerve, jerk, and shudder. I got off at the Bumble Bee exit, crossed the cattle guard and drove out in the desert until I found an area free of cactus to pull off into and inspect the damage. I found all the wheels still attached firmly and cool to the touch—good signs—but an axle going to a back wheel was hanging at a grotesque angle, and oil that should have been inside the gear box was sprayed across the underside of the car from the hole left in the gearbox by the departure of the bearing. After determining that the shaft had maybe 40 miles left in it before unhooking completely from the differential and demolishing the rest of the car, I pulled back out onto the freeway and continued on my merry way.

I spent the night on Roan’s couch. Saturday morning I ducked under the car for another inspection and decided to drive it around Phoenix all day, hoping to find closure for the calamity. I went 60 miles in town, which for Phoenicians is nothing at all—getting to the corner is a mile, from there it’s another 10 to the freeway and 40 more of ’em to downtown. My good friend Caleb from PA called me and we were both shocked to find out we were in the same town. It didn’t work to meet in Phoenix—the mileage obstacle again—but he agreed to come to Flagstaff Sunday evening. I helped Roan for a few hours in the afternoon then we drove to Chinatown in Phoenix; small but amazingly Chinese. Still no final word from the back of the car.

Sunday I went with Roan to church then to the Larry Smith house for lunch and hilarious stories of growing up on a farm, as told by the kids. I unwillingly left good friends and hospitality for the long drive up the hill to my mountain home in the high desert. Surprisingly I had no problems with the car, with 220 miles on a badly mangled gearbox and axle miraculously hanging together, although the last 50 miles were exponentially stressful with the axle and gearbox protesting by sound and increasingly violent pounding action from the back seat. I made it back to my apartment on a prayer; it has maybe 40 more miles left in it before it’s dead…

Caleb and Lisa pulled in an hour after I did and it didn’t take much convincing for them to stay the night at my place. We went for a starlit hike in the pine forest near campus because they were excited about the clean smell of pines and cool night air—two things I regretfully have taken entirely for granted. Monday (today) I had classes from 9 to 4, during which Caleb and Lisa went up to the aspens of 9,000 feet elevation and did some hiking. Weather couldn’t have been more perfect with 70 degrees in town at 7,000 feet and not a cloud all day. Afterwards we had a fun round of disc golf and Lisa cooked us a huge batch of fajitas for dinner. I was sad to see them leave. And that’s the weekend roundup, whether or not anyone cares to read it…

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