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Laurie Niles

Vacation nixed, on Route 66

August 2, 2006 at 6:20 AM

My six-year-old son was telling me how to pet a porcupine yesterday morning when I realized that a family vacation is not necessarily about where you go.

I say this because we were walking to breakfast Monday in Williams, Arizona, instead of watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, which was the scenario we had been planning for months. We were walking because our car broke down Sunday, stranding us short of our destination.

"Don't you get prickled if you pet a porcupine?" I asked him.

"No, Mom, you have to do it the right way," Brian replied patiently, as we headed toward the railroad tracks that run along this small tourist town. He pretended one hand was a porcupine and demonstrated with the other. "You start at the top, then very gently move your hand down. You don't get prickled at all that way."

Sunday afternoon, as we were just ready to turn off Interstate 40 and head north toward the south rim of the Grand Canyon, something went funny. We were going up a hill, so I turned off the air conditioner, then it seems like a gear blew out. The car shook and just would not accelerate past a certain speed.

I drove slowly to the next town, Williams, where we scrambled for a bit in the pouring rain on a late Sunday afternoon. We could not find a mechanic, but we checked into the Holiday Inn, and they recommended a shop that was a bit farther down the highway. Sure enough, there was a mechanic there. So Robert stayed with the kids at the hotel while I drove the sick car (the Chevy Prizm) to the shop, going about 40 mph in the pouring rain with the hazard lights on.

I don't know if anyone has seen the movie "Cars," but there I was on Route 66, and it seems that I met the characters, right there. I was greeted by the owner's grandson, who was pretty young. Another was an Iraq war veteran who "just wanted to be here, away from people" in this quiet and beautiful part of Arizona. I also met someone who was a dead ringer for "Tow-Mater" in the movie.

It was 'Mater who drove me back to the Holiday Inn in the big tow truck he himself had assembled from various, extremely used car parts. He was from West Virginia, had an ashray packed with cigarette butts, lung cancer and a wife who'd up and left him. He told me all this in a nice friendly way, though I could understand only a small percentage of his words. Nonetheless I had faith that I would indeed get back, and as we drove back the sun came out and I observed a rainbow over the Holiday Inn.

Yesterday morning, while awaiting word on our car, we walked along old Route 66 to "Old Smoky's Pancake House," where we ate giant pancakes while sitting in the very booth where Elvis Presley ate a half-century ago. In honor of the King, we tasted all four kinds of syrup sitting on our table: maple, boysenberry, pecan and strawberry. My daughter's love for Elvis won out over her reluctance in front of the camera, and she agreed to pose in the very chair where Elvis sat, that is, before he retired to the booth. (Despite the fact that our waiter appeared to have been born in about 1988, he seemed to know the precise details of Elvis's every move from back when He visited the pancake house, a half-century ago.)


As it turns out, the car's injuries are quite severe, and we'll be making our way down the road in a rental. But for now, the kids are extremely thrilled to be watching cable TV (which we don't get at home) and the hotel's swimming pool is also a big treat for them. We probably will not get to do all we'd planned, such as a visit to the Four Corners, then on to see the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado. But we hope to make it up to Denver for my 20th high school reunion this weekend.

Nonetheless, we're having a fun adventure together, no matter.

Brian's right, it's all in how you pet the porcupine!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on August 2, 2006 at 9:23 AM
I like your attitude. The difference between a good experience and a bad experience is often a state of mind. Your son has the right idea, and your daughter looks great. Enjoy the rest of your trip, Laurie, no matter what.
From Luis Pernalete
Posted on August 2, 2006 at 5:00 PM
I second Pauline, the best of trip to you and your nice family.
From Karin Lin
Posted on August 2, 2006 at 5:57 PM
Laurie, you always manage to put such a positive spin on everything. Thank you for inspiring us all.
From Colleen Russo
Posted on August 3, 2006 at 4:11 PM
What a neat story! And your daughter looks so cute and happy! I've never heard you talk about your kids... do they play violin too?
From Ray Randall
Posted on August 3, 2006 at 7:44 PM
Keep us updated on your trip.
You could very well sell a short story about your experiences with your car and the colorful mechanics to a magazine or Reader's Digest. Seriously.

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