“We are not on this earth to accumulate victories, things, and experiences… but to be whittled and sandpapered until what’s left is who we truly are.”-Arianna Huffington
Early the next morning I’m back on Interstate 10 and barreling towards the San Moreno Valley like a man on a mission.
Through a somewhat ironic twist of fate I’m actually behind the wheel of another car already. My mother had hip surgery a few weeks back, which means that she’ll be on her back and recovering over the next three months or so. Because of the nature of her surgery she won’t be able to drive during that time, which as bad as it sounds has actually become my good fortune. It means that my parents have kindly offered to let me borrow her car instead of having it just sit idle in their driveway all summer.
I quickly gobbled up the chance at another car and was more than happy to kiss Greyhound goodbye for good in Denver (which is where my Dad had organized to have the car shipped to).
The new plan moving forward is for me to use my Mom’s car to get across the country and then return it to her in Florida three months from now, which should line up perfectly with when she should be ready to begin driving again.
The car’s a tiny two-seater SLK Mercedes though and it’s not that I’m complaining, but I don’t actually fit behind the wheel of it. I’d only ever been in the passenger seat of the car and I didn’t realize how small the driver’s side was before it was way too late.
When the car was dropped off to me in the hotel parking lot that I was working with in Denver, it was kind of embarrassing.
I actually couldn’t fit inside the car and I had to take my sneakers off just so I could lose an inch of my length. But even then my head was flush against the roof and my legs were pretzeled under the steering wheel. The solution that I eventually came up with is that I extend my left leg all the way under the pedals and lean my torso across the center console and into the passenger seat. Contorting my body like that gives me just enough room to get my right foot on the right side the gas pedal so I can press down on it.
Typically I’m only able to drive this awkwardly uncomfortable barefoot way for about an hour and a half or so. After that my legs start cramping up and I’m forced to pull over and get out so I can untangle my legs and stretch for a few minutes. Basically its a one-man clown car and you should see the look I get when someone passes me on the highway or when I peal myself out of it at gas stations along the way. It’s so comical that someone actually took a selfie with me sitting like this once. I was waiting at a stoplight and the person in the car next to me leaned out the window so she could snap a shot of me folded up in the background.
And even though the car sounds plush because its a Mercedes, it’s seen better days. It’s fifteen years old with a crumbling interior. The dashboard’s held together with duct tape and when I went to start it that first time in Denver, the battery was completely dead. I had to get it jumped by the truck driver who dropped it off and I only made it as far as Vail before I had to nervously stop at a garage and have the battery replaced. It seems like I’m snake bitten with cars this summer, so as I pull into Yaseen’s auto body shop I say a quick prayer in hopes that all goes right today.
Carlos quickly comes out of the garage to greet me. He gives me a greasy handshake and after I begrudgingly hand him two crisp one hundred-dollar bills he writes the address of the car’s location on the back of a cream colored business card. I don’t stick around for small talk. Instead I bolt into Yaseen’s shop so I can use the Wi-Fi to pull up the address up on my phone’s GPS.
The margin for error today is too small to mess around with and I can’t afford to waste any time. I feel like I’m racing the invisible man this morning. I have no idea where Tom is, but ever since I woke up this morning I’ve been picturing him moving across southern California at a blistering pace while gripping the title tightly in his grimy little hands. If he’s half as determined as I am today, then I’m in trouble.
After a quick glance at the time, I frantically dial the tow company that I spoke with late last night to have them meet me at the address Carlos just gave me. I’m planning to follow the tow truck all the way to Anaheim because I want to make sure everything goes smoothly.
While yes, this is about money and I do desperately want my two thousand dollars back, it’s also become about so much more than that.
There’s this fire burning inside me that seems to only get stronger by the day. Ever since the engine blew up and I had to walk off the highway with all my things in 120-degree heat, it’s like the lion inside me has been let loose. I’m more focused, more determined and hungrier than ever to not just make it around the world, but to obliterate every obstacle thrown my way.
I wind my Mom’s car through a few residential streets in San Moreno and eventually find the right address. When I lock eyes with the car from hell it gets a sarcastic chuckle out of me. I’d never thought in my wildest dreams or worst nightmares that I’d ever see this hunk of junk again, but yet there it is. The sun’s beating down on it in the driveway of a two-bedroom townhouse and I decide to park alongside the curb while I wait.
The tow truck company said they’d have someone here in about an hour, but I’m desperate for them to show up sooner. Not only do I need to beat Tom to the auction house, but I cannot tell you how awkward it feels to be shoeless and crammed inside this clown car and waiting outside of some stranger’s home like this.
It never dawned on me to ask Carlos whose house I’d actually be going to when picking up the car. It didn’t seem to matter at the auto body shop, but now I wish I had at least asked. I’m the only car on the street and to add to the awkwardness of the moment, the front door of the house is propped wide open. It suddenly feels like I’m trespassing.
I’d feel much better if I could introduce myself and explain that I’m here to have the car towed to Anaheim and that I’m not trying to peep through the windows of whoever’s home this is. So after quickly weighing both awkward options I decide to get out and go ring the doorbell.
I can hear people inside, their voices are at a low rumble, but when no one comes to answer my calls the whole thing begins to feel shadier than ever.
Who leaves their front door wide open but then doesn’t answer when someone rings the doorbell?
Something doesn’t feel right. This whole thing is just a tad off so I start questioning Carlos. Maybe he already sold the car to whoever lives here and he’s hustling me out of an extra two hundred bucks. I start thinking that he’s set me up today and that I’m really here to unknowingly repossess the car instead of having properly bought it back like I thought I just did. He knows that I still don’t have any proof of ownership after all. The title is with Tom who’s probably pulling up to the auction house with it right now!
I anxiously climb back into my car to wait. It’s another god awful 117-degree day in San Moreno, and it’s way too hot outside to stand in the sun. I turn on the radio to pass the time, but when I go to turn up the air-conditioning it starts belting out wave after wave of hot air.
No, no, no. NO! Not again!
I turn the car off and then back on and then try the air-conditioning a second time, but all I get is more waves of warm air.
Remember a few chapters back when I was trying to find my cargo ship in Sydney’s Port Botany and I wrote that nothing about traveling the world over land is easy? Well, I’d like to just stop for a second and reconfirm that point. Nothing, and I mean nothing about trying to travel around the world over land is easy, and anything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Just to prove that point, think about how insane the odds have to be for my mother’s car, the one that she’s been driving every day for fifteen years, to break down directly in front of the car that I just bought for a second time, which is also broken down!
The odds of this scenario actually happening in real life must be staggering!
I get out and pop the hood of my mom’s car open, but since I still have no knowledge of cars, I have no idea what to look for. All I can do is quickly slam the hood shut in frustration and stuff my long limbs back inside it. I drive it up and down the street a few times to make sure that the only thing that’s given out is the air conditioning. The car seems to be running okay, but there’s this faint rattling sound that can’t be good. After a few laps around the neighborhood I pull back into the same parking space. Then I roll the windows down, turn the car off, and begin to sweat profusely while I wait.
Two absolutely agonizing hours go by before the tow truck appears. I beg the driver Anthony to get this thing the hell out of here as quick as humanly possible. The front door of the house is still wide open and I still haven’t been able to tell if anyone knows I’m here or not to remove a nearly two-ton car directly out of their driveway.
I look over at Anthony as he hooks up a chain to the front of the car and I say, “I’m getting this car to Anaheim today even if it kills me.”
Thirty minutes later I’m following Anthony across 215 west while keeping my eyes locked on my Mazda, which is bobbing back and forth on the back of his tow truck’s flatbed. All the while I’ve got my fingers crossed (literally) in hopes that my mom’s car stops rattling and gets me all the way to Anaheim today.
After we merge onto 91 south we drive through Riverside and then Corona, but right around Anaheim Hills we hit mid-afternoon traffic. We slow to a standstill around 1:00PM and I begin to bake inside my Mom’s now air conditioner-less car. The interior of the car is jet black and without a breeze or any movement I have no doubt that the hundred-plus degree day could easily fry an egg on its dashboard.
It’s taken so long just to get this far today that now not only am I worried that Tom’s already beaten me to the auction house with the title, but that even if he hasn’t that I might not even make the 3PM deadline set by the Manheim Auction House either.
As I melt through my seat, my legs start twitching and cramping up because I’m long overdue for a stretch break.
But since I can’t afford to lose site of the tow truck I’m tracking, I can’t allow myself to pull over. From the stress of trying to keep my eyes locked on Anthony’s every lane change, to racing the invisible man Tom, to today’s heat advisory and to the fact that I don’t physically fit in the car I’m driving, the whole thing becomes a grueling affair.
Strangely enough, as we creep along the highway at a speed that I could walk at, I actually find a little pocket of pleasure in all this. When I look back on all the really tough moments as I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve found that it’s the times like this when I’m most uncomfortable and my back is up against a wall that I really seem to grow the most. The thing about all those hard times is that it’s always been in hindsight. I only really appreciate them when I’m looking back on them. That’s when I see the lessons they taught me, but the difference with today is that I can appreciate it as it’s happening.
This feels like a new level of growth for me and I feel a sense of pride in the moment.
With my legs tangled around the pedals and sweat cascading off my body, I embrace everything about the awful situation and realize that this is exactly what I need. Without all the obstacles along the way I wouldn’t be digging down into the depths of who I really am and finding out what I’m truly made of. That lion wouldn’t have been let loose had my car not exploded in the first place, so I actually begin to feel a swell of thankfulness for all this run through my body.
When I take it even one step further than that and I strip away the judgment of whether this moment on the 91 south is good or bad, all that matters is that I can feel something. And I’ve grown to believe that feeling anything, even if it’s bad, is still a blessing. That was the problem with my old life and my old job. I never felt anything when I showed up to work; it was just kind of blah. But sitting here on 91 south like I am is anything but blah.
Every single inch and ounce of me is invested in the moment and whether Idan knowingly sold me a lemon or not doesn’t matter anymore. As we finally start moving again I find this little pocket of highway Zen to be one of the best moments of my life.
By the time we actually get outside the front gate of the Manheim Auction House I have less than twenty minutes to drop the car off and find Jessica inside the main office. But the property is so big and so confusing that neither Anthony nor I have any idea where to actually drop off the car. Plus, there are more security checkpoints here than at Fort Knocks.
I decide to ditch my Mom’s car in the visitor parking lot and hop in with Anthony in hopes that that will expedite the process. Even with my personal growth experience, having come this far today, I can unequivocally say that I do still desperately want my money back, if not even more so than before.
I mean I was only able to drive the car for forty total miles after all.
The cabin of Anthony’s truck is cool and calm and he’s got a grape Gatorade in one of his cup holders. As I watch the condensation run down the side of the bottle like the beads of sweat dripping down my arm, my parched thoughts beg for a sip, but I’m quick to tell myself to focus. I’m about to run out of time and I can’t afford to be saddled with this broken-down beast for a second time.
Every guy we drive past on our way to Gate A starts feeling like his name could be Tom. There’s a guy with tan khaki pants on and a blue button down shirt that could be Tom. There’s a guy wearing stonewashed jeans and an Anaheim Angles ball cap that could be Tom too. Suddenly it feels like everyone I see is Tom.
This place is crawling with Tom’s!
What if he beat me here?
The risk that I’ve taken on today hits me as we pull up to the gate and I have a flashback to Yaseen telling Carlos to push my broken-down car out into the street.
I can’t have that happen again today. What am I going to do with this hunk of junk then?
The guard at Gate A immediately tells us that since the car isn’t running that we need to go to the Jefferson Gate, which is around back. He pulls up a map of the property, which is one gigantic California suburban block, and shows us how to get there. Of course it just so happens to be that the gate we need to find is all the way on the other side of the property.
Anthony quickly drives us back the way we just came and then makes a left on Miraloma Ave. As we wait at the light at in intersection of Miraloma and Jefferson, I can’t help but to anxiously tap my feet.
I look over at Anthony and ask him, “Do you think we can make it in time?”
“I don’t know man. I hope so for your sake.”
When we finally show up at the Jefferson Gate five minutes later, we are immediately told to go back around to gate A.
I tell the guard that there is absolutely no chance of that and then I tell him that I was specifically told to drop the car off here because it isn’t running and I insist that he opens up the gate and lets us in.
That’s what my mouth said, but I have no idea what my eyes said. The guard tells me to ease up and then shockingly, he listens to me. He tells Anthony that he can pull in, but we’re going to have to make a space because there are no spaces left.
He is right about that. There are thousands of cars in the lot and there are literally no spots left in the entire junkyard. Cars are nearly piled on top of one another from one side of the chain-linked perimeter to the other. Remember when I said that nothing about traveling around the world overland has been easy? Yep, that’s right, even the junkyard is full! How can that be?
With ten minutes left Anthony and I decide to try and wedge the car into half a space. With its front half sticking out into the aisle, I wave over to the guard for approval. It’s good enough for him so he slaps a bright orange sticker on the driver’s side window and then gives me a form to fill out.
Anthony’s job is officially done, but I beg him to drive me back over to the main entrance of the auction house office so I can find Jessica because there’s no way I’ll make it if I have to walk that far.
Thankfully he agrees and he distracts me from my jangling nerves during the ride back over by telling me about his life as a tow truck driver, which is a pretty morbid one. He shares horrible stories about all times he’s seen dead bodies at the scene of accidents. He used to work the graveyard shift for the tow company that had a contract with the San Moreno Police Department. So anytime there was a bad accident on the highway they’d call him and he’d have to tow the totaled cars away.
He says that sometimes he would get there so quickly that the police hadn’t had a chance to cover up the dead bodies yet. He goes on to tell that it wasn’t a big deal though because he used to work in a morgue so he kind of liked that sort of stuff.
When I say, “you liked seeing the dead bodies?”, he says with a gleam in his eye, “Well yeah, kind of. It was interesting man.”
As he keeps talking, I can’t help but to think about all the unique people I’ve come across as I’ve tried to make it around the world. I can now add Anthony, the dead-body liking graveyard-shift-working tow truck driver from Southern California, to the list.
For as nice as Anthony is though I’m about ready to be done with his morbid stories by the time we get back to the front of the auction house. The guard stops us at the main gate and won’t allow the tow truck inside the visitor’s parking area. So, Anthony drops me off about a hundred yards shy of the building’s entrance.
The clock on his dash reads 2:55PM. I take off in a full sprint after thanking him for his help today. On my way to the front doors I run past a guy who is leaving with a wide smile on his face. That’s Tom! Or at least I think that’s Tom and so I shoot him an evil look.
When I push open the doors and clear security it’s exactly 3:00PM and it feels like I’ve blown my chance. Thankfully there’s still one person at the claims counter and as I’m wheezing for air and drenched in sweat I ask for Jessica. I’ve sweat so much today that a thick film of perspiration is covering my skin.
The woman says, “I’m Jessica. You must be Eric. Kerri mentioned you might be coming by today.”
As I try to catch my breath I say, “Did Tom beat me here with the title?”
She smiles and says, “He didn’t show up today. Looks like you’ll get the refund for your car.”