I was twenty five years-old when I packed up my VW van and headed to Hollywood to make my name and fortune. I had just graduated college and thought the world was my oyster. I didn’t like oysters, but still thought the cliché quite fitting. The back of my van was crammed with everything that my girlfriend and I owned. Clothes, cassette tapes, a bed and a sofa. Our dishes were sparse, but we were young and ate the soup right out of the pan. What did we care about bowls? We were going to be famous!
My girlfriend’s name was Lisa. (that may or may not be her real name.) We also had our best friend tagging along with us. His name was Mike. (that may or may not be his real name.) Mike packed everything he owned in a tiny suitcase. It looked like one of those weekend suitcases little kids carry – you know the kind with a cartoon girl on the outside with the words “Going to Grandma’s!” written on it.
Me, Lisa and Mike
Our destiny awaits!
At the time of departure, I hugged my mother goodbye and climbed behind the wheel. I looked in my rear view mirror as we pulled away. She waved and shouted, “Be sure to pack a water jug when you cross the desert!”
Silly mother. What did she think I was? Everybody knows to pack water when traveling across the desert.
We arrived at Needles, California twenty four hours later. VW vans are slow going, especially when packed to the gills. The only time we got up to fifty mph was when we went downhill. Unfortunately, it’s all uphill until Albuquerque. Chugging along with cars passing us, we must have looked like a cross between the Clampetts and the Joads. Anyway, we made it to Needles with high spirits. Now the only thing separating us from Hollywood was a huge expanse of desert.
We stopped at a convenience store at the edge of Needles for gas. By this time we had listened to our entire selection of Madonna, Bananarama, The Bangles and the Go-Go’s. I was tired, hungry and thirsty. I bought a Diet Coke and a big bag of potato chips. I figured this would fortify me until I saw the ocean.
Ten miles into the desert, Lisa said, “We have to go back.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I left my espradrilles at the convenience store.”
“You what?” I said.
“I took them off,” she explained. “That burlap cloth stuff they’re made out of is scratchy. My feet were sweaty and itchy.”
“Why the hell would you take your shoes off in a convenience store!” I shouted even though I completely understood. My own espradrilles were hot and scratchy.
“The linoleum felt cool on my feet,” Lisa said. “I put them in the cooler with the pop. I thought if they cooled off they’d feel better. Then I forgot to get them out. We have to go back.”
“No,” I said. “We’re not going back because you left your stupid espradrilles in the pop cooler.”
She pouted, but I remained firm. Besides, I was driving and that made me boss.
Twenty miles later the van swerved hard to the right. I slammed on the brakes and jumped out. We had a flat.
It’s okay, I told myself. I know how to change a tire. Unfortunately, the jack and spare were under all the crap we had packed in the back. We unloaded the entire van and placed everything well off the road. By the time this was accomplished, it was dark.
The good news was we had an entire living room and bedroom set up at the side of the road.
Lisa sat on the sofa and held the flashlight while Mike and I tried to take the lug nuts off the tire. We tried. We tried. And we tried some more. See, the thing about VWs (I learned later) is that the lug nuts tighten as you drive. And to make matters worse, these were the original tires and lug nuts from 1967. They had been tightened a lot.
Me and Mike. Not feeling very butch.
We decided to give up for the night. We’d flag down a car in the morning and hitch back to Needles. Mike crawled onto the sofa to sleep and Lisa and I got the bed. It wasn’t so bad, I told myself. It was kinda like camping under the stars except everything I owned was sitting on the desert floor.
Mike and Lisa fell asleep. Not me. I couldn’t sleep. I was thirsty. Lisa had drank the Diet Coke while I was trying to get the lug nuts off. Mike had eaten the bag of chips. I was thirsty and hungry. And cold. I was also worried about snakes. I thought about sleeping in the back of the van, but what if a car came by? I wouldn’t see it and our only hot at being rescued would drive right on by.
“Be sure to pack a water jug when you cross the desert!” My mother’s words echoed in my ears all night long. My stomach growled. My lips glued themselves together. My eyes felt raw and gritty. I became convinced we were going to die on the desert.
I finally fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning. Dawn woke me up. I stood up and stretched. Wait… that was weird. I was only wearing one shoe. I had on one espradrille, but the other was missing.
I checked the bed. I walked in circles looking for my lost espradrille. Lisa sat up and looked at me. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Looking for my other shoe,” I said. “It’s gone.”
“I took it,” she said.
I turned and looked at her. She couldn’t meet my eyes. “Why did you take my shoe when I was sleeping?”
“We didn’t have any toilet paper,” she said sheepishly.
“You wiped your ass with my shoe?”
I stormed off. This was too much. I mean, really, what kind of girlfriend was she to go poop in the middle of the desert and use my shoe for toilet paper? What the hell was wrong with her own shoe?
Oh, that’s right. Her shoes were back at the store in Needles.
I stood on the far side of the van, seething. Mike peeked around the corner. “You okay?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I am definitely not okay.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“What?” I mumbled.
“Can I use your other shoe? I have to poop.”
“Ahhhh!” I screamed. I stomped down the middle of the highway toward Needles with one bare foot, the other espradrille flapping.
“Where are you going?” Mike called after me.
I ignored him. The last thing I heard as I crested the hill was Lisa saying, “I hope she gets my shoes while she’s there.”
I hitched into Needles and hired a mechanic to drive out and change the tire. I bought a new pair of shoes. I forgave Lisa. We made it to Hollywood. *I became rich and famous.
*This is a lie.