Fifty miles East of Reno, my left rear tire blew out. It didn’t just go flat without warning, it exploded, throwing rubber in all direction. I slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the shoulder. There was a slow steady stream of cars, but I wouldn’t have called the traffic heavy. I managed to get off the road enough to safely work on the car. I was grateful I had a spare, but it was a doughnut, nut a full sized replacement. It was rated for fifty miles. Perfect. By the time I had the first tire off, it was pitch black. The sky was overcast and I don’t think I had not seen so much. You read that right. Before the lights went out, I was impressed with how far I could see, but once it got so dark I couldn’t see my own hand, I welcomed the blinding headlights. Over the thrum of the cars, I could coyotes. My imagination had them converging on my car just before I climbed back inside and dragging me out into the brush. I didn’t see even one, but the howls did get closer as I worked.
Once I was road ready, I cruised the last fifty mile of my daily trip and pulled into the Motel 6. The room was an exact copy of the one in Cheyenne, down to the ugly ass comforter and bizarre art. The bed was as I’d feared and I considered curling up on the carpet which at least had a thin layer of padding. Despite the lack of comfort, I was exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before, and the day of thrills and chills. My alarm woke me at 4:00 and hit the snooze, knowing that no tire shop would be open until 9:00 or later.
There was one shop open in all of Salt Lake that had tires that would fit my rims, but they were a different brand than what I had. The salesman probably still tells stories about that day and I'm sure I paid for one of his kids orthodontics work, but I was back on the road with 300 miles left to go and five hours to do it. I didn't get off to a very fast start. Not long after I crossed into California, traffic slowed to a crawl. I had no idea what was going on, but it was hard to imagine that a traffic jam would occur this far away from a major city. As I rounded a corner and got a view of the road ahead, I saw the cause for the slow down. It looked like a border crossing. I'd just left Reno, so I knew I didn’t somehow accidently cross over into Mexico. I'd heard my dad refer to the state as the Republic of California, but what the hell were they checking? I didn’t have a passport. I did have my military orders and ID, and I hoped that would do.
When I got a few car lengths from the structure, I saw people in uniforms searching vehicles. What the hell were they looking for? Illegal aliens? Drugs? Guns? Then I remembered the guns I had in my trunk. Two pistols to be exact, a .454 caliber Casual revolver, and a Swith & Wesson model 645. I also had some knives and other equipment, all of which I was allowed to have in the Army, assuming I signed the weapons in with the armorer.
Finally it was my turn and the man with the gun asked me to exit my vehicle. He then asked me the last question I was expecting.
"Do you have any fruits or vegetables?"
I thought for a second, but I was sure I only had junk food. I assured him I didn’t, but he must have seen my perplexed look and instructed me to open my truck. He looked through some bags, pushed some stuff around and at one point lifted the bag I had the guns in. They made what I thought was a very distinct gunny sound, but he set them back down without comment. Then he uttered a phrase that seemed so out of place and understated that it has stuck with me since.
I was more confused than ever, but I complied and was soon back up to a the speed required for me to meet my deadline, slowing down only when my trusty, and I found out later illegal in California, radar detector chirped. I went through the garlic capital of the worked and then the artichoke capital of the world and finally, I saw Monterey Bay. I’d been there before and the view was bitter sweet. I took the exit and within minutes was at Foxtrot company, Russian Village on the backside of the Presidio where just a few short year before there had been only grass and trees. With ten minutes to spare, I presented my orders. The sergeant eyeballed me and said:
"You're a little early. The next class doesn't start until a week from tomorrow. You could've showed up next Sunday, but since you're here, I'll get you a room in the temporally barracks until you get assigned to a platoon."
Classic Army, hurry up and wait.