And then there was a clank. And a roly-poly bam bam bam like a boot thrown under the hood of the car. And then we began slowing down.
“Something’s happening to the car,” I said.
Jorge looked up from the Times.
I had pushed all my weight against the gas pedal and we were dropping to fifty, forty, thirty.
“Can I get over?” I asked, panicking. “We’re slowing down! I have to get over!”
“Si, si puedes!” Jorge said, and I pulled over to the slow lane of the two-lane highway and then, as we dropped to 25, then 20, and finally to 10, onto the shoulder where we came to a slow unceremonious halt while the semis shuddered past and sent heat waves rippling over the hood.
“Oh, fuck,” I said.
We sat there a few minutes.
“No shit,” Jorge said.
“Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck.” I said.
We went on like this until finally I did what I am ashamed to admit I always do in these situations: I called my dad. My cell phone had one bar of power left.
“Dad?” I said, and he must have known from that tone of voice that I was going to say something like, “All of my stuff was robbed in the middle of the night,” like I’d said on the first morning of my solo trip across South America or “Our car was bombed out and they stole everything” like I’d said from a pay phone in Cape Town. This time I said, “The car just stopped on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere, West Texas.”
And my dad did what he does every time: first he sighed, and then he said, “Ok, here’s what you’re gonna do.”
In this case, what I was gonna do was call AAA and ask for a towing service to the nearest mechanic. Except that the cell phone died before I could do that. Emergency Calls Only! it read in urgent yellow letters, but it stubbornly refused when I dialed the number on dad’s AAA card.
This is how we wound up trapising down a small hill off the highway’s shoulder through those hardass desert weeds, the kind undeterred by the perpetual blowback of truck exhaust and the shimmering despotic heat, up to a small house with a miniature white picket fence stuck in the parched grass of the front yard. Tiny mace-like burs clung to our calves. I knocked.