Summer was ending. Russ, Doug, and Terri had enjoyed a wonderful vacation with their grandparents in El Dorado, Kansas. Pat was going to make the drive back to pick them up and bring them home.
Friday afternoon, Pat left work early. She drove home, changed clothes, grabbed a bite to eat, tossed her suitcase into the car and took off. It was a beautiful evening and Pat made good time, clearing the mountains and Imperial Valley and crossing the Colorado River into Yuma before dark. She continued across Arizona to Eloy and turned north, finally stopping for the night in Florence.
Pat was beat, working all day and then driving this far had taken its toll. She checked into a motel and pretty much crashed. She was awakened in the middle of the night by a lot of loud shouting. A man and woman were having a knockdown, drag out fight in the room next door. Pat tried to go back to sleep and after what seemed like hours, finally drifted off. Unfortunately, she couldn’t stay asleep. The noise next door seemed to rise and fall on a regular basis and she awoke as it reached it’s peak each time. Finally, she could stand it no longer. Sunrise was still something to be hoped for, but it wouldn’t be happening real soon. Pat gathered up her things, loaded them into the car, and headed out.
It was a joy to be in the car and away from the screaming. The warm Arizona night felt good and the clear desert air enhanced the abundant display of stars. Pat and her little Renault rolled across the desert floor, hit the first upgrade, and headed into the mountains. The sun came bouncing up and suddenly there was blue sky, red rocks, and green junipers to enjoy as she sped along.
Pat knew she was getting close to Salt River Canyon and, sure enough, she spotted the first signs,” Downgrade” and “Test Your Brakes.” She dutifully tested her brakes and then got to wondering what would happen if her brakes failed. Would she be able to get down the hill safely? By downshifting, could she control her speed and make it to the bottom in one piece?
To help you picture this, I should interject some information about the car. It was a 1969 Renault 4-door sedan. It had a 4-cylinder engine and a 5-speed transmission (5 on the floor). It had quick steering, disc brakes, and Michelin steel-belted tires.
Pat considered the attributes of the car and decided to give it the test. She knew that the road zig-zagged all the way to the bottom with a lot of hairpin curves and switchbacks. She downshifted as she headed into the first turn and was on her way. She was busy shifting up and down and steering into the tight turns and it seemed she was going faster than she was. The windows were all down and the radio was blaring and it all contributed to the thrill of the ride. “Woweeee…this is more fun than Disneyland!” She had a busy time of it but made the curves safely. As she reached the canyon floor, she could see two Arizona Highway Patrol cars blocking the road with lights flashing. As she brought the Renault to a stop, one of the officers
approached the car and gruffly demanded to know, “Why were you trying to evade the police?” “I wasn’t evading the police” Pat said. “Then why didn’t you stop for this officer?” he said as he pointed to a car behind Pat’s car that also had flashing lights and a siren that was giving its final screech. Pat was amazed to see the cruiser behind her. She had been concentrating on the road so hard she hadn’t noticed the flashing lights and with the radio turned up full blast, hadn’t heard the siren.
They ordered Pat out of the car and all three of them were barking questions at her. “Where are you coming from?” “Where are you going?” “Why were you speeding?” Pat explained what she had done and apologized for having made a bad decision. The Highway Patrol guys were getting agitated and were becoming more intimidating every minute. They stepped away, a few feet, and were discussing arresting her. Pat suddenly, with a stroke of brilliance, remembered that a former high school classmate was high up in the chain of command of the Arizona Highway Patrol. Pat yelled at the officers “Why don’t you call your boss, Ray Smith (not his real name) about me.” “What”, said one of the Troopers. “Call your boss, Ray Smith, and tell him you are talking with his high school classmate, Pat Lee. He’ll vouch for me.”, she said.
The Troopers talked it over and one of them got in his car and got on the radio. Pat could see him talking and gesturing as he tried to explain the situation to Ray Smith or whoever was on the other end of the conversation. The trooper finished with the radio call and got out of the car and talked to his fellow officers. After a short discussion, all three of them approached Pat. The officer who had made the radio call looked Pat straight in the eye and said “You are to proceed straight to the New Mexico State Line. You are not to speed or break any other Laws. Now, get in your car and get going.” Pat jumped in her car and got on down the road. Checking her rear-view mirror constantly, she observed tat an Arizona Highway Patrol car was behind her all the way to the New Mexico line.
Completing her trip with no further drama, Pat arrived at her folks’ house in El Dorado anxious to see the kids. They greeted her with a glum “Hi Mom” and no hugs or kisses. She was crushed, expecting the kids to be as overjoyed about the reunion as she was. “Have you had fun?”, she asked. Doug said, “Grandma is a good cook and she bakes bread!” “Yes,” said Russ, “and we had something fun to do every day.” Terri wanted to back up her brothers and said “Yes, the food was good, and we went some place or did something fun every day.” Pat realized that the kids had indeed had a good time and were lamenting the fact that their summer was over. She perked up as she listened to the kids’ stories and they all had a good final visit with her folks.
Pat and the kids left for California the next morning Pat had promised herself that she would be a responsible driver and would not engage in any downhill races or other high jinx. Wouldn’t you know that her resolution couldn’t last? They had gotten most of the way home. They crossed the border into California at Yuma and crossed the Imperial Valley. They had left the desert floor and started up that long mountain grade that eventually gets you up above 6,000 feet. The Renault, with four people aboard, was laboring as they went up hill. Suddenly, there
was a honk, and Pat looked over at the VW that was creeping up beside her. The young man driving the car made a motion and mouthed the words “Wanna race?” Pat laughed and thought to herself that a Volkswagen and a Renault racing would look like two turtles in slow motion going up that grade. The kids were all for it and were begging her to race. Pat is thinking that anyone can beat a little underpowered VW “toy car”. On the other hand, she remembered her promise to herself not to do anything stupid on the way home. The competitive Pat won, and they were in a race. The kids were yelling and as they inched past the VW, they were waving at the guy to”c’mon’. They won the race, such as it was. A kid on a 10-speed bike could have taken them both. Regardless, it was a fitting end to a wonderful summer.
This story never seems to come to an end. Twenty years later, Pat went to a high school class reunion and ran into Ray Smith and his wife, also a former classmate. They spent a few minutes “catching up” and then Pat recounted her Salt River Canyon story. They all laughed about it and then, as they were parting, Ray said “Don’t ever use my name that way again!”.
Dave and Pat Thomas
May 24, 2018