My friend called at about 6 pm to say the car he’d borrowed from me broke down about fifty miles east of here on a remote and desolate stretch of forest-bound Highway 96.
I told him to call AAA.
About two hours later the tow-truck driver, who was from Yreka, called to say he couldn’t find my friend or my car.
I told him to keep looking.
Later, AAA dispatch called to say they couldn’t find the car and they wanted to quit their search and close out the call. I told them my friend was probably still out there needing help somewhere. I hadn’t heard from him.
Some time went by with no word, so I called AAA back and they said they had notified the highway patrol, and that the local sheriff’s office was also looking for my friend as they traversed Highway 96.
I couldn’t get over the uneasy feeling that my friend was out there in the wilderness with a dysfunctional car, needing help. At 9pm I put gas into my van, which isn’t currently running well, and started driving east. I went eighteen miles, to Seiad Valley, then parked to use the pay phone to call the highway patrol to see if they’d found my friend.
Before I got out of the van I put six dollars worth of quarters in my pocket, thinking that I could use them to make telephone calls. I am so stuck in the past! This pay phone had no coin slot. I guess none of them do these days. They expect phone cards or collect calls only. I find that very limiting! I didn’t have a phone card and didn’t want an expensive collect call on my phone bill. I finally got a 411 supervisor to connect me to the highway patrol on the basis of having an emergency situation.
They told me they hadn’t found my friend. I got the impression they weren’t actively looking.
I didn’t know whether to go home and hope for a phone call, or stay on the highway and continue to look for my friend. The road is 65 miles long! It was dark by then, and the phone in Seiad Valley is in front of the only store. There’s also a tiny post office there.
About that time I saw a sheriff deputy’s SUV drive by, heading east on the highway, and I thought, “Oh good! So they ARE on the job looking for him!” Because of that I felt it would be safe to go home and wait for a phone call or for him to return home.
That’s when I discovered my keys weren’t in my right-front pocket where I normally put them. They also weren’t in my left-front pocket where I had six dollars worth of unusable quarters and my tiny wallet that holds my drivers license and other cards.
I looked high and low for those keys! I looked on top of the pay phone and on the ground around my van and all points in between. No keys! I tried to look through the van windows to see if they were inside. I had locked the van which was pretty silly considering there was nobody else around except for a very occasional passing motorist.
You see, Seiad Valley is a very small town. There is only this one store. Nothing else. There are houses but they’re all off the main road and nestled into the woods. Down the street there’s a nice fire hall but that’s usually closed, especially at night.
So there I was eighteen miles from my home town, in the middle of nowhere in front of a closed store with a locked van and no keys!
I decided there was nothing to do but to call AAA again as unlocking vehicles is one of their services. So I did that, and this is what ensued.
“Where are you?”
“Seiad.” Then I remember that’s not the full name on maps. “Seaid Valley.”
“Is that in Northern California or Southern California?”
“Northern.” Of course I have to spell Seiad as it isn’t pronounced the way it is spelled. Say: SIGH-ad.
“And what road are you on?”
“There are no offramps here.”
“No, there are no offramps or onramps. It is a tiny highway in the middle of a forest.”
“What’s the cross street?”
!!!! “There’s no cross street. I’m in front of the store. It is the only store in town.”
“I need a cross street.”
“Just tell them I’m in front of the store. Everyone knows there’s only one store in Seiad Valley.”
“What street is nearest?”
::sigh:: “Um… Seiad Creek Road.” I am guessing.
“What are you driving?”
“A white Ford Aerostar van.”
“And what side of the highway are you on? North or south?”
!!!! “I’m on the north and the van is on the south. But there’s nobody else here. They just need to come to the only store in Seiad Valley and they’ll see me.”
“And what is the name of that store?”
“I don’t know. Seiad Valley Store?”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, it is the only store here. They’ll find it.”
Sometimes I forget how different our rural lifestyle is from what people in the big cities are experiencing. It is phone calls like this one that remind me I really am a world away from civilization.
“Alright then, I’ll have someone out to help you within ninety minutes.”
“Will it be Bigfoot Towing in Happy Camp?”
She checks for me and assures me it will be the Happy Campers and not the Yreka tow-truck driver who couldn’t find my friend or my car.
Someone in a dark red old sedan passed by two or three times. I wanted to read the bulletin board postings in front of the store but I remembered how my friend always warned me to be cautious, even out here in the boonies. So I went inside the post office lobby to look less conspicuous to passing drivers.
I walked back and forth a few times, trying to find a comfortable way to pass the time, when I put my hands down on my hips and suddenly discovered the bulging rear pocket that held . . . my KEYS!
Apparently in my excitement and agitation, while trying to get a call through to the highway patrol without being able to use my quarter collection, I’d mindlessly stuck my keys in my rear pocket – something I normally never do.
I rushed to the phone and called AAA again to cancel the call for help from Bigfoot Towing.
“So you got into your car and everything’s alright?”
“Yes, thank you!” I didn’t tell them where I found the keys.
Fortunately I called back in time to stop the tow-truck before it made the drive to Seiad Valley, eighteen miles away.
Lovely rural America! I love living in a remote area but this was one of those times it was working against us.
One thing I didn’t mention yet: cell phones do not work on the Klamath River Highway. When we’re out of range, they’re no use at all.
Back in the driver’s seat, I turned the van around and headed home. Remember, I thought the sheriff’s deputy I saw drive past was looking for my friend, and that I’d be more help back at home where I could at least use a telephone! I also thought my friend might get a ride home from a passing stranger as he’s done that before. Around here, if you see someone you recognize from Happy Camp walking down the 65-mile Klamath River Highway, it is common to stop and offer a ride. We’re like one big family out here in the boonies.
So I got home about 10:30 pm. There were no messages on my answering machine. And no friend.
That’s when I called the highway patrol again. They hadn’t found him. Of course by then I realized either they weren’t looking or there was something very seriously wrong.
Next I called the sheriff’s department thinking they were really out looking for him, and I discovered they didn’t even know he was missing! They took a report and a nice deputy called me back for more information, and told me he would drive down the highway and look for my friend.
About two hours later (about what I expected) he phoned back to say he’d found my friend and put in a request for the Happy Camp tow-truck driver (Bigfoot Towing) to go get the car.
What a relief, to know he was okay!
My friend arrived home at 3 am in a very noisy tow-truck. Though we live outside of town, surrounded by forest, we do have neighbors, so all this noise at 3 am was probably unwelcome! Nevertheless, I was thrilled to see my friend (and he was grateful to be home and to see me waiting outside) and after loud clanging of chains and some banging noises the whole neighborhood was awake and my little old car was in front of my cabin again. We paid with the card (thank God for AAA) and went inside to talk.
Apparently the whole scenario unfolded because AAA originally thought my friend was only half a mile from the store in Klamath River (a town by that name) and he was actually about five miles west of there. The tow-truck driver drove three miles west, couldn’t find my friend, and stopped to turn around. I wish he’d gone a few more miles! That would have made the evening much easier and he would have made some money as well.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Know what I mean? We writers know that everything that happens to us is “grist for the mill.” Yesterday I had a scary adventure with a lost friend and a broke-down car and a tow-truck driver who didn’t go the extra mile. Today, I get to write about it. Now it’s a blog post. Maybe tomorrow it will be a chapter in a novel, you never know!