Earthquakes and Primary Research

Okay, this is bizarre. It’s about 6 p.m. in the evening. I’m working at the computer on a short story titled “The Phone Call.” It opens with a woman standing in her kitchen drinking a cup of coffee when an earthquake occurs. (The quake becomes a metaphor for what will happen in her life.)

At the moment, I’m focusing on three aspects of the story. First, what happens in the character’s immediate environment? For example, the room lurches. A silverware drawer slides open. Pots and pans rattle on an overhead rack. A box of cereal falls to the floor, scattering its contents.

Next, what happens to the character physically? I play with various manifestations. Increased heart rate, sweaty palms, a bathrobe suddenly too warm. Perhaps she clenches her eyes. Or screams. Perhaps she flees the room, one of the human responses to fear. Perhaps she freezes.

Finally, what happens to the character mentally? Maybe she thinks about being buried in debris. She pleas for the quake to stop. She becomes disoriented, confused. She’s sorry for recent words with a lover. Or maybe she simply shakes it off as another California shaker. Or is it?

What happens next is the bizarre part. At 6:24 p.m., a 4.4 quake takes place in real time, the epicenter about 55 miles from where I live. It sounds like marching feet that become louder and then stomp through the room, creating a jolt. At that moment I become a primary research source.

 

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Night at the Metamorphic Mountains by artist George Hunter Tyneside

 

You should know earthquakes scare me. They give me a real sense of something bigger than myself, than humanity … with way more destructive might. They’re the reason there’s an earthquake kit under the bed along with a special wrench to shut off the gas, and clothes and an old pair of tennies.

Back to the quake. I try to capture the sounds. Very few except the rumble and the jolt. I try to capture what I did. I know I froze momentarily, listening, deciding my next move should I see or hear damage. But then the quake stopped. I only noted when it began, not its duration, probably less than a minute, more like seconds. I do know I was preparing to take off, run down the hall, find my husband. I became a combination of fight and flight.

What did my body do? It tensed, with all systems working overtime. My breathing, my nervous energy, my heart. Suddenly, I felt very alert.

After the quake stopped, and hoping there would be no aftershocks, I went back to the short story I was working on when the quake started, feeling more affinity with the main character than before. I became closer to the thoughts and actions she experiences during the fictitious quake, but more importantly to her actions after the event as her life takes on its destructive path and thoughts.

While doing secondary research, I’d read about earthquakes and how people may react mentally and physically. Primary research is research you collect yourself. At 6:24 p.m., I became prime material.

P.S. My husband didn’t feel a thing.

 

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Courtesy of amazon.com

 

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Be Your Own Hero

In this day and age, I’m looking for anchors, things to hang on to when the seas get rough. You know, quick words of encouragement or inspiration to deal with the political chaos and power struggles occurring in our society, whatever your leanings. To deal with the deluge of events, the drench of media. I’m looking for heroes. Or, if they are in short supply, perhaps it’s time we are our own heroes or, at least, our own cheering section.

 

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Courtesy of QuotesNew.com

 

While reading an L.A. Times article about the history of various buildings that have housed the newspaper, I learned of a motto the paper once used. It was written by Eliza Ann Wetherby who was a journalist herself and wife of the paper’s then-publisher Harrison Otis Gray. The Times motto?

Stand fast, stand firm, stand sure, stand true.

The motto seems appropriate for newspaper and media folk seeking facts and truth; for those expecting blowback and challenge.

I thought about the motto and how it might apply to individuals like you and me. I dug a little deeper into definitions via online and hardcover dictionaries:

Stand fast – be true to your principles, values, beliefs
Stand firm – be emphatic, resolute
Stand sure – have full confidence
Stand true – be or remain consistent

In other words, have the courage of your convictions. In some situations, it may be appropriate to remain steadfast. For example, among my core values, I believe in separation of church and state, ethical behavior, and the rule of law. But in some situations, it may be appropriate to be open and have strategies to serve the greater good. I would add three more points.

 Be open to new thoughts, ideas, and change
Be open to negotiation and compromise
Be ready to peacefully coexist

End of “be your own hero” #1

 

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Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

 

While reading the book A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, I found a sentence that I could not forget.

“If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.”  Count Alexander Roston

Shortened, it means to control the circumstances of your life or they will control you. When things go awry, get out in front of them.  Sometimes fate, luck, and destiny may interfere. It’s good to have a Plan B to be able to adjust. When I taught theatre, I encouraged the actors and crew to always have a Plan B … for the unexpected.

Think of an ordinary day you have perfectly planned – a hair appointment followed by lunch with a friend followed by an appointment for, say, an oil change. All you need is one flat tire anywhere in the mix to throw the day. That’s a boo-hoo circumstance. You call AAA and text whoever is affected and get on with it.

In Count Roston’s case, it was a lifetime circumstance – of house arrest. In other words, a serious challenge, a result of the political upheaval around him. He got out in front of it to survive. How he did so makes for an extraordinary read. He controlled his circumstance to the best of his ability.

End of “be your own hero” #2

 

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Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

 

The short story collection I’m assembling, working title Racing from the Dark, chronicles everyday people dealing with life, some more heroically than others. A tentative quote I’m considering for the book’s beginning comes from Anais Nin – author, essayist, and diarist (1903-1977) who offers another set of words I like.

Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.

We need courage, we need to take risks to grow. Each of us has personal challenges and we have challenges as a society. We want to ask ourselves what’s necessary to expand and enrich our personal lives and those around us. As a nation, we need to ask ourselves the same.

End of “be your own hero” #3

 

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Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

 

Seeking ways to be our own heroes, no matter the situations around us is an ongoing goal. If we’re all our own heroes, perhaps that aura will trickle upward, outward, and across society. We don’t want time to run out.

A few lines from this Native American blessing seem appropriate as we make our personal journeys, seeking heroes inside and out.

Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do even if it is a long way from here.

Pueblo Blessing


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The California Driver’s Knowledge​ Test …

You can’t imagine yourself without a car, especially in southern California. Being in your vehicle, driving wherever you want is second nature. But one day you receive a letter from the DMV two months before your birthday to notify you it’s time to renew your driver’s license. The first thought that comes into your mind is … What? Already? I just took that test. No, you didn’t. You last took it five years ago. Acceptance settles in slowly. You know your fate is sealed, as the cliche goes. You know, if you want to keep driving, you have to take the test. I want to keep driving.

 

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Loved my Arctic Blue VW bug with a sunroof. It’s long gone but appreciate Proboards for the image.

 

The first step? You need to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the latest California Driver Handbook, which I do. When I arrive at the DMV, I enter through a set of double glass doors. Then, seeing another set of double glass doors straight ahead, I push on through them. I see lines and people and hop in the nearest line which happens to be the shortest. After I acclimate to the mob scene – it’s a Friday afternoon – I realize I’m standing in the Disabled or Appointment Only line. I step out of line rather sheepishly, feeling a bit like I’ve stolen a loaf of bread, and step into another, longer line.

In Friday DMV shock, I keep thinking, All I want is a manual. There’s gotta be a better way. At this rate, I’ll be here until Monday. I try to catch the eye of a Security Guard, but he’s involved answering questions for someone else. Finally, I wave and he steps on over. I ask about the manuals .”Oh, they’re out in the lobby,” he says and walks away to help another hapless soul.

 

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Had a lot of fun with my canary yellow Datsun 240Z. Thank you to VicZCar.com for the image

 

The lobby? Oh, hell. In my great haste, I’d entered the DMV through a set of double glass doors, my eyes immediately focusing on another set of double glass doors straight ahead. I’d looked neither left nor right. I discover the small lobby, and there, on a side wall in various racks, are all sorts of manuals and pamphlets. I grab my summer read and leave.

You and I both know this manual will be as exciting as watching paint dry or grass grow, but with a stiff upper lip, I begin to read. Whoa! A few pages into the read comes “a grabber.” Changes are afoot. To fly domestically or enter a federal facility or military base a REAL ID Driver License or ID card will be needed beginning October 1, 2020. Oh, boy.

I continue reading and studying the nuts and bolts of driving in California until I’m ready to ply my trade on some online Practice Tests. There are two sample tests of 10 questions each in the manual but I need the hard liquor option of 16 online tests of 36 multiple choice questions each. My self-testing begins to mixed reviews. I learn I have to read each word, no skimming, no anticipating, no over-confidence allowed. You need to read each damn word.

 

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When the Miata first came on the market, there was high demand and not enough product. Dealers charged a bounty to get you one faster than going through months of waiting. (I paid the bounty.) Thanks to YouTube for the image.

 

All cynicism and aborted humor aside, these tests are invaluable. Nothing like repetition to enforce an idea. And every time your radar recognizes a question you haven’t seen before, your brain goes on red alert – something new here. I sing the praises of repetition, reinforcement, variations on a theme. All help to drive the information home. When the test is scored and, if you’ve made an error, the correct answer is posted with the rationale.

You know this studying process ends in a test. I go online to http://www.dmv.ca.gov. to schedule an appointment. You can have your choice of DMV location. Then with the click of a few more keys, you can select your date and time. When the big day arrives, you pay a renewal fee, take the written test, take a vision test, and have your thumbprint and photo taken. Ah, what fun. (I pray my picture will look somewhat human.) Depending on your age, you may be able to renew online.

The California Driver Handbook states driving is a privilege. Leaving the philosophical debate to others, driving is something I want to keep doing. I enjoy cars. (I shared a few.) I like to drive. I can’t imagine life without a car. So I’ll keep studying, renewing, and doing whatever is necessary to be licensed to drive legally in California. May the testing gods be forever kind.

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Elegant Ladies of the Desert

I live in a valley in the California desert – home of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, R.C. Gorman sunsets, and palm trees. Areas of the valley’s desert may be unspoiled and unpopulated or highly groomed with burgeoning populations. Whatever its state, palm trees are part of the landscape.

The palms may be ornamental, architectural, or utilitarian. They may be wild and untended as nature planned. I’m intrigued by their unique identity and power to survive the extremes of temperature and high-velocity winds. I’m amazed at their mystery, rising from scrub and sand. They exude a sense of wisdom and agelessness, with a touch of timeless beauty. They inspire a small tribute . . .

 

elegant ladies
dress in their high couture skirts 
to waltz with the wind 

                                                                                                                                                                      Carol Mann 2018

 

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Desert Oasis by artist Naomi Brown

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Waiting for Coachella – photo by Carol Mann

Thank you for stopping by. Feel free to add your thoughts, perhaps a haiku . . .

 

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My Father’s Autograph

We didn’t have yearbooks in elementary school. When the “big kids” were signing each other’s yearbooks at the end of the year, we young kids looked on longingly. But we were resourceful. We each had small autograph books which we circulated near the end of the school year. One day I realized the other kids were having not only their friends sign but their families, too. The object became who could collect the most autographs.

In an effort to increase my numbers, I asked my father to sign my book. Little did I realize his autograph would be the one I would remember long after I’d forgotten the others. This is what he wrote:

As you sail down the stream of life
In your little birch canoe,
May you have a jolly time,
And room enough for two.

As I read this autograph now, I’m moved by the wish for a happy life for me. He also told me I could be anything I wanted to be … as long as it was legal.

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My dad, born in 1900, at age 23.

He left other words for me, not in an autograph book, but in advice. When I heard the words as a young person, I probably rolled my eyes or shrugged in typical daughter fashion. But he’d be happy to know I heard them and still carry them with me.

Take care of your car and your car will take care of you.

 Never buy the best house on the block.

Never buy on the edge of a development.

 Look after your money and your money will look after you.

Always keep learning.

He illustrated the “always keep learning” mantra with behavior more than with words. He was an active reader of literature and how-to journals and magazines. He was a letter writer to newspaper editors, city, state, and national leaders. He took correspondence courses. He reinvented himself a number of times … from banking, to accountant, to entrepreneur, to real estate broker. He was the source of my own “reinvention gene.”

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My dad, pictured in the middle with his brothers, was the oldest of six – three boys and three girls. When I see his intense look, I can’t help thinking he’s channeling actor William Holden or writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Mostly, my dad valued being of good character and impressed that on me. Born in the province of Ontario, Canada, the eldest son of a successful farmer and cattle drover, my father entered the workforce at 16 … in banking. Below are excerpts from a letter he wrote to the manager of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in 1991, when a call came out in a local newspaper for information on the history of the bank. I think character comes through. (I’ve omitted paragraphs naming all the managers and employees and a description of the structure.)

Early in 1916 I became an employee of the Imperial Bank of Canada, Humberstone Branch. About two years later I was transferred to the Port Colborne branch.

My starting salary at age 16 was $300.00 per year. Each additional year of employment would be accompanied by a $100.00 raise. A condition of my employment was that my father and my uncle each provide Imperial Bank a bond of $7,000.00 covering me.

A short time after Mr. Rolph, manager at the Port Colborne Branch, also became manager of the Humberstone Branch where I worked, an event occurred that involved both branches. The bank safe in Humberstone, which had a time clock combination, failed to open on a Monday morning following the bank’s closing the previous Friday afternoon. It had been set mistakenly to open Monday evening. The situation was explained early by phone to Mr. Rolph at home, as soon as the first employee arrived and discovered the problem.

Mr. Rolph quickly arrived at the Humberstone Branch and went into action,  immediately inquiring who had locked the safe the previous Friday. One of the bookkeepers said he did. Mr. Rolph gave said bookkeeper a short but blistering dressing down about his responsibilities and the position into which he had placed the bank. Mr. Rolph then told me to arm myself with the bank’s revolver, get on my bicycle, and go pick up a package wrapped in newspaper from the Imperial Bank – Port Colborne Branch, strap it onto the luggage carrier of the bicycle, and get back as quickly as possible. I carried out my instructions, and the Humberstone Branch opened on time with money ready for its customers – as if nothing had happened.

A day or two later Mr. Rolph told me that the bookkeeper’s mistake could have happened to almost any of the bank’s employees. He confessed it had once happened to him. He said the reason he was so emphatic with the bookkeeper was to impress him so much it would not happen again. I knew he was also telling me something important.

The Humberstone Branch had a sub-branch at Marshville, Ontario, open one day a week.  To me the weekly trip with the manager to Marshville was a semi-holiday. It provided a break from the ordinary routine. The manager was a careful driver. If the road was muddy, wet or slippery, he would go slowly. But if the road was dry, the speed limit to him was the top speed the bank’s Ford could make – 40 mph. At this speed, the touring car’s top would billow out and a rolling mound of dust would follow the car and make quite a show. He often allowed me to drive.

About the time of the Imperial Bank’s safe locking episode, an event of my own causing happened. It happened one busy Friday when a customer walked in and shoved a check for $400.00 in the teller’s cage wicket and said, “All in twenty dollar bills, please.” He seemed to be in a hurry. I checked by referring to one of the bank’s ledgers that there were ample funds in the account to cover the check. I then discovered the packet containing twenties was nearly empty and that I would have to open a new packet. After this, I counted out 30 twenty dollar bills and shoved them out the wicket to the customer with the remark that he could, if he liked, check it before leaving the bank. He said, “No time now, but if it’s wrong, you’ll hear from me.” He then walked out.

After the bank closed for the weekend, I attempted to balance the cash and found out it was $200.00 short. After further checking, I discovered my error of giving the customer six hundred rather than four hundred dollars. I reported the mistake to the manager. He told me to call the customer. I called the man’s office but was told he was not in. I was told by my manager to call that office again Monday first thing.

Monday morning arrived, but before I could call the customer, he walked in the bank, said good morning and told me he had some money for me. I told him I hoped it was two hundred dollars. It was all there. I thanked him profusely and praised him for his honesty. He assured me anyone could make a mistake – it’s part of learning – and walked out.

I regard the two years with Imperial Bank a real college course in business.

My dad wrote the next few words in a separate note to me:

Carol,

I wasn’t going to include the portion about the two hundred dollar overpayment, but without it, the letter seemed to make me some sort of a hero of Imperial Bank.

Thank you,

Dad

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My dad at 97 in 1997.

Thank you, to you Dad, for teaching me valuable words and imparting to me the value of character and behavior. I’ll close with Happy Father’s Day to you!

I know you can hear me.

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The Art of Writing and Speaking the English Language – 1903

At one time I was a partner in a retail antique shop on the Balboa peninsula in Newport Beach, California. My business associate and I were both in education, running the store in the summer during the height of the tourist season and having an employee manage the store during the winter months when it was open fewer hours.

We acquired antiques and collectibles from all over the country: estate sales, shipments we brought in from the midwest, buying expeditions, people bringing items into the store to sell, and doing estate appraisals. One day this little set of books arrived in a trunk of items. They immediately went to an interested party – me.

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I was especially interested in the one titled “Composition.” These books are small in size, each measuring 4″ x 5 ½“.

Just who was Sherwin Cody? I quickly checked Wikipedia to learn he was born in 1868 in Michigan and went by his middle name Sherwin. (With the first name of Alpheus, he appears to have made a good choice. Sherwin does seem a bit more literary than, say, the nickname Al.) His active writing life spanned from 1893 to 1950. From Wikipedia,

“Sherwin Cody worked at the Chicago Tribune just as correspondence education was being initiated at the University of Chicago, and he was assigned to write a home study course for the Tribune. In 1903 Cody produced a version of his course in pocket sized book form as The Art of Writing and Speaking the English Language.” 

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Published with some backup from academia.

I imagine Cody would be quite amazed at the growth of correspondence education and  what is now available via the internet and online from universities. He could definitely say he was in on the ground floor.

I wondered about the contents of the Composition book. Would I find anything of interest, contradictory, illuminating? I found the chapter titles intriguing.

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He advised to study the masters.

Cody called his course practical, outlining three goals on page 15 of the above volume:

  1. “Form the habit of observing the meaning and values of words, the structure of sentences, of paragraphs, and of the entire compositions as we read standard literature.”
    I relate. As I read, I seem to read on two concurrent levels. On one I’m engrossed in the story. On the other I’m observing and analyzing what the author is doing and how he’s achieving it. E.g. structure, word choice. My two-level process seems to happen simultaneously.
  2. “Practice in the imitation of selections from master writers, in every case fixing our attention on the rhetorical element each particular writer best illustrates.”
    I’ve done this, knowingly trying to incorporate a scene description rich in symbolism a la John Steinbeck (The Pearl), a story mood a la Erich Maria Remarque (All Quiet on the Western Front), and suspense and tension a la Edgar Allan Poe (The Masque of the Red Death).
  3. “Make independent compositions for ourselves with a view to studying and expressing the stock of ideas which we have to express. This will involve a study of the people on whom we wish to impress our ideas.”
    This is where we as writers sit down, tie ourselves to a chair if necessary, and write, keeping in mind how we can – with our word choices, structure, characters, plot, etc. – have the reader see, feel, and understand, and come away caring about what they’ve read; how we can touch the reader. In other words, consider the audience.

Some say writers should write what they like, write for themselves, just put their work out in circulation, and see what happens. I say write what you like, know, and don’t know. Do your research. The choices are infinite. But I add, know your niche or category and market. If you want to be read, keep your reader in mind.

I can’t say I saw anything new or saw anything in my quick scan with which I disagreed. Cody seemed thorough, obviously dated in style and examples. I’d like to know the authors Cody would choose today to illustrate his thoughts.

An aside – My dad was a great one for correspondence courses and always advised me to keep learning. I’m sure if he’d been interested in writing per se he would have tried one of Cody’s courses. (My dad, more interested in business and law, did work assiduously on one particular correspondence course called The Blackstone School of Law. In my mind, I can still see him pouring over the critiques given of his arguments.)

I found these little books quite user friendly, easily slipped into a pocket or purse. I imagine whenever a potential writer sat down with one of these, school was in session.

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When you collect antiques, this type of setup just happens … a vintage school desk and bells, and Cody’s The Art of Writing and Speaking The English Language.

Final advice from Sherwin Cody? “Write what you know—so go out and know something.” I think I would have enjoyed meeting this guy.

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A Writer’s Really Bad Day

Some days should never happen, like those days fate conspires to reek havoc with your plans. Enter May 5, 2018. I was on my way to a Volunteer Recognition Luncheon for the Palm Springs Writers Guild. From there I would go to the Guild’s monthly meeting where I was on the agenda to give awards to three contest winners, and do a reading of a winning memoir piece of 3500 words. The Guild was also recognizing high school essay winners and the Guild”s Monthly story winner. I was running early, ready for a leisurely drive to a nice event.

About five miles from home on this so-called relaxed drive, a red light appeared on the dash of my Jeep – not the Tire Pressure Monitoring system, not the Seatbelt Reminder Light, not the Oil Pressure Warning Light, but the Engine Temperature Warning Light. My heart stopped, well almost. I’d once continued driving a vehicle while its red dash light warned me the car was overheating, thinking I could get to a gas station. I did major damage to the engine.

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The culprit was the gauge on the right. I watched the indicator drift farther and farther toward the “H.” (Image courtesy of offroadvegan.com)

 

I pulled over immediately, close to an intersection and in the bicycle lane. After rummaging through my purse, I found my wallet and dug out the AAA card. Hallelujah.
I grabbed my cell and placed the call. A female voice and I connected. The first thing the voice asked was, “Are you safe?” I told her I was. Fortunately, I hadn’t stalled in the middle of the road or something worse. I didn’t add, that although I was safe, I was ticked and uncomfortable and hungry, anticipating lunch. Ah, poor me.

I told her my Jeep needed water. It was overheating. She informed me that the AAA does not take care of that but she’d be happy to send a tow, to arrive in about 45 minutes. I live in the desert. Sitting in the car, in the sun, with no air conditioning, and the car overheating is the stuff of nightmares. I mumbled something and she determined my location.

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I love my Jeep, even though it decided to have a bad day. I tried to think of snow as I sat in the hot sun. (Image courtesy of digital dealer.com)

 

I developed a plan. I’d have the vehicle towed to Jeep in Cathedral City, Uber from there to the Fisherman’s Restaurant in Rancho Mirage, grab a ride to the meeting, and then Uber home. With any luck, I’d make the luncheon, at least dessert. I quickly installed the Uber App on my phone. With a plan ready, I soon saw the tow truck on the other side of the road. It did a u-turn and pulled in behind me. The driver listened to my scheme and smiled. “It’s Saturday,” he said. “The car’s only going to sit on the lot in the hot sun the rest of the weekend.”

Nothing left to do but tow the ailing Jeep home, garage it, and deal with its problem(s) on Monday. Holy c__p. While the tow truck driver put the car up on the flatbed, I arranged with Uber for a home pick-up, and called the restaurant, asking to speak with someone, anyone, in the Writers’ Guild. I wouldn’t make it to the luncheon. If things rolled smoothly and quickly, I’d make the meeting.  I seemed to be placed on terminal hold. I stared at the cell phone, willing things to get moving. I didn’t want to let my associates in the Guild down. It takes about 25 minutes to read 3500 words, which would leave a gap in the program.

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Well, I missed the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon … (Image courtesy of Taste of Summer Rancho Mirage)

A friendly female voice I recognized finally came on the phone and, after I explained, she said, “No problem. I’ll come pick you up.” What? That’s a trip from Rancho Mirage to the outback of La Quinta and back again. “I’ll pick you up at your house,” the voice repeated. “Forget Uber,” she added.

All right. Great! At least I had a chance of getting to the meeting in time to do the reading. I pulled myself up the high steps into the truck cab. As I fell in, grace and aplomb evidently left the building. The driver took one look at me and said, “No worries. I got this.”

But now I had another problem. I had to cancel Uber. A lucky break, finally. Because I was such a novice with the app and, while I thought I’d arranged for a pickup, I hadn’t completed the process. No Uber driver was ever engaged. Whew!

The story had a happy ending. My friend picked me up, I did what I had to do, and she brought me home from the meeting. On the following Monday, I had the car towed to Crystal Chrysler Jeep to learn the vehicle needed a water pump. (I wouldn’t recognize one if I met one.) Fortunately, things were soon squared away. I didn’t realize writing and its special events could be so traumatic. Many thanks, Danielle, for picking me up! (I took her flowers the next day.)

 

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