But I digress. My good friend Fernando is also my United Health Care agent. His territory is most of Southern Arizona, and our road trips to potential clients provide me a wondrous opportunity to see a small part of Arizona's 114,000 square miles.
Aside from about half a dozen large cities, most of this 114,000 square miles is magnificent desolation; natural wonders that take your breath away. But every Yin has a Yang; every rose has a thorn; every Hawaiian luau has poi. Wait- that's not relevant. Anyway, we had an appointment in Benson, Arizona, a pleasant little town of 5100. Nice people. My friend always uses a GPS on his phone; in such a large state it's indispensable. And it directed us to leave the main highway, and drive down a dirt road; a long dirt road; a very long dirt road; a very, very long dirt road. Without looking at the GPS, I instinctively knew we were East of nowhere and West of oblivion. Surrounded by mountain ranges 360 degrees, and a million miles of prairie, the only homes were many miles apart, up in the hills; owned by folks who seemed to have a penchant for living on the main thoroughfare of Mars.
Well, on we drove, unerringly guided by Mr. GPS, down the boulevard of the moon. Within a few miles the ruts became more pronounced, my kidneys were vibrating at levels hitherto unheard of, and I was by now quite certain that either Rommel's Panzer Division - hopelessly lost - had rolled through here, or Hannibal's elephants, even more hopelessly lost, had pounded along this Mystery Trail.
Eventually, the hard-packed dirt insidiously morphed into loose sand - no doubt imported from the Sahara. But thankfully, after almost 10 miles of having a majority of my internal organs shaken loose from their organic moorings, there, at long last, was a gate across the road. The elusive client was now within reach!
So we stopped the car, got out, and went to open the gate - only to find it locked. No problem- we'll just call him to open it. Surprise - no cell phone reception! OK - we'll just drive ALL the way back to the junction of the main highway, where we had cell phone reception.
Until we realized, after starting the car - that we were stuck fast in the sand! No amount of coaxing, cursing, or digging would convince the little Chevy Cruze to free itself. Hmmmm- what to do? Luckily, about a mile away we spotted a house in the foothills; probably the closest one this side of Bulgaria. So, with no hats to protect us from the 90 degree sun, and in our dress shoes, we walked all the way up to it. Maybe they had a 4-wheel drive truck, with a tow chain? Well, the owners weren't home, but workers remodeling it agreed to help. And they didn’t have cell phone reception, either. What did people up here do to communicate – smoke signals? One of the construction guys drove us to the car in his pick-up - and promptly got stuck, as well! But after a few minutes of gunning, pushing, and jumping up and down (in the truck bed, not the sand) he was freed, and offered to drive us to the junction of the highway, so we could at least call a tow truck service. By now, my insides were hollow, like a bell without a clapper; all organs having been piled up towards my toes, so it didn't matter.
"Sure, we can tow you out of there," the towing service said. "But our 4-wheeled drive truck isn't in Benson right now. It's in Tucson. Can you wait?" Of course we could. What choice did we have? Well, in about an hour he arrived, with a tow truck the size of an M-1 Abrams tank. (Which is what we should have traveled to here, in the first place)
Well, we got in, and drove the roughly 10 miles back to the little Chevy Cruze, dislodging any vestiges of remaining organs that had not been rattled loose in the first two treks.
The chain was hooked up - until Fernando noticed that there was zero air in the right rear tire! Right about now I was sorry I had not brought a harmonica with me. Isn't that what the hapless victim does in those grade-B movies, when he knows he's about to die? But thank God he had invested last month in a set of run-flat tires. We could drive 50 miles with no air in these babies! Whew! By now we realized that neither of had eaten or drank anything in about 9 hours. I kept hallucinating that the few lone cows I saw out on the prairie had buns above and below them. I could dispense with the special sauce, and rough it. I scanned the sky for buzzards - and wished I had that harmonica.
Eventually we were on our way again, thank God, and pulled into a gas station to use their air pump, and put 38 pounds back into the run flat tire, for the trip back to Tucson. But, as luck would have it, the pump was out of order. Finally, we managed to find one, and the little Chevy thanked us.
Oh, did I fail to mention the tow company charge? Are you sitting down? $436.00!!! What a bargain, huh? Yeah, if you're Great Britain!
But finally, after a 12-hour day, most of it stuck in Sahara-imported sand, we made it back to Tucson - dirty, smelly, dusty, thirsty, and hungry. At least some good came out of all this, though: there's no more sand in Benson, Arizona. We brought it all back with us in our hair, our shoes, our skin, our underwear; use your imagination. Now they can put asphalt on that trail, like normal 21st century folks do.
The moral of the story? There isn't any. Except - check the classified ads on "Tanks R Us", before you plan on trekking the back roads of Benson, Arizona.
PS - My friend Fernando later found out that his GPS lied to him: it directed us to a completely wrong area. We needn't have gotten stuck at all!