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  • Elisse Gabriel

The Good, the Bad, and the Putrid

Updated: Nov 25, 2020


For my husband David’s birthday, we decided to celebrate overnight in Santa Barbara. We needed to be in Southern California for a memorial gathering that Saturday, so we thought we’d make a long weekend of it. Since we were bringing our dog Izzie, we drove our Odyssey minivan, a recent gift from my father-in-law, which turned out to be an apt name for the adventure that awaited us.


I envisioned a relaxed celebration, followed by a meandering tour of Santa Barbara the following day. None of my plans came to fruition. We did manage to reach our destination, but just barely.


As we exited the freeway, the van stopped and wouldn’t budge. We rolled onto a median while trucks blared their horns. “What do I do?” David asked, hitting the emergency lights. “How about you turn it off then on again,” I suggested. That did the trick, but only for long enough to get around the corner.


We managed to miraculously reach the nearest auto repair shop just before it closed, stopping the engine every few blocks. As we pulled in, our son Noah, who was supposed to drive up from Los Angeles to celebrate with us, said he was having problems with the Turo rental. Then his phone died.


We ordered a Lyft to get us to the hotel. A black car with black-tinted windows pulled up to the curb and stopped. The driver didn’t get out, didn't open the window to say “Hi” or even turn his head to greet us. Then again, he also didn’t comment when we squeezed Izzie into the back seat.


The good and bad thus far:

We’d made it to Santa Barbara. That was good.

Our car broke down. That was bad.

We got it to a shop just in time. That was good.

They suspected it was the transmission. That was bad.

We got a Lyft to our hotel. That was good.


Once we arrived at Hotel Milo, we explained what just happened to the front desk person, whose name also happened to be Milo. He kindly upgraded our room and even gave us a complimentary bottle of wine. But we were preoccupied with the fact that not only did Noah not know how to get to the hotel, he had a dead phone and no directions. How would he find his way?


After ordering a massive deep-dish pizza assuming Noah would eat half, we found out that he’d actually turned around and gone home. The car’s lights were too dim and he couldn’t see. We ended up sharing most of the pizza with the front desk attendants.


More ups and downs:

We arrived at the hotel room, exhausted and stressed. That was bad.

The hotel desk person upgraded our room and gave us a bottle of wine. That was good.

Noah’s phone died. That was bad.

But then he called. That was good.

He had turned back around because he couldn’t see. That was bad.

But he was safe. That was good.


That evening, David and I walked along State Street, where we saw a man with a black whip in his bag walk out of an adult store, followed by a cigar shop filled elbow-to-elbow with unmasked, cigar-smoking customers. We were glad to finally hole up in the hotel room, though David’s birthday was a far cry from what I’d imagined.


The next morning we discovered that the fix would cost upwards of $4500. The ancient van was worth about half that. We were stranded. What to do?


We researched local car dealerships, then finally gave up and decided to find a rental car. That, too, proved challenging, since it was a one-way trip to the Bay Area from Southern California. After settling on our best option, David got a ride to Avis while Izzie and I waited at the hotel.


David returned with a shiny red Prius, delighted to find a hybrid for our long ride ahead. Plus, he'd gotten great deal because the back seat was stained after the previous renter left the windows open for three months. Only thing was—there was a strange noise coming from somewhere and an even stranger smell.


Too exhausted to return the car, we drove on, the stench intensifying when we turned on the air. The next morning, David decided to take a closer look at the cabin air filter. He was greeted with what looked like a decomposed opossum. Or maybe two.


The agent was so mortified by David’s discovery that she promised to waive the rental fee. David removed both the marsupial remains and filter, and we proceeded to drive home, making sure we kept the vents tightly closed.


Our odyssey, in sum:

We did end up seeing Noah, albeit after the car shenanigans. That was good.

We did not end up retrieving or repairing our van. That was bad.

We did end up donating it to a worthy charity. That was good.

We spent the day waiting and dealing with car stuff. That was bad.

We got to drive a cool new Prius. That was good.

The Prius made a very worrisome dragging sound. That was bad.

The car still got us where we needed to go. That was good.

But it also contained a dead critter. That was bad.

Thanks to this furry inhabitant, we got a free ride home. That was good.


I conked out while folding clothes that night, then crashed for nearly 10 hours, completely spent. I woke up the next morning, grateful to be home, with the weekend behind us and no long drives ahead. That was very, very good indeed.



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