As I was writing about .38 and River for Tales From The Trail, I couldn't help but think about the trip to Arizona. Since I was working as a medical assistant at the time and the clinic I was working at was open right up until the day before Thanksgiving, the kids and I didn't leave until really early Thanksgiving morning for our fifteen-hour drive to southern Arizona.
At that point, road trips with the kids were actually not too bad. They were small enough that I could put one on each side of the backseat with a cooler in the middle and the oldest in the front seat. We'd leave at four a.m., because, by my reasoning, the drunks were either home or had already killed themselves and the morning commuters wouldn't have left for home yet. The greatest part was that we'd be in Colorado Springs, almost out of the state, before the kids would wake up and want breakfast and we'd be in need of a fill-up at that point anyway.
The morning started off well; I got the kids loaded in the car and we got out on time, which is pretty amazing. They slept until we were almost to Raton, which made me think the trip was going to go unbelievably smoothly. Boy was I wrong. The kids woke up, dove into the cooler and ate some of the road trip crap I'd packed. Beef jerky, Coke, Twizzlers. You know, the stuff you can't live without when traveling. They didn't whine too much about being in the car and didn't even start fighting. Really, really thought the day was going to go well.
About twenty miles north of Albequerque the car started sputtering and acting up. It was missing and acting like it wasn't hitting on all four cylinders, so I pulled off to check under the hood. I wiggled the spark plug wires and one came off in my hand. Not a big deal, I'd just pop it back onto the spark plug...wait, where the hell's the spark plug? It's not in the little holey-thingy where it belongs. I start looking around the engine, thinking that it had fallen out when the plug wire popped loose. It wasn't there. Just as I was thinking I'd lost my mind, I happened to glance at the end of the plug wire and there was my spark plug. I tried to pluck the spark plug from the wire and couldn't, so I grabbed a hold of it and yanked. And out came the spark plug and a little surprise. The connector thingy that is supposed to be part of the plug wire that clamps onto the spark plug itself. Oops. Not a big deal, though, because waaaaaaaayyyy back when, I had learned to tune up a car when there weren't different lengths of spark plug wires, you just cut them to size, slid the boot back, and clamped on the connector thingy. Hell, it hadn't been so long that I couldn't remember how to do that.
Except, apparently, things had changed since then. The wires were fixed lengths and the boot wouldn't slide back. I mucked around and mucked around before I finally just said screw it, screwed the spark plug back into its hole and jammed the plug wire on as tightly as I could, fully intending to pull into the next open place I saw and buy new damn plug wires.
I managed to limp into Albequerque and pull into the only freakin' open place...WalMart. Yep, Thanksgiving day and the only thing open is WalMart. Does WalMart have spark plug wires? Not the one I went to. Nor the second one I went to. Finally, I got smart and had them call the other stores to see which one might have spark plug wires for me to buy. After much cajoling and maybe a little bit of threatening, I managed to talk someone in the automotive department into chasing some down for me and giving me directions.
Finally, after a delay of more than two hours, the kids and I were back on the road and headed to Arizona. The plan was to drive south through New Mexico and hang a right at Hatch. From there I had some less-than-clear directions that I was assured would make sense once I got there. Uh. Okay. It meant riding in warm southern Arizona and I figured I could always find a gas station or something/someone to give me directions to the ranch.
Despite the delay, the kids were still pretty much rock stars. I only had to threaten them a couple of times. I do believe that I promised to dump their bodies in the Arizona desert where the critters would scatter their bones far and wide and their bodies would never be found. Surprisingly, it worked. Eventually flat-out boredom struck and they all fell asleep as the sun went down.
I did okay until I made the right turn at Hatch. By that time, it was dark and the landmarks were hard to find, so each time I thought I was approaching an intersection, I slowed to a crawl, which put us even further behind schedule. From Hatch, I'd called the ranch to let them know where I was and verify the directions. They told me I was only a few hours away. Heck, after all the time we'd already spent in the car, what was another few hours?
I managed to find the correct county road and I was on my way!
I was the only car on the road. There was nothing, and I mean nothing, to see in front, behind, to the left, or to the right. Just the stars in the sky above. The kids were asleep and I'd gone into cruise mode, just me and the car and the road.
I suddenly realized that there was a car behind me with the headlights off. I'll admit that I'm hyper-vigilant about cars following me, as the kids and I had been trapped in a drive-through a couple of years earlier by my ex-turned-stalker. Needless to say, a large vehicle pacing me with the headlights off pegged my "Oh Shit" meter. I reached down with my right hand just to make sure that my Glock hadn't slipped back from where I'd put it between the seat and the console.
The car kept pace with me for a half a mile or more before another large vehicle, also without headlights, turned on to the road next to me. The second vehicle rode just forward of my left bumper, not leaving me any maneuvering room should the first vehicle crowd me. I started looking for an escape route, but there wasn't any. The car to my left kept me from moving into that lane and the car behind me was pretty much on my bumper. To my right was a large concrete irrigation ditch. There was nowhere but forward to go. I was essentially being herded by people I couldn't identify. Suddenly, my .40 caliber Glock didn't really seem sufficient, but I knew I'd go down shooting if I had to. I reached down again with my right hand and loosened it from the holster to make sure there wouldn't be any glitches if I had to draw. At the time Iwas thinking that I'd inadvertently interruped a drug exchange and was hoping that my non-descript gold Honda wouldn't draw too much attention from them.
By this time, I'd been a competitive defensive pistol shooter for over a year and knew I could hit anything I aimed at, but sure the hell didn't want to have to. As my "Oh Shit" meter continued to climb higher than I ever thought possible, a car pulled out in front of me from a ranch access road on the right.
As the car turned, my headlights caught the Border Patrol insignia painted on its side. It was painted in non-reflective paint, so I was lucky to get a look. I'm pretty sure that the driver's timing was off; if he's pulled out sooner, he would have been outside the range of my headlights. Or maybe he did it on purpose to see if they'd get a reaction out of me. As they herded me it dawned on me that I was so close to the border that they were suspicious of me. Me! A single woman with three kids in an old, hardly running Honda Accord.
They escorted me like a prisoner for another mile or so, before the one in the back flashed his headlights and the peeled off, one by one, until it was just me and the car and the road. I slammed the Glock back down into its holster, relieved that I hadn't chosen to try to defend myself against the freakin' Border Patrol. 'Cause guess what? I'd've lost.
The adrenaline dump, courtesy of the United States Border Patrol, lasted me until I saw the most welcoming sight in the world: the ranch lights.