“Two roads diverged in a wood,” wrote Robert Frost. “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” To echo Frost is to enjoy the long road, the American story of detours and fumbled maps that leads to adventure. But when your car kicks the bucket on a Sunday while heading down a South Carolina highway, that yields an entirely different experience.
My family was en route to Florida to empty the home of my late grandmother. Our Subaru Legacy had carried us safely down Interstate 95 for the last few days and we were making good time. But the engine died just after we left the hotel and cruised onto the highway. We were a short distance from the ramp and the hotel, so my dad started hiking up the road for a pay phone. (This, youngsters, was a pre-cellular civilization.) Shortly after he departed, we were visited by a patrolman from the Department of Transportation. The officer managed to ferry us all back to the hotel. I got a thrill when he dipped his cruiser through the grassy median to reach the northbound off-ramp. Haven’t you always wanted to do that?
My parents called for a flat bed truck to take us to a repair shop. Flat beds, so I’m told, are sometimes necessary in the transport of all-wheel-drive vehicles, something to do with screwing up their transmission. This would be an important datum. The flat-bed driver who arrived offered to take us to Charleston, the city with the nearest Subaru mechanic. There was also a catch: the cab had room for two passengers and we were a family of four. My parents told my brother and I to ride up front. The driver suggested that Mom and Dad hide in the tied-down Subaru. For obvious reasons, he opted to skip the highway and duck down a series of back roads. (So much better to avoid that kind patrolman who is paid to find such liberties) Our transporter was also in a hurry to catch the race on TV that afternoon. This is when we learned that the peak velocity for an undocumented flat-bed on a back road was a lot like jumping to light speed in the Millennium Falcon.
Like all automotive hardware, suspension is an ongoing development. My folks were bounced around in the mounted Subaru like kernels in a popcorn maker. My father did not enjoy the passage, while my mother read excitedly about Charleston in her travel book. Up front, we were treated to the scenery of the South Carolina countryside. I saw swampland on both sides of the road. We came across a forgotten southern mansion tucked into the trees, an iconic image from Gone With the Wind.
The driver practiced the minimalist approach to small talk. Only once did he turn and ask, “You guys got birch trees in New England?” My brother and I nodded awkwardly. He turned back to his steering wheel and replied, “I like birch trees.”
The rest of the ride was a blur until we reached the Subaru dealership in Charleston. My folks were delighted to debark. We spent a glorious couple of days in the old city until our trusty Subaru was resurrected, and we safely arrived in Florida. The road less traveled always makes me smile. Nevertheless, a word to the wise: get your engine checked before you tour the Interstate!