COAL: 1965 Valiant, Part IV • Self-Own Service and Naming Names


Spring break ’96 came round, and I was booked on a flight home to Denver leaving Eugene at 6:29 AM on Thursday, so Wednesday afternoon I packed my two carry-on bags and drove out to the airport to try my luck with flights at easier hours. I went up to the United gates and asked; no standby seats available on the first flight, but come back in 25 minutes, the gate agent said, and we could try for the second flight. I kept an eye on my wristwatch while I went browsing magazines—the pocket monolith (smartphone) was still over two decades in the future—and went back to the gate at the appointed time. The agent took my name, said pretty good odds I could get on the flight, and advised me to come back in 45 minutes.

That struck me as plenty of time for a burger or something downstairs at the restaurant, so down I went. A combination of things upstairs moving a little faster than scheduled and my being unreasonably literal about the 45 minutes missed me my standby seat. So no soap, it was gonna be the crack o’ dawn flight I had booked in the first place. Oh, well, at least the cheeseburger had hit the spot. I drove back to town, noticing a ’66 Barracuda and a ’64 Dart in a small wrecking yard along the way, already closed for the day; I made a mental note to check back another time.

So. What to do? I didn’t have any classwork or anything; it was Spring Break. The grad students in the other half of my rental duplex were having a standard-issue party: music, snacks, assorted kinds of alcohol, chit-chat, y’know. They saw me pull the Valiant into the garage and invited me to join in. Not really my thing, usually, but—eh!—why not; it was Spring Break! I didn’t get falling-down drunk or anything, but I certainly did participate in the party. I dimly recall we wound up at Max’s Tavern (not very reputable, but walk distance away) after the party wound down, and I was handed a shot-type drink called, I was told, a Stumblefuck. Googling now, I see it’s a 1:1:1 mix of Jägermeister, Rumplemintz, and Aftershock. I have a bare sketch of an idea what the first of those ingredients is; the others I know from nothing.

Et cetera for however long we were there. As Max’s was walk distance from home, it was stumble distance back, so that was fine, but by the time I got home I was completely outta spoons. Didn’t even have it in me to shuck off my clothes; I just set my alarm for 4:45 AM (not terribly far in the future) to make sure I’d have plenty of time for a shower, a coffee, and breakfast before heading out to the airport, and flopped into bed.

Or at least I thought I set the alarm. I guess not, though, for the next thing I knew I was blinking awake and looking at my watch. It said 6:09. My first thought was “Oh, dear!” [not a direct quote -DS] The second was “It is a 23-minute drive to the airport from here”.

It took me about 30 seconds to throw on my shoes and get downstairs to the garage; I didn’t bother with such niceties as socks or shoelaces. The Valiant, which normally required 10-15 seconds of cranking to wake up first thing in the morning, must have sensed the urgency of the situation, as it fired on the first compression. I just about did a garage burnout in reverse.

I made that 23-minute drive in about twelve minutes, including parking, aided and abetted by empty early-morning streets and the simple yet powerful technique of dispensing with speed-limit formalities. Grabbed my bags out the trunk and ran, with no socks and untied shoes, through long-term parking (6:25), through short-term parking (6:26), and across the traffic lanes in front of the airport—without looking both ways, tsk!

Dashed into the terminal and threw my bags on the security conveyer belt (6:28), tossed my car keys over the metal detector and caught them on the other side. Grabbed my bags off the conveyer. No time for escalators; I ran up the stairs, nearly mowing down a hapless third-grader (6:30). Through the corridors leading to the gate; when I reached it, speaking was out of the question. All I could do was wave my ticket around. United’s habit of being a little flexible about closing the door on their early-morning flights and Eugene being a friendly, small, informal airport meant I made the plane with about 70 seconds to spare, gasping and sweating. My seatmate seemed certain I was having a heart attack or something.

It never dawned on me that the emergency didn’t really exist; all that would happen if I missed the flight was a bit of inconvenience and rescheduling. Nobody would’ve died or anything. All week long I kept wondering if I had locked the car and shut off the headlamps.

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