It was 1998 and my spring semester at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo was over. My last final was done and I packed up everything that I owned into the light blue plymouth Voyager that would be my ride to Wisconsin. This Voyager was the van that I had helped my mother pick out when we needed a new vehicle.
My father is a traveling salesman. During my last years in high school, my family had gone through some financial struggles. For a while, we got by with one vehicle. My father would take this vehicle on the road and we would have to manage without a car for a week or so, until he returned. One day, my father gave my mother and I some money and sent us to look for a vehicle while he was on the road. It wasn’t long before we saw the light blue plymouth Voyager. At 17 and not really knowing much about cars, my mom and I checked the van over for signs of rust. We started the engine and listened for anything out of the ordinary. We looked under the hood and checked for signs of leaks underneath the car. I hoped that we wouldn’t be taken by a predatorial car salesman making a sale due to the lack of our knoweledge about cars. Apparently, we found nothing wrong with it, because the next memory I have of it was driving it to work the summer before college.
The dorm room was empty and the van was packed to the hilt. I said goodbye to the friends that were still on campus, took a goodbye pic of us and hopped in the van and headed toward the highway. Now, I wasn’t the most experienced driver. I hadn’t driven the van since purchasing it in 1997 and had purchased and owned a car for only the 3 summer months between the spring and fall semesters of 1998. Sometime during my school semester, my family had gone through some more troubles and asked me to lend a hand to help pay for some maintenance on the van. It was near the end of the semester and once the van was fixed, I had asked my dad for the van as a means of making it to Wisconsin. So, kindly, during his travels, my mom and him dropped off the van 2 weeks before the semester was over so that I could travel north after finals were done. It sat there until I was ready to embark on my 8 hour trip by myself, only a road map, no cell phone, and everything I owned in the back of the On my way to Wisconsin, I knew that I would be passing through my hometown Columbia, Mo and had decided to take a quick tour of the city as it had grown in the time that I was away. I had left early that morning to give myself a lot of daytime to drive, so I figured I had the time to check a few things out. At some point, while taking a trip down memory lane through Columbia’s back roads, I checked my reflection in the mirror. I really can’t remember why I did that, perhaps I was about to visit and old friend. The second I took my eyes off the road, I swerved and ran the van right into the deep gutter along the side of the road. A loud boom, a thump to the top of my head and the sound of struts resounded as I lost control of the van. In a split second, not wanting to be stuck in the gutter, I kept the momentum going and barreled through back up to the top of the road again. I just sat there, driving slowly, listening for something to fall off of the van. As I regained some composure, the next thought I had was, “I better get the heck out of dodge before I don’t make it home at all”, and I sped off to the highway to continue the long haul.
I had drove for hours and hours, finally wishing that I would just get there already. I had missed some exit to take my around Chicago and ended up winding my way through the city, adding I’m sure hours to my trip.
Finally, I seemed to be getting somewhere. I was nighttime and I didn’t have many more miles to drive. I reached Rockford, Il and everything was swell and then POP! A loud noise came from the engine as if a rocket had hit the hood. My car was decelerating and I slowly rolled to the left side of the highway and turned my hazards on. I sat there for a minute, taking in my surroundings. Cars whizzing past. No sign of a town or exit in front of me. No sign of any town or lights behind me. To the left, I see some twinkling lights through the bare trees. A 5 foot chain link fence and a small forest is the only thing blocking me from what I think could be my help. I gather up any necessary items that I might need and head across the highway. I secure my items inside my hoodie and make a running start toward the fence and launch myself over like a lousy catapult competitor. Mid air, I snag my new Adidas sweatshirt that my friend, Andre had bought me.
Andre, was on the SMSU track and field team. I would describe him as the guy out of “How Stella got her groove back”. A dark guy with an accent that seemed to come from the tropics. Andre had bought me this $50 sweatshirt in attempt to date me, I think. I refused it, but he insisted that I have it. It was now my favorite sweatshirt. I had never had a name brand sweatshirt and loved that it was embroidered with ADIDAS on the front.
When I felt the sweatshirt snag on what was possibly some barbed wire, I was ticked that I wasn’t more careful. That was the least of my worries. I felt so small and destructable with no other comforting lifeform nearby and out in the open without any sort of protection. I headed toward the lights, which seemed to be a bit farther than I thought and finally emerge in the middle of a small subdivision. I knock on the door of a house that I observe has quite a few lights on. After the man answers, I explain my situation and the man and wife kindly let me use their phone.
It’s really strange the bits and pieces a person remembers and what gets thrown out of our memories. I really can’t remember what order the events of the night happened. I remember the man took me to a nearby gas station where I made arrangements with a tow truck driver. I had to weigh out my options, pay the tow truck driver a per mile fee to flat bed the van and drive me the rest of the way home OR to have it taken to a nearby facility and not get home that night, with nowhere to stay, no cell phone and no ride to a hotel room. I decide to pay the steep fee and be taken home. I ride over an hour in the cab with the dirty tow truck driver, making whatever type of conversation can be made from 2 people from different worlds.
As we reach familiar surroundings, I feel so glad that we are almost home. Upon arrival, he lowers the van oddly so that the front wheels are set in front of the cement parking block. This could be problematic in the morning but I don’t even care. I pay the driver, say my thanks, walk to the apartment door, turn my key and start a new chapter in my life.