I drove home for Christmas. It’s 640 miles from Provo to Lake Elsinore, Calif., and I was pretty sure that Pedro (my 1987 Hyundai Excel) could make the trip, despite the fact that he occasionally overheats just on the way to school, sometimes when I’m not even DRIVING him.
But I didn’t want to make the trip alone, so I convinced my friend Rob, who lives not too far from Lake Elsinore anyway, to ride with me. We figured that even if Pedro broke down and we had to buy an entirely new car, it would still be cheaper than flying. And, even if Pedro broke down and we had to WALK the whole way, it would still be more COMFORTABLE than flying. (Also, we wouldn’t have to eat those peanuts in the impenetrable bags made of space-age polymers.)
We also knew that driving home would give us plenty of Bonding Time, though of course we did not discuss this out loud. Guys do not acknowledge that one another’s friendship is valuable to them, because to do so would be an obvious admission that they are sissies, and it would be grounds for shunning. Real men don’t NEED friendship; this is why they behave like such jerks most of the time, to prevent the possibility of someone desiring to be their friend.
But Rob is a good friend, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I’ve already admitted to driving a 1987 Hyundai Excel which I have taken the trouble to name; why should I be embarrassed at my machismo being questioned even further?
We knew that driving to California would be a big test. Sure, we have fun hanging out normally, when we’re just watching “The X-Files,” or eating 99-cent Whoppers, or debating which typographical error in that day’s Universe was most amusing. But you never know what’s going to irritate you until you spend 10 hours locked in a car with it, especially when you have a short attention span like I do. I was afraid that by the time we reached Beaver (town motto: “Yes, There’s Actually a Town Called Beaver”), I’d be wishing Rob were someone else, or that he were dead. Normally, of course, I don’t wish he were either of those things, and he usually isn’t.
And so, throwing caution to the wind, we barged out onto I-15, headed south, feeling young and carefree as we cranked up the stereo and let the wind blow against our faces as we put the top down. Then we realized that Pedro’s top wasn’t supposed to go down, and we quickly put it back up again.
We drove and drove, all the way down the middle of Utah. Despite what you may have heard, most of Utah is really quite ugly. The space between Springville and Cedar City consists mostly of the same one-mile stretch of landscape, repeated over and over again like the cheap backgrounds they used on Yogi Bear cartoons. I would not be surprised if people who live in Panguitch sometimes drive into Scipio and think that they are home. It all looks the same from the freeway, and I am fairly sure that all the people in both places have names with two capitals letters (LeVar, RayDeen, LeHeber, etc.).
This brings to mind an amusing anecdote from 1992, when I (Note: Do not do this) took the bus from Provo to Los Angeles. We stopped for lunch in Fillmore, and while I was sitting in a little diner having a cheeseburger, a young fellow – obviously a “local” – walked in. He and the waitress had the following exchange, which I am not making up:
WAITRESS: Hi, Sugar. Hey, y’all got your hair cut!
YOUNG FELLOW: Yeah, I’m goin’ on my mission next Wednesday.
WAITRESS: Oh. (pause) Want one last cup of coffee before you go?
YOUNG FELLOW: Yeah, I better.
I’m sure I do not need to explain the ramifications of THIS little conversation. I am just glad that this was his LAST cup of coffee before his mission, although I do wonder how in the world he ever got up at 6:30 a.m. without a cup of joe to clear his head. I know I occasionally had to be beaten in the head with a rubber mallet. (Although I suspect that some of these beatings were not necessary to get me out of bed, occurring as they did in mid-afternoon, sometimes while we were tracting.)
Anyway, Rob and I eventually stopped in Las Vegas. This was mainly to eat dinner, but it was also because Rob wanted to gamble. Rob had not been to Las Vegas since he became of legal gambling age, and he wanted to experience the thrill of putting quarters in a slot machine. I told him he could achieve approximately the same thrill from putting quarters in a urinal, but he refused. So I recited all the famous quotes, many of which I made up, about why we shouldn’t gamble because it’s trying to get something for nothing, and besides, Las Vegas is just so tacky and stinky, but he still wanted to try it. So I watched as he got five dollars in quarters, then I looked on smugly as he put each quarter in, one at a time, and won ten dollars, which he pocketed and left, five dollars richer than he had been when we came in. I guess he learned HIS lesson! This was a major test of our friendship, especially when, in a fit of jealousy, I attempted to duplicate his good fortune with my own five dollars in quarters, and got the exact same results, except for the “winning” part.
Aside from that minor incident, the trip was uneventful, and we came out of it unscathed and unkilled. We still watch “X-Files,” and we still occasionally eat 99-cent Whoppers. And I wonder which mistake in the Universe will be funniest todey?
I like this column because it talks, loosely, about friendship, which is a nice subject to talk about every now and then. Rob and I had a great time on the way down to California. On the way back, though, he was sick, and I had to drive the whole way, and he wasn't much fun at all. I'll tell you, there were times on that trip when I was reasonably sure that we were not EVER going to make it back to Provo.
An over-zealous editor almost "fixed" the spelling error in the very last word of the column, which of course would have ruined the joke. Fortunately, she regained her senses just in time. Journalism is full of near-misses like that. But in her defense, do you have any idea how hard it is to get sharp-eyed editors to include a mistake in the paper ON PURPOSE? It goes against everything they stand for.
This was the first column of the Winter 1998 Semester, and the first one to go through the rigorous Review Process (i.e., where the column must be read by the Daily Universe editor in chief, the NewsNet managing editor, Daily Universe adviser and Communications Department chair). Actually, another column, "Crock of Ages" was the first column to go through the process; it didn't survive, though, and "Pedro's Christmas Vacation" was hastily written in its place. (I vividly recall leaving a message for Rob saying that when he got home from work, at 2 a.m., he needed to come over and read the column to make sure he didn't mind my mentioning him in it. I was glad he gave it a thumbs-up, since I had to turn something in the next day and had no other ideas.)
A couple changes were made for publication. Where I say "putting quarters in a urinal" - in the paper, that had to be changed to "putting quarters in a toilet." We had a lengthy discussion about this, and everyone (except me) decided "toilet" would be better.
There were some who felt the whole column - or at least the part about gambling - shouldn't go in at all. It was feared that if the administration, which was carefully eyeing "Snide Remarks" now, thought any BYU students were gambling, they would, to put it bluntly, freak out. Since it never gets mentioned in The Daily Universe, or in official Administration memoranda, the Administration probably doesn't know that a lot of students gamble sometimes, and some Universe personnel didn't want them to find out through my column.
But since I obviously take a dim view of gambling in the column, and since I make it clear that I lost when I tried it, we figured it was safe to talk about. If anything, the column is anti-gambling (if anything).
When this column was published, I referred to "an anecdote that I observed." This is incorrect. You cannot "observe" an anecdote. You can tell, or relate, or share an anecdote, but you can't SEE one. All that discussion over urinals and toilets, and nobody bothered to catch this major error in semantics.
(No one caught the fact that the anecdote had been shared in a column five years earlier, either, but I guess they had no way of knowing that.)
This column inspired an angry letter, believe it or not. Its author sent it to a friend of mine, knowing he would pass the criticism along to me. In the interest of preserving their friendship, I'll not identify either of them here. Here is the e-mail exactly as it was forwarded to me.
Eric could be cured of his self-styled assessment of Southern Utah. But if he thinks it all looks the same, it is all for the better... if more people knew of the variety and beauty found at speeds of 0-5 mph, he might get addicted and there would be less space for those of us who know that the scenery is not painted on nor is it monotonous. Actually for some of us, driving that route almost brings tears of joy as we remember experiences we have had in that special part of the world and as in our mind we see the beautiful spires, lakes, lava flows, water falls, plants and creatures. Somebody did let the cat out of the bag... it seems to me that before the environmentalists and Lake Powell drunkards came on the scene, it was a bit more tranquil. But they are here now, attention has been drawn to these areas. If we can keep it a secret from some by building I-15 through a corridor which is relatively free of major geographic obstacles, yet close enough to towns with adequate water to fill our radiators, we are doing ok. Let the humdrummers keep on truckin'... After all, they say that if you think other people are boaring, you must be boaring too. Should I draw the analogy? OK, why not? If the landscape of the I-15 is that bad, maybe you are boaring enough to need to be razzled and dazzled... let's say, hummmm, I got it, we could watch somebody gamble or spend a fortune at an amusement park!!! That's it, let the boaring people find their pleasure where they may, but I will not deny them the opportunity to get to know other worlds. Who knows, maybe he is not boaring at all, he may have been deprived and therefore is subject to conversion. That would take away some of the space the rest of us love; but if it would make him a better person, yes, we can share. Rules: no drinking, no wild fires, no wild parties, take your garbage with you, don't ride mountain bikes on muddy trails (it ruins them), DO NOT drive your macho truck knee deep in mud (it really destroys things), if you pick a flower make sure there are many others like it and leave the roots in place, stay on the road, and whatever you do avoid touching power lines and walking off cliffs.
Thank you, Grandpa, now go to bed. The sad part is, all these years later, I no longer remember who forwarded this e-mail to me or who the original writer was. Darn my faulty memory!