Pat and Ernie’s Wild Ride

By Ernie Witham   |   May 17, 2022
Rental car sans bullet holes

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I took out my gun and I shot Siri.

“Actually, it’s against the rental car company’s policy to shoot holes in the dashboard,” my wife informed me. “According to page 15 of the rental form, they charge extra for that.”

I looked at the GPS map on the screen. It was turning 180 degrees to the left, then 180 degrees to the right, then left, then right …proceed to the routeproceed to the route.

“How much extra?” I asked.

Pat and I were in Portland, Oregon. It was April 11. Much to the elation of local weather forecasters, it had snowed during the night and early morning hours. “First time in 80 years of recordkeeping!” “One for the books!” “Never seen anything like it!” I heard that one guy even crooned: “I’m dream-ing of a white A-pril.” 

Earlier, I cleaned snow off the windshield of our non-winterized rental Nissan with a plastic dustpan. Apparently, snow scrapers are a luxury in Portland. The precipitation had become a wintry mix of snow and really cold rain. I was wearing sweatpants and running shoes. The snow was so heavy that it took both hands to scoop and throw. 

All up and down 37th Avenue, large branches, which on April 10 had been filled with beautiful spring flowers, now lay crumpled in the road, sidewalks, and hanging off dripping rooftops. The roundabout at our intersection was currently just a half-round. You could not go about, because a limb big enough to qualify for a lumber truck ride to the mill was blocking the way. 

We were supposed to go to lunch at a pleasant outdoor French restaurant, followed by a short trip to Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens to see a “cascade of color” along the meandering paths, and watch the ducks and Canadian Geese frolic in the soothing ponds. I’m guessing the geese went back to Canada to get warm. Did I mention it was 36 degrees? 

Meanwhile, back in Santa Barbara, the folks we had swapped houses with were sweltering in 90+ degree heat. “Do you believe in climate change, Brother Ernie? Gimme an Amen.” As soon as my feet thaw, maybe.

Besides the enjoyment of spring flowers, Portland’s terrific art museum, and the Japanese Garden, we were here to visit family including the grandkids, Jack and Ollie. They live in the Northwest part of Portland, a short drive away. We were scheduled to fly home the next day so this would be our “miss you already, see you again soon” visit. So we waited and watched.

By late afternoon, the snow and rain had stopped, it was a balmy 44 degrees, and we heard there was one route to the Northwest partially open. So, we piled on four layers of clothing, put on our sunglasses – we’re from Southern California, okay? – and ventured off. 

And we made it! We ran around with the grandkids, riling them up so they’d never want to go to bed. We had a nice dinner, said our fond farewells and headed off for the quick jaunt back to our neighborhood.

“Oh-oh,” Pat said. Ahead on Burnside Street, our preferred route home, was a detour sign. “Turn!” she yelled.

I turned onto Skyline Boulevard, a narrow, winding road through unlit wooded neighborhoods. Pat offered a continual play-by-play. “Tree on the left. Branches on the right. Snow in the middle.” At this point Siri was still sane. “Proceed to Fairview and take a left.” 

“Oh-oh,” Pat said again, as we passed the detour sign at Fairview, prompting the first… proceed to the route… from Siri. But we were following a pickup truck that seemed to know where it was going, until the pickup truck turned into a driveway. Finally, we reached a dead-end and Siri lost it …proceed to the routeproceed to the routeproceed to the route

I turned the car around. We passed the detours and downed trees again and about a dozen cars making the same mistake we had. “Next time we visit in the summertime!” I said. Siri thought this was a command and began playing the song “Summertime and the living is easy…

This time I shot her twice.   


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