Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pep Boys or How I got lost in Stormy Downtown Denton

As I sit in Pep Boys Auto Repair getting 4 new tires on my car, I'm reminded of how this happened.  In early March, my fabulous car-guy, (Nasser from Uptown Auto) said, "You need four new tires."  "I'm going to Denton for the Tejas Storytelling Festival," I told him. "Will my old tires make it?"  He shrugged.  "God willing.  Maybe yes, maybe no, but you're taking a chance."  

I didn't leave Austin for the festival until 1:00 p.m. as I'd gone to San Antonio that morning, performed 3 shows for 900 elementary students then driven back, a 4-hour round-trip.  Road works, bad weather, and car wrecks turned the Austin-Denton leg from 3.5 hours into 6 hours.  I didn't even have the strength to go to the Friday night concert; 900 children, 450 miles, and 10 hours of driving had knocked the stuffing out of me. 

On Saturday morning, I was relieved to find it was only 2 easy miles from the hotel to Denton Civic Center, with several obvious landmarks, and after the delightful Saturday evening concert (DeCee Cornish, Motoko, Andy Offutt Irwin), I was happy but exhausted, and thankful for a painless 2-mile drive.  But there was a storm coming.  My inner voice, which is Texan, said, "Ma'am, there's a storm a-comin.'  You'd best be sure of how to get to the hotel before settin' out..."  "Look," I retorted, "Don't nag me.  It's only 2 miles, I can't go wrong!"  Don't ignore your inner voice, I hear you say, it's Texan; it knows these roads.  Listen to it!  And I shoulda.  But I didna.

I was turned around from the very start; from my first right-hand turn outside Denton Civic Center, I was in the wrong direction.  Now, 2 miles is 2 miles but when you're going in the wrong direction, it's way more than 2 miles.  I knew quite quickly that I'd gone wrong but I couldn't get back on track.  Then, inadvertently, I found myself back at the Civic Center so I started again.  But hear me, people: when you're going in the wrong direction from the very beginning, there's nothing you can do; none of your directions will work; none of your landmarks will be there.  And now here I was again, Lord love a duck, back at the Civic Center, starting out for the third time.

By now, the storm was raging -- thunder, lightning, rain, hail, "damaging winds," as the weathermen say -- so at this point, not only was I going in the wrong direction, there was no chance of correction.  Couldn't see a road sign, couldn't see the road, couldn't even see the color of the traffic lights.  I descended into a residential district which I knew for certain I'd never seen before.  What about my landmarks? Where was the mill?  Where was IH-35?  If I could just get back to IH-35, I'd see which exit I was on and make my way to the hotel from there. 

All of a sudden, BLAM, boomp, boomp, boomp, went my engine.  Or was it a tire?  I pulled into a gas station to get directions and check my tires.  Seems I was close to IH-35 and to my hotel which was comforting.  The car situation was less so.  Finding nothing wrong with my tires, it had to be the engine.  My stomach churned.  It's dark and stormy out there.  Please God, let my sweet car last until I get to the hotel. 

Since my Honda Accord was now making an extraordinary rattling sound which got worse when I accelerated, I could only travel at 30 MPH.  Then, 2 miles later, I found that the Shell attendant had sent me to the wrong hotel.  I knew this hotel.  I'd stayed there before, and remembered there was a complicated back road to reach it that I should avoid.  Too late.  I was already on the complicated back road which led to a familiar 18-wheeler parking lot with cavernous potholes and piles of rubble and dangerous-looking drop-offs into dark gravel pits.  I say, "dangerous-looking," but I couldn't see anything now as colossal hail stones were blocking my view.  I was sobbing which, as you know, is absolutely the best thing to do when you're in a perilous situation but I kept driving, stopping, reversing until eventually the parking lot regurgitated me onto the frontage road of IH-35.  Now I saw that I was 6 miles away from the exit I needed.  Denton's a tiny town.  How could I have got so lost?

It was easily an hour since I'd left the Civic Center and I thought I'd better call my friend, Donna Ingham, to tell her that my 5-minute car journey had been extended through circumstances beyond my control.  Trying to keep the pathetic teary sound from my voice, I explained calmly that I was 6 miles away, my car could only go at 30 MPB, and that I really needed to pee.

I'd needed to pee before I left Denton Civic Center all those eons ago and now I was in trouble.  If it hadn't been pouring with rain, I'd have "taken care of business" beside the car but the storm raged and as a result, so did my bladder.

As I could only do 30 MPH, I thought I'd better stay on the frontage road of IH-35.  If I clicked 'n clacked steadily over the next 6 miles, I'd be pulling into the hotel within (the math was easy) 12 minutes.  I don't know who designed IH-35 West and IH-35 East but they've got a lot to answer for.  All I had to do: stay in the right-hand lane of the frontage road so I could turn right when I got to my hotel.  I didn't even need to exit as I wasn't on the freeway.  All of a sudden -- from nowhere, I tell you, from nowhere -- in the middle of this howling storm, I see a sign which gives me 0.000005 of a second to choose between IH-35 East or IH-35 West.  I didn't have time to choose.  This wasn't an outing to Harrods where I could go through a selection process, "Shall I take this road? Shall I take that road? Oh, they're both lovely; you choose!"  This was, "IH-35 East or IH-35 West?  NOW, sucker!" and I was in the right-hand lane so that's where I stayed.  Thus, instead of IH-35 East south-bound to Denton, I was on IH-35 West south-bound to God only knows where.

I was practically hyperventilating when I called Donna to explain that I was no longer 6 miles away, I was, "'s a sign...I'm...I'm...ON MY WAY TO FORT WORTH?!"  When I reached an exit, I did a U-turn to discover I was now 10 miles from the exit to take me back to the road to Denton, and then still 6 miles to the hotel.

A sense of resignation came over me.  Why bother to work out how long it was going to take?  It was what it was.  The storm was slowly diminishing but my mean-spirited bladder boiled with unforgiving wrath.  As soon as my car shook, rattled and rolled into the hotel parking lot, I dragged my sorry carcass straight to the loo.  My storyteller friends were still in the lobby, exchanging anecdotes, singing songs, strumming guitars as if their lives had continued as normal after their two-mile drive from the Civic Center to the hotel.  How could that be?  Donna's husband, Jerry, wrapped my hand around a plastic cup filled with red wine.  That's how well he knows me.

The next day, DeCee Cornish, God Bless That Man, found a huge bolt in one of my front tires, a bolt so big that while it had caused a puncture, the tire had sealed itself around it.  It was the bolt-head clickin'-clackin' on the ground that I'd heard while driving.  I was probably wise to move slowly even though this unplanned journey added forty miles to my car and several years to my life.

Being a Sunday, Pep Boys Denton was the only auto repair place open so I dropped off my car to have TWO tires replaced while we checked out.  I was grateful and relieved to be safely on the road again.  To come full circle, I chose Pep Boys Austin to replace my other tires with matching ones and was told that Pep Boys Denton sold me low quality tires, inappropriate for an Accord.  Pep Boys Austin have refunded the whole Denton job and assure me I'm safe in their hands...

Lessons learned:
(a) if you go in the wrong direction at the very start, you should regroup and check your facts before you start again...or change your destination...
(b) storytellers are outstanding people and I'm lucky to be in any world they inhabit;
(c) even if your destination is only two miles away, always, ALWAYS pee before you set off.


  1. Wonderfully shared. We should invite storytellers to share their "travel"/car/map/GPS mess ups, confusions and adventures. we would have a best seller. Would be a great SLAM topic. :) Thanks for sharing. Oh, how I wish I could tell you about "Getting Lost in Twilight", but for now it's your story to share. :)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sheila! You're right, every teller must have a story about a trip-gone-wrong. I wouldn't normally share my blog on the storyteller page but because that anecdote was so specifically about the Tejas Storytelling Festival and because the tellers were so supportive of me in my "misery," it seemed appropriate! Are you going to be in Richmond? Perhaps I can hear your "Getting Lost in Twilight" story then. I'm performing my piece, TEA IN TRIPOLI, (about my life as a silly Englishwoman in Libya) at the fringe. I'd love to meet you in person. :o)

  2. I needed this laugh this morning. I guess I should have peed BEFORE I read your story though! I am so glad to have stumbled upon your blog via the Austin Playhouse where I was reading the reviews for Noises Off! My boys and I used to come and see you when they were little and several times through the years. We all absolutely love you. I am the Lisa that called and wanted to have coffee or tea with you many years ago to discuss female historical storyteller characters with you, but never were able to connect. Life, with all of its good and bad has gotten in the way, but I'd still love to chat with you sometime. I can't wait to see you in Noises Off. Tentatively planning to see the show on Saturday. Bless you dear lady.

    1. Lisa! How great to hear from you! I've thought about you many times over the years, wondering how you're doing. May I include you on my email list for the blog? I don't write often unless I'm doing a blog-project but I try to keep them short, funny and meaningful. If so, do let me have your email address so I can add you.

      Yes, please come see NOISES OFF! The Chronicle critic didn't mention in her mean-spirited review that our audience laughed so hard during the show that we had to keep stopping, and we had an immediate standing ovation. It's a very funny show and both cast and crew are doing a great job (including me!) If you hang out after the show, I'll rush to the lobby and give you a hug!

  3. Yes please include me at
    I did read one very mean-spirited review, but also was delighted to read a much more positive one. We were going to come tonight,and bring our sons, but limited finances are preventing us from doing so. My youngest wants to be an actor and was most interested in the plot of the show. I am going to try to talk my hubby and boys into us coming perhaps as a mother's day present next weekend. We will see...I am SO glad that the play is such a success, but I would expect nothing less than that from anything involving YOU of course! I am so enjoying your blog as it does feel like you are right there chatting with us. blessings to you

  4. Fabulous. But next time you're headed for Denton, let me give you the numbers for my brother and sister-in-law. They're fans of the arts and are glad to come to someone's rescue, and would no doubt enjoy the sudden company of a distinguished English actress/writer/storyteller.