Rick and I were blasting across the high desert of Northern Nevada. Rick was at the wheel of his ancient but plucky Toyota pickup. We had Reno solidly framed in our rear-view mirror. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it is this: When you have Reno in your rear-view mirror, you put your foot on the accelerator and stand on that thing. No Matter what direction you’re facing, go that way as fast as you can. And Rick was. All four cylinders in that little engine were beating their hearts out to carry us away from the tragic abomination which lay behind us. As Jeremy Clarkson once said, “Reno: it’s like Las Vegas, but smaller. And worse.”
We were just outside of Fallon when the problem started. Billows of white steam roiled out from under the hood like fake fog at a bad High School drama production. The spot where we pulled onto the hard shoulder was a little south of the middle of nowhere.
“We’d better look at the engine,” I said.
“What for?” Rick asked.
“I dunno,” I shrugged, “See if the damned thing is still in there?”
“Well, it must still be in there, otherwise what’s making all the steam?”
“Well, I don’t know, Rick,” I said growing exasperated. That’s what always happens when people are stranded. First they cling to each other, then they turn on each other. I adopted a reasonable face and continued “It seems to me that people who are stranded in the middle of nowhere always get out and check the engine. Why should we question the established order of things? Why should we fly in the face of convention?”
Rick knew he was beaten by my unassailable logic. He popped open the hood on the treasonous Toyota and jumped out and peered into the engine compartment. He shut the hood and looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and climbed back into the cab.
“Engine’s still there.”
“Well, you’d better raise some help on that CB radio,” I said vaguely gesturing toward the unit. My attention was distracted by what appeared to be a large warehouse that, like Rick’s truck was pouring steam into the dry desert air. The rising sun cast a rainbow as it refracted through the billowing clouds. The sound of static filled the cab of the pickup. I decided it was late enough in the morning to breakfast on a Ding Dong.
“Breaker, breaker,” Rick chanted into the microphone. Only static answered our distress call.
“You know who might have a telephone? That building over there.” Rick pointed at the steaming post-apocalyptic nightmare I had been watching earlier.
“Do you think it’s safe?” I said. It looked a bit sketchy to me.
Juliot and Sons
The tow truck dropped us off in a town I had never heard of. It is called Fernley. It’s the sort of town that you may miss on a map, assuming that it’s actually a tiny pile of fly shit rather than a small town. The establishment that was entrusted with Rick’s Toyota was called “Juliot & Sons” and their business card proudly declared “We repair anything but a broken heart.” It’s a good thing they choose to not offer heart surgery because we would surely have bled-out before Juliot, or his son attended to our issue.
Armed only with a blow-torch, Juliot (or Son) confidently waded into Rick’s engine. A bit of the radiator had become detached, so with the radiator cap off he started welding or soldering it back on. He was, for a bit, hindered by some foam rubber which was nestled between the radiator and the front grill on the truck and was prone to catching fire. Juliot (or Son) found a way around the problem by placing the still burning torch on the carburetor, tearing the foam rubber out, and carefully flinging it away.
“Goddam engineers,” he explained.
Recovering the torch he proceeded with the job at hand. Rick and I watched in fascinated horror as blobs of solder dripped into the radiator sizzling as the descended to the shadowy depths. Now, I only needed a few hundred miles out of the traitorous pickup truck but Rick had a vested interest in keeping it alive.
“Is–is that ok for that solder to drip down there like that?” Rick asked with trepidation.
Juliot (or Son) grumbled something indistinguishable under his breath. We only knew this because we saw the feathers of his massive beard rustled against his denim overalls.
It was very late when we rolled out of Fernley heading East. It had been a long day.
The Sample in the Fridge
The apartment building was typical off-campus student housing–it was low and squat and looked like it had seen better days. Much could be said of my new roommate as well. He was much older than I by a couple decades, a bit shabby, and from time to time flashed out a flickering nervous smile that might’ve presaged a question like “hey, wanna guess how many bodies I have buried in the courtyard?”. Roommates had been pre-assigned and I’d never met mine. I had adopted one of those idiot smiles you strap onto your face when you’re about to suffer through something deeply unpleasant.
“Oh, by the way, I have to keep a sample in the fridge for 24 hours. But it’s OK, it’s all sealed shut and stuff”, my new roommate said, with that nervous fuckin’ smile flitting across his face.
The idiot grin on my face flickered and Jerry–his name was Jerry–turned and wandered down the hall tittering to himself. I turned my idiot grin to face Rick’s horrified grin and I said through gritted teeth, “did he say ‘sample’?”
Rick scratched his chin for a minute and then replied, “Yes.”
“Could be sperm.”
“Shut the fuck up, Rick.”
Rick shrugged and we both looked toward the fridge of horrors. I imagined the fridge dancing at the end of a Hitchcock Zoom, but sometimes you’ve just got to look.
On the top shelf, where more mundane refrigerators might have a gallon jug of milk, my new apartment had an orange gallon jug of whiz. The best part was the bio-hazard symbol emblazoned on the side. A team of production designers could not have made this any more comical.
Rick decided to hit the road the next day, continuing on to his more conventional college experience, the coward.
This post was originally published on RadioFreeLV.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
Photo credit: Flickr