I made some remark in passing about the plausibility of driving down the road we had just walked down and quickly found some bent sprinkler wheels to frame. Around the corner was marsh land and the sun was setting, the winter’s light barely illuminating the grasses and trees of the flood plain we had discovered. I walked around a grouping of trees on the land, the smallest forest in Oregon, following a barely sprouting line of winter crops, when I saw Jake in the distance, walking away from his teal Jetta. I walked towards him. He was stuck and the sun was going down.
We both tried rocking his jetta, reverse and forwards, but between his slick tires and his burned out clutch, we were going nowhere. The ground was fertile and soft and the jetta just wasn’t made for it. “I saw those trees over there and I wanted to see them closer.” I probably rolled my eyes.
I walked up the dirt road, pissed-off and a quarter drunk, and crossed the street to a home with two large pickups in the driveway. At least I’m outside my comfort zone, I thought. Doing this will be beneficial, even though I don’t want to do it. I knocked on the door, observing a weathered, yellow, and crispy US Census notification. No one answered. I walked away, and checked one of the pickups’ doors to see if it was locked. I thought maybe it was some sort of vacant farm office or something, maybe they parked the trucks there and that was it. The door wasn’t locked and I quickly shut it. A dog instantly began to bark from the garage. I walked away a little quicker than I had walked up. The barking got louder and a different door opened. A fat black lab kept barking and slowly started towards me, lumbering. I stood and faced, to avoid being chased, and not far behind the dog emerged a youth in unlaced boots. I started towards them, the dog still barking, and started to explain myself.
“Hey man my friend and I were down in that field over there and got stuck.”
“How’d you get down there?”
“That dirt road over there.”
“What are you doing down there?”
“Taking pictures,” incredulously. “What of? Mud?”
“The land, trees, the sky, sunset, the marsh.”
“You know I went to jail two weeks ago from people like you?” I didn't know that, and I began to seriously re-consider the decision to have approached the house.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. So any chance you could pull us out of there?”
“No. Call a god damned tow-truck. And stay off my property.”
“Say, you know any of your neighbors? Any of them maybe pull us out?”
“Yeah, try it. My grandma’s up there and my parents are over there.”
“Ok, real sorry to bother you.”
I walked away, seething, plotting to throw a brick through his window one dark night when the car wasn’t stuck and maybe I was drunker.
Jake and I convened. He didn’t have a map in his car, like I said, so I called Pace. Neither of us had really been paying attention during the drive. It was the most aimless motion, on and on towards what we didn’t know.
“Pace, are you by a computer… Can you please google what’s the road between Dayton and Salem… Jake got his car stuck but we don’t know where we are and we need to call a tow truck, but we have to be able to tell them where we are.”
She offered to come get me, and I accepted. I had all my stuff on me, ready to start walking. I was still on the phone with her when a full size pickup roared into the flat upper part of the dirt road Jake had driven down. It was a reckless entry.
The truck skid stopped in front of us and the driver had his window down and his wife sitting shotgun.
“Now I am TICKED off.”
“What the HECK are you guys doing out here?” We were taking pictures and got stuck in the mud.
The dad did all the talking and his wife sat there quietly. I’m not sure if she had her hands in her lap or not, but I bet she did. I thought she maybe went along to make sure the dad didn’t kick our asses or something, to keep his temper in check. If he was anything like his son he was a real asshole.
And he did talk. He told us much more than he should have, much more than he should have to some weird city folk strangers. Apparently they’d had thirty thousand dollars of farm equipment stolen, and a few weeks later three pickups had driven down where we were stuck, and as they were pulling up and out, the son had seen them, and in his underpants and flipflops he had taken chase in his own pickup. And thirty miles down the road, a sheriff had pulled the son over and charged him with menacing, or something like that, and it was his word versus theirs, and he spent the night in jail. So my opinion of the son went from asshole to unstable insane menacing asshole in those moments. Eventually, dad quit with his diatribe about why we shouldn’t have been down there, but he realized that we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and that we didn’t mean any harm. “I can tell just by looking that you guys are okay,” he said.
As soon as he took a breath I asked if he’d pull us out, and he said sure. He went to one of his barns to get a chain. We walked down the little road, and in the dark, I realized how steep and slick it was. It was covered in wet leaves, and underneath it felt like bare mud.
Jake and I waited down there for a long time. I had finished the whisky in frustration, and he asked for some. It was out and he cursed me. He was driving though and it was for his own good. “You drank some whisky,” he said. We sat on his hood. After a while, I thought to try a night photograph, and calculated that I should hold the shutter for sixty seconds. I got out my cell phone and queued up the stop-watch function. I hit the shutter and the phone, but after six seconds my finger slipped off the camera. It was getting very dark and we waited for a long time. I was trying to reload some film, when I realized that it was pitch black and I was feeling a little drunk. Two sets of headlights started down the hill and I abandoned my effort and tried to play it cool. No technical difficulties here, please keep it moving. From the pickup, in front, the dad said “I don’t mean to start any trouble, I just brought him down to show that we have people coming down here and it is a problem.” “Is that the police?” I asked, putting the emphasis on PO. He said yes and put the pickup in park. I didn’t really sober up any at this notice. The son and the lab had joined his parents, the son in rubber boots now.
The sheriff took my information and made sure there weren’t any warrants out on me. As they were getting the car rigged up for the tow, I chatted up the sheriff, joking about the underpants menacing son story. The sheriff was affable and took the attitude that these land owners were a little crazy, but they were the customers. He didn’t castigate me when I pondered how funny it was when they brought in the kid in his underpants to the station, or wherever. He chuckled and said it was one of his co-workers. I tried to get the sheriff onto my side, but he remained an agent of control and non-partisanship.
Eventually Jake got his car out. The process of towing the car out had splattered a ton of mud on his windshield. He didn’t have washer fluid in the tank, so I took a shirt from his trunk and soaked it in a mud puddle and tried washing the windshield off that way. It didn’t really work. The sheriff took Jake’s info as well, and then took the dad aside and figured out what to do. They were alone and hushed for a minute or two longer than made me comfortable, but I reasoned that the dad was just trying to show that his son wasn’t a gnarly insanity menace. Now I don’t see that his case was really helped—Jake and I couldn’t have been more innocent and non-threatening, other than my half drunk behavior and salty breath. They came back without any real news. The sheriff gathered everyone around to settle the score. The lab was leaning on my legs and I pet him and gave him all my love and he took it. The dog was fat and his hair felt coarse and oily. The sheriff detailed what roads were public and which were private, and told us to get permission if we saw any private roads that looked promising.
“Okay, start up that hill and don’t stop once you’ve started.” The ascent was pretty sketchy. Jake had it in second, and I told him to floor it on the approach. His clutch is burned out and his tires are bald so we had a time getting up the hill. He had to downshift into first about two thirds up the hill and we didn’t have any traction. The car was swaying to and fro, but we made it. The land-owners were up top, pulled over. We sped past them and I hung out the window and apologized and thanked them again.
Then Jake and I got some cheeseburgers in Newburg, and I annoyingly asked a patron sitting at the bar if Newberg residents were called Newbergers. He wasn’t impressed. It was Sunday night and the Steelers were playing the Patriots on NBC Sunday Night Football.