If Avis had a problem with me driving their Kia Rio, the valiant and trustworthy steed I’d come to know as the Mountain Bluebird, all over the face of the land, I didn’t want to know about it until I’d brought it back. By now I’d put over four thousand miles on it and figured I should probably change the oil sometime soon but didn’t want to pull into one of their service stations and be prohibited from taking it any further. I resolved to take a day in Duluth and get it done on my own, keeping the receipt to prove I hadn’t overlooked it, but not planning to present it unless they called me on it.
Back in the day, I’d spent whole blocks of time slumming in a Motel 6 on the San Ysidro border at Tijuana. If I remember rightly, a room could be had for fifty dollars a night, which was still a lot, but seemed somehow possible. By now, however, there were almost no rooms for that price anywhere in the States. Did they think you were making a down payment on the room in the hope of one day owning it?
The Motel 6 I pulled over at in Duluth wanted nearly a hundred dollars a night. That gave me a long pause, but I was so exhausted I caved and just paid. One incentive was the gas station next door that had a deal on oil changes. I figured I’d get up first thing in the morning and drive the Kia over.
Duluth is a unique place, a harbor city on Lake Superior. The only time I’d been there before it had been ridiculously cold, a gray ice sculpture of a place where you need to run from your car to get inside before you freeze to death. By the end of September, it wasn’t there yet, but still gave me flashbacks to the ten years I’d spent in Minnesota, in three distinct phases, and the final, fateful breakdown that had driven me back out West for good.
For nearly a hundred dollars, my room wasn’t much to look at. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the DEA or a SWAT team had kicked my door in at any minute. I was used to the surroundings, but not used to paying so much for them. Some guy was parked right outside my window, with his radio cranked up all the way. There would’ve been big trouble if that continued, but after a while his engine roared to life and then it quieted down. Later, I went over to the Burger King. The dining room was closed but they let me walk through the drive through. For the day I was having, that was just perfect.
In the morning, I got up and drove straight over to the garage to get my oil changed. They let me know that the Kia used synthetic oil that only needed to be changed every seven thousand miles. I told them to go ahead and change it anyway. The price went from forty dollars to ninety dollars. At least I now knew my parameters.
When the car was finished, I drove it back to the room, determined to get the very last minute out of it, then checked out and drove out to the Point, passing the Aerial Bridge and finding a park on the north shore of the lake, where I could sit for a moment and try to get my bearings. There was a bench beneath a pine tree. Small waves were crossing the surface of the lake and slapping the shore.
It was a perfect day. How many of those had there been? Almost every day had been perfect, not only the weather, but everything that had happened, the way things had all unfolded. Why did life never feel like that? Only my travels. I’ve learned not to question good times too much, however. Celebrate then wait. They can sure turn fast.
A cool breeze came off the lake. The small waves continued to slap against the shore in a rhythmic pattern. A seaplane flew overhead, with floats where there might’ve been wheels. It circled and returned, either practicing or contemplating a landing. Here it came again, this time touching down, skimming the surface of the lake, and making that landing. That had been good timing.
Two men were getting ready to take a sailboat out. The younger one was the expert, giving all the directions. Across the bay, some church bells began tolling. Then the whistle of a train cried out. I closed my eyes and could see the plane, the way it had touched down on the lake. I played it over and over, three or four times. Every time the church bells rang, I saw the plane land. Then they stopped and the train screeched again.
The two men were putting their sailboat into the lake. The name of the boat was the Deedle Bug. It was written on the side. Why not? The Deedle Bug. Once it got cold, it might be seven months before they got the chance to take it out again. If they were hoping to sail, it was the right day to do it.