Granddaughter Paris was about five feet tall and not yet a teenager, driving Emma, our good old camper-van, on a dirt road near Mendocino, California. I was in the passenger seat, happy and confident that she could handle the job, although Frances had already gotten out, having begged us to turn around when she first caught sight of the downward tilt of the bumpy rocky road, barely more than a double-rutted path, sprinkled by light rain the night before.
Paris had it in granny gear, but at 10 miles an hour we were still going too fast for the bumps. So she straightened out to her full length, hardly touching the seat, and pushed the brake and clutch pedals with all her might to bring us to a crawl. A few yards farther on, we began suspecting that this “road” was becoming a steep descent into a gravity well that Emma might not escape with only 2-wheel drive, no dualies and an un-limited-slip differential. I set the hand brake with a serious yank, and we left the engine idling as we got out to walk ahead and look. Our fears were well founded: before the road leveled off at the foot of the hill, the grade would become extreme. We turned and looked up in time to see Emma slowly beginning to move forward! Paris screamed and we both ran uphill to prevent a disaster. Maybe the brake cable was stretching slightly, or maybe the damp ground beneath the rear tires was slipping.
Suddenly a raggedy man appeared on the slope, a common type in Mendocino County. He began talking at this most unwelcome time, as I ascertained that Emma was slowing to a stop. The three of us fell into a conversation of sorts, barely holding my attention, standing in the tilted road, under a blue sky with a few puffy clouds drifting above and the misty Pacific Ocean rolling its thunder half a mile to the west. The man said, “You don’t read The San Francisco Chronicle.” I said, “I don’t read much printed news anymore, but when I did, I liked the Chronicle. And my wife found life-changing events and reviews in the pink pages, one of which led to our personal and musical growth with El Teatro Campesino.” He said, “You don’t want to read the Chronicle.” I said in a robot monotone, “You don’t know what I want.”
Frances got out of bed and I woke up.