Long-term readers with good memories may recall that last time we tried to visit Donn’s family in Southern California, in June, our car broke down. Since then, we have been experiencing the joy of one car with 2 adults who are often headed in different directions, and 3 teens to boot. And before you pull out your cracks about “would you like cheese with that whine?” and mutter about first-world problems, I will state that I agree—this is a first-world problem. However, the first world does not offer the transportation solutions that developing countries have. In a word, taxis.

I miss taxis, living in the suburbs like I do now. Oh how I miss them. As a rich American in Mauritania and Morocco, I had no problem affording first-class transportation. In Nouakchott, it costs me 80 cents to ride in solitary grandeur all the way across town. In Rabat, I would walk from my apartment door about a block down, where I would wait and flag a small blue taxi. I could get downtown for $1, across town for $2.50. Now, I have to walk a mile to the nearest bus, which is fine, except that the bus in question doesn’t actually go anywhere I need to go.

We needed a second car, and Donn found one on eBay that he really liked. I was skeptical. I mean, who buys a car on eBay? Apparently we do. He researched it and read all the seller’s reviews and bid and waited till the last minute and won. And so we became the proud owners of a brand spanking-new ’83 volvo. Er, not a typo. But this is not any ’83 Volvo—this one was owned by a little old lady in Pasadena who kept it in her garage and only drove in on Sundays. I’m not making this up. It only has 77,000 miles on it, and the inside is cleaner than most cars that are over a month old. Donn is in love. That first coffee spill is going to break his heart.

Since the LOL (little old lady. What did you think it meant?) was in, well not exactly Pasadena but near it, Donn used some miles we had from our globe-trotting days and flew down to pick it up. He broke the journey home by visiting a friend in Santa Cruz. And it was on a frigid morning in California when he flicked on the rear defroster, not knowing about the weird little electrical glitch that would cause it to not cycle off. Suddenly, the rear window exploded! It broke into thousands of tiny shards all of which were still attached. As Donn drove back to the friend’s house, every time he went over a little bump, a small section of the window would fall out. I know it is wrong to laugh, but the mental image this conveys cracks me up.

The complication was that, apparently they no longer make parts for ’83 Volvos. Who knew? I would have thought that would be a hot commodity, but no. He was able to get an after-market window that fit, but it meant he stayed in Santa Cruz an extra 5 days, thanks to this happening on a Friday. And by the way, our mechanic said that was a fluke and it’s an excellent car.

He got home late on Wednesday night after driving 14 hours that day, ready to relax and try to see all our Iraqi friends and do Christmas activities with them before we left again for California on Monday, so that we could spend Christmas with his parents.

Donn’s dad had already arranged to rent us a car, figuring our ’87 Volvo (keep track here—this is not the new one, but the old black one) might not be super-reliable on a journey of 1000 miles that would begin with a single breakdown (this is called foreshadowing and is the mark of a real writer. Hemingway did it all the time). So on Sunday night, we drove out to the airport rent-a-car location to pick it up. As we pulled into the parking lot, the black Volvo sputtered and died.

Could it be out of gas? It was low…could the gauge be off? The guy behind the counter offered to loan us his gas can and almost immediately, it seemed, regretted it. Honestly, we were dressed nicely and using correct grammar and he hadn’t seen our car, but he kept stressing that it was HIS PERSONAL can and if we didn’t come back with it, we’d be ripping him off and not the gigantic soulless rent-a-car corporation. Um? We already told you we’d bring it back? It was a little comic how worried he was about it. As soon as we pulled back into the parking lot, he ran from behind the counter to the parking lot and asked for the can back. We pointed out that we’d like to empty it first. He agreed reluctantly.

How many people does it take to figure out how to pour gas from a can? In my experience, 4. I filled the role of calling Heather on the phone and telling her what was going on, since we’d planned to leave the black Volvo at their place since they live much closer to the airport. Donn, the owner of the gas can, and another random man who drove the airport shuttle, spent a very very long time figuring out how to attach the little nozzle. We still leaked gas all down the side of the car.

Sadly, the car was not out of gas. We risked our nice coats leaning perilously near to the engine. Donn thought he’d figured out the problem. I suspect I’m getting into too much detail here, so I will cut to the moment, at 2 a.m., when Heather and I were sitting chatting in the lights of their Christmas tree when Donn and Paul walked in and announced they had managed to get the car to their house. Donn’s favorite part of the evening was when they got the car going, drove it a block, swerved to the side of the road just as it died again, and had a policeman stop to find out why they were hot-wiring a car (they weren’t really) in a sketchy neighbourhood at 1 a.m. Donn had fun explaining that it was his own car. Again, let me emphasize how nicely he was dressed; dress pants and shoes, wool coat. Apparently location is everything when it comes to being suspicious.

And yes, Heather and Paul are the best friends ever. And no, you can’t have them.

We went to bed at 2:45 a.m. We’d planned to get up at 6 and leave by 7, but when we got home we went into all the kids’ rooms, turned on the light, found their alarm clocks, turned them off, and hoped they’d think it was a weird dream.

We still left by 9. Drove uneventfully for 2 days in a brand new Kia Optima which is very fancy. It even has cupholders! Arrived at the in-laws a little earlier than they were expecting us, where we are now. Merry Christmas to all! I’m hoping for a downright boring 2012.

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