I had intended this to be an entertaining and informative recap of my weekend adventures in Hagerstown, MD where I was fortunate enough to participate in “Once Upon a Time in Tombstone,” a weekend-long live action roleplaying game set in the wild American West. However, to quote Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, “This is not the comedy we intended to do when the week began.”
No, that tale shall have to wait. Instead, I present the unexpectedly harrowing and accidentally epic story of how I and my boon companion and federal crime-fighter (hereafter referred to as Federal Crime-Fighter) traveled back and forth across the Eastern Seaboard in four different cars and countless different states. No human beings were harmed, injured, or oppressed during the making of this adventure. Sadly, the same cannot be said about cars.
The trip began innocently enough. My good friend the Federal Crime-Fighter suggested that we travel to the game together. She lives in Connecticut, which – I am reliably informed – is closer to Maryland than my own beloved Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so I piled myself and an inordinate amount of Western-style clothing into my faithful author-mobile and trucked on down to meet her at her Crime-Fighting Cave. We put my inordinate pile of Western-style clothing on top of her pile, clambered into her faithful crime-fighting-mobile and we were off. (Noted for the record, the faithful crime-fighting-mobile is her off duty car and not an Official Government Vehicle. Had an actual Official Government Vehicle been used, things might have been much, much more complicated.) For the first several hours of our trip, all went well. The conversation was agreeable and occasionally witty; the traffic was relatively light and so were our hearts and minds.
We decided to take a short rest break in Berndardsville, NJ. The town was chosen because my good friend the Federal Crime-Fighter (hereafter referred to as The Fed, because this is just getting way too long) has relatives nearby. It turns out that I do too, but that isn't relevant to the story, merely a point of trivial interest for the hard-core Andy Kirschbaum fans out there. We were cruising along Rte. 202 in Bernardsville at a comfortable clip when things went downhill rapidly. I shall not relate the details of The Incident; suffice to say that it was brief, highly impact-full, and turned the crime-fighting-mobile from a well-maintained, finely-tuned engine of cross-continental travel into a decoratively-crumpled Go-Kart inclined to fly apart in a stiff breeze or at the first indications of a sharp left turn. I hasten once again to assure you, Dear Reader, that no human beings were harmed, injured, or oppressed during The Incident. We were, however, mildly surprised to find ourselves standing on the side of Rte. 202 in Bernardsville, NJ awaiting the arrival of the local authorities. The nice lady driving what we shall call, for technical purposes, The Other Car was quite friendly and helpful as we exchanged pleasantries and vital statistics.
In short order, Officer Friendly of the Bernardsville, NJ police department showed up. Now, I will admit that I have been known to apply the occasional sarcastic nickname to the people I encounter in my travels, but absolutely no sarcasm is intended in this case. Officer Friendly of the Bernardsville, NJ police department was efficient, polite, helpful, and – yes, friendly. Based on the reactions, attitudes, and sudden swooning from every female in the immediate vicinity, I also gathered that Officer Friendly was quite the hunk. I often miss small details like this. As an author and literary specialist, it is possible that my mind is too keenly focused to notice such things. Another small detail that had escaped my keen literary notice was pointed out by Officer Friendly when he examined my ID. Apparently, my license to operate a motor vehicle had expired slightly over a month ago. Yes, Dear Reader, it was shaping up to be One of Those Trips.
After everything was as sorted out as it was likely to get, Officer Friendly bid us and the lady in The Other Car a fond farewell and we GPSed up the location of the nearest Insurance-Approved body shop. We found one that was supposedly a mere 11 miles away, as the crow flies. How, we wondered, did people do this before Smart Phones and GPS devices? We limped the poor wounded crime-fighting-mobile to the aforementioned Insurance-Approved body shop. And believe me when I tell you this was a harrowing and hazard-light filled trip. The supposedly mere 11 mile trip turned out to include a stint on the highway and far more than 11 miles on twisty back roads. Both of us held our breath and sat quite still, fearing any excess movement might cause our vehicle to explode apart into chrome and tinsel. It didn't. After turning around and backtracking once or twice (the GPS may well have known where it was going, but we didn't) we safely arrived at the body shop.
Paperwork was filled out and heels were cooled while we waited for the nice people from the not-so-nearby rental car company to come and get us. We were instructed, warned, and admonished not to forget anything in the car when we left. We politely tolerated these thoughtful words. Surely we would not be so foolish as to leave anything behind? Surely not. (Note for the record, this confidence will come back to bite us in a future episode of this very blog.) Eventually, the nice people from the not-so-nearby rental car company arrive with our car. They assure us, that this was the only available car and if we truly wanted to make it to Maryland tonight, this was our only way.
Believe me Dear Reader when I tell you that this 'car' was one good meal away from being a school bus. If we could have lifted it, we could have easily tucked the original crime-fighting-mobile inside and still had room for both passengers, all of our piles of inordinate Western-style clothing and perhaps a mid-sized nuclear family in the back seat. I'm saying this car was big. But it was also the only car available. Also, because of my embarrassing license situation, the Fed was the only driver available. Given our options, we took the car and returned to our journey. And so it came to pass, a mere 4 hours after we stopped off the road for a quick rest stop and sanitary break, we finally made it back onto the road and continued our trip, somewhat worse for the wear.
A few blessedly uneventful hours later, we approach our destination. The Fed asks me to call a soon-to-be local costume shop to see if they will be open tomorrow (Saturday) morning so she can pick up a wig for her costume. She knows the name of the store she's looking for and with a little bit of Web-Fu, I manage to track down a phone number. We once again wonder how these things were done in the days before Smart Phones and GPS devices. I call the number and a pleasant-sounding gentleman answers the phone, but not with the name of the costume store I thought I was calling. I ask if I have reached the number to whom I am speaking. I am informed that I have. I ask about their Saturday morning hours. I am informed that the costume store has gone out of business. I am sympathetic, but ask if there is another local store where I might be able to get a wig tomorrow morning. The gentleman asks me if I am looking for a wig for my wife. I respond that the wig is for a lady. This is, apparently insufficient information, so the gentleman once again asks – as if, perhaps, he had misheard me – “Is this wig for your wife?” I glance over at my good friend the Federal Crime-Fighter and decide that some battles are simply not worth fighting over the phone. “Yes,” I reply. “Yes, it is.”
With the honor of the wig business upheld, the gentleman gave me the address of another costume shop and we were able to arrive at the hotel without further comedy. Even though the game had already begun by the time we dragged ourselves down, several friends broke character to wish us well and greet us. I amiably explained, that my horse had broken down outside of town and we had to get a replacement rental horse. The Fed explained, to those who asked, that "there was a problem with the wagon," and that some complicated repairs were necessary outside of town, and that at least no one died of dysentery, and that hopefully, soon enough, all would be well to raft down the Dalles. The Fed it seems is a big fan of “Oregon Trail.” Eventually, the two of us got into costume and into character and managed to have a lovely evening in Tombstone of the 1880's. The next morning, while I got into a showdown with my coffee, the Fed went off to trade in our enormous rental bus for something smaller (and cheaper!) and purchase the aforementioned wig of honor. I am pleased to report that she was successful in both endeavors.
Stay tuned to this web page for the game report and the (much less exciting) story of our return trip (and my adventures at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles...)
October 13th, 2011
Chelmsford, MA (and various points South)