It was a very hot day. I came to an overpass. There was no service station. I walked up the ramp to the road. Walking north I came to a modern split level house. There were at least three cars parked onthe grass in front. A mongrel dog loped up to me, and instead of ripping my throat out, expected to be petted. I rang the bell. Nothing happened. I rang it a second time. Nothing happened. I knocked on the door. Nothing happened. I looked at the three cars. They were all licensed. I was suddenly struck with the paranoid thought that the entire family was cowering inside with cocked assault rifles aimed at me, assuming I was the anti-Christ, or a member of the government. That fantastic supposition was followed by a more macabre one. I pictured the entire family lying dead inside, having been murdered by some modern incarnation of Charles Starkweather, and that the police would find my DNA from petting the dog, and railroad me into the gas chamber, or whatever humane method of execution they use in Iowa.
I hastily wiped my fingerprint off the doorbell, said goodbye to the dog and went back from the way I came. I crossed over the overpass and walked to another house. It looked fairly new. Looking through the un-curtained windows it obviously had never been lived in. A lawn had been planted but had baked away. I felt like I had stumbled on a very strange place. A place where I was not supposed to be. I hot footed it back to the freeway and again started walking west. I had no idea how far it would be to a phone. After I'd walked less than a mile a biker on a Harley pulled over and offered me a lift. He was a Viet Nam vet on his way to Sturgis. He wore no helmet or shirt. He did have on the remains of a denim jacket with the sleeves ripped off. On one arm was a faded tatoo that said Semper Fi in script. I climbed on in back of him and grabbed hand holds beside my seat. The twenty minute high speed ride was merely terrifying. My un-helmeted head was filled with a recurrent vision of a crash followed by my mangled body lying lifeless in the weeds beside the road. Just me, dead among the empty bottles and other trash. The biker dropped me off at service station. For the second day in a row I called the truck company. After a while, around 1:00 PM, a red pick-up truck pulled up and the driver asked me to hop in. He was a cheerful man named Jim with sandy colored hair and workingman's hands. We drove back to the dead truck. I was pleased to see that it was still there and it didn't have a ticket on it. It took some searching, but we finally found the driveline a few hundred yards behind it. The four-foot length of five inch rolled steel had hit the pavement so hard it was bent at a right angle. The loud bang I'd heard was the universal joint exploding. The thumping noise was the bent driveline repeatedly hitting the underside of the truck. That noise had suddenly stopped when it had completely broken loose and fell to the pavement. We took the driveline, left the rest of the truck where it was and drove into Iowa City. Jim gave me a card with the address of his shop. He said he'd arrange for the truck to be towed there and for me to check in later. He said there would be no need to unload the truck to repair it. That made me happy. He dropped me in town at the only espresso cafe within a hundred miles. It had a 1940's phone booth with a phone inside that customers could use for free. It came in handy. After seeing the sights I called Jim and was told they had the truck in the shop and were working on it. A new driveline had to be custom built in Rapid City. It would take a day or two. The underside of the truck also had to be repaired. The muffler had a huge hole in it and the gas tank had suffered a fearful beating. He told me I was lucky to be alive. If the swinging driveline had been breached gas tank a huge explosion would have probably resulted and I would have ended my trip right there in a huge fireball. “Top of the world, Ma” I thought after I'd hung up. The truck rental company was fine with repairing the truck. They didn't think a driveline breaking was out of the ordinary. There was no offer of a new truck to replace the damaged one and speed me along. They refused to pay for my lodging or meals. My budget hadn't included extra nights in Iowa City. In addition to a couple of hundred dollars on me I had ninety-three dollars in my checking account. I figured I would need all of it, but that an ATM would only give me eighty. Luckily for me the ATM I found in Iowa City, unlike those in the Naked City, did not limit withdrawals to twenties, or tens, or even fives. It gave me all ninety-three dollars. Four twenties, a ten and three ones. I found a cheap motel not far from the coffee shop. The only drawback was several bikers staying there on their way to Sturgis. Some of them were early risers. They were also in no hurry. They would fire up their bikes and then idle, rev, idle, rev, for half hour before roaring off. Not all of them arose at the same hour. The noise was continuous from 5:00 am till 9:00. Still, the two nights in the motel were a welcomed rest. On my second day in Iowa City I decided to see a movie. At a downtown multiplex there wasn't much to pick from. I decided on Eyes Wide Shut. I liked Stanley Kubrick films. I assumed this one would also be extra long and would take up most of the afternoon. I didn't stay to the end. While sitting in the air conditioned darkness it struck me that I really didn't care what happened to anyone on the screen. I walked out. The ticket taker asked me if I was coming back. He said “There's only ten minutes left.” That was fine with me. It was beautiful day outside. I spent the rest of it by taking the long walk to the shop, eating a leisurely dinner, and watching TV in my room until bedtime. I didn't find a movie worth watching. The motel cable package didn't include TCM. On the third day in Iowa City the new driveline arrived and by three in the afternoon I was ready to go. The truck seemed just the same as before, sluggish, but willing. I pushed on that night until I got to Council Bluffs. It was after midnight when I pulled into a motel in a bad part of town. I was on the truck bypass route. It advertised hourly rates. The desk clerk didn't ask for ID and I resisted renting any of the porno tapes prominently displayed behind the counter. My room was on the ground floor facing the street. I parked directly in front of the door. Once inside I surveyed the place. The shower looked like something out of a Roger Corman horror flick and the sheets didn't look like they'd been changed anytime recently. I slept like a log and pushed off early the next morning.
I decided to cross the Rockies in Montana. I didn't base that on any real data. I just decided that it was the most direct route and hoped the truck would make it. If it didn't, I'd have more time to deal with the problem. I drove north to South Dakota and headed west at Sioux Falls. I sailed past Rapid City and stopped for dinner in Sturgis. There were hundreds of bikers there. I didn't see the gentleman who aided me in Iowa. At nine that night I was in Gillette, Wyo. I decided I'd pushed my luck enough for the day. I wasted some time trying to find a place that sold beer to go. Strange liquor laws there. I found a motel called The Mustang. It had a spectacular multi-color neon sign of a rider on a bucking bronco. It also had a vacancy. It was perfect. Gillette in the morning had a raw, high desert sort of feel. The wind was blowing with a lot of dust and grit in it. It was cold. The rising sun cast long shadows. From there to the Divide it's almost all up hill. Driving west I passed through the Big Horn and Shoshone ranges before hitting the divide between Bozeman and Butte. The higher the elevation, the slower I got. By the time I made it over the top I was down to ten miles per hour. On the other side was no picnic either. I had to worry about staying off my brakes so I wouldn't burn them out. I rolled into Spokane at 10:00 PM and looked for a motel. It had been a nerve wracking and exhausting day. Everything was full up. I pushed on to Ritzville. Not a vacancy there either. I turned south at midnight and headed for Pasco. I was mostly alone on the road and very tired. I came to roadwork signs. The speed limit dropped to forty. Looming in the darkness on the roadside was hulking heavy machinery. When I got to the "End of Road Work" sign I stepped on the gas. Big mistake. My right front tire dropped off the lip edge of the new pavement. That side of rig was now on sand and pulling me strongly toward the ditch. I pulled on the steering wheel without braking. The truck started to teeter from side to side. The front of the truck slowly came around and then hit the lip in the road a second time and pulled again to the right. Still teetering back and forth I fought the wheel. I worried that when getting back on the highway I might over correct and shoot across into oncoming traffic. I gave the wheel a jerk and all of sudden the truck hit a bump and seemed to lift into the air. When it came down I was still upright, going straight ahead, and again on solid pavement. The swaying side to side settled down. I decided right then that I would stop in the next town and sleep in the cab if I had to. At 2:00 am I came to the town of Connell. It was the site of a state prison. I suppose the motels were there to house people visiting their incarcerated loved ones. Thank God For Crime!
I safely parked in the near empty lot of a multi story, brand new motel. My ringing the buzzer aroused a sleepy clerk. My room was clean, comfortable and cheap. It included continental breakfast in the morning. The next day a short nervous drive got me to the Columbia River. I crossed at Umatilla before nine AM. I was happy to be in Oregon. It was a beautiful sunny day. Mount Hood coming into view was a delight. Multnomah Falls passing on my left was wonderful. I drove straight to the front door of the Clinton St. Theater, arriving at 2:00 PM on the eighth of August. My journey and safe arrival would insure that the historic theater, built in 1914, would not close.
Post Script In 2007 I moved my film archive to Marylhurst University. Part of the deal for the University giving me a home for my films was that I would curate a film festival on campus to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Oregon in 2009. The festival started on May first and ran for ten days. A 35mm projection booth was installed on campus. Highlights of the festival included personal appearances of the directors James Ivory, Gus Van Sant, Chris Eyre, and Bill Plympton. Among the films shown, all in 35mm, were Marked Woman (1937), Shakespeare Wallah (1965), Smoke Signals (1998) and City Girl (1930).