If you're just joining us, please go back to the previous post titled Christmas Tripping Part Two. Or don't. It's up to you. Part One is totally unrelated, but if you don't read Part Two, don't blame me if you get confused.
Two days before Christmas 2004, my sister pulled into our driveway in her minivan, already packed nearly to the roof with luggage, gifts, a pair of kids and a small dog. We eyed our own pile of luggage and gifts. Eyed the minivan. Unpacked a few things. Rearranged and re-packed. Eyed the stack of stuff that still wouldn't fit. Repeated the process. Finally, everything was loaded. Every inch of available space was in use, except for the four bucket seats and an eighteen inch wide space on the far rear seat.
My sister strapped the kids into their car seats, then clambered over a suitcase, a cooler full of snacks and a portable video player and crammed herself into the crevice on the rear seat, between two stacks of Christmas gifts. Greg climbed behind the wheel and I rode shotgun. We could just see each other over the pile of stuff between the front seats. But we were all in, with not a sliver of space to spare.
A quarter of a mile down our gravel road my husband happened to glance in the rearview mirror. The dog was running along behind.
We remedied that small oversight and hit the highway. The first three hours flew past on bare, dry, relatively uncrowded roads. Greg pulled into a convenience store on the southwest side of Spokane for a potty and Pepsi break. While my sister was extricating herself from the rear, Greg helped my nephew out of his car seat. He pushed a big red button that looked like it should release the chest strap. The button exploded. Pieces of plastic innards and a pair of springs disappeared into the mounds of stuff wedged into the van.
"That wasn't the right button," my sister said.
We started digging. Forty-five minutes later we had located four of the five parts. Greg jimmied a piece of wire into the remaining gap and we determined that the car seat straps were secure, although the tray table on the front was no longer quite level. Everyone performed the necessary fluid drainage and replenishment functions and we were once again on the road. We even remembered the dog.
The delay, however, was costly. We were now in the dead center of evening rush hour on Interstate 90 through Spokane. (Go ahead and laugh, those of you who live in places like L.A. and Atlanta. This is big stuff to us country folk.)
There is highway construction on I-90 in Spokane. Always. When they get to the end, they just pack up, move to the other side of town and start over. At this particular time, they were adding additional lanes on the east side. Traffic began to thicken and slow at the Division Street exit into downtown Spokane. The farther we went east, the slower we went, until we barely crawling.
Then we came to a complete stop, about a mile shy of the Argonne exit. And we sat. And sat. And sat some more. Obviously, this was no ordinary traffic jam. There must be an accident ahead. Greg leaned out the window as far as he dared and determined that yes, there were flashing lights in the distance.
We sat for a while longer.
An hour after we entered the Spokane city limits, we began to crawl forward. A row of emergency flares and a highway patrolman funneled us all into the right hand lane. We wondered if we should cover the kids' eyes, in case the accident was really horrible. Finally, we got to the scene of the crash.
Except it wasn't a crash, exactly. A belly dump eighteen wheeler gravel truck was parked in the middle lane, hazard lights flashing. The driver stood beside it, head hanging, as a backhoe scooped up mounds of gravel from the lane behind him. He had somehow dumped his entire load in the middle of the interstate, single-handedly shutting down half of Spokane.
As we idled past him, Greg shook his head. "And I thought I felt stupid for hitting the wrong button."
Why yes, there is a Part Four. Stop by tomorrow. It's downhill from here...