One of my most favorite stories when I owned my own newspaper in the Rim communities came from my friend Pete Shaw. I am so grateful that somehow I still have a lot of those wonderful stories and this one in particular. It’s called “Vacation” and you’ll love it and be able to relate to it all at the same time. Get ready to laugh….a lot!

“I bought a tent trailer this summer. These new-fangled devices are advertised as a miracle of technology. They fold down almost to suitcase size and are spring-loaded to suddenly expand into a room at the Ritz. Whatever happened to truth in advertising laws?

Anyway, we set out with high hopes for our week at the beach on Friday morning. Our son’s two friends safely buckled into the seats. As we swung around the corner we waved goodbye to friends and neighbors.

Three minutes later, just past Chateau Pines restaurant, I realized we had a problem; our trailer was attempting to pass our vehicle. It was frantically swerving from side-to-side. “What’s that? I hear  something strange,” my wife remarked. this reaction was comparable to standing on the deck of the Titanic and quietly exclaiming,”What’s that odd scraping sound, dear!?

My first reaction was to hit the brakes. The result was that the trailer slid under the rear of the Toyota and inbedded itself solidly in place. We came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the highway on the end of a rather dangerous curve.

My first initial reaction was to simply walk into the forest t0 avoid the ensuing embarrassment and humiliation but that would be a particularly spineless act with my wife, child and his friends sitting in frozen posture in the car in the middle of the highway.

As I emerged from the vehicle, cars swerved madly to avoid us, their drivers and passengers yelling and gesturing as they passed.

I was a man in real conflict. One one hand I hoped that no one would recognize me and I pulled my baseball cap down to my ears and adjusted my dark glasses in an attempt to become unrecognizable. On the other hand I needed help!

Luckily Dave Featherstone and Jeff Hubbard stopped to assist me in my dark hour of need. Dave explained that I had not successfully put the hitch fully over the ball and locked it into place. That certainly seemed simple enough. How could I have failed in such a simple task?

I climbed back into the car and tried to reassure the passengers  that all was well, safe and secure. This attempt to exude confidence came from a man who had recently claimed to fix a blow dryer only to plug it in and have it pop and throw a flame that ignited the chest of his T-shirt. Needless to say my credibility was still at a rather low point.

A glance in the rear view mirror showed three pale young faces siting quite erect, wide-eyed and white-knuckled.

For the next four hours our conversation consisted of five words; “What was that noise? and the reply….”Relax!”

We finally arrived at El Capitan State Beach campground. Families were returning from a day at the beach as we pulled in.

In order to fit into space No. 17 it required that I back the trailer up and thread it into the eye of a needle of a small parking area. It was going to be simple because the salesman had told me it was as easy as pushing a baby carriage.

I shifted into reverse and started backing up. The trailer began to lurch back and forth left and right. My attempts to correct and over-correct resulted in invasions into campsites. Campers scrambled to save aluminum chairs, hibachis, and ice chests as the madman in the Toyota attempted to gain control. Again, I searched for a forest to disappear into but there was only low underbrush in the area. All other occupants of the vehicle had slid below the window levels of the car.

The disastrous beginning of our trip was somewhat ameliorated by the discovery by the discovery that we had picked a glorious campsite. Beautiful fragrant blooming bushes surrounded us and a perfect site for the boy’s tent was discovered in the underbrush. Odd that the other campers had not realized how ideal a spot they had overlooked. Camping Rule No. 1: Always be suspicious of a choice campsite that is rejected by others in a full campground.

By the next morning lines of a poison oak rash began to spread down my arm and between my fingers. The blossoming bushes opened in the morning sun and thousands of bees descended upon them in a gluttonous frenzy of pollen gathering and became very irritated with ignorant humans who had the audacity to invade their nectar paradise.

Throughout the night we were convinced that we would be pulverized by the Amtrak trains that we were sure were thundering through the rear of our trailer.

Sleeping became a nightmare. At some point in the wee hours of the morning I fired up Coleman lantern. I looked about for something to read and could only find one of those gothic romantic nvels I so mercifully kidded my wife about. “How can you spend hours of your time reading that stuff: what a waste.” You know, the ones that have the bursting bodices. Three hours later I was hooked. “Would Galina Borshinskey, that half-Russian gypsy Jezebel, lure shy Mr. Hope-Brown, the vicar’s young assistant, into her web of seduction?” Only a few more pages would tell. The Coleman lantern sputtered, flickered and died. In my obsessive state I groveled for a flashlight. thank goodness I had bought new Duracell batteries; surely that would last at least a hundred more pages.

At 5:03 a.m., the batteries died. Mr. Hope-Brown had fallen and the sun started up.

Six more days, 20 more Duracell’s later we prepared to leave.We had hobbled around on sunburned feet, collected enough oil and beach tar to save our driveway, used showers and bathrooms that I was convinced were breeding grounds for every bacteria that carried dreaded communicable diseases known to mankind, had been thoroughly thrashed by a 12year-ld in our Hearts Tournament and almost perished in an attempt to close up our trailer.

Our fellow campers cheered as we left and drove out. My sunburned head glowed, a few pieces of canvas fluttered from the sides of the foolproof foldup, another poison oak blister popped but we were headed home.

We collapsed into our beds four hours later and we fell into a deep slumber, uninterrupted by the Super Chief.

The next morning I walked down the driveway to pick up my paper. My neighbor pulled out and rolled down her window. “How was your vacation?” “Just great,” I replied. After she drove off I looked skyward and asked for forgiveness; Dagwood Bumstead had fibbed again!






2 thoughts on “

  1. Mitchell Untch

    Dear Joan.

    My name is Mitchell Untch. I am the youngest brother of Steve Untch. I recently came across the article “Always Hungry” that was written about Steve by you back in July 2014, a reprint of an earlier article that was originally written in 1989.

    I have a binder of slides that Steve took on his mountain climbing travels and would like to share them with you, perhaps even venture into publication of some of them. I want this for him.

    Steve was a wonderful brother and a truly good guy. Because he was forced by my stepmother to leave our home when we were growing up, I missed out on a lot of his life, a loss I have to live with for the rest of my life. I’ll never know the man he was, and in my mind, still is.

    My hope is that this comment will reach your eyes and that you will contact me. Please do.
    My e-mail address is Jaenote@roadrunner,com. If anyone else reads this post and knew of Steve, please contact me. I would love to hear from you.

    Thank you, Joan, for the article about Steve and for your passionate writing. Your words touched me.

    Mitchell Untch
    8550 Holloway Drive, Unit 201
    Los Angeles, CA 90069

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