The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Not A Holiday Inn

“Son, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’
if you don’t quit drivin’ that Hot Rod Lincoln.”

-- Bill Kirchen

Here’s one I think you’ll like.  It’s about this guy:

On any given day, anyone who wants to can go to Union Square and see Saravuth.  You will probably be asked to play chess, but believe me, it’s worth it to hear the story.  You can’t tell from the pictures, but Saravuth is quite diminutive.

There are six people in this story, and five of them aren’t me, so here’s a score card:

David: You’ve already met him in I Dream Of Men With Pink Hair:

(Scroll down past the entry about Philip, though that one is a good read as well).

Lola:  The best friend I mention in the entry about David.  Has a good heart, but prone to histrionics.  She went around the bend completely about a year after graduation when her mother died

Yarworth:  An extremely rich guy who thinks that every problem can be solved by throwing money at it.  He’s often right.

Sharon:  The vice-president of the forensics team and more than a little stupid.  She’s also hopelessly in crush with David, who may or may not know this depending on the combination of drugs he’s taken that day.

And, of course, the aforementioned Saravuth.

In October of 1986, the team was slated to compete in a tournament at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia at the first tournament of the 1986-87 season.  Because we couldn’t afford six airline tickets, we decided to rent a car.  The problem was, you needed to have a driver’s license (of course), a valid credit card, and be over 21.

David was 22, but had no driver’s license.  I had a license, but was only 19.  Sharon was 21, had a license, but no credit card.  Yarworth had maxed out his credit cards earlier that year.  The only member of the team who met all three of these criteria was Saravuth.

Saravuth proceeded to rent the absolutely ugliest car he could find—a 1980 wood-paneled station wagon, which we of course dubbed the Family Truckster.  On the Friday before the tournament, we piled our luggage and ourselves into the car and took off for Virginia.

Saravuth, of course, drove, as he was the one who had rented the car.

And so it started.

We were only about half an hour out when it became obvious to all of us that Saravuth had no driving skills at all.  He was all over the road, didn’t use his directionals when he turned or changed lanes, and was incapable of sticking to the speed limit.

Lola insisted we pull over at the next rest stop.  We did.

Lola took off for the bathroom, and I followed.  She then told me, tremulously, that a few months prior, she had been involved with a car accident and was now a bit skittish.  I assured her that if Saravuth’s driving didn’t improve, I would take over the wheel.

About five hours later, we arrived in Fairfax, Virginia, mostly unscathed.  Saravuth, Yarworth and Sharon stayed at the hotel, while David, Lola and I went in search of food.  Lucky me got to drive the Family Truckster so I could get used to it.

The minute we got in the car, David said; “Now that we’re alone, can we talk about how awful Saravuth’s driving is?”

Both Lola and I fell over ourselves in agreement, and I at once volunteered to drive the Family Truckster home at the end of the tournament.

The tournament itself was uneventful, as only David won anything, and at 9:00 on Monday morning we prepared to head back.  There was a grey, miserable looking sky.  We all got back in the car to schlep home.  Despite what David, Lola and I had decided, Saravuth once again captained the Family Truckster and we set off at a dangerous speed down the Interstate.  David sat up front, Lola, Sharon and I shared the middle bench, and Yarworth was positioned in the back, writing his will on the back of his ballots.

Of course, it began to rain.

Of course, Saravuth’s driving was even worse in inclimate weather.

And it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened.

As the rain got harder, Saravuth took more and more chances with the car (and, consequently, our lives) until he actually swerved over the yellow line and into oncoming traffic.  An 18-wheeler beared down on us, sounding its air-horn at top volume.  I screamed and threw my hands over my eyes.  Yarworth, who couldn’t see anything due to where he was sitting, also let loose with a shriek.  We ended up on the [wrong] side  of the road, amazingly unhurt (physically…mentally was another story).

“Jesus Christ, Saravuth!”  Lola screamed, as the Family Truckster came to a screeching halt on the gravel.

Saravuth said:  “Don’t worry…I’m driving.
“That’s exactly what I’m worried about!” Lola shrieked.

Inexplicitly, Saravuth advised:  “Go to sleep.”

Lola countered with: “Go to hell!”

We abandoned the car like it was on fire.  The sky opened up full throttle.  We almost had to shout to be heard over the torrential rain.  David tried to make peace by asking Saravuth if I could drive the next 50 miles.  Saravuth kept repeating; “No, no…she is not on my insurance.”

David sighed in slight annoyance and ran his hand through his pink hair.  “Saravuth, you are being such a jerk.”  This was the first time we had ever hear David say anything even remotely disparaging about anyone.  Saravuth made a frustrated face and came out with;

“This is so inconvenient for me.”

This is where Lola loses it.

“Dammit, David!” she hollered, “I am not going to risk my life to spare someone’s short, little Cambodian feelings!”

“Wow!”  I said, impressed.

Yarworth spoke up.  “How far are we from Dulles Airport?”

We all looked at each other.  “I’m not sure,” I said.  “Why?”

“I have enough money to fly us all back to New Jersey,” Yarworth said, way too calmly.

“David,” I urged, “let’s do that.”

“We can’t,” he said, sadly.  “We have no way of reimbursing Yarworth from the team’s budget—we’d bankrupt ourselves and not be able to compete anywhere for the rest of the year.”

“I don’t care!”  Lola yelled.

“Wait,” Sharon piped up, “what about the train?”

The five of us looked at each other with why-didn’t-I-think-of-that looks.

“I could go for that,” said David.

Of course, this was long before cell phones, so the first order of business was to find a way to get us off the side of the road and to a pay phone so we could call a cab.  Knowing that it was highly unlikely anyone would stop for us in the middle of the monsoon, David solved the problem by hurling himself into traffic.  Sure enough, that did the trick.

The young man who had nearly mowed down David was named Kirby, and by a happy accident of fortune, he was also a college student.  Naturally, he didn’t also have a Family Truckster, so he said that he could drive four of us back to his campus, where he would get his roommate to help with the driving.

Of course, that meant that one unlucky person would have to stay behind with Saravuth, who was now casually smoking by the car and looking irritated and, well, inconvenienced.

“Should we do rock, paper, scissors?” Sharon suggested.

“How about one-potato-two-potato?” Yarworth asked.

“No, let’s do odds-and-evens,” I said.  Lola was too furious to give us any suggestions, but David solved the whole thing by volunteering to wait with the Family Truckster.  The rest of us agreed that out of the five of us, David was the least likely to get violent, so we headed out with Kirby.

Kirby was a history major, and the rest of us shared our curricula with him as well.  By the time we got to his dorm, the rain had subsided a bit.  He went into the building to talk to his roommate, whose name was Neil.  Neil was so intrigued by the story of Saravuth that he insisted on helping us.  Sharon and Yarworth rode back with Neil, while Lola and I stayed in Kirby’s car.

When our posse got back to the site of the Family Truckster,  we saw that David’s normally pink hair was now closer to burgundy due to the rain.  Saravuth was still smoking.

Kirby and Neil didn’t know who was more interesting-looking, David or Saravuth.  Lola refused to have anything to do with Saravuth and stayed in Kirby’s car, while Yarworth, Sharon and I went to collect the luggage.

We begged David to come with us, but he insisted on staying with the Family Truckster (since he was president and all), so we all hugged him good-bye, certain that we would never see him again.  Kirby and Neil drove the rest of us to the train station, which was about an hour away, and Yarworth not only was able to purchase four tickets to New Jersey, he also handsomely compensated Kirby and Neil, who didn’t even want to take any money—they said the experience was worth it.

So, as I said, anyone who wants to can go to Union Square and play chess with Saravuth. 

Be sure to tell him that Lola sends her love.


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