Max called me and warned me that it would be really snowy, and asked if I required snow-chains. I poo-pooed the idea, claiming we had no need. I picked up Bob later that evening and he asked if I wanted to bring his snow-chains, to which I confidently said, “naw man, I lived in Iowa, I don’t need snow chains.” When I found out it was illegal not to have them, I conceded grudgingly to bring them. It was already long since dark, around 10 o’clock before we actually got out of San Jose. The car was in ship shape, except the light for “low wash” kept coming on. I made several jokes about it, as we left the city.
Dinner was taken care of by means of Max buying us the largest salad I had ever seen in my life. We got on the road, and max busted out that salad, dumping an entire bottle of dressing on it, which was still not enough. We began to eat our way through the huge salad, which wasn’t easy for me to do while driving.
We got up towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains in no time, and began to head up the hill. It got snowy rather quickly, and soon enough the traffic stopped completely. Max decided to begin having a conversation with the neighboring cars. Nobody was interested. So he reached for one of the dozens of six-packs of cokes I had in the back. He then got out of the car to hand them out to strangers who were stuck. I should point out that at this point, he was wearing either fake dredlocks, or a raccoon hat, I forget which. All of us wore stupid hats and the two passengers took turns trying to get strangers to take out coke. One car of girls was amused, until I took off with Bob chasing the car, slipping and falling all the way. All over the place, people were putting up their tire-chains, but we decided to keep on trucking, with Max running out, making snowballs, and throwing them back into the car. We were stuck in this stop-and very occasionally-go traffic for a few hours before we began to completely lose traction and start sliding around. We tried to put on Bob’s chains, but they were too small, so we decided to forgo. At one point Max and Bob had to get out of the car to give it a push, and we got it back on the road for a while. Bob was asking if we needed chains. I recalled an old Mr. T video in which he declares, My ancestors was in slavery, and thas’ how come I wear these chains around my neck. I thought about this while Bob asked once again, and replied, “We don’t need no chains man!”
After some hours and only a few short miles, we came to a point where we could barely stay on the road. We approached a big inspection point where a caltrans operator was inspecting chains, and if you had none you couldn’t pass. He made us pull over asking some bullcrap question about whether or not my car was a Subaru. While me and Max parked the car at the bottom of the next exit, Bob high-stepped his way back down to the next exit, well over a mile. Max and I got the car situated and headed down the mountain after Bob. We slid around and avoided snowplows, jumping from one side of the freeway to the other. A Caltrans truck came past us and yelled out the window, “You can’t walk in the middle of the road, you’ll get run over!” We tried to get a ride, but he wasn’t interested, so we yelled at him as he drove away. We finally ran back into Bob about 40 minutes later, with soaking wet converse shoes, and Max’ boots which would have been fine had he not tried to stomp in a 1ft deep puddle. Bob looked defeated with his chains that he had paid $60 for. We started walking back, but being too cold, we hitch-hiked out way back up the hill. The hitch was a nice guy named Pete from Auburn, and he took us right up to the car.
We tried to put on the chains, which we realized were far too big now. We got in the car and drove back down to the last exit and tried to exchange the chains. The clerk belligerently said no, and offered no help whatsoever. Max began yelling at him, and he cited California state law, saying he would lose his job if he were to return chains. Max left in a huff declaring this was robbery. Outside there was a Caltrans truck parked, so Max went up to ask for help. He asked the man if he could help convince this clerk that it is not against California state law to exchange chains, and the man stuck his head out the window to show Max that he was the same man who told us to get out of the road earlier. Whoops! The man wore a smirk on his face as he told Max, “I ain’t gonna’ help you, and nobody is gonna’ help you, cuz’ you shoulda’ had yer’ chains on before you got here.” Max asked him, “then do you have the number for California Highway Patrol?” to which he replied, “Do YOU know the number?” Max replied indignantly, “why would I ask you if I had the number.” The man replied by rolling up the window on him. Max was not defeated so easily.
He got back to the car and slammed the door, then called 4-11 and got a listing for the nearest CHIPS station. He called the local Sheriff and explained the situation. The Sheriff said she would come out to clear it up, but due to all the slippery roads and all the accidents, she might not be out for a couple hours. Max instead had her call the clerk and explain to him that it was in fact, legal for him to take back the chains. She did so, but just as the shift was changing, so the new clerk gave us our chains without any hassle while the stubborn clerk sat and scowled. We got the chains on soon enough and headed back up the hill.
We were sailing along just fine for about 30 miles, Max calming himself down in the front and Bob taking a nap in the back when I lost control of the car. It slipped a little bit and when I tried to regain control I realized it was a lost cause. The car began to spin and the only thing I could think to say was, “Here we GO!!” Max excitedly turned back to wake-up Bob, who shot-up in his seat only to scream, “GAHHHHH!” moments before we began to slide off the road. In the mirror I could see the car approaching a snow bank, which was the only think protecting us from a steep drop down into a mountain canyon. We barreled through the snow bank and began our decent, but luckily a tree stopped us. We all sat in disbelief, looking back at what could have been the end of the trip. (and most likely our lives) We called AAA, but Bob’s membership had apparently become inactive. Max called and got somebody out on his card, but they said it may be a few hours. A CalTrans driver stopped by and called up for somebody else, and he was followed shortly by a CHP officer, who stopped to help us, and in the process pulled somebody else over – talk about efficiency. He had the man he pulled over meet him at a gas station down the road, and he called another tow for us, saying it could be a up to 6 hours due to the huge number of people off the road. He told us he hoped it would only be a couple hours.
After he left, a few others stopped to offer help, but we were content to just sit and watch gawkers and rubber-neckers check out our situation. We let the sunroof down in the Malibu and watched the unique snow-flakes float it. It was actually a nice moment of respite, with the heater running, good music on the stereo, and of course the natural beauty of Donner Summit. In that situation I felt I shared some of their Donner blood – unprepared in the Sierras, I could see how a situation went from bad to worse quickly. Finally a tow got us out, and we surveyed the damage – absolutely nothing. At first I thought it might have cracked my license plate frame, but upon closer inspection, it was just a bunch of snow. The car was without a spot of damage. This was enough to lift our spirits to push-on.
My goal was to eat at a diner with the name Donner in it, but Max insisted that we leave the state at least, so as to avoid complete defeat. We did both. After stopping for a hearty breakfast at a restaurant called the “Donner Kitchen,” we headed out for Reno, Nevada. We didn’t have much more trouble on the roads and the snow had all but melted off the roads by the time pulled across the border. The only problem was a huge bit of irony. The low wash that I had been making so many jokes about turned out to be a major issue. People were kicking up a sludgy mix of salt, slush and dirt that dried almost instantly on my windshield. I had almost 0 visibility without wash to wipe it away, and I relied on another driver kicking up a fresh batch to make it wet enough to wipe. The irony of the situation was all but lost on us.
The drive to Utah is supposed to be around 13 hours, but here we were at hour 11 and we were an entire state away. We went to a 7-11 and bought a little beer, and some witnessed some guy win $300 at a 7-11 slot machine. He stood up, yelling “this machine thought it was too smart for me, but I showed it!” In the name of adventure, Max went over and asked him if he knew where a gun shop was. He gave perfectly clear directions, and we headed out to Bizarre Guns and Guitars. They didn’t have the piece we wanted, but they referred us to another place where the shop owner ridiculed us at length, constantly telling us we could move from California to America if we wanted. We figured he didn’t like Bob in the store because he was Mexican, so we headed out for some root beer floats; no clips without Nevada ID.
We decided to content ourselves instead with gambling, so Bob and I changed into the church clothes we had brought along (on an impulse) and headed into the casinos. We sat down and played some Black Jack, and tried our hands at several different casinos. After losing a huge amount at the Sands, we decided to recoup our losses at El Dorado, where we had been getting good cards earlier. We reunited with out favorite dealer there and I finally pulled back ahead about $25 or so. Max lost about $60, but had in the process become good and drunk from the free drinks. We drove on out to Sonic Burger to get some park and eat where teenage girls deliver your food on roller skates…who could complain. Then we saddled up the Malibu and hit the road back home. Several hours and one tired Bob later, we pulled into sweet California