Florida, even in the middle of the night was HUMID, warm and sticky. The Z was filthy, coated with dust from Kansas and bearded with the bugs from ten states. It had 10,995 miles on it, and it was only a month old.
Three days and two thousand miles earlier, I was in the heart of the Rockies, battling 6-foot drifts and a wind from hell. I was chased down, and caught by a blizzard of epic proportions and had to spend most of the cold, windy night in the Z, dancing with hypothermia. Now I was sweating as I unpacked my car in the Florida warmth.
After I left Yellowstone, I paid a visit to the Grand Tetons, my third National Park, then spent an afternoon in upscale, ski-haven Jackson Hole, where the entire downtown looks like a Western Movie set–covered wooden board sidewalks, rough-sawn wood architecture, even hitching posts for freakin’ horses! Even though it was off-season, it was crawling with tourists.
I drank lunch at a busy place named “The Million-Dollar Cowboy Bar”. It’s right on the Town Square (which is decorated with elk antler arches, hundreds of them) and has a facade copied from some old frontier outpost. Even on a slow Sunday it had live country music pouring from its door.
When you walk in, you see that it’s a huge dancehall, with several separate bars. Each of the bar tops has hundreds of old, antique silver dollars under Lucite, and you sit on actual tooled leather saddles when you’re bar side. A velvet nude hangs over the bar and crossed rifles and trophy Elk decorate the walls. The Real West. I wanted to hang out, but I had miles to cover, so I had a burger and a beer…..or two.
When I went into “The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar”, it was a snappy crisp 25 degrees with sun. When I came out, the temp was down to 18 and the sky was heavy with cloud pushed in by a cold North wind. I got out of town and ran south, fast. The storm was coming right down the road behind me as I flew through Wyoming at 7,000 feet across a treeless plain. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the damn thing was chasing me and that I was trying to outrun it. . .
It took nearly three hours to get me.
I had been doing 80 along a straight ribbon of road cutting through nothingness, no towns, nothing, watching the ominous rolling grayness fill my mirrors as the sun began to set. The closest town, Rock Springs, was still thirty miles down the road, and I was low on gas. It began with rain, which soon turned to a hissy sleet. As the large and angry clouds swept over me, snow began to fall in fat, wet flakes. The landscape, devoid of snow except in isolated pockets of drift, began to turn white. The little dashboard thingee began to blink, Japanese for “ICE”. The wipers couldn’t keep up. The wind was whipping me around, making traction a joke. It was, according to another thingee, 12 degrees. . .
Now the road was deep snow and I was the first car down it, blazing my own trail, sometimes sideways as I crunched through fresh blizzard. Whiteouts began as drifts were starting to cover the tarmac. I was fearful. Jeez, I’m from FLORIDA!!!
Soon the Z is mushing through the deepening snow in third, it’s low-hanging spoiler acting like a snowplow, filling the front grille with icy slush, when I finally saw the reddish light reflections of a nearby town (hell, the ONLY town)–Rock Springs–bounce off the boiling sky.
Trouble was, the closer I got the worse the roads got. The car handled horribly, slipping all over the road–but I already knew that. I began to wonder if I’d have to leave the Z on the roadside, when I spotted a motel–with a bar attached. I pulled in, registered and parked the Z by the room. The lady at the desk said that this was going to go on all night. At least a foot was on the ground, and the biting, icy winds gave promise of more.
I staggered across the nasty open parking lot, went into the bar and ordered a beer–and the power went out. The place began to put candles on the tables when a cop came in and said that the town’s power plant had been knocked out by the storm, and the bar would have to close.
Bartender gave a “Last Call”, at 10 PM, and the place gave up a collective groan. They did sell me a 12-pack of Coors, which I dutifully lugged through the snow and back to the room.
You know those little electronic “keys” that the motels give you now?
Did you know that they don’t work when the power is out?
Do you know how cold 12 degrees is, especially when you have to hang out in it?. . . well, it freezes Coors.
I encamped in the Z. I had cold beer and a near-empty gas tank, and I began to contemplate my demise. Wind rocked the car, snow blotted out the dark motel. I was drifting over.
Once in a while, through the long night, I’d crank up the car and get warm, maybe thaw out another beer as I wondered just how long a Z could idle when the gauge sits on “E”. I’d turn on the wipers and stare in amazement at the fresh inches they would move around. My world had shrunk to an uncomfortable, frozen bucket seat and a 9-pack of crystallizing beer, and each time I’d have to go out and into that hellish environment and take a whiz, the snow would fall off the roof and go down my back.
The parking lot lights came on and shocked me awake at 4 AM. I had been asleep in the car for at least an hour with no heat and I could feel it. My 5-pack was totally frozen. I gave the motel water heaters time to come to a boil and I took a hot shower and slept ’til nine in a fetal position.
That morning, as I crossed the Continental Divide, the Z got stuck on an iced-over freeway as Wyoming delivered yet another blizzard. Then I went through another in Steamboat Springs and yet another one near Vail that actually shut down I-70. By evening I was out of the mountains and parking my car in Downtown Denver, when, what was later described as a “freak” storm, dropped six inches of snow on the town and killed the evening. I was getting sick of snow. .
Since I had to get back to work in three days, I decided to haul ass across the USA, so I left Denver at 6AM and rocketed across Kansas, winding up in Wichita. From there, I went to Little Rock, via Bartlesville, Oklahoma and Tulsa.
From Little Rock to Ocala, I stopped only in Vicksburg, to scope out some Civil War history. I got home at midnight and got up at 7 and went to work. My co-workers were amazed by the number of miles showing on my new car.
The Z had passed every aspect of the most grueling Test Drive that I could dream up, and it surmounted all tasks –save for one–with flying colors. That’s probably why I decided to keep it..
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