When I was about five years old, my parents decided to take us on a family camping trip to New Mexico. I have no idea what inspired this urge, since we aren’t really nature people, but they were excited to go full out and camp in tents up in the mountains and immerse themselves in the glory of nature. I realize now why that was our first and our last camping trip.
Zealous frontiersmen that they were, we flew from Southern California to New Mexico to go camp in the mountains. But our flight got horribly delayed due to storms. When we finally arrived in Santa Fe, it was 11:30 at night. After waiting at the baggage claim for what seemed like hours, we learned that half of our luggage (including our tent and half the camping supplies) had been sent on to the airplane’s next stop. So, having planned to be up at the campsite already, and not wanting to spend money on a hotel, my parents decided that they would go from comfortable camping to roughing it just for the night and we would head up the mountain anyway. Luckily, the rental car office was open 24 hours and we were able to pick up our rental car, which was absolutely brand-spanking new. It had seven miles on the odometer. Not so lucky seven, as we would soon find out …
My parents made it to the campsite and drove up the mountain by moonlight. Since they only had two sleeping bags and no tent they decided that they would sleep outside in the sleeping bags, and they would put me to sleep in the back seat of the car so that I could stay warm.
In the middle of the night, I woke up. I was alone, in pitch blackness, in a strange car, and I couldn’t see my mom. I started to freak out. That’s when my parents found out that they had locked the keys in the car.
Realizing that I was actually trapped inside the car, I started to freak out even more. My mom tried to calmly talk me through how to disengage the door locks, but I was becoming hysterical and it was some new-fangled, early ’90s model that a shrieking, crying five year old simply could not work.
Finally, my mom resigned herself to the fact that they were going to have to break the window to get me out. She told my stepdad, Jim, to go pick up a rock.
Jim is a very gentle soul, but sometimes he gets overly nervous. This was one of those times.
My mom was yelling at me through the car window to get down and cover my head so I wouldn’t get hurt if glass came into the car. I was still screaming and crying to be let out of the car. Mom turned around in time to see that Jim had picked up what was basically a small boulder and was about to shotput it through the rear window. Panicking, he threw it so hard that the boulder smashed through one window and flew out the other one, obliterating it.
With both rear windows smashed, I no longer had a warm place to sleep. We were all pretty traumatized anyway so my parents decided to pack it up and just go find a motel for the night. But coming down the mountain in pitch darkness wasn’t so easy. With the moon hidden behind clouds, and just the headlights to guide us, Jim made a wrong turn and we ended up sliding off the road and into a shallow ditch. As we slid, the car hit a low branch and it cracked the front windshield straight across the middle. Crap, my mom thought. Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as the back two.
Jim then tried to reverse out of the ditch but it felt like the tires were sliding on wet leaves. He opened his car door to try to see if the wheel was indeed spinning. Then he stomped on the gas. The car jumped backwards out of the ditch, but in our backward trajectory we flew past a stump, which ripped the open car door off. Jim put the car door into the trunk and somehow they made it the rest of the way down the mountain with only a few more minor mishaps.
The sun was just coming up as they drove into the rental car parking lot. My mom says she’ll never forget the look of horror and disbelief on the face of the rental agent. He stumbled out of the trailer with his hand on his forehead, stunned to be looking at the same car he had checked out to us not even 12 hours before.
The car, which now had about 30 miles on the odometer, was destroyed. It had a cracked front windshield, no driver’s side door, two smashed rear windows, and was riding on the rim of a rear tire (we don’t even know why). It looked like it had been in a riot.
The agent silently accepted the keys and handed them their paperwork. After paying the deductible, they were free to go. The moral of the story: Don’t go camping. Just kidding, the moral is to ALWAYS get the insurance.