It was a dark and stormy night. Plenty of lousy novels have begun that way, so why not a lousy column?
The rain was coming down faster than Starbucks shares. As I drove, my hands gripping the wheel tighter than Dolly Parton’s jeans, I noticed several minivans passing by from the other direction. Every one of them had a freshly cut, newly bought holiday tree strapped on top.
Then it happened: Just at the moment a particular minivan drove past, I noticed its tree suddenly break free and tumble off onto the side of the road. It was the apparent victim of swirling winds and bungled bungees.
There was nothing I could do. Our two cars were both heading swiftly in opposite directions. I suppose the unsuspecting family in the minivan made the horrible discovery when they arrived home:
Little Suzie: “Hey, daddy! Where’s our tree?”
Little Jimmy: “Yeah! Where’d it go, dad?”
Mom: “ I told you those bungee cords weren’t on tight enough!”
Dad: “#! &! *%!”
I know exactly how that dad must have felt. I’ve been there. I could recount for him the many times – and many objects – that have tumbled off my car top over the years. Different cars, different car tops, same results. And holiday trees are just part of the list.
Years ago, a neighbor and I decided to go skiing at Snoqualmie Pass – a very fine idea normally. We strapped our skis onto a cartop ski rack. That’s when I made the portentous statement: “Those babies ain’t going anywhere.” I was correct – except for one of those babies.
Somewhere, perhaps halfway up the I-90 climb, one of the skis – yes, just one – broke free, slid off and onto the freeway. Unfortunately, the ski had been freshly waxed, so it didn’t slow down until it got to Issaquah.
I have also had a bed mattress launch itself from the top of my car. Here’s a consumer tip: Thin, cheap twine is excellent for securing packages that you’re planning to mail for the holidays. But it’s not so good for securing a mattress atop a Chevy Suburban.
The good thing about a mattress tumbling off a moving car is that it doesn’t need anything to cushion its fall. In fact, if that 18-wheeler behind me had stayed in his lane, I think my mattress would have survived just fine that day. (TV commercial I’d like to see: “We’ve got some like-new mattresses on sale right now at Sleep Country! Especially if you’re not picky about color or tire tread marks.”)
Through the years, most of the stuff I’ve lost off the top of the car are things that shouldn’t have been left there in the first place: Forgotten or overlooked Slurpees, lattes, small sacks of groceries, sunglasses, a cell phone, some dry cleaning, rental videos, magazines, a briefcase and a cat carrier (luckily without cat).
I also once left my wallet atop my car hood after stopping for gas. A couple of days later, an anonymous package arrived at my house. A good Samaritan – or perhaps he was from Sammamish, making him a good Sammamishian – had found the wallet, gotten my address from my driver’s license and sent it all back to me. Almost all. A pre-paid coffee card was missing. With only one of its 20 holes yet punched, it must have been too much to pass up.
But the most catastrophic cartop-catapulting incident happened long ago. My wife and I had decided we would take a long family car trip. Our sedan was just big enough to squeeze the family into. A sardine can with wheels. I had no choice but to secure our suitcases overhead, but I was determined to do the job right.
First, I strapped everything down with enough strong rope to hog-tie two-dozen snarling razorbacks. Then, I lashed on a huge plastic tarp that even Houdini couldn’t have wriggled out of. Finally, I attached so many bungee cords that if they were laid out, end to end, they would have stretched from Canada to just north of Chehalis.
It was all to no avail, of course. Our suitcases liberated themselves somewhere along southbound I-5. I watched all four Samsonites in my rearview mirror, pinballing across the freeway while bursting open, strewing clothes, shoes and hair product across the asphalt.
My 6-year old son began to cry. “Oh no!” He wailed. “Now everybody will see my underpants!”
I don’t remember my reply, but I think it was something like: “#! $&*! ##!”