Grand Misadventures on US Highway 290

On Sunday I drove to Houston to shop for furniture at IKEA, since my apartment only has an inflatable mattress right now. The plan was to drive the three hours, look through all the furniture I could, and get as much of what I need as possible.

Now several of my friends have told me about IKEA, so I knew I was headed toward something a bit different.

The drive to Houston was relatively uneventful. I listened to Bob FM, singing along to Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the song that reminds us, and Bill and Ted, that we are just “dust in the wind”.

I arrived and was instantly taken by the amusement-park-like parking lot. There were families all around loading up new furniture for the kids, young couples filling out their new shared homes, and a mish-mash of foreign languages.

I walked inside hungry, so I immediately headed for the Café next to the Exit. The customer experience at IKEA is very well-defined beforehand, so it felt quite unnatural to go straight to the Exit Café. I wanted to get Swedish meatballs, as advertised, but couldn’t find them. I settled for two hot dogs and a Swedish pear soda.

Unfazed, I set on my journey through the store. I brought in my laptop in hopes of finding a free wireless internet connection inside. I take whatever I can these days.

But alas I found none, and realized I would get tired spending five hours lugging my new corporate behemoth 17” Macbook Pro on my back. So I quickly dashed through the preset IKEA path and out the exit, hoping no one would think I was trying to steal the tiny clipboard in my backpack that could have easily been found in the home organization section downstairs.

Have once again ruined the pre-planned shopping experience, I set out to find a couch. A few hours later I was still weighing my options and had to move on for fear of running out of time.

Perpetually clutching my little IKEA note card was my left hand, whose thumb began pulsating with a painful tightness. I dropped my things into my shopping bag and kept on, trying to help my hand relax.

I eventually decided on a nice dark brown table and a matching bed with foam mattress. When I picked up the pieces I found they were out of dark brown bed frames so I snagged a medium brown last minute. I popped into the checkout line and grabbed a last-minute spot purchase five dollar welcome mat. Mission accomplished.

Or rather, mission accepted, because little did I know what was still in store for me upon my fateful return.

I spent half an hour trying to get twine properly tied around the furniture pieces on top of my car. My Boy Scout skills only got me so far and I asked for help, after most of the families and more frantic customers had been helped. The IKEA employee started to really wrap it up well as he noticed I had tied my car doors shut.

“You going to climb in through the window?” he half-jokingly suggested, and I made sure it was possible and said, “Sure, why not?” He proceeded to secure my goods firmly atop my Chevrolet Impala, and I stuffed myself into my car.

As I often do, I checked for all of my belongings before I left. That’s when I realized I couldn’t find my wallet. Now, I had just used it to buy the very furniture that was blocking me from fully searching the interior of my car. I had already found all of the various pocket gizmos that I had haphazardly dumped onto my car floorboard. But still no wallet.

Unfazed, I went back into the store and asked if anyone had found it. Alas, no one had. They promised to give me a call if it shows up, and try to arrange to ship it to Austin when and if it does.

So, without any way to pay for things, I set off back to Austin. Right then I realized I didn’t have enough gas to go the whole way. Surely it will show up. Alternatively, I can wing something, I decided, and I was on my way.

About an hour later, as I listened to two nerds on a radio show incessantly discuss computer games and the 25th anniversary of the IBM PC, a large bright streak shot through the sky in front of me. In a second, the light appeared, shot down at about a 30-degree angle with the ground, and exploded into many small bright bits, fading into nothingness.

I halfway braced for an explosion, unsure if I had seen a meteor or a missile. Either way, if anything was left at impact it could have made quite a large blast. But instead, I only found silence. I immediately called my parents, who confirmed I had witnessed one of the Perseids. Here I was during the prime time of the meteor shower, driving late at night along desolate Texas countryside. The timing was just too perfect.

Now that I was alert, I kept on trucking. I spent a great deal of time trying to find a good station to listen to Matt Drudge’s radio show. I constantly had to switch between five stations that I could barely pick up, all of which carried Drudge’s droning voice and characteristic long silences.

As I neared the small town of Elgin, my fuel light came on. I needed to get some gas if I was going to make it the final 50 miles. I realized I had a stash of coins for use on toll roads, so I looked for a 24-hour gas station. Instead all I found were closed, dark convenience stores and their well-lit but credit-card-only gas pumps. No good without my wallet, which as yet hadn’t showed up.

I pulled into an empty H.E.B. supermarket parking lot and sized up my situation. A nice man wearing a U.S. Postal Service shirt pulled in to fill up his car, and I reluctantly asked him to help me.

“Could you give me five dollars of gas?” I asked, explaining my situation. I played to his sympathies by adding that I was newly out of college and couldn’t even get in the doors of my car.

I explained to him very nicely that if he put his credit card in the pump, he could pump about five dollars in himself, and I would be willing to pay him in change or mail him a check. He wasn’t biting, and rightfully so, considering the absurdity and my lack of ability to faithfully prove my car wasn’t stolen.

He found this situation puzzling and tried his best to help. However, the best advice he could come up in his confusion was for me to take the pieces off of the top of my car and load them inside, which I think would be impossible and also not helpful.

He pointed me down the road to the still-open Chevron station. It was now about a half hour past midnight.

I waited until no one was looking, pulled up to the Chevron gas pump, then climbed out my window. Inside, I told the lady working there my entire situation and then handed her two Susan B. Anthony dollars, five quarters, five nickels, and four dimes, for a grand total of $3.90.

Back outside (it was prepay) I filled up my car, as the worker lady stepped out for a smoke. I was pumping gas and this lady is smoking? Luckily my just over a gallon of gas did not take long and I got out of there. I predicted to myself that the fuel light would come on again as I pulled into my apartment complex.

I got into Austin, ever eyeing my gas meter as it dwindled but held on. I was making good distance, and would make it!

I got onto US Highway 183, and took the access road under Interstate 35. The construction was everywhere, and the plethora of completed and incomplete highway ramps made for an interesting scene. A few police cars had their lights on to signal the construction, as I had seen a few days earlier in the same spot after a wrong turn.

But the Police were otherwise busy, I discovered. As the light finally turned green and I drove past, I watched as an officer guided a handcuffed man into the back seat of his cruiser. The timing of my drive by framed the shot just as any television drama might have.

Still trapped in my car, hoping the doors were securely shut, and still unable to shut the windows enough to mute the loud highway noise, I pressed on. Finally I pulled into my apartment complex and watched as, surely enough, my fuel light turned on.

I unloaded my car, refreshed that I could finally use its doors. But still, I found no wallet.

I left my small cart that I used for the heavy pieces out on the apartment drive. As I was composing myself inside I heard a rattling outside and realized that someone was taking it. I ran outside, only to find my cart sitting in the hallway outside my neighbor’s door. No one was to be found.

So I quickly nabbed the cart and brought it inside. I heard some people run down the stairs outside and decided to pop back out to explain the case of the mysterious disappearing cart, but once again they were nowhere to be found.

So I went inside to cancel my credit cards.

Luckily I had already lost my debit card last Thursday by leaving it in the drive-up ATM, so its replacement is on the way. Until then I will probably have to rely on writing checks and hoping people will take my expired passport as valid ID.

I still need to get my Texas driver license, car title, inspection, and license plate. For new residents, there is a specific process one must follow, as everything depends on something else.

But without my Oklahoma driver license, I probably cannot get my car inspected, and an un-inspected car cannot get its title paid, and an untitled car cannot be used to get a new Texas license, even ignoring the fact that my lack of my Oklahoma license will probably force me to take another driving test anyway. And last but not least, I won’t be able to get a Texas license plate to replace my Oklahoma plate, which expired at the beginning of the month.

And on top of all this I’m switching over my auto insurance, which is why I waited to get my inspection in the first place.

I better not get pulled over, because I won’t have identification, a valid license plate, a license, or even an inspection sticker. Cross your fingers for me.

But that’s not really even a concern because I only have checks as a method of spending money, and I doubt I can get to a gas station that wouldn’t ask to see ID using only the sixteenth of a tank I have left. Needless to say, I hope my new ATM card comes in the mail by tomorrow morning. Not that I would know where to go anyway because I still have no internet access.

But at least I still have my health!

As long as you ignore the carpal tunnel attack.

P.S. This post may sound negative but really I am enjoying the absurdity of it all. I’m doing fine and should be able to get through all of this with only the required amount of elbow grease.

Grant Hutchins @nertzy