Barry Smith: Irrelativity |

Barry Smith: Irrelativity

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

Imagine it ” cruising along the freeway at 75 in your big ol’ van, middle lane, your only concern is choosing the next song on the iPod, when suddenly you feel a little catch in your forward momentum.

You instinctively press down harder on the gas pedal, but nothing happens. Well, SOMETHING happens ” you continue to slow down. Your heart leaps into your throat and immediately you’re in fight or flight mode, except that fighting won’t really help in this situation, and as far as flying goes, well … you should have thought of that 21 days ago, when tickets were so cheap.

Life is suddenly all about survival, a place to pull over ” get to the right lane, find a shoulder to rest on, one that hopefully puts more than a few inches between your driver side mirror and passing 18-wheelers. Heart pounding, breath coming in short gulps, pull over, turn on the flashers, and thank God you have Triple-A. Get a tow, get repaired, pay about as much for the repair as you’re likely to be earning at this little theatre festival gig you’re driving your piece of crap van to, and then, the reward for all of your suffering … you get to write a column about it.

Hopefully a funny one, and one that’s different enough from the other six or seven you’ve written on the exact same topic so as to make it seem fresh and new.

It’s nice to know that there are certain consistencies in life; the sun will rise, the flowers will bloom, my van will break down. There’s something perversely comforting about that moment of terror when my van motor dies on the freeway. It’s like a stab in the heart of complacency, a reminder that comfort and security are illusions; fleeting and transitory. There is no spoon, so you’d better be prepared to eat your soup with your hands at a moment’s notice.

And again, the best part, you always know what your next column will be about.

So as I packed up the van earlier this week to head off to the Rogue Theatre Festival in Fresno, I factored a breakdown into my two schedules ” travel and writing. I gave myself an extra day of travel for towing, parts ordering and repairs, and I opened up a computer file and named it “Van Break Down ” Fresno.” I figured that, while waiting around for the inevitable repairs I’d open up that file and jot down some witty observations on the circumstances surrounding it.

I even made a handy little fill-in-the-blanks template.

By the time I got to St. George, Utah, things were going great, and I was not happy about it. The van spent much of the winter encased in snow. Literally. At one point it was so covered in snow that you could not see a single bit of it. It was not a van, but a small white hill. I have pictures. I thought that this winter-long abuse would ensure some wonderfully timed, deadline-satisfying breakdowns.

As if it needs help. But I’m almost all the way through Utah and not so much as a mechanical hiccup. Something is very wrong.

Plenty of time, though. Fresno is still many hours away, miles and miles along some deadly freeways with tiny gravel shoulders. This could be my best column yet.

Later that night I roll into Baker, Calif., home of the world’s largest thermometer. Whatever. My van is running great and I’m pissed.

There was that moment somewhere back in Nevada when I thought the engine had seized up, but it was just my foot slipping off the gas.


I slept in the van that night, as always, but it was not the usual restful night. I was tormented by the very real possibility that the van would let me down this time. I finally fell asleep pondering Plan B: I might have to write about my family, or cats, or growing up in the South … again. Dammit.

The next morning the van started up on the first try. Six uneventful hours later I pulled into Fresno not only intact, but a day early! I think the van was actually purring!

Now it’s deadline time and I’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m gonna have to let this one go.

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