As a child of the 70’s, Elvis was everywhere. He was on the movies that Channel 13 played in the afternoons on summer vacation. His music was all over the radio. His cool blue vinyl record was spinning on my grandmother’s record player when she would baby sit my brother and I.
When I woke up cold in Wisconsin and saw that directly south of me was Memphis, TN, I knew where I was going next. With Nicole and the cats snuggled together under layers of blankets, I started up van, turned on the heater and hit the road.
I forgive you for thinking that I am an straight up idiot for being in Wisconsin in November without an auxiliary heat source in the van. I just haven’t gotten to that yet and you will think me an idiot for other reasons.
I was using one of those small ceramic heaters that you can pick up at Walmart for $20. They worked great in my condo and I had a really beefy inverter to power it, so I should have been fine. Unfortunately, the heater cut itself off after a few minutes of working. The heater was rather old and these things die periodically, so I trashed it and replaced it with a newer model from a Wisconson Walmart.
It was about 4:30 in the morning when I finally had to stop for gas. The gas station was out in the middle of nowhere and was mostly abandoned except for a single clerk. This was one of those dirty gas stations that has a diesel and oil soaked gravel parking lot out back. My luck kicked in while I was putting gas in the van. I heard a hissing noise. I must have ran over something in the parking lot of this shit hole station.
Since I was stuck until a tire shop opened, I figured I’d wait until morning to call AAA. I got the new heater out and plugged in. It didn’t work at all. Figuring that the inverter wasn’t strong enough, I set up the generator and plugged the heater directly into it. The heater immediately cut out.
I was cold, tired, and feeling inadequate because I couldn’t keep my weird little family warm. Now, I’m not the type that misdirects my anger at inanimate objects. I don’t slam doors or break dishes. Something snapped in me and smashed the shit out of that heater all over that gas station parking lot.
Finally Nic talked me into trying to go back to sleep. I did so reluctantly and in defeat.
When we got up later in the morning, I was thinking more clearly. I realized the leak in the tire wasn’t that bad and that I could air up the tire and drive 5 miles back up the road to a tire shop that opened early. I didn’t need to wait on a tow truck or change a tire in the cold on oil covered rocks. Once we got the tire fixed, we were back on the road to Graceland. The patch in the tire didn’t take and we had to stop in tire shops two more times before we finally got it done right, but we took it in stride.
Social media makes everyone’s life seem more glamourous than it actually is. Generally people don’t post embarrassing or boring photos or stories about themselves. The various #vanlife Instagram accounts always show people waking up next to the ocean or a mountain lake. Nobody posts how they woke up in a Walmart parking lot again or in a shithole Illinois gas station with a flat tire.