Dad didn’t fight it… because he knew.
I suppose I did first, really. I know the feel of Betty’s gears better than the felt on my balls. But given my inability to dictate any semblance of human speech, it didn’t matter. What did was that Betty needed a vet, and a vet she needed quick.
In typical Fetch in 50 fashion, the timing of our “situation” was, for lack of a better term, interesting. I mean, we were 19,533 miles in and out of the summer, with our current position a mere three-hour shot to our driveway. After 98 days on the road – a road that demanded patience, and in turn, delivered immeasurable opportunity – dad eased my fearful fur with a look and a remedy that stretched from ear to ear: he smiled.
The real kicker was that just an hour ago dad gave Betty quite the oral thank you card. His gratitude for four years of service to him and I came out in one big, messy monologue. She was shade and she was warmth. She was home and a window to the world. If it majored in love, it minored in surprise. Dad holds quite the vision for all who cross his path, but said even he was surprised by our mechanical-free summer.
Until now that is: when Betty’s top-end speed could see a deer make a roundtrip highway crossing without threatening its path.
Dad exited in Concordia, Missouri and popped in the first available gas station in search of an auto garage. (The one across the street had just gone out of business.) “Turn right and just past the church,” dad said, repeating the directions from the cashier. “Maybe we should drop Betty off at the church instead,” he joked. “And light a candle… or two.”
My premonition was that this would be an overnight job in the least. Fetch in 50, Operation Alaska now seemed a shoe-in to hit the century mark in nights, and depending on the severity of Betty’s injury, there was an outside chance we’d reach month five. At least we wouldn’t have to find a parking lot… we could sleep IN Betty, IN the garage. But then dad handed Dennis, the man whose shop this was, his Triple A card and the Universe opened wide.
Dennis: Looks like you got Premier Status.
My dad: Is that right? (Dad hadn’t a clue of what Dennis just uttered. That’s when the awkward pause began).
Dennis: Well… you can get a 200-mile tow with this card.
My dad: Really? How far are we?
Dennis: One-hundred and ninety miles from here to the Arch.
My dad: So you can tow us home? (With dad’s math skills and following a long summer, he wasn’t too quick on the uptake. Bless his bearded heart).
Dennis: Yes I can.
My dad: When?
(I was hoping for tomorrow, but would settle for the day after next).
Dennis: Can you gimme 30 minutes?
Sure enough, after a petro stop, Dad, me, and an on-leash Betty – in all her mala-swinging glory – were headed east. Dad was detached, I could feel it, but a bit disappointed that after the grind of the summer, and his paw being the only one to push Betty’s pedal – (not a tenth of a mile had been driven by anyone else) – that he wouldn’t be able to take her across the finish line. He said our front-seat-tow-truck status felt like a country song.
Close to home from a road trip,
Broke down on the highway.
Tow truck with my yellow lab,
Didn’t get to finish my way.
But somehow our victory lap home couldn’t have been scripted any better.
As I sprawled across dad’s lap, his heartbeat never felt so still. Between Dennis and dad’s sporadic conversation, I closed my drooping eyes and fell into my last deep Fetch in 50 sleep, where memories of a grand and glorious American adventure flashed across my canine cortex like a montage of moments passed.
Like our first night on the road when we CouchSurfed with an electric-guitar-playing herbalist in Ojai, California – all the intel dad needed to comfortably BettySurf for the remainder of our journey.
Or the week we spent driving to Key West only to leave less than 24 hours later because dad said it was like “Six Flags on an island.”
Then there was the summer up East. In Maine, we awoke in a dark Walmart parking lot to drive up Cadillac Mountain – the peak of Acadia National Park – to catch the sunrise and first light in all of North America.
During our tour of Ivy League campuses, a professor at Brown University told us that Fetch in 50 was – and I quote directly – “the coolest idea I’ve ever heard in my life.”
And it’s hard to forget our visit to New York City. It was September 11th, hot, and busy. I lollygagged to a single toss in Central Park. We slept at a Walmart across the Hudson River in New Jersey. By happy accident, Betty’s view was a panorama of the Manhattan skyline.
We drove through a heat wave to reach the Outer Banks. Dad beelined into the cold Atlantic as I feared for his life. The moment I caught him, a wave caught us. Together, the liquid lift was an aerial, salty experience. It still feels like something more was at play that day.
There was the food too. In North Carolina, I begged for a driver’s Doritos three lanes over at a stoplight. In Oregon, I sat for a man with torn clothes and an onion-like stench. He gave me the only food he had: an entire banana. Dad called him a “paragon of faith.”
When I arose from my dream, Dennis and dad had slammed their doors and were headed towards the facilities. With no yearning to bark, I sat in the front seat of the red truck and the anthem played on…
Stuck in park at a rest stop.
Betty White still in jeopardy.
Wondering: will it ever end?,
Or is this just another memory?
I rotated between dad’s lap and Dennis’s knee the remainder of our 174-mile tow home. What originally seemed to be an inconvenient way to conclude our 49-state journey, turned out to be the most graceful closing act. Dennis was our captain and his truck was our land ferry. A mile from home, we exited the highway at the exact moment the sun fell from Earth. But before the curtains closed, dad had an idea.
Drop us off at the church, will you Dennis?
Ten minutes later, with dad’s arm out the window and my nose towards the sky, together, we crossed the finish line.