'Twas a Dark and Stormy Night… or, Lessons in Being Prepared

You can just see the log under the front of the car. (Credit: Bob Hoge)

My extended family recently met up at our post-Christmas annual gathering; I say annual although it was canceled the last two years because of COVID. I was unable to go the first day, so I decided to drive up the next night, which happened to be a rainy, misty, miserable evening. Luckily my trip mapped out at only about two and a half hours—not too bad.

At the end of the journey, I‘m faced with the choice of a small, dark, twisty mountain road to the guest ranch or a drive through town, which is packed this time of year and would add an indeterminate amount of time. I think to myself, I’ll take the country road; why not, my group is already sitting down for dinner and I’ve driven this tortured path many times before.

It’s extremely difficult to see, and there’s not a light within miles, but I squint through the windshield and carefully maneuver to within a mile or so of my destination. At least, that’s what Waze says, but it’s hard to be sure because I realize it’s lost connection to the outside world atop this small densely forested mountain.

Rain is coming down and it’s pitch black. I see a pile of yellow wet leaves ahead, don’t think much of it and drive through.


Hit the brakes! Uh oh. Turns out there was a big freakin’ log under those leaves—which is now wedged tightly under my car, making driving impossible. Sigh. Guess I gotta call for help.

Except… there’s no cell service. I step out into the rain and try to remove the log, but it’s not budging. Aha! I’ll jack up the car. I kneel down in the mud and rain and realize the jack is missing a crucial piece.

I’m well and truly sc***ed. And nobody’s coming.

It didn't look so evil in the daytime, but it was big and nasty. (Credit: Bob Hoge)

I start the walk down the road and realize once again how completely black it is. Living in a city can make you forget that out in the country when there’s no moon, you can barely see your hand in front of your face. Several times I wander off the side of the pavement into the thick bushes. The raindrops are really coming down. But I’ll be fine, I’ll walk the mile or more, get back to civilization, call AAA, and we’ll all have a good laugh. That is, unless my car is seriously damaged, and then I will be very grumpy indeed.

As I’m wandering through the darkness, I suddenly remember that the last time we were here—three years ago—there were “beware of mountain lion” signs everywhere warning, do not wander around alone. Not only am I wandering alone, I’m wandering around in the middle of nowhere in the inky blackness and a lion could easily be right behind me…. I quickly turn around and point my feeble iPhone light, but can distinguish nothing.

Well, this is turning out to be a great vacation.

Now I’m not a scaredy cat, but I grasp that I could get there a lot quicker if I jogged, so off I went, making as much noise as possible to scare off any big cats and psychotic cows.

I finally see lights ahead, and eventually make it to the gate. Now there’s phone reception, so I call my wife who’s at dinner and ask her to come on out. While I’m waiting, I figure I might as well check in and get the key to my cabin. I walk into the front office, sweating, rain-soaked, and still out of breath. The aghast receptionist looks me over, takes a hurried step back, and says, “sir, you’re bleeding!” (I guess I hit my head at some point trying to get the jack.)

The look on his face was priceless; it almost made the ordeal worth it.

My wife and son drive me back into the darkness, and we were able to jack up the car. All right, fine—my son was the difference-maker. I was actually very proud of him.

Other than that, the drive went great.

It got me thinking, though, about preparedness. Why did I not have a flashlight in my car? And whatever did happen to that first aid kit my wife gave me anyway? How did I not know how to work the jack for this car, which I’ve had for six years? (I’ve jacked plenty of cars in the past, but this one was a confounding, newfangled contraption, and night in a downpour is not the time to try and figure it out.)

I give my wife a hard time because although she is not necessarily a survivalist, she likes to be prepared. She actually has a tool in her car that would allow her to slice off a seatbelt and break the window if for some reason she drove into a pond. The mother-in-law meanwhile is always bringing over big jugs of water, which I laugh at. I won’t be laughing, though, if another earthquake like Northridge ’94 hits.

The point is I, and I suspect many others, have gotten lazy, cavalier even. We’ve got our cellular, we’ve got our internet, what could possibly befall us? Turns out you take those things away—and suddenly you feel absolutely helpless.

And don’t forget electric power. Boy do you suddenly respect it when it goes out, and it is not altogether uncommon for that to happen here in mismanaged California. My wife has been on me for ages to get a generator, but I always scoff at the high cost and the fact that I’m not entirely sure how to set it up. I protect my house, but I’ve left it vulnerable there.

Yes, I know, my wife is coming out looking a lot better than me in this story. And although I was never in true danger during my little drama, it did wake me up to the reality that I’ve gotten lazy. I’m not going to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse, but I am no longer going to laugh at basic safety precautions.

And I’m going to get some tools for my car, a first aid kit, and a generator for the home.


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