We learned to expect the unexpected while traveling in California.

After resting on a fire hydrant at Broadway and Main streets in Redwood City to check my notes and directions, I returned minutes later to see police vehicles and a fire engine blocking the intersection. A car collided with the fire hydrant where I sat and water was shooting three stories high.

Fire Hydrant in Redwood City

We drove into the parking area at the top of Priest’s Grade where, on a clear day, one can see seven California counties. Not today. Smoke billowed from underneath the one car in the lot. The driver stood by helplessly. Lee grabbed the fire extinguisher he carries in the truck and ran to spray it underneath the car. Smoke subsided, then orange flames flared up. Lee crouched behind the burning car and sprayed underneath it again. Once more it subsided, and then burst into flames. We heard a siren in the distance. When the engine arrived, all that remained was a blackened frame of the tourist’s rental car.

The only serious mishap we’ve had was the front 4-wheel drive universal joint broke while driving up the dirt Graniteville Road north from Malakoff Diggins. The floor gearshift vibrated, fell over onto Lee’s leg, and the loud noise from under the hood sounded as if the engine fell out and dropped onto the road. It was unlikely we’d meet any traffic on this deserted road at dusk. Neither the cell phone nor the shortwave radio picked up a signal. Fortunately, there was room to turn around. However, it took a while for Lee to discover that reverse worked only in neutral, drive worked in overdrive, and parking didn’t work at all.


About Lynne Schaefer

Lynne Schaefer has written two newspaper columns ("The Schussboomer" about skiing in California, and "Notes from Lynne's Journal" about Oregon wildlife); travel and garden articles for regional magazines copy for DVD tours of the High Desert Museum and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, both in Bend, Oregon. She has published three non-fiction books, A Traveler's Guide to Historic California, Christmas Trivia Quiz, and His Daughter's Remembrance.
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