“Nothing is ever wasted on a writer.” This is one of my favorite sayings when things aren’t going so well. Or, even when, to put it bluntly, life is in the crapper.
Recently, things weren’t going so well. We were on the way home from visiting family in California, when our car seemed to change gears for no good reason just east of Yuma. The next exit had no gas station, but you don’t just keep going when your transmission is on the fritz, so we pulled off. In just a turn or two we saw a Super Walmart and a cluster of satellite stores (Del Taco, Panda Express, Wells Fargo). Then we called our road service. Two hours later, after much confusion about which Walmart we were at (the operator was in India after all) the tow truck showed up. His shop didn’t work on transmissions, they only replace them. That didn’t sound so good to us, so he took us to Team Ramco Transmission instead.
Flash is the owner of Ramco. He’s a late middle-aged guy with a cigarette always burning or about to be lit. He has eleven kids, three natural and eight adopted from drug addicted moms. Two of the kids are still at home, and he just found a great deal on health insurance after his old company jacked his rates. Last year his doc thought he had lung cancer, but the Mayo took one look at him and put him in the hospital for a week with double pneumonia. He patrols the Arizona border with a civilian militia group, and is no fan of Obama or his healthcare plan. We learned all this within an hour of meeting the man.
We also learned the man knows cars. Fleet cars. Trucks. Racing cars. He has shelves and shelves of trophies, and walls full of citations and thanks. He asked questions and more questions and took our car out for a drive and fianlly diagnosed the problem: it wasn’t the transmission, it was the front wheel bearings and it cost about a quarter of what a new transmission would cost. But he couldn’t fix it that day. So he called up a little motel he has a deal with and got us a room at a discount. And loaned us a car to get there.
The small rooms at the Yuma Cabana have white slump block walls but they’re clean and in good repair, and they have free wi-fi. Brenda greets you from behind a painted wrought-iron cage, but the door to the back office is wide open, so the bars must have been put there when security was more of a concern than it is now. They have a little coffee station with a sign that says, “Need. Coffee. Now.” The gift shop consists of a stand with three t-shirts and a sweatshirt with the “Yuma Cabana” logo. Brenda recommended Las Herraduras Mexican restaraunt across the street as “the only place I ever eat.”
Las Herraduras is a small family place and we were greeted by a shy young girl who let us pick our own table. Slowly the place filled up with regulars who stepped over to each others’ tables to say hello. Pretty soon we were eating the best machaca with egg burro and pescado ranchero we’d ever had. There was no way we could finish it all either. Since we were staying in a motel, we declined to take it with us, and the young, shaved-headed, owner came over to make sure everything was all right.
The next day, we were on the road again, after another great conversation with Flash at Team Ramco.
The next time I need to come up with an interesting secondary character, I won’t have to work very hard. All I need to do is remember our unexpected stop in Yuma.