One Pack. No Turning Back.
Number of miles driven today: 462
Total miles driven on road trip: 2,369
Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? One Dunkin' sign on the freeway today, but otherwise still firmly Starbucks country.
Cheapest gas I saw today: $2.29 (lowest of the trip so far)
Number of states visited overall: 4
Number of red states visited overall (as of 2012 presidential election): 2
Number of blue states visited overall: 2
Significant meteorological event: Rain (something I haven't seen in California in a long time)
Severity of withdrawal from not having any more episodes of Serial to listen to: High
Today in Ft. Stockton, Texas, I almost became a man.
When it comes to the traditional gender stereotypes, I've always been grateful for my love of sports as my savior of masculinity. When I meet another guy, I feel I always have sports to possibly bond over. Sure, there are many guys that don't like sports, but when you're meeting someone new and doing that weird feeling-each-other-out-awkwardly-thing, sports is usually a reliable go-to for breaking the ice. But when it comes to other "manly" things, I'm pretty much screwed. Screwdrivers and hammers represent the upper bound of my understanding of tools--wrenches are borderline too difficult. I have AAA for the sole reason that I could never change my own tire. I break out in hives walking into Home Depot.
For all of this, I mostly blame nurture rather than nature. My dad, who is a wonderful man and who will be making a cameo later on in this journey, did not show me what's under the hood of a car (come to think of it I don't know that he ever showed me how to pop the hood), didn't build a tree house with me, didn't let me apprentice while he worked in the garage (because, well, he didn't work in the garage). None of this is his fault, because he also didn't possess the knowledge or interest in such tinkering/building/man-making.
Instead of showing me how to fixa faucet, my Dad told me to read a book, which is why I spent much of the late '80s and early '90s crouched over the National Geographic Atlas and nerdy baseball books like The Scouting Report. This also explains why, when it comes to anything related to that other sphere of manly hobbies, the automotive industry, I am completely and utterly helpless.
Fast forward to today, waking up in Ft. Stockton, Texas and realizing that my aching 2002 Honda Accord was in bad need of an oil change. But being Sunday morning, and Sunday morning in Texas no less, all of the oil change places were closed as people flocked to church or slept in.
I did spot one place, a dingy outpost on the main commercial road, called RL Auto Service that looked promising. RL was bustling, with customers standing around waiting and people wheeling tires around and calling back and forth in Spanish. There was hardly any room to fit my car in the store lot with all of the other parked cars and the dozens of used tires stacked everywhere.
I quickly realized that this was a tire repair place and not a general auto service shop. I walked over to two men in the garage area who were focused intently on inflating a tire and seemed completely uninterested in my presence. One of them, a short, slight Hispanic man with finely trimmed gray hair and black pants whose waistline seemed just above his knees, didn't even look at me. Finally, his younger and meatier counterpart took notice and looked up at me.
"Do you do oil changes here?" I asked.
He looked at his partner and spoke in Spanish. They exchanged several lines before the younger one came back to me: "Do you have oil?"
This seemed a ridiculous question to me, having never purchased oil in my life other than the type I'd use for cooking.
Although this was clearly not a place where oil changes were regularly done, they probably took one look at my notebook, pressed flat-front khakis, and California license plates and realized this could be their good deed for the day.
Thirty-five minutes of bizarre, extended conversations with an O'Reilly Auto Parts down the road ensued, I was dispatched to pick up the oil and filter (so that's what an oil filter is!), and I returned with the supplies for an oil change.
Many of my friends change their own oil, so I saw this as an opportunity to finally grow up, to finally check off one of the boxes of manhood that remained on my own 1986 Topps checklist card.
I watched as the younger mechanic popped the hood, manually jacked up the front of the car, brought over some flattened cardboard boxes to lie on underneath. I stood in front of the car, notebook and pencil poised, slightly bent at the knees and leaning forward like a coach too nervous to stand up straight to observe the next play.
Then I saw him take out several wrenches and disappear under the hood, and I knew right then that I would never truly be a man.
The oil change was more involved, more complicated than I was prepared for. There were bolts to unscrew that remained out of my line of sight, old oil to drain, new oil to pour and test. It was beyond my feeble reach. I needed diagrams, practice, and lots of hand-holding. This was not the crash course I was hoping for. I will not be changing my own oil in the future.
And so, emasculated but relieved by the purr of my engine when I turned the ignition, I climbed back into the driver's seat and cracked open my road atlas, and got back on the road.
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Day 10: Ft. Stockton, TX to Sealy, TX 6.28.15