Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Death Valley Experience

So there we were, sitting on the side of the road in 110 degree heat with a dashboard that was blinking like we just won the jackpot on a slot machine. The car wasn't running, our phones weren't working, and the sun was going down in the desert. Tobi and I sat silently in the car for minutes that seemed like really long minutes. Just moments earlier we were racing the sunset in Death Valley, pushing a rental car to its extremes, and loving life. Now we were stranded, uncertain about how we were going to get the car back to Vegas on time, where we were going to sleep tonight, who was going to help us, why had this happened to us, we thought we were untouchable. We tried to turn the car over once every fifteen minutes, but there was nothing. We were stuck, and we didn't know what to do.

When it looked like we would have to wait for the next mornings tourists, and camp overnight on the concrete, one last car came from Badwater returning towards the middle of town. We decided they were our only chance of salvation and we flagged them down. It was a nice retired couple and they were extremely friendly. They cleared out their back seat and Tobi and I filled our backpacks with food and hopped in. They were kind enough to drive us down to the center of town. Now when I say "town" I mean a hotel, a tourist information building and a gas station. The gas station would have been the most likely place for us to go since we needed a mechanic but it was closed. Second would be the tourist information building because we were tourists and we needed a lot of information on what to do at this moment. But it was closed too. So instead we found ourselves talking to the midnight shift bell boy at the Death Valley hotel.

First things first, we needed to call the rental car company and figure things out. Easy enough, right? Nope, we left the rental car phone number back in the car. Nice move on our part. The nice retired couple drove Tobi back to get it, and then they left us to deal for ourselves after we showered them with thanks (Thanks again if you're out there, thank you so much!). So now that we had the rental car phone number calling should be easy right? Wrong... We had to use a payphone. A payphone. Did you know these things were even still around? Luckily Tobi and I had a decent amount of change but if the phone ate a few quarters we might be totally out of luck. But I made the call and it actually worked, thank you AT&T. As soon as I got through to the rental car company I was sure that our worries were over.

Boy was I wrong about thinking our worries were over. The night shift at the rental car company was even more clueless than the bell boy. Here is an almost word for word account of our conversation:
Me - Hey, our car broke down in Death Valley. What should we do?
The rental car guy -You shouldn't be driving in Death Valley. It's hot our there. Probably like 105 degrees.
Me - Thanks it is actually 110, but we're out here and our car has died. We bought insurance and we want to know how we can figure things out.
The rental car guy - Insurance don't cover that. Were you running the AC?
Me - Did I mention how hot is was today?
The rental car guy - Aww damn, you can't run AC in a car in that heat. That's crazy.
Me - Interesting, they didn't mention not using the AC when we rented the car in 100 degree heat in Vegas. Thanks for you information, now how are we getting out of here?
The Rental car guy - You gotta get back to Vegas.
Me - Did I mention the car was broken down?
The Rental car guy - Just get that thing back here.
Me - Tow it?
The Rental car guy - I don't care.
Me - Will you pay for towing?
The Rental car guy - We don't pay for that.
Me - Will you come get us?
The Rental car guy - Out there in Death Valley? We don't do that.
Me - What do you do?
The Rental car guy - Hold on. (He then proceeded to put the phone down and tell our story to a friend while I can hear him. They were laughing and making jokes and I honestly was laughing my ass off while describing it to Tobi.) Hey man, it's late we can't do anything for ya. Good luck getting it back here.
Me - Thanks for all of your help, you've been a life saver. Enjoy the rest of your night.

As I told Tobi about this phone call we realized that we might have been better off spending a little bit more money for a rental car company that we had actually heard of before. That being said, we could not stop laughing. Even the bell boy got a kick out of over hearing my phone conversation with the rental car company. The sun might have been down but our spirits were still up. We tried to swing a deal with the hotel for a free overnight stay, but they weren't having it. We were now without a place to sleep.

We had our tent, but the ground in Death Valley is about as comfortable as sleeping on a barbed wire fence. But we remembered that the Tourist Information building had a nice green lawn, if we could only get there, we might be able to actually sleep tonight. We asked a French man who was driving a convertible if he would give us a ride. Talk about a strange situation (An American man who is traveling with a Swiss man asked a French man for a ride in his convertible in Death Valley). After explaining our situation to him he said he would want someone to do the same for him, so he took us a mile down the road and dropped us off at the Tourist Information building.

Once we were there we felt like we had struck a gold mine because they didn't lock the bathrooms at night. So we were able to have running water, light, and we were able to brush our teeth. That stuff alone already makes it better than some of the other places we camped. We set our tent up near the side of the building and climbed inside. Then it REALLY hit us. We were not lucky. We were planning on camping in the "coolest" part of Death Valley, and not on the lawn of the Tourist Information building for a reason...it's unbearably hot.

We laid there in our tent together recounting the days events. I still remember this conversation as one of the funniest conversations I've ever had. In retrospect we were both a little delirious. We thought everything bad that happened would just be a great story someday. Until we tried to get some sleep and we had to silently think to ourselves about all that could still go wrong. This is when Tobi sat up and asked me, "Do you think, if you were to die in your sleep, would you wake up first? Or just die?" I laughed out loud until my stomach hurt when he said this in his German accent. I told him I don't know, but I hope we don't die. But in this dry heat, death was definitely a possibility.

Then when you didn't think things could get any worse and we were dieing of heat when the unthinkable happened. The sprinkler system came on. It as if we were in the middle of a bad sitcom and no one told us. We ran out of the tent in our boxers and got a freezing cold shower at around 2 in the morning in 110 degree heat. This sign that someone was watching out for us from above was all we needed to get some rest. We didn't even move when the sprinklers came on for their second session at 4.

We woke up and had the car towed out of Death valley to a town about an hour away. A town that we later learned is famous for its prostitution (just a side note), but when we got there we talked with the owner of a car dealership that told us we should be fine. We called the rental car company again and this time the morning crew was much more helpful. They sent us a beautiful car to bring us back to Vegas, payed us for the towing and in the end they only charged us for 3 days because of all the hassle they caused. Tobi and I walked out of "Giddy UP Car Rental" with the biggest smiles on our faces. We really were invincible...and I think it really did make a great story.

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