The family set off that morning happily enough. Their five and a half days in Michigan had been full and good...filled with meeting many new people and seeing a few they could remember from other times. Alfred could feel their exhaustion oozing into his own iron parts as he rumbled along on bridges over smooth waters and through leafy woods - he knew his duty; to carry them up, over, and down, back to the yellow apartments they called "home". Alfred called no particular place "home" - he had had too many possible "homes" in his twenty years of life, and now, old and well-seasoned as he was, he knew it was only a matter of time before he would be divided up and used a hundred different ways in a hundred different places. And none of these would be home!
That day Alfred was not in his best mood as he bumbled along. Thinking about the past never did make him too happy. He still felt a bit of a grudge against the man who had pulled him out of the queue for the junkyard and made him again use his rusty old joints for the benefit of humans. He had worked well and hard, hadn't he? And now he was driving more than any vehicle at his age should be, all for a bunch of whiny kids and their parents! Granted, the parents weren't too bad, but sometimes Alfred couldn't refrain from grumbling about them too, now and then, when the kids were being especially crabby on one of those 300-mile jaunts round the Midwest that especially taxed his rickety frame - and when both his nerves and his joints were being taxed at the same time, he was not in a good mood towards anyone. Not at all. He had managed to hold in his irritation towards all of them so far...for the most part. Sometimes he vented it in little ways, like refusing to lock when ordered to by the bossy keys, or cheerfully continuing to run when he knew there was no key in the ignition. But those incidents were few and far between. And minor, very minor. Alfred was, after all, a decent car. Even with his grumps he'd never done anything really terrible. He was of the old stock, he liked to think to himself sometimes, loyal and true. Just a bit crafty, but that was it.
To cheer himself now as he wound up through Michigan, he thought of how nice it would be to finally reach the old junkyard and retire his aged machinery to be used for the benefit of cars, not people. Well, at least not his very own people. No worries at all! Just his old spirit mingling with the thousand others that had settled there over the years. Yes, that would be delightful. He wouldn't grudge a few more miles now. With renewed energy, Alfred motored past signs that grew increasingly boat and resort themed. In a wee back corner of his mind, he wondered if they would drive by water. Alfred didn't like driving by water too much; it made him nervous - more and more as he'd grown older - although, really, he'd always disliked it. Hopefully it wouldn't be too much water.
Then his mind meandered to other things. And this was Alfred's crowning mistake. If his mind had not wandered, he would have eavesdropped, and if he had eavesdropped then he would have heard things like, "Yes, Elise, we're going to go over a BIG bridge!" and "We're going to cross right over into the U.P. - that's upper Michigan, the part that connects to Wisconsin." "Lake Huron on one side and Lake Michigan on the other! Isn't that cool?" And then Alfred would have had time to mentally prepare himself for the terror of going over such a great quantity of water. And he would have been irritated, but not mutinous. However, Alfred did not eavesdrop. He did not hear. He did not prepare himself. He wandered into the rosy assembly lines of his youth.
Suddenly, there was a jolt and the feeling of the ground under him changed. And as Alfred was awakened from his sleepy dreams of childhood, he panicked more than he had ever panicked in his life.
Now Alfred, as has been said, was a decent car. He was hardworking and loyal, and he also managed to keep his head in traumatic situations. That is why when he saw the water - all that gray misty water! - stretching out all around him - and under him - into the very sky - he did not stop, or spontaneously combust. His terror was kept within, and it glowed white-hot, a freezing fire of fear that held him in rigid check until he was across the bridge, and safe. It was only when he was safe that his terror became. As relief came upon him in cool waves, it brought anger. Anger of the greatest depth and velocity. Alfred felt violated, he felt betrayed, and his old-car-rage lid was ripped open and out spewed hatred. Whiny kids were one thing. A bridge over a great lake was another. Even now as he puttered along he trembled at the recollection of it. "What was that?" He heard the woman ask. "I felt something. Maybe we should go out and check the tires?" It was then that Alfred had a very mean idea.
When one is angry, one does not always think clearly. In Alfred's case, this was partly true - he would never have had this terrible thought had it not been for his anger. But also, his anger sharpened his wits and broadened his mind - not a good thing for a car of such old age who already possessed such expert ability to be dark and crafty beneath his hood. And after a few minutes - after thinking in the quiet of his own mind while he was stopped at a general store so the kids could try a "pastie" (as they called them), Alfred had made up his mind.
(At this point, the author would like to make known the fact that she knows barely anything about cars and so couldn't understand a whole lot of the technical language that Alfred later shared. If anyone would like more details, you can ask and she will try to procure some highly factual information for you about what happened.)
Pretty soon, Alfred carried out his plan. He carried it out, in fact, right after they left MacDonald's following the visit to the general store. What better place to do this than in the U.P., he thought. Almost in the stark middle of nowhere. Five hours away from home, three from the place they had left. So, Alfred deliberately began to smoke.
It was on the passenger side, by the wheel. Pretty soon everyone in the car smelled it and the parents started to look at each other with worried expressions. Amid the plump pillows and headphones and books in the back seats, the whiny kids started to cover their noses. "What's going on?" They asked - some in worried tones, like their parents, some simply curious, some disgusted. Alfred felt a sweet satisfaction and he continued to smoke. He knew well that they should have checked him out before they went on such a long trip! If his bad parts had been replaced, he wouldn't have been able to display his anger so neatly. As it was, he was thankful they had not. After a while, he was stopped in a lonely parking lot in Moran Township - that's what the little green address sign said. Over him stood a big marker that once was probably white, but now was brown and crusty and looked altogether unfriendly. It said MOTEL but the E had disappeared somewhere into the mold. To his left was the flat dingy motel advertised on the sign; to his right stood a diner with gray fogged up windows. One car, still running, was parked aimlessly thirty feet away, its engine acting like it was going to go someplace quite soon. Alfred felt smug as he surveyed the beat-up vehicle. At least he had managed to stay in shape!
Both parents got out of Alfred and began to inspect the wheel. Smoke was still calmly issuing from the side. Alfred listened as the husband called two men with thick Wisconsin accents and he found himself feeling a twinge of regret as he listened to them both say it was better to have him looked at before going further. "Better to be safe," one said heavily through the static. He had not quite planned to strand them out here...but as the regretful thought entered his mind, he shut that part of him up, and mentally threw away the key. They took him over a bridge! They deserved what they got. At the same time he felt some embarrassment that he could not control himself as he used to. He had planned for trouble and ended up with a disaster! He must be more careful with his fragile parts from now on.
After a while, he was driven to the gas station across the street: GUSTAFSON'S, A sign to the side read. 'Groceries. Beer. Wine. BEEF JERKY. SMOKED FISH'. He was parked in front of a house with a white picket fence. It looked a bit dirty, but everything did in this drizzle, so maybe it was really quite a pleasant place, he thought. As the parents talked, Alfred was able to gather above the din of the crabby youngsters that he was to be towed. TOWED! Alfred could not tell whether to be excited or ashamed. He had never been towed before. Always he had been such a good car. Always he had been a true car, a reliable car, even though his owners had seldom noticed. Now...well, this was a new life he had entered when he had decided to take his revenge. Alfred felt quite run-down now. He must truly be an old car! New cascades of feeling washed over him and he did not pay attention to the oldest being the crabbiest of all in the front seat as the younger children ran about on the gravel, every so often being summoned sternly back to his side by the mother when they got too close to the road. "Alfred is the dumbest thing ever," he heard the oldest say. "This is so dumb." "Hmmph to you," Alfred thought, feeling smug for the second time that day.
In the end, Alfred was indeed towed away, feeling a bit shy as he was tied down with their big yellow straps. His family got into two separate taxies, both smelling faintly of cigarette smoke and having a smattering of stains. The car the females in the family were transported in had marks on the door that looked like a large feline had been trying to get out. (Alfred heard all this from later eavesdropping.) They were driven to a hotel on Lake Michigan - the father had booked two rooms for them just in time - and left there by the taxi people - decent people they were, too, even if their cars wouldn’t have held up under authoritative scrutiny. At the hotel, the office was in one building, the pool was in another, and all the rooms were in an entirely different one. Alfred's family was on the third floor, so they made their way up by way of an elevator with a cake of bugs stuck in the light. In the end, the night was all right, although in one of their rooms the side for the hot water in the shower was labeled 'cold' and the cold side was labeled 'hot'...and the water went three directions as it came out from the head.
That night the family watched Field of Dreams and had pizza and were safe and sound, although a bit befuzzled. Of course, the next day was the strangest day of all.
The family did not have a car - they did not have Alfred. The auto shop was two miles away, also in the little town called St Ignace where they were staying. And so instead of ordering more taxis - which would have cost a lot of money - the parents did a wise thing. Very wise. They decided to walk, with their big blue suitcase and their three big backpacks and their one small one, to the car place. Don't you think that was quite nice? It was only two miles away. One saves more money if one walks than if one gets a taxi, you know. So they set out, a little parade, along the main road through town, past all the St Ignace mugged-and-t-shirted shops and heart-warmingly-titled restaurants. With all their luggage. One middle-aged man in a car going past started laughing at them. Another person honked. So they walked and they walked, and the oldest said that this was the sort of thing she would rather not have to write about in her family update!
When they got to the auto shop, it was around 1:40 pm. Alfred wasn't ready to come out just then, so they waited! They set their suitcases and backpacks down outside the auto shop and sat on them until everyone was hungry and Alfred was still not ready. Eventually the father and the two older girls went and got hot fried chicken and strawberries and a veggie tray and some water from a grocery store called Family Fare. Bringing their plastic bags back to the auto shop (which was a little off the main road) they all sat down and had a good time of it, mostly. After a while the mother said, "Wipe your hands on the grass if they're dirty. Don't wipe them on yourselves." The father agreed to that and really they all agreed to it until one of the auto men came out walking a little dog he said was the watchdog. The dog's name was Diego. Anyway after Diego came out nobody wiped their hands on the grass anymore.
In the end, Alfred was fixed. Feeling very stiff and proper in all his new things, he drove them home with no problems, even though some of them complained about him for half the drive. Alfred pretended not to care. At any rate, he couldn't do anything in retaliation because of all his new nice working parts.
And so that was how the family came to stay in Michigan about a day longer than they planned, and how all those people taking the main road through St Ignace in the early afternoon of the 27th of May smiled one more time than they would have before, and how so many pink and green strawberry tops came to be strewn about in the grass outside George's Auto Body Shop.