Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy
Advertisement
Share
News

My guardian angel drives an RV

DAVID SILVA

Late one summer, back when I was 21, I decided to take a road trip to

visit some friends in Prescott, Ariz. It was one of those

spur-of-the-moment travel decisions, and I had told no one I was

Advertisement

going. It’s taken me most of my life to figure out that the biggest

troubles I get myself into often involve the least amount of advance

planning.

I left Los Angeles about 10 p.m. in my beat-up Oldsmobile Cutlass,

Advertisement

a twitchy, temperamental old war horse that was prone to dying on me

without a moment’s notice. The brakes were bad and one headlight was

out, but I gave no consideration to that whatsoever. The only thing

working in my brain was the thought of flying down the open highway

in my big, comfortable ride, stopping by roadside diners for hot

apple pie, just like Kerouac in “On the Road.” As I said, I was 21 --

the closest we’ll ever come to immortality in this lifetime.

It was 3 a.m. and 200 miles past the California-Arizona border

Advertisement

when I decided to pull over to the side of the road to check my AAA

map. Having been run at high speeds nonstop for hours, the

Oldsmobile’s engine had trouble believing it was being turned off. It

sputtered, coughed, fired up again, and finally shuddered to a stop.

I checked the map for the next big turn-off, folded it and turned

the ignition switch the start the car. In hindsight, this was like

asking an old man who had just run the New York Marathon to get up

and start sprinting again. Nothing happened.

Advertisement

I stared at the unmoving arrow on the tachometer and turned the

key again. Nothing happened. I pounded the dashboard once hard,

revealing for none to see my absolute ignorance of automotive repair.

Nothing happened.

Stepping out of a car onto the desert highway at 3 a.m. is like

stepping out onto the surface of the moon. My tennis shoes crunched

on the dark pavement, and it was only then that I became aware of the

inhospitable nature of my surroundings. The air was hot and dry. The

only illumination around me came from my car’s sole headlight, the

only sound the occasional flap and flutter of wind. What I found most

unnerving wasn’t the darkness or the flapping wind. It was the

silence -- the lifeless, motionless silence behind the sound of the

wind.

I popped open the hood of the car just for show. Given that I knew

nothing about cars, the only way I would spot the source of the

problem was if a wooden stake was protruding from it, and even then I

wouldn’t have known how to fix it. My only hope was that some good

sport driving by would see the hood propped open and stop to help,

which is why I propped it open in the first place.

I leaned against the back of my car, stared down the highway and

waited. Forty-five minutes passed before a pair of headlights

appeared in the distance, and a few moments later the headlights and

the big rig attached to them blew by me without so much as a tap of

the brakes. I waited and waited. Another 30 minutes went by before

another vehicle appeared, flew by me and disappeared over the

horizon.

“Well, Dave, this is a pretty pickle,” I muttered to myself. I

hopped onto the trunk of the Oldsmobile and leaned back against the

back window.

Truly, I was in a pickle. It had been a hot summer, and I knew

that in a few short hours the ambient temperature would be 110

degrees, easy. Of course I hadn’t thought to bring any water with me.

I looked up at the night sky, the gray-blue dust of the Milky Way

streaked across the center, and was suddenly overwhelmed by the

isolation, the remoteness of my predicament. I closed my eyes and

imagined what I would look like to the team of archeologists who

years from now would stumble across my bleached-white bones. They

would stare into the hollow sockets that were once my eyes and wonder

what kind of fool would have driven waterless out into the desert in

a malfunctioning car.

Since I hadn’t told anyone about my road trip, my family and

friends would by then have assumed I’d met with foul play, or was

meditating in some ashram in San Francisco.

Wrapped up in these increasingly depressing thoughts, I didn’t see

the RV pulling over to the side of the road in front of my car until

I heard the sound of a car door opening and turned around. An old man

in a red flannel shirt stepped out of the driver’s side and walked

over to me.

“Got yourself in a bit of a pickle, eh?” he asked, smiling.

“Mister, you have no idea!” I said. I was so relieved to see him

that I didn’t notice he had used the same word to describe my

situation as I had. Or that I had been resting right beside the

highway and hadn’t seen him pull up.

I explained how my car had died, and the old man nodded. “Sounds

like vapor lock,” he said. “Let me have a look.” And with that he

dropped to his knees and crawled under my car.

I looked over to the RV and noticed a matronly woman sitting in

the passenger seat. She sat looking forward, as if utterly

unconcerned that her husband was out helping a perfect stranger on a

darkened desert highway.

“Let’s see if this works,” I heard the man grunt from under the

car. Suddenly the pavement beneath the car lighted up and I heard the

crackle of an electric spark. “Go ahead and try it now.”

I got behind the steering wheel and turned the ignition. The

engine roared gloriously to life, and relief poured over me like

water from a cool spring. I sat staring at all the wonderful lights

and gauges in the dashboard telling me all was well, that I wouldn’t

have to die a miserable, lonely death in the desert after all. Then

it occurred to me to thank the old man, to thank him and his wife

profusely and to tell them that if they were ever in L.A., to come by

and....

The man was gone. The RV that just moments earlier was idling by

the side of the road was gone. I looked down the open highway in both

directions and saw not a sign of life anywhere. The only sound I

heard was the occasional flap and flutter of the desert wind.

The rational mind moves in logical steps, each step predicated on

the one before it being made in orderly fashion. When confronted with

a patch of ground that makes no sense, the mind more often than not

will simply step over it and proceed to the next logical step, will

pretend that crazy patch never existed. That’s why it often takes us

days, sometimes years, after something truly odd happens before we

finally remark to ourselves, “Wow, that was really weird.”

So it was that years passed before I finally began to seriously

think about what really happened that August night in the desert. And

it was only then that I came to believe, with great conviction, that

we share this world with angels.

Sometimes they make their presence known in dramatic fashion, as

in stepping out of the desert air to rescue a stranded traveler. More

often than not they work with great subtlety. But you can see them if

you pay attention. They’re the single smiling face in a sea of

frowning faces. They’re the compassionate words of a stranger that

comfort you in sickness. They’re the gentle hand that lifts you when

you fall to your knees in grief.

They exist, and they’re everywhere -- perhaps as a balm for all

the world’s sadness, perhaps because God doesn’t like to give us more

than we can handle. But they exist -- I know this because I’ve met

one.

My guardian angel drives an RV.

* DAVID SILVA, a Burbank resident and former Leader city editor,

is an editor for Times Community News. Reach him at (909) 484-7019,

or by e-mail at david.silva@ latimes.com.


Advertisement