The second half of the two cars, one girl, one tolerant Dad story is more of a confessional. There's just no way to tell it without revealing the schemer that I was in the first semester of what would have been my Sophomore year, the semester I stayed out of college so that I could grow up and learn to appreciate the opportunities I had. That little experiment didn't do much beyond make me want to go back to college and this time make the grades that would keep me there without ever again having to join a conference with my advisor and my parents on whether or not I was mature enough. Guess what? At 19, I was far from that level of maturity. I think the second half of the story reveals that.
Two months into the Regency, I intercepted the mail to discover a free night invitation to a new hotel in Houston, The Four Seasons' Inn on the Park. An invitation addressed to my father, not me, but that was only a minor detail for me to overlook.
Bad decision, that.
For the night the boyfriend and I picked to stay in the hotel, I formulated a story about visiting a friend at Sam Houston for the weekend.
Another bad decision.
The boyfriend and I set out into the afternoon with all sorts of romance and fun in mind. We'd check into the hotel and hang out a while, go out to our most frequented club, Cowboys, for a night of Screwdrivers and two-stepping, then return for the night to what was all too soon going to be referred to by my mother as our love nest.
It rained that day. And that night. All night. It does that in Houston sometimes. It rains and rains and rains. And all the water eventually flows from the streets into the bayous. The bayou of import to this story is the Buffalo Bayou, because it flowed right behind the hotel.
When we returned to the hotel from Cowboy, I had a minor decision to make: park the car myself or pay valet $3.00 to do it for me. My thinking at the time was that when you're an unemployed semi college student living off an allowance that does not take into account social activity, the sum of three dollars equaled cover charge and there was no way I was going to give that to someone for parking a car that I was perfectly capable of parking. So, based on saving three dollars, I chose to park the car myself.
That seemingly minor decision turned out to be the Mother of all the bad decisions in this story.
Had I handed the car to valet, they would have driven it up the ramp to the second story of the parking garage. Self parking was down the ramp to the level below the main driveway. Pretty close, in fact, to the swelling banks of Buffalo Bayou. Something I completely missed when we parked the car and ran inside.
At some point in the middle of the night, this brief conversation took place:
He: It's still raining, maybe we should check on the car.
Me: The car's fine. Go back to sleep.
I would like to go back to that moment and address my naive self from the point of view I now have. I would like to ask myself exactly on what I was basing that reply. Given the opportunity, I might even have to raise my voice to myself when I asked the question because I really would like to know exactly what I was thinking, but I do not recall. I think my young self would just stare at the ground and shuffle her feet.
When morning rolled around, I opened the curtains to the brown lake that was located where just the day before the hotel's green grounds had spread out into a glorious view. That woke me up quick. I decided to go check on my car.
Outside in the drive, I stood at the railing and stared in disbelief at the water below. The bayou had completely overtaken the lower parking level and, sadly, somewhere beneath that swirling and angry water was my car. Beside me stood a man who I was sure was not there with his boyfriend when he was supposed to be visiting a friend in college, nor was he likely driving the new car his father gave him because he somehow had managed to burn up his Jeep. I couldn't imagine anyone being in a worse predicament than I but, still, he was not a happy man. He pointed to something red just beneath the water's surface and explained that he was pretty sure that was his Corvette floating up. I pointed to the water where I felt that my car was. I asked him if he thought my car was ruined. (I did mention earlier that I was naive, didn't I? This only illustrates a portion of it.) I'm sure he didn't mean to laugh in my face but he couldn't help himself. His words to me: When you can stand on top of your car and be knee deep in water, yes, I would say that your car is ruined.
The questions that were on my mind when riding the elevator back up to the room were 1) how was I going to explain about the car? and 2) how was I going to get home?
No amount of story twisting or creative thinking was going to get me out of this one and I knew it. I tried to come up with something but there was nothing there. I had bits of excuses and fabrications swirling around my head at a faster clip than the tornado that uprooted Dorothy. But I could not come up with a single story that could cover up the fact that I no longer had a car.
As fast as water rises in Houston, it also recedes. The unfortunate cars belonging to the cheap self-parkers were all towed away before we checked out that afternoon.
I was given information on where I could claim my car, and handed the hotel manager's business card. I stared at those bits of paper the entire Yellow Cab ride home, hoping they'd morph into a script of the excuse that would get me out of what I was heading home to face.
No such luck.
Mother just happened to be standing in the window when the cab pulled into the driveway. Since it's a natural thing to wonder why your daughter is returning home in a cab the evening after she left in her car, and equally natural to be curious as to why the cab was driving off with her boyfriend inside, she didn't hesitate to ask. I, on the other hand, did hesitate to answer.
My father sat in his chair, quietly reading the evening paper. As I stood frozen and staring at my mother, my mouth open but nothing forthcoming, my father decided the put some advice into the air for me. He gently suggested that I be very careful with the words I was going to say next. Then he turned the newspaper around to show me the FRONT PAGE PHOTO of my car being towed. It was covered with bayou muck, to be sure, and water was pouring from it. Your couldn't tell that it was my car, not really. But the license plate was visible enough, and he recognized that to be - surprise! - his own.
Photographic evidence of the truth. Turns out I didn't have to make up a story after all.