Jeffrey tries to go camping with friendsBy: Dan Tomich
It was around 1980, maybe more, long before we moved to Auburn, and our son Jeff was out of high school and going to Otis Parsons Art Institute in downtown Los Angeles. He and his two friends Richard and Greg used to go camping together and one day Richard’s dad offered his large Winnebago for them to use. They immediately made plans for a fishing trip to Lake Isabella, about a three-to-four-hour drive north from Los Angeles. Richard would be the driver of the Winnebago.
The motorhome was an early model, square shaped, long and tall, and very large.
They all chipped in and gassed it up, loaded their fishing poles, tackle boxes, supplies and sleeping bags, and we waved goodbye to the three amigos. It reminded me of some of my early adventures with my own fishing buddies, Louie and George.
All went well until just after dinner on a Sunday evening. I answered the phone and it was the California Highway Patrol. I immediately sensed that dire feeling parents hope to never experience. There’d been an accident. The man said the motorhome had rolled over a cliff and the boys were in the Kern Emergency Hospital. I asked him about their condition. He didn’t know the details but said they were all three still alive. He added that there wasn’t much left of the motorhome.
I sat for a moment to gather my wits and then I told Mickie I was going to drive up there and see what I could do to help. I phoned the other parents and offered to drive but no one else wanted to go along.
I gassed up our car and took a California map. I wasn’t sure where I was going into the dead of night. I drove and drove until I wasn’t sure where I was anymore. I’d looked at the map before leaving home but now I was alone on the highway and surrounded by onion fields. I pulled to the side of the highway, turned on the interior overhead light, and unfolded my map. And I couldn’t read it! My vision was a blur and I was lost. I got out of the car and held the map to the car’s headlight so that I could read it better. I hadn’t realized until then how badly I needed glasses.
I had a ways farther to drive while worrying the rest of the way, “Oh dear God, please let them be alive.”
I pressed on to the hospital and got there pretty late or maybe it was very early. They told me the boys were sleeping, they were injured, but they had survived the crash. But one other thing. They might have to remove Jeff’s spleen. I didn’t know what a spleen was. They took me to his room and I let him know I was there to bring them home, if possible, in the morning. I went back out to the car and waited for the sun to come up. I awoke freezing; I was in the desert. It was Monday morning, a work day. I phoned our shop and spoke to my partner. I tried to explain the accident to him. I was so cold, my voice was quivering. He kept asking me to calm down; he thought I was on the verge of panic. No, I was freezing. The boys weren’t going to be released for quite a while so I drove over to the impound yard to have a look at the motorhome. I was stunned. I was looking for a motorhome; I found what looked like a stack of cards, the walls were laid flat like playing cards. The steering column bent flat to the floor. It was a total loss.
Later the boys were released from the hospital, still dressed in their dirty, torn, blood-stained clothes. Gauze wrapped heads, elbows and knees, and one of them with a cast on his leg. I loaded them carefully into our little two-door Toyota Corolla for the ride home. There were no fishing poles or tackle boxes to load. It had all been stolen at the crash site. We made one stop on the way back to Torrance. They were injured but they were also starving. A McDonald’s for burgers and fries solved that problem. The boys were quite a sight as they waited in line for their food. I had to load the guy with the cast into the back seat, leg extended between the two front seats and touching the radio with his toes. Lot’s of moaning and groaning loading them into and out of the car. They looked a re-enactment of the Civil War. I got them home that afternoon and none of the parents ever said thank you. Shortly after that the people who owned the Winnebago sold their home and moved away to another state. Jeffrey’d lost his fishing pole, his tackle box, and nearly his life, but thankfully, he still retained his spleen.
Dan Tomich, who spent his career in the construction industry, lives in North Auburn with his wife, Mickie. Their sons are grown and are all in the same trade. Tomich can be reached at email@example.com.