Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Coffee Goes Off-Roading

Gravel pinged off the car's sides as the rear end swung out and it plowed a dark arc in the dusty switchback. I punched the clutch in and gave the throttle a tap. The tach needle jumped, and I downshifted to third, dropping the clutch and planting my foot hard on the accelerator. The four-wheel-drive dug in and I exited the turn, leaving behind a rolling cloud of dust and gummi bears.

"Whee!" said Coffee. "Go back and do that again!"

"No," I said. I squinted through the dirty windshield, scanning the road for holes. "And quit throwing all our gummi bears out the window. We need those for stamina."

Coffee hit me with his clipboard. "Look. It says right here in the official rally rules that if you are spanky-dope, you have to go back and do the fun turns twice," he said. "Besides, you're way ahead of those other guys."

"Doesn't matter. We're being timed. Keep an eye on the road, willya? What's coming up next?"

"I sincerely doubt that." Coffee consulted his map and pacenotes. He scanned the roadside. "Looks like we're entering hippo country," he said in an exaggerated Texas drawl.

I tapped the brakes to put the car into a slide, and we drifted effortlessly around a shallow bend. "Hippo country? The hell?" I tried to steal a glance at the clipboard, but Coffee hunched over it, obscuring it with his shoulder.

"Yep. Better watch out for the ones with little birds on them. Those are the mean ones."

"If you don't tell me what turns to expect, we're going to lose the race," I said, nervously eying the narrowing road ahead. It was lined with little bent trees.

"Oh, boo hoo! Whatever will you do if the nice man in the suit doesn't give you a pretty little wreath made out of flowers? You'll have to grow your own and maybe have to touch an earwig!"

"There's also the money and the semi truck full of Oatmeal Creme Pies," I reminded him. Coffee was a sucker for OCPs.

"You know," he said, "That might just be a good enough excuse for being lame that I'll let you off this time. One hundred meters, left kink, severity three."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

The course straightened out in front of me, and I upshifted and flogged all four hundred horses. The car picked up speed, the trees whooshing by in a green blur, surprised squirrels bouncing off the windshield. The engine's scream was punctuated by thumps and clatters as the car's suspension tracked the pitted road surface. Coffee sat rigidly, arms at his sides, staring grimly ahead, totally focused. The relative silence unnerved me.

"Severity three?" I asked.

"Moose!" Coffee screamed, pointing.

I planted the brake, and the car slewed off the road. We ended up sliding sideways down a steep embankment, crunching through bushes and throwing up plumes of sand.

"No. Wait. I'm sorry. That wasn't a moose," Coffee said, after the car came to rest and the dust settled. "I'm pretty sure that was a yak."

I willed my redlining heart to slow, and loosened my death grip on the wheel. "Dammit. I should have known. That's, what, the third moose you've seen in the last twenty minutes?"

"It was a yak, you doofus. Gummi bear?"

"No thanks." I looked around. I couldn't see the track from here. As far as I could tell, the car was a tiny dot on an endless expanse of scrubland. "Where the hell are we?"

"How the putz should I know? This looks like a good place to get out and run around in circles, though. You up for that?" He poked me jovially with a box wrench.

"What do your notes say?" I prodded.

"Watch out for hippos," Coffee read off the clipboard. "And we haven't hit one yet! You're lucky I came with you on your sweaty little road trip. Can you imagine all the hippos and giraffes and stuff you would have bonked into if I wasn't here? Can I have some pop?"

"I didn't bring any pop," I said, wearily scrubbing the grit from my eyes with the back of a hand. "We came from that way, judging by the path of destruction and skidmarks. Which direction were we supposed to go after that last straight?"

"Don't be a weenie. I put some pop in the trunk before we left. You had an extra wheel in there, which was stupid, so I threw it away." He swung the trunk open. "I brought Mr. Piddle and some Grumpy Cola in case you wanted pop too. Want one?"

"Sure," I sighed. "Eeew. It's all warm."

Coffee released a belch that left the air full of the patter of fleeing small animals and a distinctly cherry odor. "Duh. This is the desert and all my ice probably melted a long time ago. Come on. Let's get out of here. There's no skunks here, and none of these bushes have any suspicious berries in 'em. It's boring."

"So you know which way to go?"

"Of course. You just try not to run into any hippos, and I'll do the rest. Can I listen to the radio?"

"There is no radio."

"This car sucks."

We were off. I didn't hold out a lot of hope that we would be able to put in the fastest time, but we might be able to place in the top five, and I could live with that. Even fifth place won you your weight in Oatmeal Creme Pies.

"Shallow left here. Two hundred; switchback. Bridge. Ducks. No, seriously! Ducks. Sharp right." Coffee's directions came fast and accurate. Before long we were back on a dirt road. Then pavement took over. Soon, I was passing houses.

"Are you sure we're still on course?" I asked Coffee.

He reached over and turned on the wipers. "Trust me. Have I ever gotten you in trouble before?"

"Did you see that? We just went through a red light. There are other cars on this road! That last one was a minivan full of kids!"

"Don't worry so much. They were just little kids, and you have a helmet. Slow down. Square right."

I sighed. We'd pretty much blown the race, so I might as well make the turn. I pulled into the parking lot and stopped.

"Waffle House. You happy?"

Coffee tittered. "Yes! You know what this means, right?"

"Enlighten me."

"It means that we can eat bacon and make fun of men with hats. It means we're winners!" I pulled the door open and Coffee pranced inside.

"You paying?" I asked him.

"Hell no. You still owe me for that pop I gave you."


  1. Coffee, he so naughty!

  2. It's still in bean form, where it will remain until I grind it, soak it, and pump it through the French press. It's the only way to roll!

    "Coffee," as a character, started out as an exaggerated personification of the effect caffeine has on my concentration. It's his goal to keep me from spending too much time on any one project--he's ADD in a mug.

  3. Fret not, Cruella. No giraffes were harmed in the typing of this post.


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