I’m a conscientious driver. Or at least I try to be, which is why, when my hands-free earpiece began to pick up air traffic signals and short wave radio broadcasts out of Guam, I pulled off the road to take a call while cruising down Eighth Street East. I entered the empty sprawl of the Carneros Business Park where the sole building is festooned with a sign that reads “You Wanna Piece of Me?” which sounds more like an invitation to a bar fight than a pitch for some square-footage, but clearly they know their market better than I do.
I completed my call – a tourism flak pal of mine had it in his head that the bureau must produce a zombie flick, you know, “for the holidays,” and I was inclined to agree. Meanwhile, a small caravan of vehicles trickled out of the complex. When I finally attempted the same, I discovered the gate had been closed. Upon further inspection, including a firm tug of the padlock on the gate, I realized it would remain closed. My car and I were locked in an empty business park and night would soon fall. Yes, I’m an idiot.
I took a cursory tour of the complex in the vain hope that one of the cul de sacs was an inlet that returned to Eighth Street East. Nada. No roads lead to Rome here, let alone reality beyond well-manicured plugs of shrubbery and monument signage. I was the sole human specimen in some botched re-creation of my natural habitat. I was the existential punch line of a “Twilight Zone” episode. It occurred to me to call the number on the “You Wanna Piece of Me?” sign to invite the real estate agent down to kickbox or whatever and waylay him long enough to drive through the gate before he knew what hit him (read: speak rapidly in his direction – 200 polysyllabic words a minute, baby).
This plan could have worked had I not drained my phone’s battery chatting about what wine zombies would pair with brains. The old iPhone car charger mysteriously will not charge the iPhone 3GS to which I had upgraded after literally dropping a call in a parking lot (damn that “butter fingers” app). I was both trapped and unable to obtain outside help.
I decided I could either set up camp or circle the myriad cul de sacs again.
This time around, however, I spied two blokes in the distance whose mise-en-scène recalled the set of “Waiting for Godot,” simply, “A country road. A tree.” To reach them I had to lurch my Mini Cooper over a cul de sac’s curb and into a field, then navigate a minefield of ditches and detritus before reaching them at the other side of the wasteland. They were not impressed. Nor did they have a road to speak of, just a length of compacted dirt that someday might grow into a road. I rolled down the window and asked if the gate they had come through was still open.
Here, I made two fatal assumptions: A) That there was a gate and B) that they had gone through it. The sun-baked men blinked back at me for a moment. Then, like Vladimir and Estragon, admitted they could not remember. We gazed vacantly at each other for a moment too long. Then, I motored onward into the adjacent vineyard.
Fortunately, the Mini is no wider than the tractor whose dusty tracks I followed, turn by turn, in an attempt to wend myself out of the finely pruned rows of chardonnay. The cross pitch for the motion picture version of this moment would be the “Italian Job” remake meets “Benny Hill” with maybe a little “Cannonball Run III” thrown in for good measure.
This labyrinthine detour would have been a minor footnote to my day had it not taken an hour and half to finally chance upon a corrugated metal structure and with it the possibility of escape. There, two different guys stood gaping at me from a distance. This time, I skipped the dialogue and turned down yet another patch of earth with aspirations to one day become a motorway. The guys were having none of it. They leapt into a truck and “gave chase” as they say in the police procedurals. I pulled over.
“What the hell are you doing?” the driver asked.
I played dumb. “This is part of the winery tour, right?”
The guy snapped into customer service mode.
“Actually, no, you’ll want to go straight and take a left, you know, onto the street. Where cars go.”
“The street? Right. That would make sense wouldn’t it?”
He nodded and with that I escaped to wash the terroir off my car.