CarStories are stories about your cars. This week, we have New York-based comedian Ben Rosenfeld. He’s an NYC based comedian who has appeared on FOX’s Laughs, CBS This Morning, National Geographic’s Brain Games, Rooftop Comedy and been featured as TimeOut New York’s Joke of the Week. His two comedy albums, Neuro Comedy (2012 – iTunes | Amazon ) and The Russian Optimist (2016 – iTunes |Amazon) are available at all digital music retailers and streaming sites. Ben is also the creator of the illustrated coffee table book, Russian Optimism: Dark Nursery Rhymes To Cheer You Right Up, an Amazon Top 5 Best Seller in Humor.
“Mike, I’m not sure that our Bertha was built for climbing this mountain!”
“Well Ben, the only way to find out is to keep your foot on the gas.”
Flashback: Summer 2009 – A couple days earlier.
I’ve been admitted to grad school in Pasadena, California and I’ve come out west two weeks earlier than needed to go on a hiking vacation with my college friend Mike. We’ve previously traipsed across Australia and New Zealand on a shoestring budget. This time we’re planning to see as many National Parks as possible: Yosemite, Zion, Bryce, Glen Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, the Grand Canyon and the most famous national park of all .. Las Vegas.
I fly into LAX and go straight to the Hertz rental counter where I’ve reserved an economy size sedan – “Pontiac G6 or similar” to be exact. (Thank you Gmail archive search!) Lo and behold, all they have available is a puke green Chrysler Town and Country minivan.
I ask Hertz, “Do you have anything else? Maybe a Toyota Supra or something more becoming of a single twenty-four year old and his engaged buddy?”
“Sorry, this is it. You can try coming back in three days.”
Too bad my trip starts tomorrow.
First casualty: I drive to my new apartment in Pasadena while avoiding eye contact with young children. The minivan, who I’ve already nicknamed “Big Bertha” – I’m a sucker for alliteration – won’t fit in the driveway. I don’t eyeball this. I try to squeeze it in. Three or four times. My Bertha gets her first beauty mark – a five inch scratch along her side belly.
Triage: In the evening I park B.B. on the street. I don’t bother to lock the car, because who would steal that? Now’s a good time to mention, I’m not a morning person. Or more accurately: I’m not a person while it’s still morning. So I had to make sure the crust was out of my eyes when I woke up wanting nothing but a coffee and saw a parking ticket on my girl. Apparently the pleasant hellhole that is Pasadena doesn’t allow overnight parking on the streets. But they only post signs in negative five size font.* (Apparently California and motor vehicles do not mix well for me. See this previous story on rental cars…)
The next day, my friend Mike flies in. He sees me pull up in this sad excuse of a monster truck and starts laughing. Five minutes later, he finally regains his composure and adds, “Well, if we can’t find a hotel, we can always sleep in the back of this wildebeest.”
First stop: Yosemite. We’re getting the hang of Bertha and make great time up the freeway. Until we enter the actual park. She’s struggling up those hills like an overweight asthmatic grandmother with a double wide stroller. The pedal is to the metal and the metal is barely accelerating.
“It’s a good thing we can’t drive up Half Dome,” I say.
We check into our Yosemite lodging, go for a light hike and take it easy before going to bed. The next day we’re rudely awoken by a park ranger.
“Are you the idiots who left food in your minivan?” His inflection on minivan is extra mocking. He continues, “Didn’t you read the Curry Village brochure? Don’t leave food in your vehicle.” Does he have to use his hands as air quotes around the word “vehicle?”
Mike says, “Uh, yeah, sorry. We didn’t think a bear would be caught dead in that thing.”
“Just don’t let it happen again. These bears are dangerous.”
After three days of lovely Yosemite, and hiking Half Dome – a brutal 16 hour hike – we leave and head east to Zion National Park. Bertha starts growing on as as we hit 100 mph on Route 120. Downhill Bertha is a different machine than Bertha The Busted Hill Climber. We’re hitting the dips in the road and flying off our seats. This is fun; Bertha is a wild woman!
The longer we tour the national parks, the more we start taking pride in our Lochness Monster. We’re no longer parking it as far away from other humans as possible. We’re rolling up, windows down, music blasting, like, “Damn right this is our ride! You got a problem?!?”
Until our last stop: Vegas.
Remember the movie Swingers, where they enter Vegas in a red hot convertible with the top down? Well, we were the exact opposite. We get to our hotel and hide our Green Giant in the parking lot quicker than a Kardashian makes an adult video. We’re proud of Bertha, but we’re not insane.
Back at LAX, I return the minivan and she’s looking dirtier than water from Flint. The car rental guy looks at me like, “This is why rental cars have a 25 and over policy.” I smile and shrug. I’m just glad Bertha doesn’t fall apart as I shut the door.
Moral of the story? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… unless you’re in Vegas.
*I appealed this ticket and didn’t win the appeal but still refused to pay the ticket on principal. So there might be a warrant out for my arrest in Pasadena. Or Hertz paid the ticket for me and then automatically billed my credit card. Either way, screw Pasadena’s Draconian parking regulations.