"WELCOME TO OKLAHOMA," announced the sign. "NATIVE AMERICA."
"Cool," said Rich. "Let's take a photo." We were somewhere on the Kansas-Oklahoma border, en route from San Francisco to New York. It was a bitterly cold November Saturday but we were warm and cosy in our hired Buick.
"Are you crazy?" I cried. "There's a blizzard out there!"
"It's just a little snow. It'll only take a minute."
We'd built up a collection of photos of ourselves standing by various state signs. Underneath "UTAH" with Monument Valley behind us. Entering "KANSAS" with a backdrop of plains. It seemed a shame not to stop.
As this was only going to take a minute, we didn't bother putting on our coats, despite the cold. We leapt out of the car into howling wind and whirling snow, leaving the engine running. We raced to the sign, took the photo and raced back. My door was locked.
"Let me in," I said. "I'm freezing." Rich tried his door. Locked. "Stop messing about!” I shouted. “It's too cold! Where are the keys?"
Horrified silence from Rich. He could see the keys. In the ignition. It seems our car had a security feature: open and shut doors with engine running and doors automatically lock. Nice of the car-hire folks not to have told us.
So. Engine running, wipers wiping, lights on. Inside car: everything we possessed. Outside car: us, snow and no signs of civilisation. We huddled beside the Buick and talked options. These were (a): walk to nearest town, despite not knowing where or how far that was (map in car) or (b): flag down motorist, hoping to avoid passing psychotic serial killer. Given our clothing (old deck-shoes, holes in toes; thin jumpers, holes in elbows), we chose the latter. We waited, shivering and feeling more wretched by the minute.
Suddenly headlights. A van. We yelled and waved. He slowed, looked at us. And drove on. Of course. In our sodden clothes we looked like two psychotic serial killers.
As hypothermia set in and icicles began to form in our hair and noses, another vehicle. We waved in a frantic but sane-and-friendly way. The driver slowed, eyed us warily, stopped. "Can you drive us to the nearest police station?" I pleaded. "We're locked out of our car." The driver hesitated, then opened a door. We clambered gratefully in. "The sheriff's office is closed," said the man. "It's Saturday."
"When does it open?"
"Monday." Our hearts sank.
The man, whose name was Kirk, drove us to his house in Kiowa, a tiny town we had driven through hours earlier. We were welcomed by his wife, Avis, and sat drinking steaming coffee while Kirk tracked down the sheriff. The sheriff didn't think he could get into a locked Buick. But he'd try. Two hours later he turned up with our car. Relief.
As he handed us the keys he smiled a my-aren't-you-stupid smile. "We're from England," I explained.
After expressing extreme gratitude we were back on the road. We approached the Oklahoma border for the second time. The blizzard was fiercer than ever. But we'd got our photo, thank you very much, and we drove on by.
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Green Adventures March 2015