The short answers: Use dialog to signify moods/feelings. Or, as an example of making words bounce off the page, Pepper Your Life Stories with Dialog to Add Zing
Life story writing certainly begins by describing events and people we have encountered, but how do we make these stories more than just a -- sorry, the word is dull -- recitation of facts? And an equally dull series of descriptions of how a character feels? These are questions that come up often among people in my classes, and in private coaching.
My recipe is, first, to capture and record dialog. If you don’t remember exactly what was said, that’s alright. Create conversations that come as close as possible to what you remember. A great technique for writing dialog is to imagine you’re talking with a friend.
Second, remember to keep your dialog in character. Each person you write about talks in a way that is specific for that person. Not everybody is from Australia, for example. So not everyone will greet another character with the phrase, “G’day, mate.” But if you have an Aussie you’re quoting, this would be a valid and lively phrase to use.
A very good way to get a handle on using dialog in writing a book of your life stories is to read samples from a few autobiographies or memoirs before plunging back in to writing again yourself. This is not at all to say that you have never read a book. Far from it. Refreshing/immersing yourself in a genre is a tool that most writers (including me) use to get themselves in the groove of writing in a particular form. I have a great book to recommend. It's Steve Martin's autobiography, Born Standing Up. If you go into the library (while they still exist) and browse the biography section, you can find many other books that will contain a mix of prose and dialog that should help inform your writing.
OK. So we insert dialog, but now, how much dialog is too much/too little? This related question comes from a very talented, very funny woman I coached. Her initial submission was a 25 page listing of the events in her life. It was not an easy life story -- she had a serious illness. But she treated each (often frightening) milestone with enormous good humor. Nonetheless, the result was far too much on the surface. We never knew how the main character was feeling. I suggested she insert dialog.
The student came back in a very short time with an entirely new book – laced with so much dialog we now weren’t sure what the action was. So, the challenge became finding a balance between description and dialog. While there are no real rules on proportions of prose to conversation, basically, the idea is to arrange dialog snippets within descriptive sections of an episode in your book. The dialog can then be used as a tool to expand the story in a way that literally speaks to readers. Here’s a sample:
Tom yelled at Sarah, "You're a spiteful, ugly witch, and I'm sick to death of being around you!"
Sarah slumped into the tub chair in her living room as he uttered his horrid words. Frozen, she was unable to move or speak. Tom waved his arms in the air for a minute, then slammed out the door. Sarah knew it was for the last time.
Now, we could follow with:
Sarah felt terrible.
Or, we could insert a phone call from a girl friend.
From somewhere outside her consciousness, Sarah heard a persistent, repeating sound. Rousing, she realized it was the phone. She slowly dragged herself to the instrument across the room and picked up the receiver.
“Hello,” Sarah mumbled, barely audible.
“Hi, Sarah? You don’t sound like yourself. Are you alright?”
Sarah realized it was her BFF, Kim. She let go, sobbing into the phone.
“Sarah, Sarah! What happened?”
“T…T…Tom. He…he… left…me!”
“What are you talking about? What happened?”
“He called me names, said horrible things, and slammed out.”
“Oh, he’s gotten mad at you before. He’ll be back.”
“Not this time.”
“How do you know that?”
“I don’t know. It’s just the way he said it. This time he’ll never come back…I know it. What can I do? I don’t know how I’ll be able to go on without him. After all these years.”
“Listen, honey. I can tell you feel terrible. You shouldn’t be alone. Do you want me to come over?”
Etc. Finish the dialog on the phone yourself! With a very short additional couple of lines.
Which method do you find makes for a better read?
KEY WORDS: writing; writing coach; memoir writing; how to write your memoirs; writing dialog; dialog writing tips; character development in writing; InaTheMemoirCoach
You who are owned by cats, like me, know the morning drill. Here’s an excerpt from my diary from a typical Tuesday...
5:00 am. Sound asleep, peacefully dreaming. Of something other than cats, most of the time. Lately for me, it’s how to get a word out of x, e and p in Word on my cell phone, something I’ve been addicted to since Alec Baldwin got thrown off the plane for playing this wretched game.
Suddenly, something lands on my head. Aacchhh! What the hell? Wide awake, I see a cat on my chest, peering into my face. Little Sam Cat. But I know that she wasn’t what landed on my head – the missile was much lighter. I feel around the pillow. Ah, there it is. One of Sammy’s nerf mice. She loves to play fetch and is really good at it.
But I’m not having any. “NO, Sammy! It is not time to get up!!!” I try to hide the mouse in a drawer. Sammy is not fooled and pulls the drawer’s handle to get at her treasure. Luckily, she’s not quite strong enough. I savor this tiny triumph, feeling not the least bit of guilt. And, closing my eyes, I drift back off…
5:20 am. SPROING! Dammit to hell! Sitting up, I’m just in time to witness little Sam take a running leap and ricochet off the bed again, meowing loudly upon hitting the floor seven feet away. “Sam! Cut that out!!!”
Sure. A few more running leaps, with contact. I remain motionless, trying to fool the cats into thinking I’m really back to sleep.
5:30 am. A very deep growling meow, followed by a poke in the cheek with a claw. A gentle poke, not meant to hurt, but a poke nonetheless. I have never been able to teach the very affectionate Pixelle to keep those sharp nails retracted. “No, Pix. It is NOT time for breakfast! Go back to sleep.” A heavy weight walks down my body, finally making circles between my knees. Mercifully, Pix nestles, meowlessly, between my knees. Grateful, eyes closed, I nod off again.
6:35 am. BANG, BANG, BANG! Without turning around, I yell, “Fi Cat, stop that!” Fiona, Sam’s sister, is opening the cabinet door, which springs shut with a loud thwhack each time she tries to pry it open with a paw. The door slams once or twice more, then, amazingly, all is quiet on the bedside front.
7:00 am. An Identified Flying Object lands with a thud on my right foot. “Sam-meee!!!!!” She has leapt from the top of a 7 foot tall bookshelf.
7:01 am. OK, I guess that’s it for sleep. I stretch, and before I’ve even stood up a feline chorus rings out. Sergeant Pix, Cat-in-Charge-of-Getting-Meals-for-the-4-Legged, takes command, going nose to nose with her little sisters, telling them breakfast is coming. Meanwhile, I rattle around the kitchen, taking care not to step on anyone.
First things first: set up the coffee maker – as a friend says, gotta get my heart started. Next, it’s pick up all 3 cat plates and soak them in the sink, to loosen any stuck-on morsels remaining from dinner. While the plates are immersed in suds, I pad into the guest bathroom and empty the clumps in the litter box. I then go into my office, where a second litter box resides, for the almost exclusive use of Fiona Cat. Which I’ll explain in another post … it’s a long story.
7:30 am. OK, so by now, coffee brewing, boxes cleaned for the morning, it’s time to return to the kitchen, scrub the cat plates, and dollop ¼ can of wet food onto each. Knowing the cats will turn up their noses if served the same food twice in a row, I carefully alternate stacks of pussycat meals before placing them in the cupboard. Love it on days when the already sliced bits or filets come up…much faster. Today it happens to be the pate, which can’t simply be spooned onto the plate, so I had to take a bit of extra time mashing the liver and chicken with a fork.
I put the plates down, food ready to be picked up easily by the kids with no hands. Pix takes a few bites, then retreats to the litter box. Pungent. As soon as she returns to her food, I run in and re-scoop. Next, it’s rinse out the water bowls and replace, with filtered water from the frig door. The little ones deserve not to have metals in their systems, just like us humans, right?
First sip of coffee. Ah….this day might be alright after all.
Sammy leaves the room.
Litterbox scratching sounds, accompanied by an indelicate odor filter into the living room from the guest bath …
_or ... Head on Neck, Place
For the last few weeks, I have been in a tizzy. More than usual. I am not sure why. Lots going on, but that in itself is not unusual. I am a million years older than I used to be, so that could be a factor, except, the series of things that have been happening are familiar…going into a room and forgetting what the hell for, asking the cats, but they don’t know either and so are of no help, none of this is new. Putting things down and then not finding them until they’re good and ready to be found, something I call “Reverse Kleptomania,” also par for the course for years.
But today kind of takes the cake. I put together a handful of stuff to toss into the trash, grabbing my keys on the way out. I live in a condo, so this is standard procedure. We toss the regular trash down a chute in a special little room off the laundry on each floor. But I also had recycling stuff, so I would need to go down to the garage, as that type of trash goes into special containers. For security, we have to have our keys to open the elevator on the lower level.
So far, so good. I’ve got everything held in such a way as to keep the keys and toss the trash. Carefully, I keep the keys in one hand as I toss some of the regular trash with the other, keeping the recycling tucked under one arm. Then, I carefully toss the other trash down the chute. Voila! Great work. Except, OMG, I’m not holding the keys. Did I toss them in with the second bunch of gar-bahge? Oh, no! I did, I did. Arrrgggghhhhh. How could I forget I was holding them?
OK, OK. I know I’m a sieve head. So what to do? As I run back to the apartment to pick up an extra set of keys, thoughts come flying through my brain. Yick. I’m going to have to reach into the smelly mess of gunk. I just hope I can get to it without having to dive in. I remember that there’s been a ladder in the garage the past few days, for some ongoing repairs. I hold onto the ray of hope that it’s still there. When I get to my apartment, I decide to grab the broom, in hopes it will help me ensnare the keys without having to dumpster dive. I run back to the elevator and keep hoping the ladder is still there. Wow! It is. My luck expands. There is also a neighbor there who sees my expression, and asks, “What happened?” When I tell him, he says, “You know, you could always call a locksmith. It’s $70.”
" Well, yeah, but those are my car keys, and a replacement costs $100 and has to be special ordered...it'll take days, and it’s the only one I have.”
“No problem. I’ll help you,” he says with a nod. He carries the ladder over while I prop open the door to the dreaded dumpster. Oy, the odor.
My valiant savior climbs up to the top of the ladder. “You can’t see a bloody thing in here. We need a torch. Do you have a torch?”
Yeah, I remember, he grew up in England. “I do, but of course hadn’t thought to bring it down.”
“You really can’t see any thing. Can you get the torch?”
“Sure. I’ll be right back.”
“No worries. I’ll wait for you.”
Leaving the broom by the door, I turn to go. “Thanks so much!!!!”
I race to my apartment, get the only flashlight I have, which throws out a very small light, race back down, hoping it will do. When I get back to the fragrant dumpster, I hand the light to my friend.
“What is this? You can’t see anything with this…Wait…I see them….hold on….”
He reaches over, without the aid of the broom, swoops down and comes back up, keys in hand.
I ask, afraid to hear the answer, “Did they land on a dry spot?”
“They’re cool. No problem. You’re very lucky.”
He hands me the perfectly dry, perfectly clean, non-aromatic keys. I threw my arms around him, giving him a huge hug. “I can’t thank you enough!”
“No problem. Have a great day! Don’t worry about the ladder. I’ll put it back.”
Feeling saved once again in life, I happily return home.
Am I really getting soft in the head with age, my biggest fear in life? Well, mayhap. But I also remember what my mother once told me. “You drop things because you forget you’re holding them.” I was 8.
Tips on Good Writing #2: Don’t repeat the same special word or descriptive phrase in a sentence or paragraph*
_ Certainly words such as “the” demand to be used more than once. That’s not boring unless they show up as every other word; they’re not eye-catchers. But if you have used a descriptive, colorful or unique term, for example you’ve described someone as “fascinating,” be sure you don’t use the word, in any of its versions, later in the same sentence or paragraph. You will soon disengage your reader.
Less Interesting: Old Weird Harold was the most fascinating kid on the block. For one thing, what kid would have a name that fascinated people like that?
Way to go: Old Weird Harold was the most fascinating kid on the block. For one thing, what kid would have a name like that? (adapted, with gratitude, from a phrase by Footprints author, Kay Roberts)
Less interesting: Old Weird Harold always wore a brown fedora on his head. Every time he took his fedora off, the young man bowed.
Way to go: Old Weird Harold always wore a brown fedora. Every time he removed his signature head ornament, the young man bowed.
*Excerpt from How To Write Your Memoirs...The Toolbox Edition, upcoming sequel to How To Write Your Memoirs...Fun Prompts to Make Writing...and Reading Your Life Stories a Pleasure!
Have you got a pet paragraph you'd like to send us to show how you've avoided this potential reader turn-off? Please send it to us in a comment below. Thanks!!!!
Thought I'd get back to posting some memoir writing tips. This one deals with a frequent issue many of us face when creating a memoir, or for that matter, any form of writing.
Do you find that a bunch of totally different adventures and people keep jumping into your thoughts as you’re trying to write a story? Don’t let that throw you into a tailspin. When you’re working on one chapter or idea and another crops up, just take notes on a separate piece of paper (or separate document if you’re on the computer). That way, you can get back on track quickly, yet not lose the “intruding” idea. And later, you’ll be able to develop and maybe incorporate that idea, too.
This tool has been very helpful to me, and to members of my Footprints Writing Club. For example, one man, new to writing, is committed to getting his life story on paper, but at first he had a terrible time keeping to a narrative line. He wrote what happened clearly, in a matter-of-fact-based way, but in a rather stilted tone, devoid of feelings and tension. He also complained that ideas for other parts of his life kept coming up as he tried to write, and he would find it next to impossible to stick with the story he was working on.
After a bit, trying this method of jotting down a note about a new idea, and then going back to where he was, his frustration level lowered dramatically, and his writing improved in equal measure. Now when he reads a segment of a new tale, rather than expecting to hear him wade through a rather detailed recitation of events without any plot, the class is eager to know what will happen next. And he feels much more comfortable while he writes. He’s even gotten very good at short fiction. Creating a fun story from a weird prompt is a new talent he didn’t know he possessed. Most of his writing is still carefully geared to “telling it like it was or is,” which is quite interesting in its own right; we his readers are learning about times and places we’d never have known about. But now that he can focus on storytelling, whether he’s writing fact or fiction, it’s a surprise and treat for us all to read or listen to new tales he weaves.
The above tip is excerpted from my upcoming sequel, How To Write Your Memoirs, The Toolbox Edition.
From "Ina Hillebrandt, The Appliance Years"
Those of you who know me may recall the days, a bit ago, when I dedicated my life to selecting, and then purchasing new appliances for my kitchen. Those were rarified times. I’d get up in the morning, brew coffee on my brand new Gevalia brushed steel coffeemaker, waltz over to the computer, and start the day’s search for the very best blender and food processor I could find, in brushed steel to match the lovely coffeemaker, at the best prices of course.
It all started when I took my customary neighborhood two mile walk one Sunday morning. As I rounded the bend on the homeward stretch, I saw what can only be described as Stuff. Laid out handsomely at the mouth of the driveway of its large apartment complex, it was Stuff nonetheless. What caught my eye specifically was a small Pakistani rug with a bit of my favorite color, peacock blue, woven into its pattern. Perfect, I thought, for an elegant doormat I’d been thinking I needed. As I approached the rug, I also saw other items spread out along the sides of the driveway that piqued my interest. But before even considering these, I asked a young woman who seemed to be one of the sale’s hosts, “How much for this rug?” “One dollar,” she told me. Thrilled, I immediately said, “Sold!” Occasionally I am quite decisive.
With this super purchase under my belt, I began to roam, eagle-eyed, about the various items on display. There was a set of 7 foot tall pine bookcases, another Item I’d been thinking I needed to house the overflow of books at my place, a waffle iron/grill for my daughter, several attractive wooden planters, and some lovely baskets. Total cost: about $45! But the prize was something I’d never seen before. A sleek, sophisticated brushed steel blender and food processor, all in one unit! With about a zillion tantalizing attachments fit into the curved base. The design was by Italian masters, wonderful, a kind of swooping S curve with the blender on one end and food processor on the other. “Does this work?” I asked the lady who was the seller of this unique cooking instrument. “Of course!” she assured me. The price? Are you sitting down? $10.00. I could hardly believe my luck. I had a blender, but it was vintage ‘80s and a gold color, as was my food processor, which I kept in a cabinet and never used. But here everything would be in one place, taking up little counter space vs. that required by two separate pieces, beautiful to look at in the bargain, and the requisite brushed steel. “I’ll take it!” I said happily. Given I had a lot of little things to cart back to my place, the blender/food processor/planter/bookcase seller offered to loan me her wheelbarrow, which was perfect. I was to bring it back when I returned for the bookcases. One of the fellows on hand would walk them the block and a half to my place using a hand cart when he was free later, with me guiding him.
As soon as I got home with the smaller goodies, I couldn’t resist. The blender/processor were a bit bespotted by food particles, and I couldn’t wait to get the whole thing cleaned up so I could try it out. A half hour and a few cuts later (those blades were indeed sharp), everything sparkled. I plugged the unit in, and pushed the on button for the blender. Silence. Same for the food processor. I rearranged both units, thinking I’d perhaps not got them on snugly enough or in quite the right spot. Pushed the buttons, one at a time again. Nothing.
Well, I thought, maybe there’s a trick to it. Thinking logistically, I hurriedly emptied a beat up bookcase I planned to toss now that I had the new one, packed up the fancy appliance, put it into the wheelbarrow and back to the sale I went. Coming up to the previous owner, I said, “Not to worry! You gave me such good prices on everything I wouldn’t dream of returning this, but I can’t seem to get the blender thingie to turn on. Can you show me how you put it together? Maybe I’m doing something wrong.” The lady smiled and showed me how to do it, which looked to be the same procedure I had followed. “Well,” I said, “I’ll take it back home and try again. Thanks so much!” Ever hopeful, I escorted the shelf-pusher back to my place, we put the bookcases where I wanted them, took the unit I’d emptied earlier to the curb to be picked up by anyone who wanted it. Then, bidding adieu to the nice man, I hastily went back inside. And back to the Italian. Which, once reassembled, again failed to work. Frustrated, I went online to see if I could find out anything further about getting this one to work, or maybe purchase a new one if the price were right. It was then I found that 9 out of 10 people who had bought one of these hated it and would never recommend it. Turns out there was a trick to making it work, but it wasn’t foolproof, and even if the reviewers got it to go on, the motors would burn out within a year and you could not get them fixed.
Rats! I thought. A few other words came to mind. However, not one to remain defeated, I began my search for the perfect all-in-one. It became clear pretty fast that there was no such thing. At one store, the Cuisinart people told me there was a reason no one else makes a blender and food processor together in one unit, with two separate stands aboard – they don’t work! Yes, there were compromise units, with smaller pitchers that tried to accommodate both types of cooking needs on one stand. But if you got one of these, you sacrificed capacity, flexibility or power. After two full weeks of daily checking, I finally found a great buy on a huge Kitchen Aid food processor. Not brushed steel, it had a shiny stainless base, but it would look good with the coffeemaker, and was top of the line in terms of performance. The real splurge would be the blender. A gorgeous Breville. European design, most powerful motor, it was just simply the most beautiful appliance I’d ever seen. So, I shopped and shopped for the best price. Finally, when it went on sale for almost $100 less than its usual price I raced to the store to grab one.
And ever since purchasing the beauty, I never tired of looking at it. The lid has a loop for a handle, giving it a distinctive appearance, and the base is a beautiful tall pedestal of brushed steel. It zoomed into action when called upon to perform, quickly whipping up guacamole, morning smoothies and other sauces and mixes. A few weeks ago I started to experiment with blender ice cream. Using crushed ice, frozen fruit chunks and skim milk, plus vanilla and Stevia, I could create delicious yet low fat and calorie-trimmed treats for myself, and then a group of friends at a dinner. However, the blender was not happy. She began to argue with me until one night when I was whomping up a chocolate cake batter to pour over pears in a fluted baking dish, she started smoking. I turned her off of course, and took out the batter, blending it with a spatula as best I could. The cake? Perfect. The Breville? Dead. Even after resting, she would not start again. I felt totally bereft, and betrayed.
So, I got a new baby -- the Ninja. With three blades at different levels on the removable stem, it promised to be an even better performer than the Breville, which though I loved her dearly, was a bit of a pain to work with -- heavy (glass vs. plastic pitcher on the Ninja), and you always had to take off the bottom, which screws and unscrews in directions opposite those in the U.S., a thing I always had to think about. And whatever was under the blade at the bottom would be hard to scrape out. The Ninja’s bottom is easy to get to so there should be less waste, I figured.
At the counter when trading in the European work-of-art-cum-blender, I told the sales rep how sad I was at its passing. He asked if I’d thought of just trying a different Breville. Maybe you got a bad one, he suggested. After all, isn’t the Breville the very best on the market? He said I should try the Ninja if I really wanted to, then feel free to bring it back if not satisfied, and try another Breville. After a few days, I find the Ninja’s a snap to use. It fits on its base easily, is light to pick up and take apart for cleaning. That’s very neat. And while it isn’t as elegant, it’s OK to look at. But ya know what? There are tiny ice particles that don’t quite get exploded by the Ninja…
A friend sent me this e-mail today. I thought, you know, it does kinda make sense. And it got me thinking about how difficult things are getting for our seniors. Social Security just went down, as the deduction for insurance just went up. And no rise in basic amount paid back to seniors for two years now, as it was determined that cost of living did not rise. Hah! Please tell me, other than for those who wanted to buy a house, exactly which numbers really declined? Cost of all foods is up, cost of medical, skyrocketed. Cost of meds on the horribly negotiated drug plan, crazy. More and more meds are not even covered for the pittance they were previously (no more enormous $15 off a $125 med, for example.)
So, even though this is exaggerated, and prisoners' lives are not in the least rosy, there is something to think about here.
This almost makes sense.....
Jails and Nursing Homes
Here's the way it should be:
Let's put the seniors in jail and the criminals in nursing homes.
This would correct two things in one motion:
Seniors would have access to showers, hobbies and walks.
They would receive unlimited free prescriptions, dental and
medical treatment, wheel chairs, etc.
They would receive money instead of having to pay it out.
They would have constant video monitoring, so they would be
helped instantly if they fell or needed assistance.
Bedding would be washed twice a week and all clothing would be
ironed and returned to them.
A guard would check on them every 20 minutes.
All meals and snacks would be brought to them.
They would have family visits in a suite built for that purpose.
They would have access to a library, weight/fitness room,
spiritual counseling, a pool and education...and free admission
to in-house concerts by nationally recognized entertainment artists.
Simple clothing - ie., shoes, slippers, pj's - and legal aid would be
free, upon request.
There would be private, secure rooms provided for all with an
outdoor exercise yard complete with gardens.
Each senior would have a P.C., T.V., phone and radio in their
room at no cost.
They would receive daily phone calls.
There would be a board of directors to hear any complaints and
the ACLU would fight for their rights and protection.
The guards would have a code of conduct to be strictly adhered
to, with attorneys available, at no charge to protect the seniors
and their families from abuse or neglect.
As for the criminals:
They would receive cold food.
They would be left alone and unsupervised.
They would receive showers once a week.
They would live in tiny rooms, for which they would have to pay
$5,000 per month.
They would have no hope of ever getting out.
Sounds like justice to me!
Many thanks for this to my friend, Nikki Federico. Incidentally, if you need a caterer who really knows how to set a mighty tasty table, with panache, do check her services.
I decided it was time to pull out the material I've been sharing in workshops and in private sessions all in one place, to make it easier for those of you who want to write your own memoirs -- if only so the family will quit giving you a hard time already. So, there's a new kid on the block: InaTheMemoirCoach.com.
What's the site for? To help kick-start people who have a story to tell, but have been stumped about where to begin, how to organize, or get published. Both new writers and those new to the memoir form will find tools and tips. Or if you're one of those who really wish their parents and grandparents would tell their stories, this is a place to get some ideas of how to help them dig in, for you, but also for themselves. Writing the story of your life does not have to be hard, and it is a way to help others learn from your experience. And a way to clear cobwebs and feel better about life!
The new site features a bunch of Ina's Weird Prompts (TM) to help you recall your adventures vividly, and writing tips to help you get them down in a way others will savor. In coming months I'll be featuring the memoir writing experiences of others who have taken the leap. Give it a try -- you could become a featured talent with advice from your journey that will enlighten readers.
There is also a page dedicated to giving visitors a chance to ask me questions about writing memoirs, getting them published or printed for personal use, and performing your stories.
One last thought -- you don't have to be an old bat like me to write an effective memoir. Remember, everyone has a story to tell.
My friend Chrystine and I were jazzed Sunday. It was a clear sky, perfect temperature, and we were heading for a unique concert, in a private home facing the sea in Ventura. Armed with fresh strawberries and cherries to share, and a few peaches I'd bought for my home, which weren't quite ripe. For a change I wasn't even focused on how we are killing the Pacific as we hit PCH.
A few seconds later, BLAM! "What was that?" I asked.
"Tire," Chrystine answered.
I'd felt no drag on the car at all, but immediately pulled onto the (thank heaven it was there) shoulder. Naturally I'd forgotten my cell phone, and neither of us was up for doing the deed of changing what turned out to be an exceedingly flat tire indeed.
Chrystine to the rescue, not only with her cell, but her AAA account. I of course have roadside assistance but for some reason the card was missing from my wallet, like a few other vital cards I'd inadvertently not switched when making the recent move to a new wallet. Sigh. I did have the insurance info and could make a call to get the right number, but we were sure this would be faster.
"Where are you?" the AAA dispatcher apparently asked Chrystine. "On Rte.1, south of Malibu. Facing north, on the shoulder, with a blue Beamer...license plate # ...No, I don't know exactly how far from Malibu...OK."
Turning to me, Chrystine reported they would be about a half hour. OK, since I have a donut spare, we'll need to run back to my place and switch to her vehicle, a van. Not as neat as loping along in a convertible, but we'd make it to the event. We were cool. Chrystine grabbed the black and white beach ball that was still rolling when we got out of the car, and tossed it into the back of the car. She figured it would be one good thing that came out of this mess.
In just 15 minutes, a Malibu Tow truck zoomed toward us from the south. And swished on by. Apparently we weren't the only fools on the road.
Chrystine's phone rang about 15 minutes later. "No. I never said we were on Rt. 10. We're on Rte. 1, or PCH...Yes, south of Malibu, probably still in Santa Monica...No, we're north of Rte. 10...No, we're NOT on Rte. 10...We're on the shoulder of PCH, pointing north...on the northbound side of the road...It's a blue BMW convertible."
When another half hour passed, now one hour from our first call for help, the phone rang again. Apparently, the driver couldn't find us. The dispatcher had him on the phone and was set to relay more points of information from us to him.
This time I motioned for the phone. Chrystine is from Redlands, this is closer to my territory. Maybe I can give slightly better landmarks. "No, no, we're NOT on Rte. 10. No, I don't know exactly how far from Malibu we are...Blue Beamer...Yes...North of Wilshire, north of West Channel Road. OK? Great."
A concerned citizen on a bicycle pulls up as I am telling Chrystine, "15 minutes."
"Can I do anything to help?" he asks.
"Well, we're waiting for a tow truck but they can't seem to find us," Chrystine tells him.
"I've changed lots of tires in my time. Mind if I try?"
This made lots of sense of course, since he really wanted to help, and we were amazed and relieved when this generous soul started to ferret the equipment out of my trunk.
I was glad I'd thought ahead and strewn the side of the highway with the stuff in my trunk. Embarrassing, but it made getting at the spare much easier for our hero. As he was freeing up the jack, I noticed the Beamer people had included a spare wheel emblem in with the spare tire. They leave nothing unmarked. I like the logo, so I was a little sad that the rim wasn't set up to be decorated -- the plate had no slot to fit. But great news! This was not a donut, but a full size tire! We wouldn't have to run back to my place after all. We were still in good time for our event. Swell!
So our new found BF went at the task. He jacked up the car, then loosened each lug nut, laying all out for later replacement. He also knew that Beamers have a little plug in the flap under the doors, which leads to the place to insert the jack without wrecking the looks. I'd not known that, and felt grateful to be learning this important bit of info. I did remember seeing this in a Beamer sans the rubber trim, but had forgotten.
Anyway, once our bud got the tire ready to be pulled off, he tried to do just that. No such luck. It was jammed in place. "Get in the car," he directed me, "and take off the brake -- it seems to be locking the wheel."
I complied, not realizing he meant pump the brake, and released the hand brake. The car slid forward, causing the jack to tilt and almost crushing this poor man.
Once we all drew a breath, Chrystine suggested I drive the car forward a little and move it farther from the highway, more onto the dirt by the side of the road. This would help insure no one would edge over the white line and hit the car or one of us in passing, and give the jack a firmer foothold.
Heart in mouth, I again climbed in and managed to drive forward as planned. I am usually a fearless driver, but this episode was unnerving me.
Anyway, as our hero was again jacking up the car, our tow truck appeared.
"Why didn't you tell us where you are?" the driver asked in a heavily accented voice. "You said you were between Wilshire and the Channel."
Chrystine, ready to kill him, told him we had it covered and he could go. I wasn't so sure to tell the truth, but both our cyclist and she felt the driver was superfluous. He certainly was obnoxious, so I agreed.
Well, the tire was really locked on tight, and our guy couldn't dislodge it. He even called a friend who told him to kick it from both directions. But with cleats he was reluctant.
So we went back to the cell. This time I took it, called the general number for my insurance company and after only five full minutes and lots of "If you know you party's extension, press 2's," was able to connect with my own road service assistance.
This time we were in better shape. I now knew we were about 1.5 miles south of Malibu, courtesy of our biking friend, and south of Temescal Canyon, which I'd not even thought of. We were told "30 minutes." I wanted to believe. As did our biker, who, bless him, insisted on staying until the next tow truck arrived.
Thirty minutes later, we decided I should call for an ETA. "Where are you?" I was asked. "How far from Malibu?...OK, your driver will arrive within 30 minutes."
15 minutes later. Call from my roadside folks. "Can you give us better information? Our driver can't seem to find you. Where exactly are you on Rte. 1?"
"How many blue BMW convertibles are stuck on the shoulder of the road about 1.5 miles south of Malibu????????" Chrystine asked.
At this point, our cyclist gave up. We could hardly blame him. Someone leaned out of a passing car stuck in a jam and handed Chrystine a big bottle of water. A few others asked if we needed help, and a guy who had been taking a walk hung out with us while we were waiting.
They were very kind. When I can stand it, I'll write the next chapter in this tale. It involves a sum of money and barbecue sauce.
For now, I am as up the wall as any of you who lasted until this point.
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