Good Luck for You, in 2022
Fingers Crossed, Salt Tossed, all the Lucky Things
By now, everyone, INCLUDING ME, is tired of me subtly and/or overtly bitching about Christmas. Apart from the lingering Christmas music in stores—which, WHY???—it’s finally over for another year. Well, nine months, maybe: I saw my first inflatable yard ornament display in Home Depot in September this year.
It’s not that I hate the baby Jesus or the religious aspects of Christmas; I was not raised with those traditions, so I don’t have a relationship to them. No, I hate the corporate consumerism tendrils whose reach gets longer and deeper every year (though this year I did hear from several friends who are no longer buying into all the buying. Maybe the pressure to consume is finally losing its charm).
Anyway, this next holiday is one I actually love: the ringing in of the New Year. Although, where I live, in the Mojave Desert, there will be gun shots instead of bells at midnight.
I love New Year traditions because—in many cultures—they are about increasing and assuring good luck, one of my favorite concepts.
Borrowing from the Chinese—whose New Year comes on February 1st this time around—I’ve swept and mopped my floors to get rid of any bad luck and to clear the way for the good luck come in. In attracting good luck, it never hurts to hedge your bets, even if it means borrowing from other cultures.
I’ve always considered myself to be an incredibly lucky person. I count on having good luck and am always grateful for it. Now, my sister will tell you that I am simultaneously the luckiest and unluckiest person she knows. Pretty much every disaster I’ve ever faced has been coupled with a serendipitous happy ending. I tend to just remember the happy endings—until my sister reminds me of the bad luck part—which is why I think of myself as lucky.
One such bad luck/good luck event happened the first year I had Petunia, my little pull-behind camper. I took it with me to do a TV show editing job in Texas. I kept it in a storage facility in Dallas and took it out on weekends. Memorial Day weekend, I decided at the last minute to go to the Texas Hill Country, which everyone had told me was beautiful. I got a reservation for the very last campsite at a popular campground because the site was tiny, by Texas standards. Petunia is only 15’ long—most RVs in Texas are twice to three times that size—so it would fit there. The campground owner, who took my booking over the phone, sounded exactly like LBJ. I was kind of expecting the whole thing to be like a visit to the LBJ ranch, to be honest, with Lady Bird’s flower gardens in full bloom and everything. It was not like that.
I set off for the Hill Country on a sunny afternoon that was soon overtaken by storm clouds. In the torrential rain, driving the red clay backroads was like driving on a treacherous potter’s wheel. Petunia was covered in thick red clay, kicked up by my tires.
The campground was packed beyond capacity. A guy with a damp cigarette hanging from his lip was not pleased about having to move his big truck from my little campsite. The rain had forced everyone from the nearby shooting range and river rafting fun into their RVs to drink and yell at each other. Drunk dads took their anger at the weather out on their kids (RV walls are thin). My tiny site was sandwiched between two such unhappy families. It was not a fun scene.
It rained steadily all night. At first light, I decided to get out of there before the river flooded. I hadn’t unhooked Petunia, so after I made coffee, I skedaddled.
Even with my truck’s wipers on high, I could barely see out the windshield. The dirt road was more like a flowing creek. I was determined not to get stuck in that campground, so I put my truck into 4-wheel drive and pushed on through the mud.
Half a mile from the campground, I crossed a cattle guard. They have widely spaced heavy-metal-grill-over-a-deep-culvert type cattle guards in Texas, not like the wimpy ones you see in California, that the cows just walk right over. Suddenly, Petunia danced around in my rearview mirror, like a bucking bronco at a rodeo. My truck jerked to a stop. What the fuck, I thought.
Petunia’s tongue was sunk a foot deep into the mud, the safety chains and emergency brake cable pulled taut. Oh dear.
A Jeep with two handsome young men stopped. They unhooked the safety chains and pushed on Petunia until the tongue left the mud with a great sucking sound. That’s when we all realized the ball was in the coupler on the tongue and not on the hitch on my truck, where it should have been. The big nut that was supposed to keep the ball in place was nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe it jiggled loose on the road,” one of the guys said. “We’ll go look for it. No way you’re gonna find one of those anywhere around here on a Sunday.”
Oh right, Sunday. The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. That meant Tuesday morning before anything was open. I can’t tow Petunia without that nut, I thought. Double oh dear.
After a while, the guys in the Jeep came back with bad news: no nut located. They’d searched every foot of road and even scoured the campsite I’d been in. Best they could do was get the ball—still in the coupler—back onto the hitch so I could pull Petunia out of the middle of the road.
As I sat there, watching the rain come down and wondering what to do next, I remembered I still had the campground owner’s number in my phone. I gave him a call to see if he had any ideas.
“You just caught me,” he said with his LBJ drawl. “It’s my Sunday to lead the church service. I was just heading out the door. Let me see if I can find someone to cover for me.”
Twenty minutes later, a pickup truck arrived. A man dressed in bright yellow rubberized rain gear—complete with a Sou’Wester rain hat—got out.
“Well, this is quite a thing, ain’t it,” LBJ said.
“Yes.” I said.
“You stay right here. I’ll go look in my garage.”
I’m not sure where he thought I would go, but I figured I might as well make some more coffee in Petunia, which I did.
When he returned, he not only had exactly the right nut, he had two locking washers, a plumber’s wrench, and a 6’ length of pipe for torquing said wrench.
I had lucked out, indeed.
When I got back to Dallas, I went through the photos I’d taken on the trip to the Hill Country: Petunia in front of the biggest field of American flags I’d ever seen, Petunia in front of a cute country store, Petunia when I first hooked her up at the storage facility.
There was no hitch ball nut in any of the photos. Triple oh dear.
I went back further to the photos from my trip to Texas from California. The nut was there when I started out, but disappeared somewhere between Arizona and New Mexico. Had someone tried to steal Petunia at some point? Had the nut simply wiggled loose? Most likely, it had not been correctly installed by the dealer who sold me the 4Runner in Oregon, where I’d bought Petunia. The dealer had made a big show of his largesse by putting the ball on the already existing hitch for me (a $25 item on a huge used car sale). Chances are good his techs hadn’t used a locking washer, like LBJ did.
I thought of all the bumps and ruts over all the miles—some in cities, some on busy freeways—all the places Petunia could have jumped off my truck but didn’t. Instead, this disaster-waiting-to-happen waited to happen on a quiet, muddy backroad where kind, capable people were around to help me.
This extraordinary good luck is the kind I’m hoping this New Year brings for us all: every downfall met with an upturn, every loss countered by a gain, and a few bonus rounds of sheer phenomenal good fortune with no downside whatsoever.
There’s still time to sweep your floors, if you’re reading this before midnight. I’ve already checked with Sarah at Country Kitchen, Joshua Tree’s original local diner, to make sure there will be plenty of her special Hoppin’ John, a lucky black eyed pea dish served with collard greens. I also just spilled some salt and threw it over my left shoulder while making a wish. Dammit, I’m willing to try it all!
It’s been a rough season for many and a rough couple of years for many more. May Good Luck find you, may your troubles be few, All the Best for 2022.