You’re probably wondering if I meant to say “Batman” instead of “Patman” and I didn’t. Patman is exactly what I wanted to say. What’s a Patman? It’s Batman combined with my friend, Pat Koelling. Now I imagine this has lead to a couple new questions like why am I combining these elements and how did they almost kill me? Well that’s what I am here to tell you today.
Pat Koelling and I sorta went to school together. He graduated right after I started but we were basically forced into friendship by two factors. The first factor was that our wives were former roommates. This built-in connection forced Pat and I into basic level interactions. The second factor that lead to our friendship was that everyone told us we had to be friends. Pat is a pretty funny dude and sorta began this hierarchy of random-humor guys. It seemed as though there was an invisible crown passed from person to person with the most random (read: stupid) humor. So Pat was the first and when Andy Laugenour joined the program after Pat left, everyone would say things like, “oh, Andy, you’re the new Pat”. Which sorta made it seem like Pat had died even though he was still around.
When I joined the program, everyone would say, “Oh, Travis, you’re the new Andy.” I guess this made Pat my sort of humor grandpa or something. For the record and purpose of linage, after I left, Robbie Rane became the new Travis. Both Robbie and Andy have gone on to successful careers at one of the greatest (if not the single greatest) advertising agency in the world, W+K. Leaving Pat and I to assume that this magic W+K gene must skip a generation.
This great historical linage of Pat, Andy, Robbie and I has forced us into being friends because we were each essentially designed to replace the next one upon their death in the program. So when Amazon was looking into bringing another copywriter onboard, Pat was the first person I thought of. I did submit names of several friends (each of whom would have been great to work with) but Pat had everything Amazon was looking for and so he was brought on board quickly.
Since Pat now had a new job he needed a second car, he decided this would be the perfect time to purchase a life-long dream of his, a 1970-something International Scout. Pat had been searching for this car since he totaled his first Scout in high school. One night, Pat and I were working late and he relayed the story to me of the accident with his first scout and the quest he has been on to replace this truck. As I sat and listened to his story, I have to admit, that I was caught up in the adventure of it. This mythical creature known as a Scout meant nothing to me but somehow Pat was able to weave this tale in a way that just made me want to be a part of his quest. Which is probably how this whole situation happened.
A few weeks into our job, Pat told me that he had finally decided to pull a trigger on this great Scout he found in LA. He also wanted me to travel with him to LA to pick up this Scout and drive it back up to Seattle over Labor Day weekend. Normally this isn’t a Travis sort of thing to do, but something was different this time. Maybe it was the adventure of the Scout, the thrill of a road trip in a classic car. The wind in our hair. Or maybe it was the special 75th anniversary Batman exhibit in LA that I’ve been wanting to go to.
It was the Batman exhibit. This exhibit (or Batman museum as it was called by every person who didn’t understand what I was talking about) was a chance to see all the props and costumes from EVERY single Batman movie. Not only that but exhibit also featured all the Batmobiles in one place. Ten-year-old Travis would have literally murdered for this, so since all thirty-year-old Travis had to do was buy a one-way plane ticket to LA, it was a no brainer. I told Pat I would journey with him on this adventure on the condition I could attend my Batman Exhibit.
Planning was tough but we made it work and on the Saturday morning we journeyed to the airport and flew down to LA. A short cab ride followed to the mechanic shop where Pat’s Scout was being held. We waited there for about ten minutes for them to drive it around front and I am not going to lie here, watching Pat’s level of excitement about this Scout was both confusing and also interesting. I guess, this is what I looked like when I saw Dark Knight the first time. I just hoped he packed an extra pair of pants because I am pretty sure he was going to poop them.
Finally the Scout came around the corner and I thought Pat was going to scream and jump but instead he was quiet. He approached the truck with a hollowed reverence that someone might approach a religious icon or a celebrities’ tombstone. He slowly placed his hand on the side of truck and moved it along the edge. Was he going to start crying? I tried to lighten the mood by telling a classic Travis joke, “They sure used a lot of orange paint on this thing. Hope they left some for the… uh… the uh, people that need orange paint?” It wasn’t my finest hour.
Once Pat was done quietly weeping and embracing the truck in some sort of weird truck hug, we were on the road. Within the first few minutes, I realized just how long this trip was going to be. This truck was old and even with all the restoration work they did on it, this truck still seemed like it was from the 70’s. Which is was.
The truck was a manual so driving it took some getting used to. Pat took first shift driving. First shift would last the entire time because after I saw the way Pat acted like he saw God with the truck, I didn’t want to drive it and rear-end some guy. No, Pat would be sole driver of this thing. Very quickly we learned a few things about this old scout. First, it had no power steering. This made every turn seem like Pat was trying to roll the car because he turned it so hard. Secondly, every time Pat had to start moving the truck from zero, he peeled out. Every. Single. Time. So even when we were just creeping up two feet to get closer to the gas pump, he peeled out like he was in the starting line of the Indy 500.
The truck had no roof (well at least no roof attached, there was a roof sitting in the bed of the truck but apparently we didn’t have the tools to attach it) so it didn’t take long before I noticed how windy it was as we were creeping along these small residential roads and I thought, “hmmm, I wonder what it will feel like at 65 or 70 mph.”
What it felt like at 70 mph:
At first, you’re like, “oh yeah, this is cool. I am a badass. Top down baby.” Then 30 minutes of this passes by and your mood changes from “oh yeah this is cool” to “Can people die from too much wind?” Another 30 minutes and your mood has entered the final stage: “Please, I want to die.” Plus with no roof the truck was loud, like can’t hear Pat or the radio loud, so I realized very quickly that A) We wouldn’t be talking much on this trip and B) All those classic tape cassettes I bought for the road were in vain. Figures, ten minutes into this trip and I am already out $1.50 to Goodwill.
After a long hour of driving we arrived at the Batman Museum (excuse me, Batman exhibit) and Pat dropped me off. He wanted to attend but he felt it was in his place to pick up a spare tire so incase we had a blowout, we’d be able to survive the dessert. I also felt this was a good idea, so I happily let him go while I journeyed into the exhibit.
Now this exhibit is part of a larger tour of Warner Bros. Studios, so I had to make it through several other franchises before we got to Batman. I sat on the couch from the Friends (TV show) coffee shop. I had the sorting hat placed upon my head where a recording told me I was a Wheasley Brother and belonged in Gryffindor much to the dismay of the man who proceeded me who was begging for Gryffindor but instead ended up in Hufflepuff (loser). And went on the set of Conan where the power unexpectedly went out making it feel like the tour took a page out of a classic horror movie.
Finally we arrived at the Batman portion of the tour and much like Pat was with his International Scout, I slipped into reverence as I carefully viewed each prop from the show. People bustled around me but I would not be rushed, I came to worship at the feet of Batman and worship I shall. Perhaps the biggest bummer of not having Pat there was that I had to talk to strangers and get them to take my photo so I could remember the time but even still I had found peace with our world.
The costumes aside, seeing the Batmobiles was easily the highlight. These were working, ready to drive Batmobiles and each one had so much detail it was mind-blowing. Particularly when you get to the Clooney Batman and Robin Batmobile, where they had started putting tiny Bat-symbols on everything. It was incredible. Also that movie sucked. The final thing you do before you leave is turn on the Batsignal. Fun fact: Turning on the Batsignal also turns on Travis.
Once heaven was over, Pat picked me up and we truly began our journey. At this point I had accomplished all I set out to do with seeing the Batman exhibit. I could die happy. I just didn’t realize that potential of death would come so soon.
Pat and I’s plan was to make it all the way to Sacramento where his in-laws lived. It was seven hours and it was only 1pm, so we should easily be able to get there by 8:30-9pm. We drove for about two hours in silence. It wasn’t that we were mad or anything, we just literally couldn’t talk over the wind. Around the two hour wind mark, I began to notice something, every hair on my body was aching. All the wind blowing caused my arm hairs, beard, head hairs and… well just those hairs to feel sore. It was sort of like when you were wearing a hat for a full day or when you sleep with lots of gel in your hair and everything feels stiff and sore.
On top of the soreness, I was covered in dessert. So much wind and dirt had led to everything feeling dirty. But I continued to bear down because Pat seemed happy and like a pleased parent, I was just thrilled to see Pat so happy with his purchase.
I put my headphones in, cranked it to eleven and began listening to a podcast about the X-Men. Just as my podcast was getting to the good stuff (the Claremont years) there was a loud popping noise and suddenly we were swerving into the dirt.
As we were dying, I remained calm but it did occur to me, that Pat had already almost died in one of these Scouts in high school. What if the Scout was like a horror movie villain and he’s just been lying in wait to destroy him again. That would make me one of the innocent bi-standers who is killed for no other reason than being associated with the person the villain is trying to kill. Figures I would go as a second rate character.
Well what surely could have been our death ended up being just a blown tire and we were able to pull over to the side of the road. Pat seemed calm though he would later confess that he was surprised he was able to keep control of the car and not kill us in a fiery ball of gas and batman memorabilia. How very reassuring.
Well at least Pat skipped the exhibit so he could get us a tire… oh no, wait, I forgot to tell you, that’s not what happened at all. Pat DID skip the exhibit to get a tire and he DID try to find one but sadly he couldn’t. You see no one had one just ready to go. Even tire selling places didn’t have one because Pat needed more than a tube, he needed a full rim. So we had chanced it and it paid off. Wait, no it didn’t. It didn’t pay off at all.
So there we were in the dessert, in 95 degree heat, with a blown tire in this old Scout (who I was now sure had it out for Pat) with no spare. Luckily Pat had decided to sign up for AAA. This was move of sheer genius on his part and as he called AAA he told me to climb the side of the dessert so we could see how far off the nearest town was at the top of the hill. It was here Pat learned a fun fact about Travis: I hate having sand in my shoes! And climbing the side of a sand mountain in 105 degree heat was the perfect way to get sand in my shoes.
At the top of the mountain (read: hill) I saw no near towns but was able to figure out the exit we were near and so AAA was on their way. Back at the bottom of the hill we got to sit in the now dead truck in 115 degree heat (yes, I am aware I keep upping the heat but you know what, it was hot). AAA (to their credit) arrived really fast and before we knew it we were in the back of a tow truck headed inland to the nearest town.
The air conditioning of the tow truck was a godsend and I basically closed my eyes and enjoyed this quiet, cool part of the ride. When I opened my eyes again we were still driving inland. We had left the highway about 30 minutes earlier and were just winding the backroads back to some supposed town. Now I might just watch too much TV but I immediately started to realize that AAA had got here really fast… almost too fast. And where was this “town” this man was taking us to? Was it highly inconceivable to think that this man drives this tow-truck up and down the highway looking for victims. He picks them up and takes them to the dessert where he cuts them open and- Oh, nope, here was the town.
So the driver didn’t murder us and instead dropped us off in a small California town where the mechanic had offered to stay open an extra hour to help us. So rather than kill us, everyone was being very nice… a little too nice. Just kidding.
While we waited for the new tires (yes, all four needed to be replaced) we asked if there was a nearby restaurant we could go grab a bite to eat. The mechanic directed us to a lovely restaurant (that I’d like to think was a small sampling of the town’s unique culture), the Circle K. Yes, you may know the Circle K to be as gas station but in this town it’s a lovely establishment that delivers a high quality dining experience that also sells gas. Okay, so it was a gas station.
We gobbled up our hot dogs and jumped back into our car with fresh tires and began to drive. The wind began to rustle in our hair and Pat slammed on the breaks and said, “Let’s put the roof on!” Now I didn’t think we had the tools but apparently we had most of the tools and much like the Dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, nature finds a way. A quick stop at the gas station (not our dining establishment but another) and we had the makeshift tools to attach this roof. Now I am not going to go into the details of how we attached the roof but suffice it to say, the rest of the trip I would be worried about the wind detaching the roof and beheading us in the process because we hadn’t properly screwed this sucker down.
The roof did eliminate a fair chunk of the wind (we still couldn’t roll up the windows) but what I didn’t expect the roof to do was create more noise. Apparently since the roof was (pardon my French) ghetto-rigged to the truck, it wasn’t sealed tight. This meant all that wind, was streaming through several small cracks making a loud whistling noise that was somehow, greater than just wind by itself.
Now talking was completely gone. The sun had gone down (we lost 3-4 hours with the tire switch) and the little tiny bulbs in the front of the car gave off about as much light as a night bright. So to recap:
- My hair hurt.
- I was dirty.
- I had sand in my shoe.
- It was loud.
- Pat just spent a lot of money.
- We ate hot dogs (not everything is bad)
- It was dark
- There was no power steering
- We were at risk of being beheaded
- The lights were weak
- The roof was whistling.
- I am pretty sure I saw a skin-walker (I realize this seems like a throw-a-way line about horrible mythical creatures that murder travelers and stuff but I thought I saw one and then he was gone and he never came back so this is about all the conversation he warrants.)
- My phone battery was low. No more X-Men.
- Did I say my hair hurt?
We drove on in the dark and the lack of power steering kept making it look like we were swerving off the road. This kept freaking me out that Pat was falling asleep. Considering it was 9pm and we still had 3-4 hours to go, I was worried. So about every ten minutes this conversation could (not) be heard in the truck. This conversation is entirely shouted.
ME: Pat, are you falling asleep?
ME: Are you falling asleep?
ME: You’re just swerving a lot.
ME: Swerving! Swerving! Why?
PAT: Power steering.
PAT: Power steering! Power Steering! I don’t have any!
ME: Power hearing? I wish I had that right now.
ME: Oh my gosh, was that a skin walker?
And so on into the night.
Around 12:30 we pulled into a gas station in Stockton, CA. This was a place my old Art Director partner Jesse used to talk about. He always referred to it as trashy but we needed gas so we pulled in. I went to go visit the gentleman’s urinal room and found that the gas station was closed and locked. The pumps were still open but for credit card only.
Pat swiped his card and was declined. Further investigation revealed that Pat’s card had been frozen because of “suspicious activity” that suspicious activity being tires and hot dogs purchased in a random town in California. So I sat back in the truck while Pat made his call to his bank to unfreeze his car. I began to look around. There were quite a few homeless people around. And much like zombies, they sensed trapped prey.
Slowly they began to stand up from their corners and curbs and walk nearer and nearer the truck. It was like they were sniffing it out. Now I am a pretty calm man but I could feel my heart rate increasing. What if these guys decided to mug as a group? What if they were a homeless cult out of the kill? There was literally at least 12 of them loitering about fifteen feet from the truck now. Closer. Closer. This is it! Closer.
Suddenly a dog came running into the gas station. A car pulled in behind the dog and a lady hoped out and began calling the dog who seemed to want to stay five feet away from her. Every time she approached, he ran five feet and stopped. Her husband hoped out to help. The noise of the couple distracted our homeless-zombie army and the walkers began to turn away from us and converge on the car.
While the walkers were distracted, Pat’s card became free and he pumped gas. As we drove off I swear I could hear the screams of the couple with the dog but that was probably in my imagination… or was it?
Around 1:15 am, we pulled into Pat’s in-laws house in Sacramento. We had made it seven hours of our 23 hour drive. Pat got out and hugged his wife (who was there visiting her parents). I (maybe creepily) watched them hug and realized they were hugging like a couple who had almost lost each other. So much about this trip had gone so terribly wrong and we were constantly near death that I feel like Pat and Lindsey’s relationship had been strengthened. They now knew how precious life could be. My job was done. Also this wasn’t my job at all. And why was no one hugging me? I was the one that saw that skin-walker.
My butt was sore. I know that is a weird sentence but it was just the way it is. All that sitting and bumping had really caused my wound (from my butt surgery- another story) to act up and so I couldn’t even walk without feeling bursts of pain. Also my hair hurt and I was dirtier still. We hobbled in and cleaned off and as I lay in the guest bedroom of Lindsey’s parent’s house, I thought, “I am going to die if I have to ride in that truck for another 16 hours.”
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought that. The next morning Pat decided to leave the truck at his in-laws until he could get a few things fixed and then he would bring it up the rest of the way. We flew out of the airport and made it safely home. This trip changed me. Sometimes, when I am riding in a car with the window down, if the wind gets too strong I have a war flashback and see myself back in Pat’s Scout. Sure, I’ll be able to hold a job and function as a productive part of society but only just barely. Man isn’t meant to sit through that much wind.
This is my story. I almost died to see a Batman exhibit and support Pat. That’s why this is called, Death by Patman.
(Don’t worry, next week I’ll do a Simon post. I know you guys like those best since my readership triples when I write about Simon)