Tolkien was right. They do sometimes make you late for dinner.

Last week, I led a field trip that I’d wanted to do for some time: I took my students to Seattle to see ACT Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” My school is small, but not small enough to fit into my little Acura—so Cheryl, one of the moms, borrowed a twelve-passenger van from another mom, topping off the gas before leaving, and van and Acura caravanned out of Oak Harbor about 9:30 in the morning.

Two and a half hours later, we had safely navigated the parking garages and were seated as the lights dimmed and the snow machines began turning. Another two hours, and we were walking back up the steps toward the exit, admiring the old theater and debating why the Ghost of Marley had sprung out of Scrooge’s bed (my personal theory: it was simply the scariest way possible. We expect our beds to be a refuge, not the home of the ghosts). After a final poll amongst the twelve teenagers, we decided on an early dinner at Red Robin in Everett, got back in the vehicles, and took to the road.

Won, our Korean exchange student, looked at the clock in my car and informed me that he thought it was too early for dinner.

“Think of it as a late lunch, then,” I said.

Since he hadn’t eaten his snack earlier, he seemed fine with this arrangement, and joined the other two boys in beguiling the time discussing the merits of gourmet hamburgers.

We had just gotten off on the Everett exit when my phone rang. It was Cheryl, and her voice was panicked. “The car is having problems!”

“We’re almost there… can you make it to the restaurant?”

“We’ll try…”

I went ahead and drove the final couple of minutes to Red Robin, unloaded the three boys who had ridden with me, and stepped inside the restaurant to warm up. My phone rang again.

“We couldn’t make it,” Cheryl said. “The van died at the stoplight, and when we got it to go again, we missed the turn. We’re at a park and ride.”

I thought fast. “My family lives about ten minutes away, and we have a van. Maybe one of my sisters is at home and can at least help the kids get to the restaurant. We can figure things out from there.”
“Oh. And we figured out what was wrong. I put gas in, and it’s a diesel.”

My friend Kristina—the engineer—had very recently felt the need to explain to me in great depth about exactly why putting gas in a diesel was a terrible thing to do. When Kristina decides to explain how something works, it’s comparable to what you get when you tell a nursing student that you have a bad ankle. I looked from my phone to the three boys. “They’ll be a while.”

While the boys ran around the nearby Toys R Us making fun of Legos and hitting each other with rubber balls, Cheryl and I did our best to straighten out the situation over the phone. My sister ended up using our van to not only pick up the vanload of kids, but to take them all the way back to Oak Harbor after dinner. The other van ended up at a shop in Everett overnight, and, last I heard, was all fixed up and running just fine.

When the boys and I knew that my sister was on her way with the other kids, we headed back to Red Robin, where the patient staff took us to our tables and fed us French fries while we waited.

“Well, Won,” I said, “You thought it was too early for lunch anyway. I guess now we’re having dinner at the right time.”

“But I didn’t have my lunch!”

I gestured toward the French Fries. “Sure you did. French Fries for lunch, and hamburgers for dinner half an hour later. It works. You get in your three meals.”

And Won, who is getting much better at American humor, thought it was absolutely hilarious. But, after all those hours of driving and waiting, everything was hilarious, including gas in a diesel engine!


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