We were vacationing in Wyoming, excited about our first visit to Yellowstone National Park. The hotel in Jackson Hole was lovely; the rental car was new, and it was a beautiful summer day. My husband, our son Mark and I decided to get an early start for the drive to Yellowstone the next morning.
The attendant brought the car up from the garage and we drove off. When we got on the road Mark commented that the apples we had left in the car the night before were missing, as were the bottles of water. My husband rationalized by saying,
“In Wyoming there are strict rules about removing anything edible that bears might find tempting. The parking attendant was probably complying with the rules”
That seemed logical, and we continued on our way.
At our first rest stop Mark offhandedly said to me.
“I never liked blue cars because they seem to change their color throughout the day. The shade of blue changes with the sun’s angle”.
“You’re right” I agreed. “Now the color looks more gray than blue.”
Back on the road, we ventured higher up into the mountain range. In another hour we finally saw the sign to “Old Faithful”. I glanced at the dashboard clock to see how long the trip had taken. Oddly, there seemed to be a problem with the clock. The time hadn’t advanced. This was a new development; yesterday it was working perfectly.
We lost our civilized Eastern identities as soon as we came to the prehistoric-looking park. Steam spewed from the earth and bubbling mud pots perked away. Eerie sounds arose from deep inside subterranean earthy places. “Old Faithful,” nature’s creative story, erupts and spews boiling hot water one hundred feet high. And “Old Faithful” repeats this naturely trick every two hours.
Much later, sated with natural vistas and wildlife sightings, we began our drive back to Jackson Hole. My husband asked me for the directions he had put in the car last night.
They were gone.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “Where is the rental agreement?” He looked in the glove compartment. It was empty.
“I know I put the rental papers in the glove compartment last night. I always do that in rental cars.”
Mark noticed some papers peeking out from under the visor and pulled them down. Then the shock hit. All the coincidences of the day suddenly made sense. The missing apples and bottled water. The subtle change in the car’s color. The non-functioning clock. The missing rental agreement.
The papers listed the registeree as Mr. Thomas Gill.
We were in the wrong car! The parking attendant brought us the wrong car this morning!
The car was registered to Mr. Thomas Gill. What would happen when Mr. Gill requested his car? Obviously it wouldn’t be in the garage. It would be missing. We were driving it. The staff would report the missing car to the police, assuming it had been stolen. And if we were stopped we couldn’t prove why we were driving Mr. Gill’s car. It wasn’t from the same rental company we used, so his rental company wouldn’t have any record of who we were. If we were in an accident we would not be covered by insurance. And our cell phones were out of service range, so we couldn’t call the hotel or the car rental company to explain the mistake.
The last thing we expected right then was a traffic jam. A traffic jam in the middle of the wilderness. Was there road construction, an accident, a disabled car? Here in the great state of Wyoming traffic jams were caused by other factors.
Factors such as a herd of buffalo crossing into civilization from buffalo land by way of our highway. The tourists in cars ahead of us were thrilled. They abandoned their cars. Just left them in the middle of the road to get closer to the beasts and take pictures. Then, as if it weren’t bad enough to be surrounded by wild buffalo, one lazy animal decided to lie down right in the middle of the road. The tourists went wild! They couldn’t get enough of the buffalo scene. The bisons seemed to be enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame. No one but us was in the slightest hurry.
The police in at least three states were probably looking for us by now for car theft and impersonating Mr. Gill.
A whole new mountain range formed by a slow moving glacier could have been formed by the time the road was cleared.
That evening, finally back at the hotel, we were treated like celebrities. The hotel manager presented us with vouchers for free dinners, paid for the day’s gasoline and waived the hotel garage’s daily parking fee.
Everyone seemed to know about the car mixup. Each encounter with a staff member brought the same response,
“You’re the people who drove the wrong car today.”
Our misadventure was big news throughout the resort.
We never did meet Mr. Gill.