Burt Prelutsky

There are, as I see it, two kinds of people. There are those who love to travel, people who would sooner let their drivers licenses lapse than their passports, and then there’s me.

When I was younger, it was usually writing assignments that forced me to pack my suitcase. Now, between those airport security lines that remind me of the endless serpentines at Disneyland and airplane seats that seem to have been designed for the transporting of sardines, long distance travel has lost whatever small allure it ever had.

In fact, of all the trips I have taken in my life, trips that included such destinations as Japan, Yugoslavia, Brazil and Spain, the most memorable one took place about 20 years ago. The locale was Oxford, Nebraska. The purpose was to meet my in-laws for the first time.

Oxford is a town of about a thousand people, located in the southwest part of the state. For someone who was born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles, it was more exotic than Osaka, Japan. When you live in a big city, it is possible to go a very long time without ever knowing your next door neighbor, so it is a major culture shock to spend a week in a town where you’re the only stranger.

Because my wife and I were staying at a motel in a town about 12 miles away, we had to rent a car. One dark night, on our way back to the Bide-a-Wee, our car suddenly broke down in the middle of farm country. Being closer to my mother-in-law’s house than to our motel, we left the car parked on the shoulder and started walking back. After about five minutes, a car headed in our direction slowed down and stopped. There were two elderly women in the car. They offered us a lift. When I asked them if they weren’t the least bit nervous about picking up strangers in the dead of night, the driver said, “We saw your car, so we knew you’d broken down, and we knew we’d come across you sooner or later.” I sat there thinking, “Toto, we’re not in California anymore.”

It turned out the good Samaritans didn’t live in Oxford, but they knew my mother-in-law, Juanita Boe, and they dropped us off at her front door.

The next unusual thing that happened is that one of my sisters-in-law immediately phoned the owner of the auto agency where we’d rented the car and chewed off his ear for sticking us with a lemon. It was past 10 p.m.. For all I know, he was already asleep, but this was Nebraska, where there is apparently no rest for the wicked.