Let Inga Tell You: We (eventually) had a merry Christmas



Will we remember 2015 as the year of holiday crises? The day before Thanksgiving, mere hours before the family was due to arrive, a possum died in the crawl space under my kitchen permeating it with an odor like, well, a dead possum. But for Christmas, we were going to L.A. where in the rarest but happiest of occasions, we would have both sons, their wives, and all five grandtots under the same roof. Life doesn’t get any better than that.

Anyone who knows me well knows that ever since we were hit at 85 miles per hour by a drunk driver on I-5 several years back, I regard freeways as dangerous places to be avoided whenever possible. I told myself that if I could just survive two and a half hours (we should be so lucky in L.A. traffic), it would all be worth it.

Alas, we didn’t get through two and a half minutes. We had just passed Del Mar Heights Road on I-5 when our left rear tire blew out at 70 miles per hour. Just as with our auto accident, this is a time when you want a former Air Force pilot at the wheel. The quintessentially calm Olof managed to maneuver us across several lanes of fast moving traffic, out of the path of a semi, and off onto the shoulder while I did what I do best in scary freeway situations: scream.

There’s never a good time for a blowout, but especially not on a freeway. Olof’s little BMW was an engineering marvel of packing: every square inch of available trunk and seat space that was not occupied by him, me, or our granddog Winston was precision packed with gifts and luggage.

We have AAA, of course, but they could take forever on Christmas Eve. More to the point, in Olof Land, Real Men change tires themselves. Except, of course, that the spare and the jack were under all those suitcases and gifts. Olof patiently unpacked it all onto the side of the freeway, got the tire off, and tried to get the spare on. Unfortunately, the crummy little jacks that come with the spares just couldn’t raise the car high enough to get the spare on, which didn’t keep Olof from spending an hour trying. Real Men don’t give up easily.

A couple of things about standing on the side of a freeway when the slowest car is going 70: It is deafeningly loud. Olof and I could only communicate in sign language. I kept tenting my index fingers together in a sign that I hoped was spelling out “AAA?” It is also absolutely terrifying to be so close to cars going that fast. One swerve and they’d be sucking up our remains with a shop vac.

Ultimately, Olof had to concede defeat and had me call AAA, for whom we had to wait another hour. The AAA guy pulled out his honker industrial-strength jack and had the spare on in five minutes. Meanwhile, Olof and I had had plenty of time to ponder whether we were happy about driving to L.A. on tires the same age as the one that blew out. They didn’t LOOK worn but there’s only so many times you can cheat death in one day.

Fortunately, there was a barely-still-open Discount Tire Store off the Lomas Santa Fe exit where we quickly ordered up four new tires. A mere three hours after we’d originally departed, we left Del Mar for L.A., Winston now sitting on the food bag (sorry, Christmas Eve salad!), and hitting all that traffic that we’d left early to avoid.

But all worth it when we finally limped in. My daughter-in-law puts on the Norman Rockwell Christmas. Their house was decorated like a magazine layout. One amazing meal after another appeared. Both sons together. While some of us stayed in hotels at night, there were 20 people in the house during the day. The grandchildren raced around in a frenzy of sugar-and-Santa-fueled psychosis. The L.A. kids were thrilled to reconnect with Winston and their cousins.

Just to make this a Christmas Eve to remember, our credit card company’s fraud division called us asking if we had just purchased $3,000 worth of stuff at a Wal-Mart in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Fortunately, it won’t be our money. Just a giant hassle.

On the plus side, Winston, who for mysterious reasons has become allergic to something in his former home and had begun having seizures whenever he visited there, fortunately didn’t have any this time. This might have been less a Christmas miracle and more the phenobarbital our La Jolla vet loaded him up on before we left. OK, so he looked pretty stoned most of the time. But I’m thinking that the next time we get on the freeway, I might appropriate some of that phenobarbital myself.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at