Soft Shoulders

So there we were, Theresa and I, driving through the Painted Desert, sometime in 1992.  Pre-Heather and Dylan.  Pre-Darwin.  Free to roam the planet.

The Painted Desert is a pretty part of Arizona.  It looks something like this:

painted desert

If you’re reading this, you should think to yourself “that looks sandy”.  That fact will be important  in about 3 paragraphs.

It is a fact that escapes me to this day.


At this point, you need to know about an obscure type of mathematics, called Pee Pee Math.

Pee Pee Math is a complex calculation that involves the size of a cup of coffee, the size of your bladder, and the amount of time that you can hold that coffee in that bladder before you wet your pants.

Pee Pee Math is another idea that escapes me to this day.

But just for example, pretend that a young man named Hal drinks a 20 ounce cup of coffee before he heads out into the desert.  Pretend that he has a 10 ounce bladder.  How long will it take before a bathroom stop is needed?  The math looks like this:

     (20 ounces coffee)-(10 ounces of bladder)=Big Pee Pee Trouble in the desert


So there we still were, still driving through the Painted Desert.  Pretty place.

Theresa is looking out the window at beautiful scenery.  I’m looking out the window for a sign that looks like this:

mens room

I start driving faster.  And faster and faster.

Until I cannot take it any longer.

We may not be in the middle of nowhere, but we are pretty close.  No bathrooms in sight.


For those of you who have never gone camping, allow me to introduce you to the Roadside Emergency Pee Pee Stop.

First pull over.

Then get out quickly.

Be discrete.

And pray that the local State Trooper is 100 miles up the road.


So I pulled over.

I got out quickly.

As I did, I saw this sign:

soft shoulder

“Nice decoration in the middle of nowhere”, I thought, and I took care of business.

I got back in the car, and started it up.

But the car didn’t move.

I hit the gas a couple of times, but we weren’t moving.

I got out of the car, and my rear axle was buried.

In sand.

No one told me that “Soft Shoulder” means “Quicksand”.

Mission Control, we have a problem.


Theresa hopped into the driver seat, and I start to push.

We exchanged some words at this point.  4 letter words, 8 letter words, 12 letter words, one 18-letter word and one 24-letter word (text me if you need to know the words).  Real relationship-builders, these words are.

We did discuss the fact that we were driving a rental car, and wondered what the rental car company would think if they saw their car slowly sinking into the Arizona desert.

And then it slowly dawned on us that we are now in trouble.  Big trouble.

We are at least 50 miles away from civilization.

I start imagining us looking like this in about one week:

bleached bones


Our choices at this point:

1) Invent cell phones (it is 1992, before cell phones).

2) Lift the rental car out of the sand by ourselves.

3) Pray

4) Die


Northern Arizona University is a public university located in Flagstaff, Arizona.

It currently enrolls about 26,000 students.

According to Wikipedia,  its mascot is Louie the Lumberjack.

It has many athletic teams.

One of them is a men’s rugby team.

Thank God for the Northern Arizona University Men’s Rugby Team.


While Theresa and I were deciding whether to pray or die, three vanloads of Northern Arizona University rugby players were driving through the desert back towards Flagstaff.

They saw us by the side of the road, and they stopped.

I kid you not.

They emptied out of their vans, and I explained our situation.

They thought it was pretty funny.

Twelve of them surrounded our car (6 in front and 6 in back), lifted our rental car out of the sand, and moved it 6 feet to the left, above the road.

And dropped it on the road.

I’ve never been so happy to see a car bounce up and down in my life.

Before we could thank them, they climbed in their van and disappeared.


There are a couple of postscipts to this story.  These are the kind of endings that Disney would reject from a script, because no one would believe them.  They are true.

Postscript 1:  The next day, Theresa and I were walking through the lobby of our hotel in Flagstaff Arizona, about 50 miles away from the scene of the Pee Pee Disaster.

We weren’t speaking to each other yet, but at least we were walking together.

One of the hotel workers, a big strong-looking young man, looked at us and said “Hey-you two- weren’t you the two people that we rescued yesterday in the desert?!”

One of the hotel employees happened to be a Northern Arizona University rugby player.

We offered to pay him.  We tried to thank him.

He asked us to stop and help someone else sometime.


Postscript 2:  Two months later, Theresa and I were returning to our hotel in Grand Cayman.  A lovely place.

A lovely place with sandy soft shoulder roads.

One night, about one block from our hotel, a local man was stranded by the side of the road.  His car tires were buried in the sand.

We stopped to help.

Thank you, Northern Arizona University.

Thank you, Louie the Lumberjack.


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