travel | Royal Pain: Yellowstone National Park
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Royal Pain: Yellowstone National Park

Royal Pain: Yellowstone National Park

“Sorry—I crashed you with my exhauster. I have never had an accident in America before,” said the man descending from the driver’s seat of a ginormous RV. He had a thick German accent, and seemed rather nonchalant considering that 29 days into my 2 ½ month long drive cross-country, he’d hit the car I’d purchased for the trip, our “home” for the remaining six weeks.

I’d developed an obsession with photographing each individual animal we encountered in our travels—as if they were friends I’d made along the way and I’d be able to look back at their faces and tell you their name, hometown, and how we’d shared a six pack around the campfire or traded road stories in the motel hot tub. As I pulled the car onto the shoulder behind several others on a tourist-crammed road in Yellowstone National Park—ready to capture on film yet another elk deer—my traveling companion, a friend visiting from Switzerland, insisted on staying in the car to eat her sandwich.

I crossed the road, snapping away. And then I heard a noise like someone dragging metal across asphalt. Enter the accented RV driver.

“Did we get a picture?” said his wife, climbing out of the vehicle. I snapped another before I realized that I was belligerent—nature does have a calming effect. A fresh scrape ran the length of the car, plastic curls like pencil shavings where the German’s exhaust pipe gouged. One panel on the driver’s side had been ripped off. Several others hung by a thread.

I insisted on getting a park ranger. Swiss-friend stayed behind with the Germans—her accent is non-existent and her English is impeccable: the Germans didn’t suspect that she understood everything they said. The wife took out a credit card. “This will take care of it,” she told her husband.

When I returned, followed by a park ranger, the German presented his license. “You only have to write this one and that one,” he said, pointing to an absurdly long name. The ranger insisted on writing it all down. When the paperwork was completed, the German explained that calling their insurance company that day was very inconvenient for him. The park ranger advised that he do so anyway.

We climbed back into the car, where Swiss-friend said “Do you know who that was?! His name translates literally into ‘[very German-sounding first name omitted to protect the identity of the royal offender] Prince of [very German-sounding location omitted to protect the identity of a very embarrassed kingdom].’ If Germany was still a monarchy, this guy would be in line for the throne…He’s in the tabloids!”

The hanging panels remained intact for awhile, but whenever we were honked at driving up the coast of California, we knew it was time to pull over and throw another piece of the car in the trunk. Good thing I had insurance photos.

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