Clair McFarland: Car Broke Down On I-25 In Denver, Then We Saw A Gorilla

Clair McFarland writes: “The car whined in the third of six lanes on I-25, hoping at last to become the nucleus of a 30-car pileup. Then it died. A cold hush pervaded its interior.”

Clair McFarland

June 30, 20235 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

There’s rescue in the “almost.” 

We headed off for vacation Monday afternoon, skipping ahead of a gargantuan supercell thunderhead pelting either UFOs or hail. 

The hail almost got us between Wheatland and Cheyenne, but somehow our old GMC SUV rumbled behind its wrath. Along the road we saw little white tennis balls looking forlorn that all they’d crushed was the drenched barrow grass. 

About that car: we’ve known for a while now it wasn’t right. Something missing in its roar, something rough in its lurch. The Husband traded his truck and his motorcycle for it 10 years ago when we found out I was pregnant with twins. 

This was no small sacrifice: He’d bought the motorcycle from my dad, and he used to take me driving along sandstone hills, blasting Southern rock in that truck. 

We almost had just three sons. But with the phenomenon of twins, we were blessed with four.

Back to this week: We stayed Monday night at a family member’s home in Cheyenne, eyeing the supercell cloud from a cozy campfire as if it were a neighbor’s Christmas decorations in June. It never touched us. 

The boys almost got in a fight over who can do the most pushups, but The Husband shot them the stink-eye and they held off. 

In the morning we left Cheyenne for Denver, hoping to take the boys to the zoo. The car warned it was losing power. The alternator was dying, and the battery with it. 

“Maybe we can make it to the zoo and have someone tow it to the repair shop from there,” said The Husband. 

But the car was in no mood for that. It whined in the third of six lanes on I-25, hoping at last to become the nucleus of a 30-car pileup. 

Then it died. A cold hush pervaded its interior. 

The Husband was too quick to surrender. He let off the brake and, with the last of our momentum, merged three lanes right and skidded onto a miraculous dirt shoulder abutting a tiny rainforest. 

We almost died in a fiery interstate crash on the way to the zoo, of all things. But we didn’t. 

“Hey Dad, what’s goin’ on?” chirped a twin casually. 

But The Husband had his steely gaze on by now as he barked directives.

To me: “Search up repair shops near our location.” 

To the boys: “Stay in your seats and remain quiet.” 

To his phone: “Affordable towing service, Denver, Colorado.”

I found him a repair shop that said it could get an alternator into our dead white whale – for a price. Then I bailed, cutting through the wilderness to use the bathroom at a nearby Boot Barn. What a relief! There’s no way I could have held it all the way to the zoo if the alternator hadn’t died. 

By the time I got back to my post in the front seat, The Husband had organized a tow to take our car to the repair shop and was ordering our first Uber ride. 

“So, it’s like a taxi, but any dude can sign up for it with his own car, right?” asked my Firstborn son. 

“Uh, I think so,” I answered. 

“So some dude is coming to get us in his car,” said Firstborn.

“Yeaahhh,” I said. “But not just any dude. THIS is an Uber dude.” 

Firstborn had doubts. But The Husband said, “Boys, follow your mother through that … grass,” and gestured to the chest-high wilderness through which I’d just waded to appease my bladder at the Boot Barn. 

The Husband left our car, containing everything we cherished enough to bring on vacation, on the side of the interstate with the key stuffed in the front wheel for the tow truck driver to find. I bit my lip. 

The Husband shrugged. 

I led the boys through the grass, over a barbed-wire fence, up a ledge and into the Boot Barn parking lot where an Uber driver zipped past and crammed us all into his own, smaller SUV. 

He was an excellent driver, though I had a rogue doubt when an all-caps warning lit his dash screen with the words, “El nivel de combustible es bajo.” 

“Do we need to stop at a gas station?” I asked. 

“Que?” asked Uber driver. 

“Uh, never mind,” I said. 

And just like that, we were at the zoo. 

I almost fretted over our car, the raging interstate, the possibility that we’d contacted a troll instead of a real tow-truck driver, the state of our things inside the car, whether the repair shop would in fact keep our car for a week and charge us for a full engine replacement.


But then I saw snakes and sloths, which I love, and I chased my boys to their favorite exhibit, the gorilla, whose stern forsaking face makes one sad, in fact, that he’s in there and we’re out here. 

And I realized, gorilla, that we almost got stuck in a hailstorm, almost died on the Interstate, almost lost all our stuff to Interstate bandits, almost ran out of gas in an Uber, almost stopped having kids at just three sons instead of four. But none of that happened. 

In a reality chained to tiny and large, myriad disasters, there are few things more triumphant than an “almost.” 

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter