Wine woman and goatsESSAY/HUMOR — On a recent three day road trip to northern California our wallets were gouged by near $6 a gallon gas prices, fainting goats on strike and a spitting steam valve purported to be the “Old Faithful” geyser.

With a Cliff notes itinerary and travel time a premium, our rental car quickly filled with irritated banter when my husband altered our plans. He turned at a hand-scrawled wood sign: Old Faithful, 13 miles.

“Old Faithful is a national treasure,” he said. “Seems silly not to go. Calistoga is a few minutes out of the way.”

I got a B minus in geography but was fairly certain our America’s geothermal wonder is located in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, some sixteen hours west of our location.

My obsessive brain noted this detour created serious delays in our Napa Valley wine tasting experience. And with the planned leisurely Pacific Coast Highway drive ahead, the day promised more wine tastings. This diversion was unwelcome. And noted.

“Put it on the list of things that piss you off dear,” my man groaned.

A driving vacation between two people who don’t travel well together by car is a stupid idea.

He never lets me drive, so as the co-pilot, my contribution is to read maps and scream and slam my feet on the floorboard every 100 yards or so. This encourages him to drive faster. I close my eyes and pray we don’t careen off the cliffs at Big Sur and hope somebody remembers to feed the dog if we do.

But with the promise of an added wine tasting I reluctantly humored my husband and agreed to stop at the Old Faithful Geyser of California. As we pulled into the huge parking lot the four other cars got my attention. Four. Hmm.

I made a casual observation to my driving companion: “You’d think there’d be a waiting line to witness a wonder of the world.” His eye rolling was a sufficient response to my point.

Old Faithful, Napa Valley, Castiloga, fainting goats

After getting my bearings of the park through the windows in the gift shop, I turned to stop my husband from becoming one of P.T. Barnum’s old faithful: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Too late. For $13 each we entered one of the three Old Faithful geysers in the world. I had questions:

  • Who knew there were three?
  • Which one was this?
  • Can I have my money back?

My husband promised we’d have fun. And he never reneges on a promise.

The very nice man who pocketed our cash said it was our lucky day.

“Usually the geyser erupts every 30 to 40 minutes,” he smiled, “but lately it’s been going off every 5 to 7 minutes.” My husband’s eyes gleamed at our good fortune and he nudged me for being such a pessimist.

The other claim to fame at this particular Old Faithful geyser is the famous Fainting Goats.

Fainting Goats

Apparently when the goats get startled or feel panic their muscles freeze for about 10 seconds and then they simply fall over. Mimics my feelings at trading a nice full glass of California Pinot Grigio for a ticket to a half-baked side show.

We found the goats resting, or fainted already under the shady trees. Maybe we startled them the moment we stepped out of the car. Perhaps the muscle freezing occurs after a bout of goat laughter; whenever some idiot walks into the gift shop. Then they faint at our human stupidity.

“Here comes another one Lou!” Ha, ha, ha. Freeze. And faint.

No signs or warnings from the nice man on how long before the next goat fainting. Judging by the empty parking lot it could be hours, or days.


"The adrenaline rush of sex makes them faint. Typical guy," says Terri Lenoci  of the International Fainting Goat Association in Florida. | Outrageous Acts of Science. The Science Channel.

A handful of foreign tourists, whose Chinese to English dictionary had failed them at the wooden road sign, gathered around the viewing area. This resembled a Do-It-Yourself fire pit/water feature combo. Something put together in an afternoon with a few drunken buddies and the promise of burgers and more beer.

In less than 5 minutes of our arrival the first signs that Old Faithful was about to blow ignited camera clicking and video recordings. My husband was anxious to join the fray. He held up his phone to record the wonder of it all.

A hiss of steam from the old girl spewed delightful glees from the suckers with 1,300 less yen in their pockets. It was followed by a spit of water spray, from both the geyser and the corners of my mouth. Two minutes of oohs and aahs were synced with constant shutter snapping which muffled my side-splitting roar. The water majesty rose into the clear blue sky with the same power as my garden hose at full throttle.

With a running start and a springboard my small frame could have vaulted its crest with room to spare. A tad shy of the 90 to 200 feet reach of the Yellowstone geyser. We waited for more action, but alas, the geyser sank back into the ground when the nice man in the gift shop probably hit the kill switch.

For $13 a pop we American suckers waited another 5 minutes to get our monies worth. And as it was our lucky day, Old Faithful erupted on cue once again, and five minutes later, again. Hmmm.

We did a lot for America that day.

We donated to the preservation of parks so that a handful of tourists could see our laughing faces in the background of their vacation pictures and videos. They will remark to friends and family back home that Americans are so happy to have not one, but three Old Faithful geysers, that even their goats fall over with joy.

Along our Pacific Coast Highway ride my husband talked about a visit someday to Wyoming to see another Old Faithful. I agreed it was a good idea. We also wondered if there was enough beer in the fridge to gather a few friends next weekend to build a geyser to create some passive income.

By 10 a.m. we were on our third wine tasting, laughing and having fun. He never reneges on his promise.


2 Thoughts on “Oh Come All Ye Old Faithful Suckers

  1. Ninfa on 07/15/2014 at 7:35 PM said:

    Really, can’t make this stuff up.

  2. Hi Ninfa,
    I tell people my personal essays are 90-95% truth and 5-10% embellishment – let’s call that creative license. But in this case, sadly, it’s 100% the truth.
    Thanks for reading!

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