I’ve had two serious encounters with bees in my life so far. When I was around five, during tobacco harvest time in summer. Six or seven of us were waiting for my father to bring another load of tobacco from the field for us to string up on sticks to hang in the barn for curing. While wandering in the nearby woods, I accidentally upset a nest of yellow-jackets and was stung all over my face and arms. As fast as I could I ran to one of the older girls, a big girl named Kathleen, who had seen it, and was calling to me. She had crushed tobacco leaves into into her hands and quickly rubbed it on the stings. It was an old-fashioned remedy that helped relieve the stinging. Other than developing a swollen face, I was fine after a day or so.
The next incident occurred as I was having lunch by myself in a local fast food restaurant in Las Vegas where we lived at the time. Someone came into the restaurant and asked who owned “that car” outside that was all covered with bees. I was almost finished eating, and barely looked up during the commotion. When “that car” turned out to be mine–a red P.T. Cruiser–parked outside near the entrance, I was mighty surprised. Apparently, although I didn’t know it at the time, there is a bee swarming season, and Nevada’s season begins in March or April. I don’t know if bees either like red or P.T. Cruisers–or both–but of all the cars parked in that lot, they had chosen mine.
Imagine–if you will–my red P.T. Cruiser parked an arms throw from the restaurant entrance. It’s front hood is completely covered with millions of bees that look like brown soap bubbles clinging to the front grill and hood. Some are spilling over onto the windshield, kind of like this picture taken inside a car’s interior of bees on the windshield. There was no older and wiser Kathleen to jump in and save me from the bees this time, so I sized up my situation and tried to decide what to do next. At the time I was completely aware that I worried less about the bees hurting me than about being embarrassed in front of all these strangers.
I don’t know what kind of bees these were, but it doesn’t matter, because one kind is no more sophisticated than another. They sting exactly the same way and they both produce honey. The difference is the severity of the sting. You no doubt have already read horror stories about “killer” African bees, but even European bees can sting enough to severely injure someone or cause death. Therefore, it’s best not to invite them over for a picnic dinner, not even those strays that have a habit of hanging around the patio all afternoon, slipping in and out of your soda can, stealing swigs of sweetness.
Although I didn’t know at the time, bees move from one place to another. Just as we get tired when when we travel, they get get tired too, and sometimes it gets too hot. While we have the luxury of resting while we fill up the car with gas, maybe have a coke and a moon pie, then drive off in our air conditioned car, they have to look to other places to rest or get out of the sun. You’ll see them from time to time hanging from tree branches, street signs, fences, on the sides of buildings or a fire hydrant. Like birds alighting on an overhead wire, they just want to be left alone to rest. So, if at all possible, that’s just what you should do if you have a bee encounter. What to do if they choose to rest on your car in a parking lot, however, is another matter altogether.
I wanted to get home, and my car is the only way I could do it. I couldn’t hang around a fast food place all afternoon and wait until they rested up enough to continue their journey. They might just decide to stay overnight and leave the next morning. With patrons of the restaurant watching from the windows, I pondered my situation.
While most of the bees clung to the hood and front grill, the driver’s door had only a few stragglers flying about. So I drew in a deep breath and walked calmly to the car, opened the door and got in. The wiper blades cleared the windshield, and not one bee had gotten inside. Round one bees versus me: one point for me. Turning the key and starting up the car, I got ready for round two. I backed out of the parking space, and drove onto Charleston Avenue hoping the motion of the car and the head wind created by speed would encourage the bees to let go. Instead, they braced themselves for a joyride still clinging to the hood. Clearly, driving at 35 mph wouldn’t be fast enough to create the wind resistance I needed.
I headed straight for the entrance to Interstate 215 and began to pick up speed as soon as it was legal. I saw very few bees at that point–even as I passed 65 mph mark–so I thought I’d slaked them all off. I turned the car around five miles or so into North Las Vegas, turned around and drove home, stopping at the curb in front of my house to check. The bees had clearly won round two. A little dizzy maybe, but they were buzzing among themselves, still attached to the car and crawling over each other. I got back inside to think.
First I thought maybe I could wash them off with the long car wash wand I had in my garage. But carried out to a logical conclusion, if it worked, where would the bees go? Probably to some of the neighbors’ yards, maybe even my own where they could get a nice cool drink from the pool in the back where all the other bugs in Summerlin drank daily. Why, I got into trouble once in that neighborhood when all I’d done was let 6 or 7 weeds grow in the front yard to see if maybe the blooms would be pretty. One (wo)man’s weed is another’s flower after all. I got an official letter from the neighborhood council to cease and decist dig them up or face a fine. No telling what they’d do to me if I brought bees into the neighborhood.
In a light bulb moment, I started the car up again, and drove to the service station near our house where I knew there was a drive-through car wash. I paid for the basic car wash and entered the automated area, turned off the motor, and began to relax for the first time in almost an hour, reflecting on the irony of my daily saving drowning bugs from the pool, and here I was guilty of heartlessly drowning bees with possibly chemically tainted soap and water.
I wanted to go home. I had things to do. I got over it.
Round three at the carwash: at long last, me established clear winner! I don’t know where the bees went. I didn’t look, but I went home with a clean car.