Thursday, November 11, 2010

I just wanted to go home.

I mentioned in a post below how the car broke down. If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know this is not an unusual occurrence. I spent the months from April through October without working wipers because I didn't have the money to fix them. You get creative when you lack something and I learned that I could tailor my life to avoid heavy storms and that Rain-X works reasonably well.

The trip to Carole was paid for by a nice bonus which allowed me to fix the wipers and set aside what I believed would be enough for gas and incidentals. I wasn't going to shop. I was going to spend time with my daughter and her husband. I was going to help her select a wedding dress. I was going because I really do need to take a vacation every so often and I could combine a trip to visit April and Perry and meet Joe and Jim and Chad and Chris and Greg. It was cinched when I got sent to Fort Madison, Iowa to pick up machines which had been on a job for 13 months longer than originally expected.

I had the trip planned down to the last dime. I built in a small cushion and took an extra day. How many times have you said, "Man, I need a vacation from my vacation!"? I would use the extra day to run errands, sift through mail, do laundry and cuddle kitties. I did not plan for an overnight in Auburn, Indiana.

Everything went wonderfully until I got to the far west tollbooth on the Ohio Turnpike. I passed through the booth thanks to the wonders of I-Pass and the car died; just died. I was able to get it to the middle of the two lanes you see here so trucks could get by me, but it refused to start. I realized, as I pulled up to the booth, that none of my accessories were working. Although I was not currently listening to music, the detachable front to the radio always has promo material about the radio. This wasn't flashing. With increasing fear, I realized, as I listened to the click-click of the key in the ignition, that I was not going to get the car restarted without help.

A couple of truckers helped push the car off to the far right. I was 200 feet from the toll buildings. Indeed, 2 state patrol officers stopped and asked if I had a cell phone to call someone for help. My first call was to my insurance company. I pay for roadside assistance. The first time I had used it was back in August for that flat tire. I needed it now, for sure.

I was scared. Traffic is zipping by me. It's 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. In 4 hours, I could be home with my cats and my stuff. The gal from my insurance assured me they would send someone out quickly to assess the situation and tow me if needed.

At 2:17, "Rick" from the towing company called. "Where are you?" he asked. "What's the mile marker?" There was no mile marker where I sat. I couldn't be more conspicuous if they'd left me in the road. I explained where I was. I could see, up ahead, the exit for Edon and Edgerton, Ohio and Route 49. The Indiana/Ohio border was just 4 miles from me. "Rick" audibly sighed. "I'll...I'll have to ask. I'll call you back in 5 minutes."

When 45 minutes passed, I called my insurance company. LaTonya answered and asked for my location. I must admit, I dissolved here. It was now 3 and my chances of getting home that night were rapidly dwindling. She calmed me down and apologized repeatedly for the other company leaving me stranded. She called another company and they said they would get there within the hour. At that point, I knew I wasn't going anywhere that night other than to find lodging.

Perry was wonderful, trying to find mechanics and then places to stay while keeping up the chatter on the phone. Pam, who was watching "the puppies", as she calls them, was a gem in trying to keep my spirits up and assuring me that it would all be better. I read. I did cross-stitch. I took photos. The view was peaceful even if I was not. It was nearly 70 degrees so I had to open the side door as the driver's window zipper is broken.

Within 35 minutes, the guy from the second company was at my car with this wonderful gadget that starts your car. If you need a jump through your automotive club, they will bring out this box. Gone are the days of "Positive to positive and negative to ground", carrying jumper cables and trying to turn a car around so the fronts meet. He got the car going, but it wouldn't stay going. He gave me a long face and sad eyes. "Something's really wrong, right?" I asked. "Yeah," he replied. But he said his son fixes cars so he'd tow the Jeep to his son's shop and they would look at it in the morning. I have no choice, at this point.

That is how I found myself at a Holiday Inn Express in Auburn, Indiana on Tuesday, November 9th, watching Mike Rowe's "Dirty Jobs" on Discovery channel. Oh look. Speedy Alka-Seltzer has come back, in color now, to shill antacid and cold medications. I watched Keith Olbermann's return to his "Countdown" show. I watched a show called "The Haunted". I watched Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show". I started watching Steven Colbert's "The Colbert Report" but decided I needed to try to sleep.

I don't sleep well the first night of an extended hotel stay. It always takes me 2 days to feel really comfortable in a hotel bed. They have the sheets tucked too tightly at the foot and Holiday Inn had 6, count 'em, 6 pillows labeled "soft", "medium", "firm" on the bed. I wound up tossing 3 of them overboard. I don't know how many times I teared up and then just let the tears come. Pam graciously let me cry. Supper consisted of several cups of tea courtesy of the coffee maker in the room.

It's not that I feel a victim of anything, let me make that clear. My philosophy, since the troubles of last year is that life is what it is. My friend Jonathan constantly reminds me that it's not a "Luck Journal" but a "Blessings Book". I have to say that on Tuesday night, it was an "Unluck Book". I was lonely, so very sad and wondering if my car was simply beyond repair.

I'd had to charge the hotel room and was going to have to charge any car repairs to my company credit card. There was a small cushion for unexpected expenses but not this, not at all. The only reasonably large credit I had was my company card. I knew I could get into trouble, but it was all I had.

All. I. Had. The very notion reduced me to tears. I had come so far, so very far in a year and I felt kicked fully in the teeth. I was even considering, as I was driving west, what small Christmas gifts I could afford this year. To be sure, I'll make as many as I can, but gee, I have squirreled away and lived frugally and, gosh darn it, I can get this for that person and I know she will like it. No more. I am reduced, once again, to living off peanut butter and jelly toast. Thank goodness I baked all those muffins last month and that there's a lot of oatmeal in the cupboard.

The morning dawned foggy. Schools in the area were delayed due to heavy fog. I got, maybe, 5 hours of sleep. I knew the auto shop opened at 7 a.m. and that Holiday Inn had a breakfast bar for guests. I took my phone into the bathroom lest the shop call when I was showering. I filled a plate with breakfast items and went to my room, settling on "The Beverly Hillbillies" as my company. At 9:30, I could wait no longer and I called them. "Hi. I was just going to call you. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that it's easily fixable. It's your alternator and battery. The bad news is I don't think I can get an alternator here before 1 p.m." He did guarantee that I could get home on Wednesday but I'd have to wait. I didn't care. He sent his dad round to get me and we went to the shop.

I walked in and he said, "Guess what? I explained to the NAPA guy what the problem was and he found an alternator for you. It just came and we should get you out of here in 30 minutes." Slightly overwhelmed, I sat down in overstuffed leather couches, pulled out my cross-stitch and stitched away as the Country Music Channel played in the background. True to their word, I was in my car and on my way at 10:45 a.m.

I pushed the limit, never going over 75 but driving 70 when I could, even in the Chicago area where the speed limit is 55. I wanted to be home.
My front door never ever looked better than it did as I drove into the driveway Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., a full 24 hours later than I had planned to be home.

Mija came to greet me. I picked her up and burst into tears. Pilchard let me pick her up but then spent the rest of the evening occasionally coming up to me and meowing in "that" tone of voice. She did it again this morning. I know I'm being yelled at but I do not mind. I am home, home with my cats.

I did pull what is called in the gaming world a /facepalm this morning. Yesterday, I took the keys to the car to get the mileage. I wanted to see what kind of mileage I got on the trip. I turned on the ignition and then heard the phone ring. I dashed inside and forgot to remove my keys. This morning, the battery was as cold and dead as the old one. I called road side assistance this morning and they were in my drive in 30 minutes. I was back up and running by 8:45. It makes for a humorous story. I know I had so much on my mind that removing the keys just didn't land on the priority list.

So, I intend to write a "thank you" to the garage that helped me. The owner had the guy who does diagnostics come in at 6:30, before the shop officially opened, to figure out what was wrong so they could start repairs as soon as they could get parts. They set aside all their regular work to get me going on my way. This put them behind for another customer but the owner said he couldn't let me just sit when it wasn't that big of a repair.

If you are ever in the Butler, Indiana area, I strongly recommend
Brent's Automotive Repair. I don't think I was charged less or more than if I'd had the work done here by my mechanic. The price seemed more than fair considering the extra work they did to get the new alternator.

And my company's CFO was more than understanding. "Sounds like the kind of vacation I would have. You send a check as soon as you can." I'm taking the last of my 'auto slush fund', as my financial advisor calls it and will pay my company back by the end of the month. The mechanic said alternators can give some warning or none at all that they are about to die, so I can stop kicking myself that I shouldda known.

It had run rough driving up the hill to Carole's townhouse, but I thought it was protesting 15 hours of driving over 2 days. I know my legs and feet and butt were protesting. My son-in-law is a car nut and he might have been able to diagnose the problem. But it felt terribly, horribly wrong to walk into the house and say, "Hi, welcome to the family. Would you look at my car? Something's awry." It was fine on Monday on the way to April and Perry's.

I am good now. I'm a bit behind in those things I wanted to do on Wednesday and couldn't but the car runs fine. I'm really grateful I got the wipers fixed. It was an interesting drive out and back.

Beverage: Lady Grey tea


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