Notes from the Road - IV
I thought that I could still make it to my mother’s house despite the holdover in Lincoln, Nebraska so, I must admit, I was trying to make up for some time. Fortunately, there is a lot of 80mph stretches through some of middle America. So, I was driving along the I-80 in Iowa in the far-left fast lane as I tried to pass a couple semi-trucks in the right two lanes. When, suddenly, my car engine died. It just died. It was as if I had run out of gas, but I had about a third of a tank. There was no warning light until after the engine died.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” My first thought was to pull over to the left shoulder, but there was a cable barrier fence. So, I quickly turned on my right turn signal and, somehow someway, I managed to get it to the right-side shoulder. I honestly don’t know how, but traffic let me get over to the side of the road. Thank you! Thank you! Truck drivers of Iowa.
I sat for a little while, relieved to have made it alive. I was sure it had something to do with the oil that I had so religiously but inaccurately watched throughout the trip. Even though there was no smoke or any sign of overheating, I assumed my engine must be toast.
I called AAA. After going through many voice menus, someone finally picked up. Because of the traffic, the wind, and bad cell coverage the conversation was hard and mostly both sides of it were saying “what??” It was very hot and extremely windy. I had to choose baking in the car and hearing anything the woman on the other end of the AAA line was saying by keeping the windows closed. She kept asking where I was and I kept saying that I didn’t know but it was somewhere in Iowa. Part of me thought “God, Google knows where I am. Why can’t YOU figure it out.” Okay, I’m glad AAA isn’t that intrusive.
As I was talking to AAA, there was a knock on my passenger window. I was startled, though quite happy, to see a young woman in a trooper uniform on the other side of the car door. I rolled the window down.
“Are you okay?” she asked me.
“Yes,” I said, assuming she was asking if anything was physically wrong with me.
I tried very hard to talk to the trooper and AAA simultaneously but, because of the traffic, the wind, and the cell coverage, it seemed impossible to talk to either one.
I finally carefully got out of the car to talk to the policewoman on the side of the road. I could see her move her hand toward her pistol in case I was about to make any stupid move but she soon realized that I was harmless. She could hear that I was trying to figure out where I was so she went back to her vehicle to get her business card and wrote the information on back: I-80 eastbound, mile marker 285.
While she was getting the card from her vehicle, I opened up my hood to look at the damage. There was my oil cap sitting on the little ledge that I always put it on so that it didn’t fall between the grill and the radiator again. The oil fill port was wide open.
“Shit!!” I envisioned a trail of oil all the way behind me. The woman from AAA had put me on hold, ostensibly to get a supervisor, but it had been a long time. I decided that I just needed to put more oil in and drive the car to a service station. I finally hung up.
I put the little remaining oil I had left in. It started right up! The trooper came back with her card and saw that my car seemed to be running.
“I think it’s okay,” I said to the woman.
“Well, let me help you get back on the road,” she said. “You’ll never get in there otherwise.”
The trooper went back to her car and turned on her beacons so that oncoming traffic would move over and I could merge in. I went slowly onto I-80, up to about the minimum speed limit, still a little nervous. The trooper passed me and took off down the road.
I thought everything was going to be okay now. And it was. For about a mile. Then it stalled again and I found myself at the side of the road once more. At some point, the trooper came up to me once more. I still thought all I needed was some oil. So I thanked her again and off she went.
I sat at the side of the road for a long time and then thought about how dangerous just doing that was as my little car rocked back and forth each time a semi went by (which was pretty much every moment). I decided to try to get my car off on an exit, at any rate. I started a slow process of trying to reach an exit. The car started right away yet again and I could move it forward a little bit and then let it roll down the hilly (in Iowa?) parts all along the shoulder. For what seemed like an hour, I would roll along the shoulder whenever there was a break in traffic. This was probably more dangerous than just sitting there, but I felt I was doing something anyway. I got off on the first exit, which turned out to be another expressway going perpendicular to the one I was on. Then, I took the first exit off that one. Unfortunately, there were no obvious gas stations or any other services. I drove down the road a bit to see if I could find something, anything, but it just kept taking me deeper into the countryside and farther from the highway. I finally stopped and checked Google Maps to find the closest service station. There was a Love’s station back the way I had come. If only I had gone straight instead of getting off on the exit! But there had been a big overpass that I would have had to have gone under and a very tight squeeze between the wall and the lane where very large trucks were whirring by.
Fortunately, the car seemed to be running. I headed back to the highway and entered with my hazard lights on. I kept hoping, just hoping, to reach the station. And I finally made it. I looked around and it was only a convenience store with an Arby’s restaurant attached. I parked the car right in front of the Arby’s and went into the convenience store. I looked around for oil but could not find it. I asked the morbidly obese man at the counter where to find oil and he sent me way back to an area that was more for large trucks with outsize filters, etc. There was another cashier and so I waited behind a couple older truckers until I reached the counter. The man behind this counter told me that it was in the front of the store, where the obese cashier was. The fat guy had given me completely wrong directions. In a corner at the front of the store there was the exact oil that I needed! I had looked up the amount of oil needed for my Scion so I bought four quarts of oil and put them into the car.
I decided that the car probably needed a rest to let the engine cool down. I went into the Arby’s and got an orange cream shake and some curly fries. I called Paul to let him know what was going on. I was sure that the car was going to be fine after that moment. I just KNEW it!
I went back to the car and it started like a charm, as they say. I backed out of my parking spot in front of the Arby’s and drove to the parking lot exit. All seemed fine as I waited my turn to head back into traffic. I pulled into the intersection just as a large semi-truck was heading my way. Suddenly and without warning my car stalled again, right in the middle of the road as the truck was headed toward me. Behind me a billow of white smoke blew out of my tailpipe. I tried to start the car just to get out of the way, but it would not start. At least the semi slowed down.
Fuck! I thought. I finally looked around to see if the coast was clear, put my car into neutral, jumped out and steered it back into the parking lot. Fortunately there was an empty part of the large parking lot just to the left of the exit. I got back into the car and sat there for a moment. It was very hot and I was sweating by now. I opened the door back up and tried to figure out what to do.
I finally looked down at my phone and found that Paul had texted me a few times since I had told him about being stuck on the side of the road. I ignored them and tried to call AAA again. It took a very long time just to dial the number because my hands were so sweaty that my iPhone didn’t read my fingers. I finally got through and got the runaround again.
Shitheads! I turned the air conditioning on for a bit to try to get rid of the sweat but I was anxious that I might wear down the battery. I wiped my hands on some paper towel and tried Yelp! to find a tow truck. I only got an answering machine, but I left a message. Out of the blue I got a call from Paul.
“Did you check your texts?” He asked.
“I was going to do that in a second,” I said.
“Just look, you moron dipshit,” he said. So, I looked and there was a number for a towing service called “Action Auto”.
“Hey!” I exclaimed. “They were going to be the next people I call!”
“Just call them…” he said. And then he went on talking, as usual, as if I wasn’t sitting in the middle of Iowa with a dead car.
“Listen,” I said,” I’m going to call them.” He finally hung up and I called Action Auto. They could send someone immediately.
Next, I thought, I need to figure out where to have it towed. Fortunately there was a Toyota dealership less than a few miles from where I was. I found out later that pretty much anything was within a five mile radius in Davenport. As I was waiting for Action Auto to show up, I got a call from the man who’s answering machine I had gotten first.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” he said in that drawl that every old guy develops in garages thoughout the United States and parts of Canada, “I was back in the shop.” I told him that I was pretty sure that I had burned up my engine but that help was on the way.
“Let me know. I’d like to buy it for parts,” he offered.
Well, that was good, I thought. If the car isn’t worth the money to fix it, at least I will be able to get 4 or 5 hundred out of it for parts…maybe.
I hung up and I waited. Waiting for someone you aren’t completely sure will show up takes a long time. I had been told that the truck was green. I jumped at every green vehicle. Eventually, the vehicle did show up.
The man driving the vehicle told me his name was Brandon. We discussed what was wrong with my vehicle. Stalled? Yes. Smoke? Yes. What color smoke? I think it was white. Brandon smiled wryly.
“It doesn’t sound good,” he said.
Yes, I knew that.
I watched as Brandon expertly loaded my car onto the back of the flat bed tow truck (rollback). I crawled up to the passenger seat and bit my tongue not to say it as we started off: “Let’s go, Brandon.” Not here, not now.
Brandon was a talkative fellow. I learned the names of all three of his children AND their particular personalities. He offered to drop me off at a hotel in the downtown area. We chatted for about ten minutes before he pointed down a road.
“Our shop is right down there.”
Brandon drove on until he pulled up in front of a Doubletree hotel. There were police vehicles in the actual drop-off point for the hotel so he left me off at the side of the road. I grabbed a few things from the car and watched as the tow truck pulled away with my car on top.
Other people get dropped off by a limosine, I thought, but I get dropped off by a tow truck!
I took my bags and walked around the policemen who seemed to be trying to persuade a middle-aged black woman from panhandling in front of the hotel. Inside, there were two more police by the reception desk and a couple checking in. At some point, the police left and there was only me and a young woman at the reception desk who was the spitting image of the actor Elliot Page (of course, I’ve never actually seen anything she’s ever been in).
“Do you have a room?” I asked.
“Is it just you?” the young woman asked cheerfully.
“Yes.” As she was checking me in, I asked about her job and the police that were there. “The place is really bad to their employees,” she told me.
“Should you really be saying that?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m just a temporary,” she assured me.
“I’m going to be a researcher,” she smiles brightly in a way that tells me that she doesn’t really have any idea about what that is.
I smile, take my keys, and head up to my room.