After a day and a half of worrying about an occasional puddle of engine coolant forming underneath my car, I decided to throw caution to the wind and drive 15 miles to a social gathering of somber importance. As I was traveling along the dark, two-lane highway, my mind was put at ease by the thought of my cell phone in my jacket pocket. An earlier model of me could have ‘worked’ on an earlier model of Buick, but now-a-days, a look under the hood looks nothing like an engine. Topping off the wiper fluid might require a peek into the owner’s manual for assistance.
With the temperature gauge holding steady in the safe zone, and a thousand emergency tactics formulating in my mind, a comforting thought snuck in-between the anxieties. It’ll be OK. I will survive.
When I was 23 years old, I was offered a spot in the management training program of a large chain of restaurants. All I had to do was drive from the island on which I lived, located off the southern coast of South Carolina, drive northward, diagonally across the entire state of South Carolina, into the western, increasingly mountainous section of North Carolina, and then easily navigate my way around a major city in the eastern part of Tennessee to find my reserved room at a hotel. Me, my suitcase, and my fully-gassed-up 1968 MGB Convertible headed off on the Highway of Destiny and Good Fortune. I didn’t pack my cellphone, GPS, or laptop for this trip, because they hadn’t been invented yet.
What could possibly go wrong?
The drive across the State of South Carolina was a nice one. After a kiss good-bye to the eventual Ex, a leisurely pace was enjoyed as I got to see a new part of the country for the first time. I had left extra early, so that I could check-in at the hotel in plenty of time for Happy Hour.
As I was cruising along the first miles of North Carolina highway, with darkness settling in, the MGB started pulling hard to the right, which had me pulling to the right side of the road. Son-of-a-Flat Tire. Like any self-respecting good-ole boy from Virginia, I knew how to change a flat. Problem was that the MGB had real-spoked rims with one big lug nut, not the standard 5 or 6 that you’d find on most any American-made automobile. It required a special lug wrench, which didn’t come with the used-car package that I had bought into. Thankfully, after just ten or twenty minutes of cursing, a North Carolina State Trooper pulled in behind my vehicle. He politely assessed the situation as I nonchalantly shuffled between him and my expired rear license plate. He kindly offered a ride (yes please, let’s go) to a truck stop down the road a ways. He received a call to assist another stranded motorist, but left me in the hands of a mechanic that he obviously knew from the past.
After some head-scratching and phone calls, the mechanic finally secured a tool which ‘should do the trick’ in changing my tire. He gave me a ride to my car, changed the tire (just to prove to himself that the tool would do the job), and back on my quest I went. There are no problems, only solutions.
A little behind schedule for Happy Hour, a moonless night had made the scenery impossible to see. Somewhere in the mountains, just past Hendersonville, and before the ski resorts, the car began to sputter and spit. Worse went to worser as I down-shifted going downhill, in a futile attempt to increase my speed. The engine suddenly shut off (fortunately on a down-hill slope), the headlights went black as the night, and I drifted to the side of the road. Seems that the oil pan had cracked after hitting the pavement when the tire had gone flat, and we had left 4.5 pints of 20w-50 along the last twenty miles of highway. I ain’t stupid, so after trying to start the car 23 times, I climbed out, grabbed my suitcase, and started walking northwest. For ten miles. Occasionally uphill.
I came upon a roadside diner. After asking where in the hell I was and ordering a black coffee, I did something nice. I called the Ex-wife-to-be and lied. A little white lie.
“Yep, almost there. Just stopped for a coffee”
I’m sitting there at the counter, drinking my coffee, and found myself laughing at a joke told by the guy sitting beside me. Him and his friend worked for an oil company, and were on their way to a job not 20 miles down the road.
“We’re not goin’ there but we’ll get you close”
So, into their Cadillac De Ville we went, and on to the outskirts of my destination city we would go.
They dropped me at the depot of the local Greyhound Bus Line. It was 5 A.M. and the bus stop wasn’t even open yet. After snooping around for a bit, I startled a late-night bus driver who had decided to nap for a while before heading home for the morning.
“I’m not supposed to, but you can hang out here in the breakroom until the day crew shows up”
I spent the next hour and a half trying to get some shut-eye while laying on top of a large, wooden table. With no success.
I caught the first bus into the city, getting off a dozen blocks from my hotel. I grabbed a cab for the last leg of my journey. Checked-in at the front desk of the hotel, dropped my luggage in the room, and headed down to the conference room for my first day of training, stopping in the lobby for a free cup of coffee, since I was fifteen minutes early.
I once made plans to get my car from the junkyard to which it had been towed. But, I had rented a tow-dolly instead of an a-frame-type, which won’t pull my little car. I had basically donated my car to some guy named Darryl in pursuit of the American Dream.
This evenings’s host had warmly thanked me for attending.
Not a problem. I did check for any obvious signs of trouble under the car before heading home.