A Little Ray of Sunshine

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Trip

We left home, if not as early as I'd hoped, early enough to make Zion National Park by six pm. We had plenty of daylight left to set up camp and fix dinner, and, while we didn't get to see much of the park, the moonrise in the campground was spectacular. We got a nice early start the next day, headed across Arizona and Nevada (two states my husband and children had never been in), got across the Mojave and were all of 45 miles from our hotel when we saw people waving franticly at us to pull over. Naturally we were in the middle of a freeway interchange. Two cars pulled over with us, one containing two younger black women and the other a middle-aged white man.
"Your car's on fire!" they yelled at us. Of course, the boys were asleep, their sandles off, and we're on the side of the freeway interchange with cars whistling past at at least 65 mph, probably more, as Angelenos seem to disregard speed limits in favor of going however fast traffic allows.
Fortunately, since we'd forgotton to put the fire extinguisher back in the car (as we discovered at that point) after cleaning it out before the trip, the fire had already gone out. We'd picked up a little Tracphone at Walmart a couple days before the trip, so the boys and I got back in the car and I figured out how to call AAA. (Don't dial one before eight-hundred on a cell phone.) My
The gal on the other end asked for my membership number, and I read it off. There was a long pause. "Are you a California member?" "No. Oregon/Idaho." "Oh!" a note of revelation entered her voice. (I later learned that California has a one digit shorter membership number than Oregon/Idaho.)
"We'll have a tow truck there within twenty minutes." she promised. Five minutes later, a tow truck showed up.
"That was fast." we told him. "AAA said you'd be twenty minutes."
"I'm not AAA. I'm the highway department tow truck. You have AAA service?" he said.
"Yes." we said.
"In that case, I'll leave you here. Otherwise, I'd just tow you off the nearest exit ramp and leave you there, but they'll find you here." he said, and drove away. Five minutes later the AAA tow truck showed up. He towed us to the nearest AAA recommended garage (we have only basic AAA, because where we live, if we're more than seven miles from our mechanic we're more than seven miles from any mechanic so that's all we really need).
From there I called Mom's cell phone and told her what had happened. My friend whose wedding we were attending called back a little later to tell us what had been decided. (Mom's cell is also an emergency-type-pay-by-minute deal.) Dad would take the 4-door sedan they had rented and exchange it for a minivan, then come get us. Mom would ride out with the bride's parents to the wedding rehersal, as Mom and I were the music for the wedding and we really needed one of us to be there to figure out how many repetitions of Ave Maria by Bach (.75) and how many repetitions of the Wagner wedding march (1.5) were required.
We were 45 miles away from where Mom, Dad, and the rest of the wedding party was. It was three in the afternoon when the car broke. By four, the car was at the shop and Dad had gotten the minivan. It took three hours (Friday afternoon rush hour) to get to the shop. By this time the shop had closed. Beau had utilized the bathrooms of the other shops in the area, each in turn until they closed. We looked like a bunch of homeless vagabonds with all our stuff setting out in the handicap parking space (the car had to be locked inside the garage when it closed at five). Hemi was strapped in his car seat because he wouldn't sit still and we were on the edge of a four lane divided road. We got to see a Wonder Bread semi-truck try (and fail) to pull a u-turn, and the shop workers in the area told us that usually they suceed.
The mechanics had decided that our transmission was dead. There was certainly transmission fluid all over the back of the car. We'd just had the transmission flushed and a new gasket put on, and the fluid left in it certainly smelled burned. Something had definately burned: those three people that had pulled over with us had seen it. The car had been difficult to get to downshift on those mountain passes. It had 130K miles on that transmission (the orriginal). It seemed a reasonable conclusion. The owner of the shop would call us the next day when he located used or rebuilt transmissions and let us know what our options were.
We got everything loaded into Dad's rental minivan and headed to the hotel. It was now past seven, and Dad was absolutely exhausted. My husband actually dozed off, and both boys did as well. I tried to spot streetsigns from the back (the 'cello only fit in the front passenger's seat). Somehow both Dad and I missed a freeway change, and ended up on the wrong freeway. So he got off and took surface streets back to the hotel. My husband hadn't seen Hollywood before, so it was interesting to him. It was nine when we got in, and I went to check in while my husband started hauling stuff. Mom and her ride arrived two minutes after we did, and the ladies immediately took charge of the boys. The hotel shuttle driver knew of a place half-a-block away that was open and sold pizza, so we got that for dinner. An interesting little shop, selling Persian food and pizza.
We'd brought food for breakfast, so we ate and got ready for the wedding and headed out. Mom, as always before playing, was hyper and nervous, so we had her drive. Otherwise, she would've driven the driver nuts back-seat driving. She got lost twice, but we got there in good time and ran through the order of music. Dad and my husband took the boys to climb the stairs. If you get a chance, the Pepperdine University Chapel has lovely stained glass and very nice acoustics. We saw my friend briefly, as well as two of her little sisters (the two younger ones, who were nine and three last I saw them, now the youngest is thirteen and the next is in college). I finally got to meet the groom. I'd only been hearing about him since high school!
So, we did the wedding. The youngest sister, A., was the only bridesmaid who walked at the proper pace. The others all rushed.
Then it was off to the reception, at a restaurant called Duke's. All very nice, the food was wonderful. It is right on the beach, so Beau enjoyed watching the waves and seagulls. We didn't stay too long: usually my husband and I like to dance, but I can't stay standing for more than five minutes now, so we didn't stay for the dancing. Instead, we took the boys down to the beach.
At first, they thought the waves were great. We jumped in the surf, and Hemi fell down over and over. Mom and I held his hands, so he thought it was great fun. Then Beau got knocked down, and that was the end of the fun. Beau did not like getting knocked down, and nothing would suit him but that everyone should stay out of the water. Dad did not care to go in the water, so that was fine with Beau, but the rest of us did. Still, he thought playing in the sand, so long as it was quite dry and well above the waves, was all right. The tide was coming in, so he kept getting upset that it was getting too close.
Which, in the end, it did, and nearly took Mom's and my purses, just as we were packing up our stuff, occasioning more tears and wailing. Mom coddles this fussy behavior, while my husband and I firmly tell Beau that this is not how men behave and he is not to act this way. If he does not like something he should say so, and why, without any whining or tears. Naturally this makes for family conflicts between the adults. Three-and-a-half, while not old enough to never whine, is certainly old enough to begin to understand that this is not appropriate behavior, and to begin to develop the ability to control himself. Or so we think. (And Mom wonders why I persisted in whining and crying for years!)
We got back to the hotel, called up the bride's family, our friends, and decided in consultation with them that the best thing for us to do was to rent a car for a few days until ours should be repaired, and stay at their place (we only had two nights at the hotel). We went out with Mom to get a rental car, and the first place we went to wouldn't take our card! This card is, according to our credit union, the modern version of travelers checks. It functions like a debit card, but is not tied to your bank account. You transfer the amount of money you want on it to the card, and your total risk is whatever your balance is. (So you can leave next month's rent in the bank without worry that if the card is stolen you won't be able to pay the rent.)
Well, it doesn't have a name embossed in it, so this place wouldn't take it. They claimed no other rental car company would take it. They also insisted that they had to put a hold on $400 to rent a car. (This for a rental that woud cost $75.) This eliminated using our credit card, which, since it is used for online purchases, has a limit of $400. Well, we walked across the street to Hertz. Hertz would be happy to take the card. And they would only put a $50 hold on the card. In that case, we'd be more than pleased to rent from Hertz. They rented us a Mazda minivan. A very nice vehicle, but small. We'd left our camping gear in our minivan (a Ford Windstar), and even so we could barely fit everything ('cello, two children, one booster seat, one car seat, cooler, clothing, toys, food, dishes) into the Mazda. My husband enjoyed driving it, but it was clearly too small for our needs.
Mom and Dad had a seven a.m. flight back home to catch, so we said goodbye that night.
We got out to my friends' place, and the family patriarch immediately discovered (within about five seconds) that he and my husband have a mutual interest in soccer. Since it was the middle of the World Cup, they wandered off to look at his orcheds (or something) and talk soccer, and that was the last we saw of them for hours. The youngest daughter, A, loves children, and took the boys arround to see all the birds. (3 parrots, a zillion parakeets, 2 quail, and I don't know how many other exotic types. Then she took them off to play. M. was on her honeymoon, naturally, R., the second daughter had gone to the beach to surf with friends, and D, the third (the one in college) was at work.
One of the uncles came over with some cucumbers to plant, and he and I talked gardening for quite a while. (I should mention, perhaps, that this family is so close to mine that I grew up calling their relatives by the same names their own daughters used.)
My husband helped move M's double bed to the apartment she and her husband found.
Dinner, as always, was at nine pm. Both boys fell asleep at the table. A, like all the girls in the family, is considerate and well-mannered, served drinks and cleared table without being asked. Teenagers do not have to be monsters if they are raised correctly. The parents complemented us on how well our children behave, and we said thank you, we're trying to teach them right. This spawned a whole discussion on how one goes about that. Apparently when D was fifteen or so, a family whose daughter was a friend of hers was invited over for dinner one night, and after watching how the girls behaved the father said "I'm going to have to teach my daughter to act this way." Of course, by the time a girl is fifteen, it has been left far too long. Much laughter all around.
The next day we took the boys out to the museum where my dad used to work when I was very little, the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. We went to the back door as directed and asked if any of his former coworkers were in. The security guard thought perhaps one might be, and went to find him. Sure enough, he was, in the process of preping the pit for the summer's dig. So he didn't have much time, but he showed us around the lab and storage area, answered all sorts of questions (I was mostly amazed at how much all the specimins had shrunk over the years!), then let us into the museum itself. We went through a good part of the museum, then decided it was time to go get lunch. We found a very nice, quick, little mexican place called Baja Fresh Grill a block away. We wish we could get mexican food that good at home! (And this was the mexican equevilent of Subway, at that.)
We went back and finished the museum. We finally found a picture of my dad, and the boys wouldn't believe that was their Poppa. Well, yes, dark beard, years younger, many, many pounds lighter, I can see why they found it difficult. Add to that, it was a poor picture, with a microscope blocking half his face, and him in the back, rather out of focus. We walked over to Pit 91 and checked that out, and I told the boys how Nana always used to complain about all the Tar in Poppa's clothes.
Then we loaded up and headed back to our friends'. The mechanic called and said the car was ready to go. So the next morning, after the mother took D to work (it is cheaper to drive the college-age daughter around, since her college is five blocks from home, than to pay car insurance for her on her own vehicle), we loaded everything into their suburban and returned the Mazda. Oops.
We got out to the mechanic's, moved all our stuff over, the mother took off, we paid the mechanic, and the car wouldn't start. Oops. My husband: "It sounds like they ran the battery out."
The mechanic's shop's battery jumper was dead. They borrowed one from the next shop over. Didn't do any good. Me, being observant, pointed out that the battery couldn't be very dead, as the lights and beeps still worked. Tried reading the battery with some sort of meter. Battery is fine. The mechanics pushed the car into the shop and put it up on the lift. "You may need a new head gasket."
"We had that done in February." I pointed out, rather irritated. Half an hour later: "You need a new engine."
"Not in California we don't. We can't afford to stay here. I've missed work, he's missed work, we have to get home." (Now mind, being a music teacher, I only work a couple days a week. Missing a Wednesday is missing more than half my weekly income. We really can't afford this, and we've already borrowed a large sum from my folks to pay for the transmission, and we're well over budget on this trip, which is going to cause problems later.)
So, we have a car that does not run. We have two children in car seats. We have a whole-heck-of-a-lot-of-stuff including the 'cello, which is arguably the bigest most awkward item. (The cooler is about the same size.) And certainly the most tempermental in regards to temperature. We have some plants which the family patriarch gave to my husband. They are almost as mad about the weather as the 'cello is. (The 'cello, being a native of Idaho desert, hates humidity. It has been sulking since we arrived.)
What can you rent to get a family, all that stuff, and a minivan-that-doesn't-run home? A U-haul. Except, you can't fit two car seats in a U-haul. You have to rent both a U-haul and a rental car. Um, no. We can't afford that. Really. Someone (in the hours of phone calls), I think it was Budget, suggested a company that does auto transport. I call them. It's cheaper than a U-haul. They contract with carriers to move vehicles. They will find someone to move it within a week. (That part was too good to be true.) Okay. The owner of the mechanic shop has left for Tehran. (I doubt his judgement in travel planing is worth much.) The boss mechanic left will let us use any of the office equipment, but no one knows how to make the fax machine send. It recieves the paperwork just fine. He drives my husband over to a store to fax it back.
We leave him a key to the minivan so the semi driver can load it. I call Hertz. Sure, they will rent us a minivan. Wait, to where? No, they can't rent one way to there. Not a minivan. Perhaps we'd like a Cadilac? We would not. It will not fit our stuff. Well, I say, how about Salt Lake City Airport? Can you rent a minivan one way to there? Yes. That they can do. It must be American made. We will not fit in a foreign van. They have a Ford Freestar. Okay. 3 days. It'll be ready at six. Great. The boss mechanic happens to be a boater. He drives a Ford F250. You can fit anything in a F250. Including all our stuff, our car seats, everything. And then some. He drives us to the airport where the Hertz outlet is. They do not have an American minivan. All they have are two Kias. Whatever, my husband decides. We are getting out of here, and if that means everything but the children, the 'cello, and the plants gets thrown out, so be it.
Our Ford was packed to eight inches from the ceiling. There was plenty of leg room for everyone. The Kia is packed to the ceiling. The door on Beau's side cannot be used because things are packed to the ceiling beside him. The children can't get their feet in front of them. I've got no room to shift position. Almost everything fit. We left the boss mechanic the bottles of car fluids: windshield washer, motor oil, radiator, transmission. Not too bad. My husband gave him a tip for his help as well.
I called my folks: we're on the road. Mom thought we should find a hotel and wait until morning. We looked at each other. We'd had enough of California. We stopped in Primm, Nevada, one mile the other side of the border, at midnight.
I don't care what you think about gambling, that casino was the nicest place to stay. And extremely cheap. The room was nice, the water was hot, the beds were queensized, and it cost less than a motel 6. We ate breakfast at the buffett. The boys were free. I found the highlight to be the cheese blintzes. My husband thought it was the Pecan Pie. The boys had 3 glasses of orange juice each. (Lots of potty stops.) The drinks were bottomless, included in the meal, and you could change beverages as much as you liked. They had every imaginable breakfast food, and deserts, and even a made-to-order omlette bar. It was cheap, very cheap, and very good food. We got a later start, because we'd gotten in so late the night before. Even so, we were pretty determined, and pretty miserable in that car, and we drove the rest of the way through to home, getting in around midnight. My husband took the rental back to SLC the next day and took the shuttle home, turning the car in a day early.
It's a good thing that old Buick hadn't sold. AAA switched our insurance over, no problems. Unfortunately, the company shipping the minivan back hasn't yet found a carrier for it. Evidently we're so far out in the middle of nowhere that it's hard to find one.
We came in over twice what we'd budgeted for the trip, plus we owe my parents that much again for the transmission. I called our mechanic to tell him about the breakdown. "Sounds like your starter. Shouldn't be the engine, not yet. Those usually last to 150K." he said.
We'll see. We've got this other trip in July. We can't expect the Buick to make it, even if we could fit our camping gear in. If it is the engine, assuming we get the car back by then, we're not going to be able to afford to replace it just yet. So . . . we're short part of what we thought we'd have to spend on the trip. We'll probably have to rent a vehicle (my husband is not overly enthusiastic about the idea of traveling in the minivan again anyway). I hate to tell my friend we can't make it to her wedding. Both Beau and I are supposed to be in it, the bridesmaid dress is already made, and so on. My husband would get the job of telling his sister that we aren't coming after all, and he doesn't like that any better than I do. So we'll see what we can come up with.
It does seem like every time we get just a bit ahead, enough to do what we've planned and still have a bit left over, something comes up that ruins all the plans and wipes us out financially. We certainly won't get a fence in this year, short of a miricle, or a shed. Well, it's better to wait on those things until we know if we'll be here after my husband graduates, of course, but . . . we would have had enough set aside to be able to do one or the other, or a carport, once we knew. Or, if we can't stay, to help cover moving costs.
Still, everyone's fine, everyone's home, and Baby's kicking. So we'll manage. We've gotten pretty good at that.

2 Comments:

  • At 10:51 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger CrazyJo said…

    Oh my goodness, what an experience! I don't think I could have handled that so well, especially pregnant with a couple little ones in tow! Wow.
    Lord, I just pray that you would work everything out to Your glory. Help with transportation, funds, and the upcoming trip. And please give her Your peace that passes all understanding.

     
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