Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Triple A Search & Rescue

It is never a good sign when you have to call the Triple A for emergency road service twice in 45 minutes. Especially when it's not to ask where the towtruck is, but for a whole additional incident report. If there is anything you want your morning to be, whether driving to work or dropping kids off at school, I think "uneventful" would be the best descriptive choice. ("Relaxing" is a bad choice becauase if the kids are quiet enough for me to be relaxed, then either they are disassembling an important piece of the car, or they are gleefully watching a police cruiser sneak up on us.) I had just dropped off the five year old off in front of his school in a morning ritual called "car line." Five or six cars would be unloading passengers at the same time, with the assistance of school personnel and some orange belted middle schoolers. Usually it is a smooth process. This morning, though, I had some early inklings of trouble. As we were on our way to school my van's electrical system seemed to be hungover. And maybe badly in need of throwing something up, like a gasket or a battery or tie rod. All these pinball-style lights kept flashing on my dashboard. ABS system secure! Brakes may be failing! AMPs are red! Overdrive Off! (There was even a light blinking on the end of the gearshift lever -- who even knew it had one?!) So while I did my very best impression of Tommy, the Who's Pinball Wizard who was able to rack up big points in pinball because he was deaf, dumb and blind to the distraction, I also noticed that I had NO speedometer reading, and nothing on the odometer either. (Had a brief mental fantasy of being able to sell our 9-year-old van as "practically new" but Hahahahaha. Anyway.) I really wondered what was going to happen next. The auxiliary DVD player lurching to life and blaring Barney tunes? Vents opening, closing and hissing steam in some kind of van-based Amityville Horror imitation? Maybe all the plastic accessories would start melting like in that dream I had last year? Well, regardless, I continued on my merry way because we had to drop off. Problem was, once the 5-year-old exited and I shifted back into gear, the van simply died. School personnel kept motioning for me to move along, while I was locating my AAA card and calling emergency road service. Finally a teacher opened my door and asked me, "Could you just move it forward a little?" Haha. If I could do THAT I could just move it five miles along the highways into my own personal driveway. Surely she didn't want me to drop it into neutral and try pushing it? The nice AAA people kept asking me, "Are you in FRONT of the school?" Yes, I said, but the school is BEHIND the church, and is facing the opposite direction from the church. So it's actually facing north, while the church is facing south. "But you're in FRONT of it?" she repeated. Well, yes. But you wouldn't be able to see me from any road. Ah well, let them hunt the church grounds. You never know when someone will stumble upon the Lord and a conversion will ensue! So we waited through the entire 12-20 minute dropoff period, everyone wondering why we were hogging space at the head of the line. Finally Tow Truck Man arrived. He looked slightly older than my 5-year-old. He assured me all I needed was "a jump." He got us started nicely. "The van died while it was running," I explained to him. "Are you sure it won't die again on my way to the repair place? Would you want to follow me there?" I must not look like great company in the morning. He didn't want to follow me there. Assured me again that the alternator would take care of everything. (note to self: Suggest to U.S. government that it gets a really big Alternator.) So off we go. I was trying not to brake. I figured if I was really gentle the van wouldn't know I was driving it, and thus would not realize it had the ability to "die" again. I approached a heavily trafficked turn slowly, lucked out and made it through on a rolling stop. Up ahead I saw a red light but I could tell it was on the verge of turning green. I paced myself accordingly. That's when I started hearing gurgling noises. Fish noises from your engine is never a good sign. I could feel the van start to slow down. The warning lights went out. The power steering was out. I turned mightlily to make it into a fairly long turning lane. Because this was THE main drag in this part of town. Two lanes of constant traffic on either side. I was going to make the local news in the Nuisance Section if someone didn't come to my rescue. Another call to the Triple A. "Didn't he get there yet?" the lady asked. I admitted he did, but that my van had died again five minutes later. She arrranged another service call. Meanwhile the 3-year-old was growing increasingly unhappy. "Drive!" he said. "Time to drive the van!" "I can't," I explained. "It's broken again." "No! It isn't broken! Let's go home NOW." He was shedding tears at a rate that was wetting the seats. I called Hubby, who promised to rescue us from the stricken vehicle. Meanwhile I had opened my door because it was growing hot. I was right next to the median, so hopeful that oncoming traffic would not take off my door. Next thing I knew one of our friends appeared out of nowhere. It was Tasha, whose son is also a kindergartener. She was on the median. "Are you okay?" she said. I assured her Triple A was on the way. Again. "Oh, okay," she said cheerfully. "I wasn't sure if you were broken down or just got tired of driving!" haha. In case you were wondering we choose our friends based on their great senses of humor. Hubby and Triple A man arrived around the same time. The 3-year-old and I abandoned the vehicle. Many thanks to our friends: Tasha, Jennifer, Katrena, who all offered assistance during our emergency. By the end of the day it was a less than $500 repair. (battery, alternator) Part of me was wondering if it was time to buy a new gas guzzler. I guess we'll have to wait!


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