Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"I love the smell of antifreeze on hot pavement in the morning"

I returned from Mobile at 3:00 AM last night/this morning. Usually, the Mobile-to-Wichita run takes me between 14 and 15 hours to drive, and that means that an 8:00 AM departure from Mobile puts my arrival in Wichita at between 11 PM and midnight. But this run would be different.

It all started the day before I left for Austin, I am persuaded. I was about to leave my in-laws' house when, as he usually does, my father-in-law began extolling the virtues of my car--said virtues being its mileage (now up to 277,000 miles) and reliability. The last thing he said--before "Have a good trip"--was, "Have you ever had to replace the water pump?"

Fast-forward to yesterday, just before noon. I-20, about 5 miles east of Tallulah, Louisiana. It was already one of those Southern days when you can see the air, it's so hot and humid. I'm listening to Joni Mitchell's Shadows and Light--"Edith and the Kingpin," to be exact--and I glance down at the dash to see my temperature gauge doing something most uncharacteristic of it: it is rising at an alarming rate. I pull over, get some antifreeze out of the trunk (thinking positively, you know), then walk around to the passenger side of the car . . . just in time to see--oh, joy!--antifreeze pouring onto the pavement. I looked at the jug of antifreeze in my hand and thought, Well, this isn't going to do much good. My next thought then was, I wonder how long this is going to take.

All things considered, not that long.

About 10 minutes after I pulled over, a local man pulled over and called the sheriff, requesting that he call a tow truck. The tow truck showed up no more than 20 minutes after that, and he drove me and my car over to a Ford dealership. Remind me to thank my father-in-law, next time I see him, for hexing the car: it was the water pump that had gone out. The nearest water pump to be had was in Vicksburg, about 20 miles away--so, another hour to wait for the part to get to the shop. Then about 2 1/2 hours to take out the old one and put in the new one. I was out of there before 5:30.

One of the workers offered one of the more interesting assurances I'd ever heard that I wasn't being cheated: "It's too damn hot to be lying to you about having to replace a water pump."

The people at the dealership were nice enough; but, judging from how they kept engaging me in conversation, I got the sense that by 1:00 they'd already talked with each other about all there was to talk about. In addition to being too hot to lie about needing to replace a water pump, it was also apparently too hot for people to be car-shopping: I saw only one group of people doing that. And, hey: I was just standing around doing nothing. So here they came. Perhaps the tow-truck driver told them I was a soft touch for a bit of conversation: I seem to recall his asking me where I was coming from, and when I mentioned my daughters, here commenced not conversation but a free-form monologue about how his daughter had just left for Memphis to be with her mother and now how it was just his wife and two kids and three dawgs (which he really did pronounce that way) all in a house with no air conditioning because that had gone out but it was cooler inside for the dawgs than it was outside and how one of the dawgs liked chewing on the ears of one of the other dawgs and how these were pure-bred hounds but one of them had a medical defect that, combined with the cost of the dawg to begin with, meant that he had $2300 tied up in him and now he's suing the couple he bought the dawg from because they're claiming they had informed him of the defect and he's claiming that if they had informed him of the defect that he never would have bought the dawg in the first place, and here I am wondering how this fellow has ever had $2300 at one time to spend on anything at all, much less a dawg, and then I look out the back window at my car and begin to wonder instead how much this little tow is going to cost me.

Suffice it to say that I made a nice little contribution toward the downpayment on his next dawg. But when I consider what could have happened and when and where it could have happened, this was one of the more fortunate breakdowns I've had.

More to come--more that is more pleasant in the recounting.


debra said...

I'm glad you made it home, albeit a little later and a little poorer than expected!

Can't wait to hear more...

Ariel said...

I love the title. And with prose like this, you need to author a travelogue. I can picture the dawgs.

Winston said...

Welcome back! You were lucky your breakdown happened where it did, around small towns/cities. That same incident around Nashville or any other larger city would have had you stranded at least overnight. And you would not have had such an eddication about them dawgs.

"Too hot to lie", indeed. But probably not too hot to charge you double or gouge you in some other way.

John B. said...

Thanks for the welcome back. Debra and Ariel, you can be sure that more is to come.

Winston, the tow was the one exorbitant cost, to my mind. Gone, apparently, are the days when one could get one's car towed from one side of town to another for $30 or so. But, see "beggars," "choosers." Incidentally, it was about 20 years ago that I had a water pump go out on me (a different car, of course), but the cost for the repair then was the same as this week's was: As soon as they said "Water pump," I said, in my mind, "Ka-ching! $300." And sure enough . . . I then mused that my (anecdotal) experience is that car-repair costs have remained pretty fixed over time, which, seeing as those costs include labor, strikes me as odd.

emawkc said...

This is precisely the reason I always carry a spare water pump in my trunk.

BTW, welcome back. You were missed.

dd said...

It definitely fits into our category of "it could have been worse" scenarios!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

I'm still laughing at the retelling of the dawg story. Very nicely done--I could well imagine him telling it in just the same rambling kind of manner. :)

John B. said...

Ms. Girl,
Thanks for stopping by and for the compliment.
A belated disclaimer, in case anyone is wondering: while I lived in the South, I grew to love the cadences of the people's speech there. Listening to this man's thick Louisiana accent indeed made me smile, but not at him.