Let me begin by saying that I enjoy a rather lovely life. I have a lovely husband, a lovely home, a job that I love (mostly) and lovely family and friends. Frankly, there aren't too many bumps in the road these days - but when they happen...they definitely make up for lost time.
As we headed north on Friday, we encountered the usual annual influx of lumbering "leaf-peepers" in their oversized retirement cars- Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs and Chevrolets, all with license plates from the Southern US. Most featuring overly patriotic or inflammatory conservative messaging in the way of bumper strickers and decals, leaving Brian with his hands full, what with having to declare 'Jihad' on them and making that call-to-worship "lee-lee lee-lee-lee!' tongue noise at them. (it passes the time and we love the confused looks you get when you declare Jihad on a redneck).
We made terrific time and were thrilled to see the changing landscape as we headed north into colder climes. As we climbed out of the Catskills and into Southern Vermont, more gorgeous leaf hues emerged. A cold front that had moved in cast a chill to the air, giving it the slightest 'nip' when you cracked your window.
Some four hours later, as we left the back roads we normally travel to avoid Burlington traffic, we jumped onto Highway 89 for the final 45 minutes of our journey. And then it happened......
Sput -- vroooom - jerk! jerk! - vroom - sputter - vrooooOOOOOOM!
The car was jerking forward and back like a spastic cow - lunging and falling back and slipping in and out of power as I tried to accelerate - I eased it over to the shoulder of the highway and turned off the ignition.
I turned the key again - the engine purred. I pressed the accelerator with the car in Park. Lunge! Spastic cow syndrome returned.
I tried driving forward a few feet - sputter! - miss! - jerk!
I quickly shut the car off to avoid further damaging either the engine or the transmission.
And as I did so, night began to fall.
I quickly dialed our insurance carrier through whom we have roadside assistance service. They have always been prompt and adept at dispatching help when we needed it for dead batteries, flat tires, or the odd tow-to-the-mechanic, when required.
In New York....
We were in Vermont, however, where cellular service is spottier and harder to catch hold of than a cheetah in pursuit of its prey. You know - because it's much more important to keep the mountain ridges pristine and without a cleverly disguised cell tower than to enable someone to avoid freezing to death on a highway verge in the winter months - or prevent someone from being eaten by a nomadic inbred family of Quebecois refugees who wander the grassy slopes looking for unfortunate tourists with the wrong cell phone plan.
But I had found that if I pressed my face towards the driver's side window, holding the phone at exactly a 105 degree angle up from my ear, I could maintain the barest two bars of service.
I reached my roadside assistant, Shawnelle or Lucerne or Raylene --- or some equally WTF? name.
I was asked if we were safe? - check. Nobody injured? - check. Were we safely out of traffic? - check. What is your policy number home zip code social security number mother's maiden name the name of your last pet make, model and color of your vehicle and the name of the first boy you kissed in 7th grade?....
Through gritted and anxious teeth, I answered all the 'necessary' security validation questions, thinking "now we get to the easy part!!!"
You see - from a findability perspective, we were the goose that had laid the golden egg. There are, like, only TWO major interstate highways throughout Vermont, each with the merest handful of numbered exits - and we had just entered the easiest to reach - just outside of a major metropolitan area!! We simply could not have broken down in a better place!!!!!! Or so we thought.
I mean - seriously - Google 'Vermont Interstate 89 Richmond Exit' and you get a PDF map from which I grabbed this little screen shot as one of the top hits:
HOW #$%^& HARD IS IT TO FIND THAT?
We spent a half hour with Brunelle or whatever the hell her name was asking me if I was on or near (insert road name no-fucking-where near us) or did I see a sign for (insert another road name no-fucking-where near us). She named roads that we knew but which were also way the hell and gone in terms of distance from where we were.
As I banged my head against the window glass, I calmly and patiently repeated to LeShayne (or whatever) that:
"Listen carefully, now - there are exactly two interstate highways - I have told you which one we are on, the exits we are between, the direction we are heading, and the fact that there is an overpass right in front of us. Even if you come from the other direction - there is a scant fifteen miles between exits - you CANNOT miss us!"
"We are in a gold colored SUV with hazard lights flashing, headlights and taillights on for maximum visibility, and a bitter and annoyed-looking Irishman in the passenger seat."
And you can't find this?!?!
After ten more minutes on hold - followed by another ten or so - pitch blackness enveloping us as speeding motorists whizzed by, mere inches away - and then ....
...she returned and announced that she had FINALLY found our location!!
It then took her another twenty minutes to find and contact a towing company.
By the time the tow truck showed, we had been sitting on that highway shoulder for more than an hour-and-a-half, waiting to be ambushed and eaten by those inbred Quebecois.
And Brian was convinced we should be seated with seatbelts on in case we were rear-ended by some inattentive and reckless Vermonter who had trouble spotting a large SUV sitting on the verge with flashers blinking (see above - bitter Irishman).
The rest was a whirl - we were whisked away to the closest appropriate car dealership in Burlington by the most polite and charming (and way cute, in a punk-Amish type of way) tow truck driver, were met by Brian's brother who came to rescue us, left a pleading note (after being largely ignored by the extremely unhelpful and possibly inbred Canadian desk clerk at the dealership) with the service department, and departed with promises of many martinis and food at my sister-in-law's inn.
And close - end of Act 1.
Fanfare and Intermission
Begin Act 2
Instead of enjoying a sunny and crisp Fall Saturday with family, Saturday found us in Burlington negotiating with the Service department about what REALLY needed to be done and what could wait - while Brian found at least a half-dozen new cars he thought we should trade in ours for because "they were pretty."
That session at the dealership brought news that:
a) approximately $1400 US in engine work was required to repair the car - JUST TO GET IT HOME- with another thousand or so needed for other work that, along with the engine issues,
b) our own personal mechanic had failed to forestall by taking or even recommending preventative measures.
I mean, we found out the car had its original timing chain - something you are supposed to replace every 60,000 miles - with 165,000 miles on the car. The transmission fluid was black, even though our fluids were being "checked" by our stalwart mechanic with every periodic oil change. Even my air filter had been chewed through by some rodent and was filled with seeds and nesting materials, apparently for the long winter months ahead. (or past?)
And oh yes - they needed to order parts. My car wasn't coming home with us this weekend.
So I had to pay to rent a car for a week - so that we could come home for the week and then drive the 4.5-5 hours back up with the leaf peepers again - to pick up the car, return the rental, and turn around and make the trip home all over again.
We were the unhappiest people in New England at this point.
At one point on the way back to Brian's sister's place, I saw a sign for a new antique shop just outside of Stowe and I wanted to find the shop, confront the owner for having the audacity to name it "The Whimmel Nook"and punch him/her in the throat simply for being aggressively and inappropriately quaint.
the Inn with what will become a hedge of blue globe thistles in summers to come.
He then passed out in his mother's guest room after killing a couple bottles of champagne, and I watched 'Brigadoon' with her while whittling away at a bottle of Svedka.
And on Sunday, it rained. And rained. And rained and rained and rained.
But we're home and we're safe.
And on this coming Friday...I'll be heading back up to Vermont. A whole lot poorer and a lot less optimistic that I'll enjoy the trip when it's done.
It's Monday morning right now - my work demands are already overwhelming me, and I can barely stand to hear the phone ring or see the instant messaging window flash.
But, in the immortal words of Debbie Reynolds, the patron saint of all things hopeful:
"Head back, boobs out, girls - it's show time!"
On with the show...