Sunday, May 2, 2010

Despair, Excitement, Exhaustion.

The last few days have been exhilarating - ups, downs, and sidewayses (yes, I made up the word "sidewayses", but you know what I mean).

Words cannot even begin to describe the events of May 2, 2010, but I'll give it a valiant effort here: My day started exactly as planned, almost down to the minute. Perfect. Then the trials began in Steamboat Springs, with a genuine whiteout blizzard (if "Bad Weather Bingo" was a game, by the end of this drive I'd have won". My nerves about me, I struggled through the storm in my less-than-ideal vehicle for the situation, and eventually pushed all the way through to Utah. Here, the real festivities began.

After passing through Vernal, UT (see above dinosaur), I found myself in the desert. The middle-of-nowhere, tumbleweed-ridden, Utah desert. Which, of course, is the only place where real car trouble can happen. If you've never had a true blowout flat wherein your vehicle bottoms out on the road and your car is fishtailing crazily on 3 wheels, I can't explain it to you. If you've had one, I don't need to try. The point: my rear left tire is in multiple pieces across the highway, and I'm not in good shape. Unfazed (this isn't my first rodeo, after all), I get out on the side of the highway and start unloading my trunk. Of course, my spare tire is underneath pretty much everything else I own, so 15 minutes later my personal belongings are vomited on the side of the Utah highway in a hefty pile.

As I'm kneeling down and putting on the spare donut tire (just enough to get me to the tire shop back in town - 6 miles back the other way), a Utah sheriff pulls up. Awesome. I immediately recall that my registration is expired, and have to laugh at how hilariously unfortunate this all is. The officer educates me on why changing a tire on the side of the road is a bad idea, and recommends that next time I try and have a more convenient flat tire. Fortunately, he sympathizes with my predicament and chooses not to write me a ticket for the registration. See: elation, dumbfounded luck. He heads back to protect and serve, and again I'm alone on the highway.

I lower the car with my jack, and feel as though I escaped a rasther painful registration ticket. Smugly, I let the car hit the dirt, and am immediately unsettled: my donut has maybe 10 psi in it, and there's no way it's going to make it to town with so little air and so much weight from my life possessions weighing down on it. Of course, the officer has just left, and I'm in the middle of the desert, alone. I try to maintain some optimism (after all, it's only 6 miles back the other way to town), and figure I'll go for it. We all know how expensive calling for a tow is... So I rally my spirits and hop in the front seat, beaming with determination to will this car back to town. I turn the keys over (I'm sure you could finish this thought...), and, of course, the car won't start. Cruel, cruel fate.

I practice some more colorful language (I won't detail it here, my mother reads this blog), and my optimism is shot. My girl has seen her day I suppose, and since it didn't start just a few days before this trip without a jump I can't say I'm surprised. It was a gamble to even attempt this Colorado-Washington journey in that car, and I realize that. So let's recap: I'm on the side of the road in the Utah desert with 3 functional tires, no cell service, and my car won't start. High five.

After a good 20 minutes of walking up and down the side of the road searching for cell service/working out some angst, I return to my car (having failed to find cell service) to give it one last effort to start the car. Try. Fail. As I'm redefining "effective self-deprecation" in the front seat of my automobile carcass, a soccer-mom type van comes to a halt on the other side of the road (yes, we're still on the highway). It's no soccer mom, though, but Mario Hernandez. Mario Hernandez is my guardian angel, and he lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Super Mario was kind enough to stop and see if I was alright, which I never thought in a million years would happen on the highway. Maybe it's the spiritual overtone of Utah, maybe he's just a nice guy, but I'm pretty impressed with the chance benevolence. I'm stopping to help the next person I see who needs it - you should, too.

Mario exits his van after turning around via a spectacular U-turn (yes, on the highway), and, carrying a spit-jar for his sunflower seeds, comes over and asks me to pop the hood. No hello, no introduction, no even asking what the problem is. He just says, "Pop the hood." and spits a few sunflower seeds out. He runs through an "Engines 101" troubleshooting guide in his head, and after about 5 minutes he proclaims, "It's the fuel pump. You've got no fuel." I'm pretty defeated at this point, because I'm vividly aware of the pain and suffering (not to mention cost) involved with replacing a fuel pump. See: $1,000 repair bill and an overnight stay in Vernal, Utah.

He can tell I'm on my last legs, but Mario simply laughs and says, "Let's try and get you out of here." At this point I don't even care - so I'm rolling with this. Then Mario goes back to his van and pulls out a 20ish foot rope with a hook on each end. No AAA phone call, no offering a ride back to town, just a rope. Yes, I'm aware this is a crazy idea, but at this point I figure if we fail and die, it'll cost less than repairing my car, so I'm on board. Then he tells me, "We can't U-turn like this, so we'll go to the next town." What next town? The one 26 miles away. I look at my dysfunctional donut, look at Mario, and give a thumbs up. He reciprocates with a smile and a sunflower seed.

5 minutes later we're tied together (yes, our cars) and he's telling me to put it in neutral and watch my brakes (my brakes - which, like my power steering, are no longer working very well). So I'm in the front seat of my automobile/corpse in neutral, hands glued to the wheel, perhaps 18 feet off of Mario's bumper. I still have my life's possessions in the car, and I still have 10 psi in my non-functional donut. He sticks his arm out of the window of his soccer-mom van and gives a thumbs up. I fail to see the "thumbs-up" part of all of this at this point, but I'm rolling with it. This ridiculousness is all I've got at this point. Thumbs up means "go", and we're off.

Seriously, we're off. Within minutes his thumb is still up and we're pushing 50. "Hold together, girl", I'm thinking. "I don't think I can hold the wheel any tighter", I'm thinking. "Mario is still nonchalantly chewing and spitting sunflowers seeds - I can see through your rear window", I'm thinking. We continue on this way (thumbs up for "we're going for it", thumbs down for "use your failing brakes, we're going downhill") for miles. Uphill. Downhill. Sidehill. I'm sweating buckets, and inventing new deities by the minute to pray to in hopes of aiding my plight. 26 miles and 274 new gods later, we've pulled this thing off. I'm speechless, but we pulled this thing off.

We coast into a NAPA Auto Parts store, and Mario hops out like he just finished a casual errand and unhooks our cars. He says, "Good luck.". He shakes my hand. He spits a sunflower seed on the ground, and he gets back into his van. That's it. I'm convinced he's my guardian angel. His name is Mario Hernandez, and he lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I'm still a little dumbfounded by the fact that we survived that madness, but I try and focus on the reality: I'm still stranded in a ghost town in Utah with 3 tires and a bad fuel pump. I assert myself and walk into the store and find a NAPA employee, and I unburden my precarious situation. He walks with me to my car and we run through the same troubleshooting that Super Mario and I ran through, and we (again) determine that the death knell is indeed the fuel pump. He puts his arm on my shoulder and (in the way a nurse relays information to a terminal cancer patient) tells me, "It's the fuel pump, kid. I'll see what we've got - you just hold tight. We'll get this sorted out, alright? Hang in there." I know I'm dead in the water.

As he's strutting back to the store with the confidence of somebody who just landed a big sales contract he stops, turns to me, and asks, "Have you tried the fuel pump reset button?" fuel pump reset button?!*&*!*?!!? Yes, apparently Ford put a fuel pump reset button on their mid-90s vehicles so they didn't blow up in the event of a crash. And yes, although it wasn't a crash, when my car bottomed out during the flat, it triggered that failsafe. After digging out all of the personal belongings in my car's trunk and spewing them out into the road in a vehicular vomit reprise, I discover that the fuel pump reset button (a shiny red dot of salvation tucked into the back corner of my trunk) has indeed been triggered. I'm giddy with anticipation. Once I go through the ceremonious act of pressing the button, I inch my way to the front seat. The key is in my hand, as a dragonslayer wields an axe as he moves in for the kill. I attack, turn the ignition, and the sweet sound of victory fills my ears. Let's recap: I went from being stranded with 3 tires and no fuel pump to being in a town and a spare tire away from being fully back in the race. Ridiculous.

I all but idle my car down the street to a tire lot, barely breathing in hopes of not upsetting my battered baby girl (I was whispering to her the whole day before this incident, "All you need to do is get me to Seattle..."), and coast in. I'm a bit confused when I see the bay doors closed until I realize it's 5 PM. See: every horrible word you can think of. I can't be denied, not this close. All I need is a tire. I see an employee inside closing the last door and I spring up to him, my car still idling in the lot, and literally beg him to help me out. I unload my story on him, and his amazement reinforces my ludicrous good fortune. The guys at the shop are so blown away by all of this that they not only throw on a tire (their last tire of that size), but they waive the late-service fee. I walk out with only a $78.27 expense receipt. Let's recap: I was stranded with no fuel pump and 3 tires in the middle of the desert, and it cost my $78 to get out alive. Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.

The next time you think you're out of luck, trust me: it's out there. You can get luckier. I swear.

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