Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Long, Expensive Trip to Nowhere (Or, How I Spent a Day With a Man Named Bubba)

When we talk about "worst days ever," there's always someone who can trump you. You might have the kind of bad day where you miss your train, the next one is running express and skips your stop, and then when you come up from underground, it's raining and you forgot your umbrella and then one of your shoddy shoes disintegrates in a puddle and you're late for work and then you get fired for coming into work late and shoeless. That's a standard bad day.

A far worse bad day, for instance, would be if your arm got eaten by a bear while you were hiking and then, when you went to the doctor to get it stitched up, they found that you had a raging case of shoulder cancer. It would also suck if you got engaged and then on the way home from your celebration dinner, your fiance got hit by a cab and killed, and you found out as the cabbie ran out to check on him that, coincidentally, he had just broken off a hot and stormy affair with her a week earlier.

I had a bad day on Friday that was far worse than the rainy shoeless day, better than losing an arm or a fiancee, but definitely fell into the category of "so fucking bad I can hardly believe it actually happened." I might not have the kind of bad days where I find out I have cancer (although just give me a few years), but when it comes to travel, I have nothing but horror story after horror story. If I'm in Dubuque, I know my luggage is in Dubai. If I have a connection, I will miss it and be forced to eat fried cheese curds for dinner at an A&W Root Beer in the airport and will inevitably miss whatever event I was traveling for. If I for once arrive at the airport without incident, my flight will have just been cancelled. But I think what happened Friday trumps all the flying mishaps. Apparently, I'm not meant to drive anywhere, either.

After an excellent party on Thursday night, I awoke feeling excited about my upcoming cross-country drive, Clear Channel radio or no. Earlier in the week, I had brought my lovable little rust bucket, the Red Baron, to the shop to make sure its bill of health checked out ahead of the 1800-mile trip to Colorado. I also asked our good man at the shop if he could look at my freon as the a/c didn't seem to be blowing with much vigor (and no one likes a lazy blower). Unfortunately, a problem was detected: my a/c compressor was shot and cost ELEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS to fix. Well, what're you gonna do? I bit my lip, threw it on a credit card and secretly cursed myself. However, I was glad that the mechanic said that otherwise, mechanically at least, my car was in -- AND I QUOTE -- "mint condition." Remember that one later folks.

I made it out of Brooklyn before noon, just minutes ahead of the first raindrops, which I took as some kind of sign. The gods were smiling on me! Sure, moments later I nearly ran over an elderly man in Newark crossing against a light on a bicycle he was having a hard time maneuvering, but yet I was convinced all was well with my travel world. My motor made a funny dipping noise at a light, but hey, it was in "MINT CONDITION," nothing to worry about there.

At mile 49.6 of my 1800-mile trip, somewhere near the western edge of New Jersey (that's right, I hadn't even made it to Pennsylvania for the love of Pete!) I learned that the teardrops were those of the gods laughing at me so hard that they cried. Because on mile 49.6 of my 1800-mile road trip, I looked down in at my guages. The quick heat of panic and alarm flared up to my face as I saw my RPMs drop to zero. I pulled off on an exit ramp. A call to AAA was made. A red-haired, goateed man named Bubba (and no, I am truly not making that up) appeared.

The problem was quickly diagnosed as my timing belt, and as calls were made to garages, the costs of the repairs estimated rapidly multiplied from a somewhat manageable $800 to an absolutely unthinkable TWENTY FIVE HUNDRED (yeah, that's dollars, not pesos). And repairs would take until Wednesday. My car is only worth maybe $1500 blue book. To dump another three grand that I don't have into it was not an option.

Bubba took the Baron away to a junkyard (where I'm sure he's gleefully ripping out my brand new a/c compressor to sell for parts as we speak), I got zero dollars and a dropoff at the local Enterprise rent-a-car, where I transferred an enormous pile of now-pointless shit like tents, climbing ropes and quick draws onto the floor of the shop in front of a somewhat bewildered staff. I was too numb to cry (although that started up when I heard there was a 45-minute wait on the inbound Lincoln).

I got in my gray Corolla. I drove back to New York. I hauled all my pointless camping and climbing gear back up the steep flights to my apartment; it's currently sitting in my room.

I no longer have a car. I'm out $1,100, plus tolls, gas and towing charges. For my $1,100 I enjoyed my air conditioning for a sum total of 67 minutes. That's some expensive freon.

I'm FLYING to Colorado on Tuesday, but I have no car once I get there so I'll be either at the mercy of friends or stranded in the suburbs. I have no idea how I'm going to get all my gear out there, but I think as far as my climbing rope goes, I'm going to fashion it into a noose and have it at the ready around my neck for when my flight goes awry because people, I am ON THE VERGE.

You know I'm on the verge because I was going to try to make this funny, but I didn't even have THAT in me. This is all just so...discouraging.


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