Monday, February 8, 2010

Down and Out in Oxford, Alabama

I am a Road Warrior. The road I battle is I-20, between Atlanta, GA and Birmingham, AL. A lot of this road is national forest. A lot of it is what we called, when I pursued Urban Studies in college, "hinterland". Which means "void of cell phone towers, radio stations and clean restrooms; yet offering a variety of fireworks superstores".

I have driven this stretch of I-20, in one direction or another, on a daily basis for nearly five years. I am intimate with mile markers. Some of them bring back fond memories, like my friendly discussion with the state trooper who insisted I was going 81 mph at Mile Marker 195. In fact, I was going 74 mph. But I WAS D.I.S.C...(Driving In Sports Car) so I understand why he assumed that it was me, not the silver 1998 Honda Civic in front of me, kicking it around the semi. Billy the Trooper let me go with a warning. I am not sure whether that had anything to do with my snarling, teeth-baring canine co-pilot...but now I know where Billy camps out; and I always wave.

So last Friday was a routine trip in the making. I was to arrive in Atlanta in the early evening, in time to retrieve my mother from a doctor's appointment downtown. I left Birmingham around 2 PM, for my two-plus hour drive. It was raining, and cold. But I have heated seats, and the Audi tt has Quattro traction. Which means that by some kind of physics or magic, it sticks to the ground in the rain. It works - I've yet to go airborne.

Fifty miles out of Birmingham, I saw trouble ahead. Well, I kind of saw it...the aura of flashing lights way on up there; and brake lights for a mile or so. Let me just admit here, I got kicked out of Girl Scouts for scaring the Brownies on a camp out. It was by design. I was a lousy Girl Scout, and I didn't give a half a flip about badges. BUT I did learn a bit about that "be prepared" I had a Reader's Digest AND my reading glasses in the front seat. I shut down the ignition, and the headlights; donned the glasses and read for an hour. And then...the traffic started to move.

Cranked up the tt, and....zzzzzzzz....blink...blink....zzzzz.


A. Complete. Electrical. Meltdown.

It was not the first time I had been through this with my Little German Friend. My Cute-But-Bratty transportation has always had "issues".

Called 911. Connected to the State Patrol. Alabama State Patrol. Where are you? Mile Marker 184 eastbound...just outside of Oxford, Alabama. Where is your car? In the left lane...GET OUT OF YOUR CAR! STAND IN THE CENTER OF THE MEDIAN! Help is on the way!

It was pouring rain. The median was a lake. I was wearing suede shoes. My mother was expecting me to pick her up...but help was on the way!

I think that every man, woman and child driving by this woman in suede shoes, shivering in the middle of a soggy median just outside of Oxford, Alabama, offered to help. But I informed them that "help is on the way"; and sent them on their way.

Until the truck full of Alabama Department of Transportation employees stopped by, blocked traffic, moved my bratty vehicle to the right shoulder, and compustered about getting it started again.

None of them had ever driven a stick shift. But they HAD heard that you could push a car with manual transmission real fast, and "throw" it into gear. So they decided to push it BACKWARDS until they could "throw" it in reverse...I was numb, physically and mentally at this point. They could have said they were bringing in a Chinook helicopter and lifting the damn thing 40 feet in the air; then dropping it to "jar" it into reality. And I would have said, "OK." But I still managed to think,

"What could possibly go wrong here?"

As the six Burly Men got into position to push the tt backwards on the right shoulder...this was now 2 hours after the initial "failure" and there was no Alabama State Patrol to speak of on the scene (even after 2 more phone calls) and I was soaked to the bone and my mother was surely wondering where I was (yes, I called, but my parents don't leave their cell phones on, they might lose their charge)...a TOW TRUCK appeared! Hallelujah, a tow truck! I was certain that a "jump" would restore the sanity of the tt. I could reset the electrical system, and be on my way! And no one would have to push my car backwards to get it "jumped" into reverse!

Oh, happy day, the tow truck guy, Travis, emerged.

But he didn't have jumper cables.

He could, however, tow me to Daddy's shop, a mile away. They could jump me there. Super duper...He loaded the tt on the wrecker, and told me to get in the truck. Which I did. But I had to remove his GUN from the passenger seat to sit down.

Hello, I had to move his


Which I did...

And he towed me 1 mile to the shop, got the jumper cables, opened the hood, looked around, opened the TRUNK, looked around, at which point I asked him what he was looking for, told me that he "can't find the battery" and I told him it was under the thing that said "BATTERY COVER" in the front of the car, jumped the sporty-yet-petulant vehicle; sending it into "safe" mode, which allowed me to program it with the "secret code" that resets its bad self....and said that his daddy, who owned the shop, wanted $150 for their service.

I pulled out a credit card. They didn't take credit cards.

I pulled out a check book. They didn't take checks.

I had $105 in cash. The service provided, miraculously, now cost $105.

Called the parents at home, to leave a message about my inability to retrieve my mother; but they ANSWERED, because they got an earlier appointment. And they were home and done and eating crockpot pork tenderloin; and my services were not necessary after all.

Drove back to Birmingham. Thankful for my steam shower. And the fireplace, and fuzzy socks. And I will never view mile marker 184 quite the same way again.


Spirited Earth said...

not to be presumptious..but perhaps a membership to Triple A might be useful if you travel a lot.

Nancy said...

Oh, SE...If I had Triple A, I'd be laughed out of the Alabama Road Warrior Association!