I wrote last week about how preparations to go fetch a car for Chris gave me some opportunities to sink in to frustration. The story didn’t end there, and I think it’s worth telling the rest of it.
At the same time all this was happening, the odometer on our Honda Odyssey was telling me that it was time for a major servicing. It read 210,000 miles, and at increments of 105,000 it is recommended that the timing belt be replaced; that in itself is a major job, requiring that the engine be pulled, and so it is also recommended that you have a bunch of other needs-the-engine-pulled maintenance done at the same time (e.g. replace the water pump). The cost of it all made me want to put it off, but thinking of the damage that a broken timing belt can cause was enough to overcome that.
So after bringing home the freshly serviced Suburban I called the Honda dealer and arranged for an afternoon appointment the next day, Thursday. I went, and spent the afternoon waiting for them to do the work. Around 5:15 the service rep handed me the keys, went over what they had done, and told me that the computer was reporting four problems, three of which I could probably live with and a fourth (with the top-dead-center sensor) that they didn’t understand, but since the engine seemed to be running fine could probably also be ignored.
(Side note: someone needs to invent a check engine light that allows the owner to say “Stop telling me about Error XXX.” Right now I can only get the light to go off by fixing all four existing problems—and if I don’t do that, I have no way of knowing when a fifth problem develops.)
As I drove out of town, I discovered that when I accelerated the engine began to hesitate something fierce. Since the service department was now closed and I was able to avoid the problem by accelerating very gradually, I decided to drive home. The next morning at 8am I called the service department and described the problem; the service rep told me to bring it in right away, so I did. They spent an hour checking it over, found nothing, and concluded that it was probably the top-dead-center sensor that was the problem (which made sense to me; not knowing that the engine is at top dead center is surely going to mess up the timing). They didn’t have a sensor in stock, so they asked me to leave the Odyssey until one was delivered, and take a loaner car home. Fair enough. Thus began the weekend.
Although I had reserved a U-Haul auto transport trailer weeks earlier, by Saturday I still hadn’t heard from U-Haul exactly where I was supposed to pick the trailer up; there are three U-Haul locations in Charlottesville proper, and many more in the surrounding area. The website told me that someone would contact me by 6pm the day before, meaning Sunday. I like to have things squared up a little earlier than that, so I called the 800 number, and after fifteen minutes of waiting was told that, no, they didn’t know yet where the trailer would be and yes, someone really would contact me by Sunday night.
The drive to Charlottesville takes a bit more than eight hours, so Chris and I were on the road shortly after 8am Sunday. At 4:45pm we pulled into town, early enough to stop by Food of All Nations, a supermarket I’d been to a couple of times before, to pick up ground New Mexico chile, tahini, and a couple of other things that are scarce back home. We checked in at the hotel, hung around a bit, and were just about ready to head out in search of supper when we got a call from Ron Short, who had just arrived in town; we met him at his hotel, then picked up Ron’s sister (who was selling us the Volvo) and went to eat at a small Mexican/Salvadoran restaurant which was very good.
All day long I hadn’t heard from U-Haul. A couple of times I called home to ask Debbie to check their website, which would supposedly have the info about where we were to pick up the trailer, but it never did; all that happened was that the “We’ll call you by 6pm Sunday” message changed to “We’ll call you by 10am Monday.” Around 6pm Debbie called their 800 number, only to find out that they were closed. Still, if there were to be any problems there was also time to deal with them. Chris and I were planning to back up Ron during a Monday afternoon performance at the University of Virginia radio station, stay Monday night, then head home on Tuesday. We decided it would work best to load the car early Tuesday morning, so we had till then to get the trailer. I wasn’t sure what we would do with the trailer between picking it up and heading home; having to drag it around behind us all day Monday would be, well, a drag, but detaching it and leaving it somewhere would be risky. And where to park Suburban and trailer overnight? The hotel parking lot was small and crowded. But I put those problems out of my mind to deal with when the time came.
Early Monday morning I called the U-Haul 800 number, and they told me that the trailer could be picked up after 9am in Gordonsville, about 30 miles northwest of Charlottesville. Inconvenient, but we had the time to deal with it. Chris and I stopped at Bodo’s Bagels for breakfast (very good bagels, maybe even better than my beloved Einstein’s bagels), then drove out to Gordonsville. The pickup point was a combination used car/car repair/car towing operation, kind of out of the way in a large field. As I drove up, I thought: maybe we could pay for the rental now but come back to pick up the trailer early the next day. I asked the office lady if that would work, and she said it would be no problem, even though nobody would be around.
As expected, it was an adventure finding the radio station on the UVa campus, but found it we did, and managed to park legally and haul our instruments in without much trouble. The radio program turned out to be a pledge week special. For the first hour the host played cuts off the Music of Coal CD, while Ron talked about where the music had come from. In the second hour we mostly played songs (seven or eight); we were crammed into the small studio, but the room sounded good. The fellow doing the engineering recorded it, played us a little of it afterwards (surprisingly good sound), and said he’d send us a copy in the mail. If that happens I will post some or all of it here. Following the shows we retired to our respective hotels, then met again for supper.
Tuesday morning Chris and I were out the door early to pick up the trailer. We arrived around 7:30am, and sure enough nobody was around. Hooking up the trailer wasn’t difficult, but when we connected the lights we found that the turn signals were reversed, i.e. when the Suburban’s left signal was flashing, the trailer’s right light would flash. I thought about doing surgery on the connectors, then decided to leave it be rather than risk making the problem worse, and just lay off the signals altogether for the ride home.
We drove back to Charlottesville, to the downtown neighborhood where Ron’s sister lives. The streets there are barely navigable even without a trailer, but we found a spot a few blocks away where there was room to maneuver and park the truck and trailer. We got a very good price on the Volvo because right now it doesn’t run reliably (the engine cuts out after a few minutes), but that morning it ran long enough to drive a few blocks and up onto the trailer. For the record, U-Haul’s auto transport is very well designed, even cleverly designed in some ways. We secured the Volvo to the trailer, backed out, and were on our way out of town in short order.
The drive home was uneventful. I had filled up the Suburban with gas just before getting the trailer, and normally that would have allowed us to drive all the way home without stopping for gas again; it has a 50-gallon tank, and we used 35 gallons driving out. But the owner’s manual strongly suggests that you not use overdrive while pulling a heavy load (5000 lbs in our case) and so I drove back in
third gear, which didn’t affect driving much but sure had an effect on our mileage, ten miles per gallon instead of the usual fifteen, so there was a gas stop about two-thirds along the way. Aside from general hilliness here were two long, steep grades in West Virginia, but other than dropping the speed to about 45mph there was no noticeable difficulty. Mostly because of the trailer we tried to avoid getting off the highway, stopping for relief at rest stops with pull-through parking, improvising lunch from food we had in the car, and eating supper at Cracker Barrel which has pull-through parking for RVs. About thirteen hours after first getting into the car we were back home.
Wednesday morning we unloaded the Volvo and went to return the trailer. When I picked it up I had asked if I needed to return it to any particular location, and the rental person had said, no, take it wherever is convenient. So we drove to Liberty, which was closest. As the rental person there was finishing up the process, his computer told him in big red letters: “ALERT: the customer is attempting to drop off the equipment at a location different from what was arranged.” He pointed to that, said the system had expected us to drop it off in Columbia (about thirty miles in the other direction), and that it might want to charge us an extra drop-off fee. I asked him to watch for that, and as he continued filling out computer screens it finally showed that we owed them $0.00, so I breathed a final sigh of relief as I took the receipt and headed home.
One final loose end: while in Charlottesville Monday the Honda service rep called me to say that they had gotten the top-dead-center sensor, installed it, seen that the old one was indeed broken, and tested the Odyssey to make sure the problem was fixed (it was). He also said that if I was willing to pay for the part, they would waive any labor charges (I was). Wednesday afternoon I drove to the dealership in the loaner car and traded it for the van.
I told the rest of the story in some detail just to underline the point I tried to make in my earlier post. This episode has stretched over two weeks, and there were several opportunities for me to get frustrated or worried. And at times I came close: Will the hitch fit? Will they find the problem with the van? Will the trailer be there? Will we find a place to park it overnight? Will we ever find the radio station? Will truck and trailer be able to negotiate the twisty little roads of Charlottesville? Will we get the Volvo from the house to the trailer, and onto it? Will we be able to pull this load up steep hills? Will we be stopped for scrambled turn signals? Will they charge me extra for dropping the trailer off here? Will I be able to park the trailer without embarrassing myself?
Plus, I will admit that I am not particularly accomplished at fending off worry; I manage not to dwell on possible disasters, but often I can’t eliminate that unfocused feeling of dread I sometimes get when an unfamiliar situation approaches and I’m not sure how things will turn out.
But towards the end of this extended adventure the feeling grew ever stronger that God was smiling on us. Every last thing that could have turned out badly in fact went smoothly, sometimes even better than I could have hoped for. And even if one or another of them had gone badly, it would have been enough to deal with the trouble at the moment it faced me; worry or frustration would not have helped one bit in dealing with it.
I hope that as I get better at recognizing such kindnesses for what they are, and develop a grateful heart, even that unfocused feeling of dread will get tired of trying to get a rise out of me and decide to leave me alone.