Friday, April 12, 2013

A Long Story...

Warning:  This is a long posting…long story

This is being written on my new USB keyboard which I purchased in an attempt to substitute for the built-in keyboard of my laptop computer.

Yesterday Rocky bumped my cup (sealed) of Pepsi over and it rapidly leaked out onto my keyboard—for the third time in a week.  But this time, the amount which actually made it into the keyboard was a LOT.  Enough, apparently, to cripple the keyboard completely.

Experts consulted recommended replacing the entire laptop and I went to Wal-Mart, but couldn’t justify spending our last $300 on a new computer.  Then there would have been no money for the hotel (all the campgrounds are closed until May 1), nothing to live on and no immediate income. Instead, I stopped myself from panic and thought for a moment.  What if I get an auxiliary keyboard?  Maybe that would work.  And it does, and now I feel like a genius.

The last three days have been a wild roller coaster.  We left Eldridge Wednesday morning (April 10) heading for Pennsylvania so I could go to my father, who is dying following a major stroke. 

What a morning! It started with having to repack the rear storage rack because a plastic tub with merchandise had water inside and had to be saved. So we repacked and re-bungied and re-tied in a cold wet rain.

We went to the Casey’s General Store and filled up both tanks with gas.  And the RV wouldn’t start.  Forty-five minutes later, we called AAA.  I explained to the customer service rep that we didn’t need a jump start, that we needed a roadside mechanic who could come and tell us why it wouldn’t start.  We had battery power and the starter turned over, but the engine just wouldn’t catch. 

An hour and a half after that a young man called us (he was lost—in Eldridge!) and we directed him to the Casey’s.  He arrived driving a mini-van, got out and started to hook up his jumper cables.

When I explained to him (not very nicely, I’m afraid, we had been over two hours in the cold, windy, rainy weather and even though we were inside the RV, it was getting bitter and miserable) that we didn’t need a jump, he didn’t know what to do. 

I went inside Casey’s and borrowed a phone book, and found a mechanic nearby (like 4 blocks).  The man from Petersen’s Automotive was kind enough to bring some tools and look under the hood.  He determined that we were getting no spark.  He agreed to work on the RV immediately if we could get it to his shop.

We called AAA for a tow truck and went inside Casey’s to get something hot to eat and wait.  Finally AAA called and said they had found a tow truck that could get us to Petersen’s.  But apparently the dispatcher this time assumed that we had some kind of giant RV.  I tried to tell them we were a class C, basically just a Ford van with a big ol’ camper built on top.  I guess they weren’t listening.  So, they said they found a tow company who could get us, and it was on the way.  Half an hour later, they called back to tell us that our tow truck had been selected at random by Iowa Department of Transportation for inspection and there was no telling how many hours that would take.  But AAA assured us they would keep looking and keep us posted.

By now we were chilled to the very bone and miserable.  I was still grieving, of course, about Dad and wanting to get underway.  I was also mystified why the Universe would put this kind of unnecessary frustrating delay in our path.  I tried to console myself with the idea that we were being saved from something even worse.

We called our friend James and had him bring our Ford Explorer to us.  At least it would start and create heat.  A little while later, I told Rick he had to get me out of here.  I just wanted to go somewhere quiet and warm where we could sit and wait.  So, we found a little local tavern and settled in. 

AAA called again—a young man named Stephen this time—and told me that he found a tow company in Bellevue, Iowa and they could come and get us in about two and half hours!  I looked up Bellevue and found it was way north of us, above Savannah/Sabula—fifty-two miles and an hour away!  By now, Petersen’s wasn’t going to be able to fix the RV that day (it was now about 2:30 PM and the mechanic left at 3:00), so Stephen found another repair place in Eldridge—Automotive Central willing to stay open (Zach was our contact man there) after 5:00 PM to get us on our way.  The irony is that Automotive Central was exactly four-tenths of a mile away.  In all those hours, I could have pushed the RV that far.

Around 4:30, we headed back to the RV to wait for the tow truck.  Rick, on a whim, tried to start it.  You guessed it, it turned right over, no problem. 

Rick drove us to Automotive Central while I called AAA to cancel the tow truck.  Six hours and we had yet to receive any meaningful help from AAA.  Zach at Automotive Central was quick to respond, but he couldn’t find anything wrong with the RV (we call her the Honey Bee).  We were free to go, to get on our way.

As we pulled onto Interstate 80 East, I received a message, then a phone call from my sister Shannon.  My brother John had returned home to Las Vegas, Dad was not expected to live the night, and there was no funeral planned.  My stepmother Helen could not afford a funeral (we’re not a wealthy family), so we were having Dad cremated and sometime this summer, we were going to plan a get together that fit everyone’s schedule to scatter his ashes in Shoop’s Cemetery in Harrisburg, where my grandmother and grandfather, Aunt Marie and two stillborn children of my Uncle Sam and Aunt Marion are buried—the family plot.

So, there was no point, you see, to us going right now.  And I realized that she was right.  Instead Shannon arranged for me to talk to Dad on the phone, where I said my last words to him.  (I told him I wasn’t going to say goodbye, because I knew he would always be with me.)

Instead we reverted to my original plans for this weekend—a visit to Fairfield to work on an article for Acres USA on the Maharishi Vedic City Organic Farm, and to Ottumwa to see Dani Lin, an Iowa psychic, give a little presentation on Saturday at the Historic Ottumwa Hotel.

Downriver we went.  By now it was 6:30 or so and it would soon be dark (well, darker).  We headed to Muscatine and planned to stop at one of the several camping places in that area.  Except they were all closed.  We check four of them.  We had no idea what we were going to do. 

Now, remember:  the Honey Bee has cracked holding tanks, so there is no toilet facility, and no running water.  She also has no propane right now (a matter of economics), so there is no heat and no cooking except for the microwave.  The space heaters we have and the microwave need electricity to run, so we have to plug in.  We have no idea yet how to run the generator.  So wherever we went we needed a bathroom and an electrical outlet.

I thought briefly about the time we spent in a B&B in Muscatine on Valentine’s Day 2012.  Maybe they would let us park there, I thought.  I didn’t mention it because we were still checking out campsites.

A little while later, Rick said, “What about the folks at the B&B in Muscatine?”  That confirmed it—this was our next step.  We stopped at McDonalds to plug in the laptop, look up the number and Rick called them.  We were welcome to come and spend the night.  Such nice people.

(BTW, if you ever want a truly pleasant and peaceful visit to Muscatine, try the Strawberry Farm Bed and Breakfast.)

The weather was even more dreadful after nightfall and the rain was just cascading from the sky.  Finally Rick was able to get us parked next to the barn and plugged in, and we settled in for a well-deserved night’s rest.

The next morning, we pulled out and headed toward US 61 South.  As we pulled up to the stop sign where we would turn onto 61, the Honey Bee stalled and refused to restart!  I felt sunk—I dreaded the idea of another day in awful weather, cold and damp, waiting for possible bad news.

We called AAA again, an off-duty police officer helped us back downhill onto the shoulder, and I went in the back to do some work on the computer.  Rocky jumped up on the table and spilled my Pepsi all over the laptop keyboard—just as the tow truck arrived.  I had to leave the laptop for later.

The driver was very nice and helpful—I learned that we have a one-ton chassis and 16-inch tires and that’s what we should tell AAA the next time we need help.

Again, when we got it to the shop, it started right up and ran just fine the whole time we were there.  They couldn’t find anything wrong either and for the second day in a row, there was no charge for the work.  (Miraculous!  One usually gets charged exorbitant amounts just to have a mechanic look at your engine.)

Off we went again, toward Washington, Iowa, where we stopped at a WalMart for lightbulbs for the RV.  Jim at the Washington WalMart was stellar in helping us find the right thing and helped us with some other things—he was an expert, it seemed, in marine and RV stuff.  We were constantly being helped by these amazing strangers.

After shopping, the Honey Bee again refused to start.  I had read that many WalMarts allow RVs to stay in the parking lot, but I knew they wouldn’t let us plug in.  I really did not imagine living in an RV to include sleeping at Walmart!

But after awhile, she restarted and we proceeded to Fairfield.  There we had dinner and found a local tavern again.  Local taverns should never be overlooked as potential places of information and helpful people. 

Our bartender was great and we shared stories and he tried to help us find a place to plug-in for the night.  But it was no use, and we finally had to break down and find a hotel room.

We were directed to the Best Western, where the front desk clerk went out of her way to help us get the deepest discount she could find.  And they were willing to take our cats, too.

Today, we wrestled with what to do about the computer and how to continue to finance this excursion that has quickly become frustrating and more expensive than we had planned. 

The Best Western here in Fairfield is one of the best I have ever stayed at.  The staff are friendly and helpful, the rooms clean, the bathtub is big enough even for Rick, and the included breakfast is hot and varied.  They even had real butter.  After a night’s sleep in dual queen beds with fresh crisp sheets, the hot breakfast was like manna from heaven. 

I called around and found that the local farmer’s market will let me set up a booth tomorrow.  I spoke to Barbara at the organic farm and may get a chance to visit tomorrow afternoon (doubtful) or first thing Monday morning.

I paid for another night here, bought the keyboard instead of a new laptop and now I am once again functioning.  We still need to find a place to park/plug-in tomorrow and Sunday nights, but for now we are all warm and dry and well-fed.

No comments:

Post a Comment