I had a business trip to Madison, Wisconsin, which should have been October 6-8. I went in my own car. Some of you know that I had been dreading this trip – did not want to do it.
On Saturday before the trip, I took my car in to my regular mechanic, asking them to do an oil change and all the regular maintenance, plus – as I put it to them – “Check it all out so that I don’t end up stranded in a cornfield somewhere.”
I loved the trip up into Wisconsin. This was new terrain to me, and it was lovely! As is my wont, I charted a course that eschewed interstate highways. I enjoyed cruising along state and federal highways.
The session ended on Friday at 3:30, and I hit the road … expecting I could be home by midnight. After all, it only took me 7 hours to get to Madison in daylight. I figured I could make it home in a little longer … considering that some of the trip would be in nighttime. I was yearning to get home … to my own bed and to my own kitty cats.
In southeast Iowa, I stopped for what I expected would be my one and only pit stop. Then back onto the highway. Cruising at 70 mph.
All of a sudden, my car hiccupped and died. Lost all power. Died. One minute I was cruising along. The next minute, I hit the “hazard” lights as I guided the car into the slow lane, then onto the shoulder ‘til the car coasted to a stop on the side of the road.
Oh shit! Major revision to my plans.
It was about 6:00 p.m. I wasn’t worried. It was a beautiful day, and I was sure the car would come back to life.
But the car did not come back to life. I tried re-starting it periodically, to no avail. Fortunately, I had my AAA card at hand. Around 6:30 p.m., I gave up and called AAA, and they were marvelous.
The AAA service rep understood my situation. It was late on a Friday night, I was stranded in Iowa, and I wanted to get home. She kept me on the phone a long time while she did wonderful stuff. First, she found a tow truck. Second, she found a repair shop that was going to be open on Saturday – no mean feat! Third, she found me a motel just ¼ mile away from the auto repair shop. I was then and remain impressed at what AAA did for me.
Unfortunately, AAA cannot force the tow truck to show up. The truck was supposed to show up by 7:30 p.m. That would not have been bad. That would have left me stuck on the side of the road for less than an hour. In fact, the tow service left me stuck on the side of the road for 2½ hours.
I don’t remember quite how the next couple of hours passed. The tow service called, telling me it would be “a little” later. AAA called, asking whether the truck had arrived. And back and forth. Every time the AAA person called, learning that the tow truck still had not arrived, she was more and more livid. Forty-five minutes turned into an hour … then 90 minutes … then two hours. But I was just laughing. I remember one time when the AAA rep called, and she was spitting bullets, but I was just laughing, and she asked how I could be so relaxed! I said something like, “I’m stuck on the side of the road. My car is dead. What can I do but laugh?”
Fortunately, I had a good audiobook in the car, and I was able to relax and listen to that book on CD. Thank God the battery kept working!
Eventually … 2½ hours after I called AAA … the tow truck arrived. The driver was a great guy. He loaded up my car. And we set off for the repair shop 80 miles away. I rode in the truck with him, with my dead car following behind on the flatbed. He dropped my car at Deery Brothers repair shop (in Burlington) 80 miles away from my breakdown site … and he took me to the motel ¼ mile away from the repair shop … which AAA had found.
I was grateful after all that, as I dragged my weary carcass into the motel at midnight. But the other side of my brain was mindful that I should have been home at that hour … if not for the automotive breakdown.
Of course, when I left my car at Deery Bros. and left my note, I left a rather plaintive plea that they help me get on the way home to Missouri on Saturday. But I knew I had no standing.
To my surprise, a Deery Bros. service rep called me at 8:00 the next morning. They had already pulled the car into the service bay, wanted more info from me. By 9 a.m., they called again with a diagnosis and estimate. They needed to replace the fuel pump and fuel filter, and recommended cleaning the fuel injectors “as long as they were in the neighborhood.” I said “yes” to all of it. They said they should be finished by 1pm. In fact, they called me at noon, already finished! Needless to say, I was delighted. I cannot say enough about the Deery Bros. staff!
Shortly after noon, their van arrived at my motel. The driver took me to the Deery Bros. dealership, where my car was sitting in the front of the service bay. He kinda shrieked: “It hasn’t been washed!” and he passed that message along to my service guy. They asked my permission to take a few more minutes to wash the car, and – of course – I agreed.
Minutes later, they brought my car to me … repaired, resurrected, and washed. It made it safely home.
I am grateful to AAA for arranging the whole thing. I am deeply grateful for the Deery Bros. staff for doing the repairs on a Saturday and taking such care of me.
Because, of course, there was another sequence going on in my mind. I expected that Deery Bros. would not fix the car, and that I would have to rent a car to get home … and then make another 600 mile round trip to get my car.
The trip home wasn’t what I thought it would be. But, thanks to AAA and Deery Brothers, it wasn’t as awful as it might have been. I am deeply grateful for those who help us folks who are stranded by the side of dark roads. I am fortunate.
I recognize that I’m telling the story bravely. I was brave when the car first died and the sun was out. When darkness fell and vehicles were whizzing by my car, my courage flagged. And when the car got dropped at Deery Brothers, I felt utterly powerless. I am deeply grateful that all worked well.
So it took me 7 hours to get to Madison, and 26 hours to get home. But I am grateful for those who helped me get home.