with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Almost Worst Day of My Life – Day from Hell – Greensboro, North Carolina

If I thought the stress level for traveling was high, well, to quote our Carolina friends, "Whoo doggies!" Setting up a temporary home can be just as stressful. We finally have a phone! Yahoo! We probably won’t put an answering machine on here, since I’m here almost every day, so if there’s no answer, call back later or call our answering machine

As you may recall, we’ve been having non-stop problems of late with the truck. The fan wasn’t working, so it was overheating, and the rear brakes had to be replaced, and…well, the list goes on and on. Just when we think it’s fixed, it’s not.

A couple weeks ago, Brent came home from his new job early, hugged me and asked, "Do you love me?" "What did you do?" I accused him. He handed me a white envelope. I opened it and found a newspaper article. I recognized my favorite folk singer, Christine Lavin. My eyes met Brent’s in total surprise. He smiled from ear to ear. "We leave now. She’s in Winston-Salem and it starts at eight." I screamed, hugged him with delight, and raced around the trailer trying to find something to wear other than the tank top and shorts I’ve been living in for months.

The monster truckTen miles along the highway, the truck overheated. We still had twenty miles to go. We fought through rush hour traffic to get off the highway, steam pouring out from under the hood. After so long of fighting problems like this, we rarely stress out, but more just sigh and suffer. We find a place to pull off and low and behold, the radiator is empty of water. Surprise! Long story short, it’s a Friday night, and we want to go somewhere important, like the first concert we’ve been to in three years, and we are stuck outside a non-service station somewhere in Greensboro with a hole in the radiator hose. The engine is too hot and the reach up to the water hose is too far to get to and fix, so we kept refilling the radiator and limped home two hours later.

Everyone thinks life on the road is so exciting, but you’ve just had another peak into the excitement that fills our life on the road. It’s the dark side of life on the road. I wanted to send an email to Christine, whom I never miss when she comes to Seattle, and apologize, but we’re just one more fan in the crowd. Who didn’t even show up. BIG SIGH.

We had plans, of course, to spend Saturday at the arts and crafts shows and farmer’s market, as well as hunting up the University bookstore for engineering books for Brent to refresh himself – but no, we spent the whole day in a Firestone shop, getting new hoses and a new water pump. Oh, joy. Of course, there is nothing else we prefer than spending 10 hours in a repair shop, bored to tears. We’ve done so much of it lately, I’m thinking of putting a pop-up tent in the back of the truck so we will have a little instant room to wait in instead of the smokey waiting rooms filled with magazines from the turn of the decade.

Where is this sad story going? It leads us to the "almost" worst day of my life.

A week and a half later, Brent comes home furious. The radiator is leaking. We’ve had it checked time and again recently because we thought it might be the cause of our overheating problems, and there were no leaks. We thought that the hole in the water hose might have been the problem, but it is still overheating with the hose fixed. Now there is water spilling from the water pump connection. UGH. We go into problem solving mode. We fill up the water jugs in the back of the truck to get us going tomorrow as I drop Brent off at work and take the beast to get fixed.

Our day started out with the promise of how the rest of the day would go. I should have paid closer attention to the warning signs. We got up early, with both of us managing manage to get enough hot water to shower, a true feat of accomplishment with only a six gallon hot water tank. I remember that there will be thunderstorms that day, so I put up the awning to protect it from potential high winds and it is jammed. I manage to get it open just a bit so Brent can squeeze through the door to come out and help me. Vise grips in hand, we finally unjam it and roll it up. Then Toshi refused to get back into the trailer so I had to leave him out, planning on being home in a few hours to let him back in. With all of the fuss, believe it or not, I got Brent to work in time, stopping only once to refill the radiator. He topped it off and I was on my way. To hell.

Brent had called Firestone the night before and they recommended a radiator repair place just off Friendly Avenue, a main drag in Greensboro. I make it there, water streaming from the underside of the truck, and am thoroughly disgusted and dismayed. I won’t go into detail, as there is a lot to tell you about, but I wouldn’t have my dog washed by this guy. I left, panicking, and drove into a gas station (again, a non-service station) a few blocks away to refill the radiator with the last of the water in our containers.

When there is no water in the radiator, you can hold a thick towel over the radiator cap, which we had only 1/2 way screwed down, and open it through the towel. It hisses steam, but not water as it’s empty. Having watched Brent do this three times this morning, and having done this in the past, I knew I could handle this with ease. I covered it well with the towel and slowly released the cap.

There was still water in the radiator. It pushed me back and volcanoed against the hood of the truck, spraying scalding water everywhere. I was only slightly sprayed. Minor wet burns. All is fine except the radiator cap went flying, bouncing off the hood of the truck and landing way down deep in the engine. So I waited for the engine to cool down, watching whatever water was left in the radiator drain out. I managed to fish the cap out, but my arm hit a still hot spot on the radiator and jerked back, sending the cap flying directly down into an open side panel of the truck. When the truck manufacturers make the vehicles, they leave open "holes" in the inside frame, probably to lighten the load, but I don’t care why they do it as my radiator cap is now buried deep down in this weird space behind the battery. My hand would never fit down there. I tried.

Calmly, I walked to the nearby payphone at the non-service station and called Brent at work. Without a cap, I don’t think I can get very far. Again, to abbreviate the story, one call led to another and another and finally to the Firestone where we believe some of this began a week and a half ago. They told me to bring it in or they would have it towed in.

I thought about using a magnet to get the cap out and went into the store, where they were really helpful, but didn’t carry one. Someone pointed out at a tow truck that had just drove up. Maybe he would have something.

I don’t know his name, but this tow truck driver was a sweetie. He looked it all over and tried to get his hand in, then finally said (in barely recognizable Caroliniana) that he had bunches of caps at his shop. If I would wait a couple of minutes, he’d go get one and give it to me. While waiting, not being someone who can stand still for long, I grabbed a bungee cord and just started fishing in there, knowing I didn’t have a chance.

When he arrived back, I pulled the bungee out and sure enough, I had caught something: the cap. The hook on the bungee cord had caught on the gasket of the cap. We both laughed so hard! He refilled the radiator with the rest of the water I had, went to find more but struck out. He told me that a gas station with water was only a few blocks in the direction I was going and to stop there and get gas. I gave him a big thank you hug and heading out, thrilled I had been rescued.

The on and off ramps to highway access in Greensboro are some of the worst designed things I’ve ever experienced. There are few signs anywhere until AFTER you pass the on ramps. Well, I missed the station and ended up on the highway, with no signs or clues that this is where I was heading. I figured I had enough water to get there, right? Wrong. The gauge hit the red line immediately. I pulled off at the next exit and found another non-service station, but they let me refill my water jug in their kitchen sink. As I was tugging it out, heavy with water, two guys jumped out of their rickety van and offered to help. Seems they are traveling through, a little down on their luck, but they were certainly lucky for me. Helped me refill the radiator, gave me instructions on how to drive the truck as to not overheat it too fast, and made sure I knew exactly where I was going, so I wouldn’t waste a minute. I tried to offer them compensation, but they settled for more hugs and I was on my way again.

Visiting a repair shop is always a highlight in one's life, but then so is visit a dentist.I finally arrived at the Firestone and told them to take the radiator out and check it. We battled and danced ("It’s not our fault, ma’am." "But the hole is where you repaired the water hose!" "We would never do anything like that!" "Everyone makes mistakes!"). When the radiator came out, there was the screwdriver hole, evidence as plain as it could be. I could even tell it was a standard screw driver which cut into the radiator. They said they would either repair it or fix it, no charge. Whew!

I called Brent, filled him in, and informed him I was taking the bicycle to the mall to see a movie. While my day had been bad enough, I think his next words were the beginning of the curse to follow. "You relax and have some fun. You deserve it."

Stay tuned for Part Two. The day is just getting started.

Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.
Mark Twain

The only aspect of our travels that is interesting to others is disaster.
Martha Gellman

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