A year or so ago, I was in the Mindstorm parking lot at 11pm wanting to get home after a very long day. The world stood still when Crayola, my tweener compact, didn’t start. Didn’t try to start. Just sat there. I took a deep breath and said to myself, “Oh, wait…” and a couple minutes later I was pulling out of the parking lot.

Six months or so before that, I was at a gas station in Newcastle, Cascadia, when my car refused to start. I freaked out. Got out of the car and paced around trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do. Then it occurred to me. A minute or two later, I was back on the Splinterstate.

About two years before that, I was stuck in Ephesus, a couple hours away from Colosse. I was borrowing Crayola because at the time I had a different car (though same make, model, and year). In a panic, I called Dad since he knew a lot more about the car than I did. He was really worried, but then said, “Wait, have you checked…” and I was back on the road within a few minutes.

Yesterday, I was at a gas station in Meriwether, Arapaho, when Crayola refused to start. I wasn’t too worried, because…

About a month ago, Crayola didn’t start when Clancy was wanting to drive home from work. I went down there, we jump-started it, and it was fine.

Several months before that, Crayola didn’t start, but we jumped it and it was fine.

The fear didn’t start to set in until the gas station attendant tried to jump start me and it didn’t work. It didn’t even try to work. The battery was fine, though, if the lights were any indication. My fear wasn’t all that great, though, because I figured it was jump some piddly problem with the start. The only mechanic in town was closed, though. I was stuck in Meriwether until then. It was a bummer, but I could deal. They pointed me the way to a Super 8 next door. It was the only hotel in sight and it had NO VACANCY posted on the door. I had visions of sleeping in my car in the cool Arapaho weather.

The folks at the gas station were great. They tried to jump me and then when that failed, they let me park in some space they had across the street. And they helped push the car over. So I was not surprised that they continued to be helpful after I told them the Super 8 was closed. There were two more hotels in town, they said. They even called them for me. No vacancy in one, three vacancies in the other. I shuddered when they told the guy of my situation. They had me up a creek and could charge whatever they wanted for a room and I’d have no choice but to pay whatever they asked. Always better to sound like you’ve got options. The clerk offered to drive me over. I told her that was great but that I would need to collect some stuff from my car first and buy some provisions from the convenience store to get me through the night.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to buy any food because I had gotten a to-go Santa Fe Chicken Salad from Applebee’s. I’d had a sizeable burrito for lunch and had intended to bring it home and refrigerate it. However, having guessed that there would be no fridge in the hotel room I was going to need to eat it that night. I figured that eventually I would get hungry.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about the hotel guy knowing about my situation. He actually gave me a discount for the night. And he had a dog that I could pet while he was punching data into the computer. Unfortunately, I realized only after I was settled in that I had my contacts in and no glasses handy. There were glasses in the car, though, and maybe some contact pods, too. Unfortunately, my days of wearing contacts overnight have long since passed. So I had to walk about a mile each way to get the dang things from my car.

Nobody in Meriwether was anything but really nice to me, though it was hard not to notice some patterns in the town. I would say right-wing patterns, but that isn’t entirely right. I saw no fewer than three (I think it was four) Ron Paul for President signs in yards and windows. One car and one house (and it wasn’t a car in front the same house) had “9/11 Was An Inside Job” bumper stickers (it was on the window of the house) and a third bumper sticker on a car for Infowars, a web site run by 9/11 conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The local church had a sign that said “STOP SOCIALISM NOW!” and the community rec center saying “All we want is our freedom” or something to that effect.

Where, I had to ask myself, had I put my Census Bureau name badge? If it was visible in the car, I would have to remove it from sight. No way I wanted these folks to know I was a Bean Counter for Obama. Yeah, I wasn’t seriously afraid. But still.

The hotel had a bar attached to it. The bartender was the same guy that checked me in and the bar was kind of open whenever someone came to the front desk and asked it to be. The beers were cheap and the guy and I chatted for a while. A few things I did not consider:

(a) Weighing less means one can hold less alcohol.

(b) It was about 10:00 and I hadn’t eaten since noon.

(c) I hadn’t had a drink in six months or so, so I had absolutely no tolerance to begin with.

I was stumbling out of the bar after two drinks. It wasn’t such a bad thing, though, because without melatonin I was worried about falling asleep.

The room was something to behold. Non-smoking sign aside, the cigarette stench was almost unbearable. At least, I thought it was cigarette stench. The hotel advertised that it had Dish Network, but did not advertise that it was something I would have to order. I had kind of looked forward to watching Law & Order. As it turned out (of course), there was an episode on Fox and an episode of Cold Case on CBS besides. I had to turn the AC off to hear it, though I considered it a plus that they had AC to begin with. Around midnight I just couldn’t stand the aroma of the place. My eyes were watering. That was when I realized that the problem couldn’t have been cigarette smoke. I’d been in some pretty smokey bars and never had it been a real problem for my eyes unless I had my contacts in. It was a combination of cigarette and cat odor. And it was a kind of cat I am allergic to. But by this point it there were no rooms available. I opened the window to see if that would help. When I woke up the next morning, my eyes were swollen and too red and tender to put my contacts in until I got out of there for a while.

It was a short night’s sleep and I walked a very long mile back to my car (which, in addition to being across the street from the gas station, was also across the street from the town mechanic). Fortunately, the sun was hiding behind some clouds so the lack of sunglasses wasn’t a problem. I say it was a “long” walk because I was feeling pretty sick. I am not sure if it was the beer or the salad I’d had for dinner after the beer, but it was something originating at my stomach (my allergies improved immediately with the fresh air).

By this point I was really worried about the car. My initial confidence that it was something simple had long-since been replaced by a fear that it wasn’t. Why would it just suddenly stop working like that? I was pretty sure the timing belt had been replaced, but miraculously that was what I was thinking rather than the situations that I opened this post with. The mechanic was dumbfounded. He had never seen a car with a good battery and an engine that had been good enough to drive a couple hundred miles without registering any complaint could simply refuse to even try to start up.

The thing about Crayola is that it has a transponder key. That was what Dad told me about when I was in Ephesus. Well, told me about again, that is. He mentioned it before he even loaned me the car. We always keep the thing in the socket, but I am a big guy in a small car and I sometimes knock it loose. It is almost always among the first things I look at when the car doesn’t start. For some reason, this time I didn’t. I think I was so prepared for the car to break down that I didn’t look at the most simple and obvious solution. It’s a good thing that I am a software troubleshooter and not an automobile troubleshooter. The mechanic was understanding and only charged me $25, which was nice since he had to push the car with his ATV up the service ramp. He could have gotten away with more.

After that, I ate breakfast at a restaurant recommended by the gas station clerk and had one of the best omelets I have had in a very, very long time. Perhaps ever. The wisdom of eating eggs the morning after having gotten inebriated eludes me. But I was in the mood and willing to risk it. My stomach will forgive me eventually.

So anyway, the good news is that Crayola is doing just fine. The bad news is that my wife married a moron.

Category: Road

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9 Responses to Thirteen Hours in Meriwether

  1. Kevin says:

    I had a similar situation happen to me. I despise those transponder keys.

  2. trumwill says:

    I’d like them more if I had a car worth stealing. Or if I was the kind of guy that spent a lot of time worrying about such things.

  3. David Alexander says:

    We always keep the thing in the socket, but I am a big guy in a small car and I sometimes knock it loose.

    I think you may have to explain this to me. I thought the chips for transponder keys were built into the keys.

    FWIW, two (Saturn & Celica) of my cars use keyless entry systems with a cut-off switch with no transponder keys. The Town Car which sees the least use has a transponder key, but my dad never had any troubles with it.

    I’d like them more if I had a car worth stealing.

    My Saturn isn’t worth much, but I’d still end up losing the value of the car and the cost for the new car, so I’d rather have junky transponder keys as some type of deterrent.

  4. trumwill says:

    David, could be that I’m calling it the wrong thing. I’ve always referred to it as a Trip Key, but I googled the term and nothing came up. So I figured it was called something else. Did some looking around and the description from Transponder Key seemed to match.

    Anyway, what I’m talking about is a little key (well, a chip but one that works like a key) that you put into a hole/socket right about where my foot enters the car, near where a lot of cars have levers for opening the hood.

    Likelihood that my tweener compact gets stolen: <2%
    Likelihood that I lose the T-Key? >20%

  5. Peter says:

    It’s odd that the motels were (almost) all booked up in what sounds like a one-stoplight town.

  6. Clancy says:

    Peter, I think there’s a rodeo somewhere in the vicinity this weekend. That’d be my best guess as to why there were no vacancies.

    If I married a moron, then he married a dingbat, so I think we fit together pretty well. 🙂

  7. Kirk says:

    Seeing as it was Crayola’s long history of problems that caused you to think the problem was serious and insurmountable, you should probably bite the bullet and seriouly look for new vehicle. And really, I’m surprised you can use a car like that for business. (Or does the Census give you a car for your job?)

  8. trumwill says:

    Kirk, I take Ninjette for the Census Route. Whatever risks I am willing to take with Crayola in town and on the Interstate, the Census Route has me driving in some pretty unpopulated areas without cell phone reception where breaking down would be more than just a headache.

    I would have taken it to Alexandria, but Clancy needed to take it to Redstone.

  9. David Alexander says:

    could be that I’m calling it the wrong thing

    I suspect so. I’ve been working in roadside assistance for three years, and I’ve yet to encouter something like that. It may just be a complicated anti-theft device in order to prevent theft that was installed as an after-market accessory. I’d probably suggest taking it to an specialist to get it removed, or at minimum, a mechanic if you’re desperate.

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