Cross-Country Trip: Days 1 & 2

I debated long and hard about whether or not to post this on the travel blog, but I decided that since I’m not sure how this story will end, I’d post it here for now:

91 Miles North of LA on I-5

After two full days of packing, E and I woke up at 2 am yesterday morning and loaded my stuff into the car.  By 4:30 I picked up my mom and we were on the road South.  Everything was going well until 91 miles North of LA, Mom noticed the check engine light was on and blue smoke was coming out of my tail pipe.  She pulled over immediately and called AAA.  We explained where we were and the dispatcher said that a tow-truck would be there in about 40 minutes.  Around the 40 minute mark we got another phone call from the dispatcher.  I’m not sure why, but even before Mom started laughing hysterically (which was about five seconds into their conversation), I knew that our tow truck had broken down.  This turned out to be the case (hence the hysterical laughter on my mom’s end) – the tow truck was one exit away when it dumped oil all over the freeway.  We were assured that another tow would arrive in about 30 minutes.  While we waited, a CHP officer stopped to ask if we were okay and called in our official location.  Eventually our new tow showed up.

Randy was a small, wiry guy and very friendly and very agile.  He soon had my car up on the truck and then drove us to Bakersfield, which was where the closest AAA approved repair shop was located.  On the way he warned us that the last time he towed someone out there, the mechanic was in the hospital for some cancer-related surgery and so the shop owner wasn’t accepting any new customers.  He said worst case scenario he’d have to tow us down to LA.  When we arrived, he checked in with the shop owner who said he’d take a look and see what he could do, which Mom and I took to be a positive sign.  We said farewell to Randy and sat down in the waiting room.

Half an hour later, or so, the shop owner came back and said that he had looked at the check engine light code and it said that I was missing a cylinder.  I don’t know much about cars, but I was fairly certain that cylinders are vital components of cars and that if one had suddenly gone missing, I would surely know about it.  The shop owner continued that he had looked up what that meant online (not reassuring) and his best guess was that one (or more) of my oil rings was busted and that I was leaking oil into my first cylinder.  I knew this was bad, but assumed that my oil rings could be replaced.  Then he told me that I would either need to buy a new engine for $2000-$3000, or a new car.  My first thought was that the last time I had looked at the blue book price for my car, it was valued at about ~$8500 and that was three years ago.  My next thought was that I really wanted to ask for 15 minutes to freak out, but that this guy was looking at me expectantly for an answer.  I believe I then ran through several episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, in which people are given bad news about their loved ones and they move through denial, to acceptance to meltdown, while the doctors go through their own internal process while trying to hold space.  I took one look at the shop owner and knew he was not emotionally equipped to handle a meltdown.  Luckily, at this point, Mom went into Problem-Solving mode and called her mechanic for a second opinion.

After a brief conversation with the shop owner, Mom’s mechanic, Lee, told us that this guy had no idea what he was talking about and that we should limp my car back to Fremont and he’d take a look and see if he could fix it.  When we discovered that at speeds higher than 30 mph my car began to smoke again, we called Lee and he said he’d send someone down to tow it back again.  Mom and I checked into a Super 8 and it was decided that AB would rent a car and come down and take us back to Fremont.  We ordered some dinner, drank some beers and went to bed.

Late this morning, AB showed up with a Kia SUV and we transferred most of my stuff into it and hit the road again.  We left my car in the parking lot and my key and the tow fee with the front desk.  On the way back to Fremont we hit some traffic because a car had caught fire on the side of the road.  Later, on 152, we saw a big-rig crashed into a gully and the traffic behind it backed up for miles.  It was almost as if we were being shown what could have happened, what fates we had avoided if we had continued on our trip.  I have to admit that even though I’m upset and worried about my car, I’m grateful that it wasn’t any worse and that my moms were there to help me through it all.  We’ll find out more about the car on Monday and then decide what to do from there.

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