In truth, I was dreading Wednesday, December 29, 2021. That was the day I would be driving my mother-in-law back to West Hartford, Connecticut. The dread wasn’t my mother-in-law. On this drive that I have made many times with her, she is a good co-pilot. The dread is the drive.
If you are lucky, the drive from Richmond to West Hartford is in the eight hour range. Of course, if you are unlucky, that ride becomes even more challenging.
Despite me botching up getting around/through our nation’s capital, we had a pretty good ride. Yes, we hit some pockets where we slowed down, and at times we questioned the sanity of our fellow drivers, but we made it.
When we arrived at Liz’s retirement community, we learned that the COVID-19 variant, Omicron, had temporarily closed the dining room. That meant after unloading the car, we would be going out for dinner.
Fortunately, West Hartford has many good restaurants. This evening, we would ride over to Effie’s Family Place. I’ve never had a bad meal at Effie’s, and tonight was no different— especially the warmed piece of blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream.
After we returned from dinner, I organized my junk for an early morning departure. Liz prepped me a snack bag, and gave me a few pointers for breakfast.
Thursday morning, December 30 came quick. A little after six, I was walking with my stuff to the car.
I put my stuff in the back and transitioned to the driver’s seat. I put my foot on the brake pedal, touched the ignition button, and the car would not start. Very bad words spewed into the cold dark, dampness.
Grabbed my wallet, found my AAA card, and placed a call.
Within about twenty minutes, a nice young man arrived. I gave him some background, and let him know the battery was only six months old.
He saw no problems with the battery, and he hooked the car up for a jump. On his signal, I poked the ignition switch and the car started.
I thanked him, and I followed his instructions to let the car keep running.
In about 15 minutes, I decided to drive toward the interstate. I wasn’t going back down that east coast corridor of madness. This morning, I would take I-84 west to connect with I-81 south. Though this route is a tad bit longer, it seems less stressful.
It is a damp morning. No winter weather is in the forecast for the ride into New York and Pennsylvania. But, a collision of warm and cold air currents could create some pockets of fog.
Soon Connecticut is behind me. I crossed the Hudson River, and I’m clipping along not too far from the Pennsylvania line. Then I receive a message from my bladder—it needs some relief.
I pullover at the Wallkill rest stop. The state of New York is renovating the restrooms, so I’ll be using a port-a-john.
I make my bladder happy, get back in the car, foot on the brake pedal, push the ignition, and the car won’t start. Try again, no luck, no bad language, too angry.
A couple spaces down is a gentlemen in a pickup truck. I politely ask if he has jumper cables—sorry no is his reply.
Now, I’m back on the phone with AAA. They are trying to figure my location. Of course, I’m too much of a numbskull to walk back and see the sign for Wallkill.
Finally, the dispatcher figures it out, and assigns a tow company to assist me.
I keep getting arrival time estimates, and then I receive a call from the tow company. I go through the whole location piece again, and I mention the port-a-johns out front. The driver says, “I know exactly where you are, but that’s not our territory.”
So, I’m calling AAA back explaining this new challenge. This dispatcher goes through the script again, and after several minutes he locates the correct rest stop.
The wait isn’t going to be horrible. Luckily, it is chilly, but not frigid temperatures.
I wait. I keep an eye on my phone for updates. Looking around the car, I realize I left the snack bag back in West Hartford.
I have the hood open on the car to help the AAA driver.
An older model suburban pulls down several spaces from me.
A burly young man, with a massive beard, and a hoodie pulled tight over him gets my attention.
I open the door slightly, and he begins to tell me how he had trouble starting his car this morning too.
I’m not sure what he is holding in his hand with dangling wires. But, he tells me he used this contraption to start his car earlier today.
I give him permission to try, and I also tell him I don’t want you to get hurt. He assures me he will not.
So, he makes some connections to the battery. Once he is ready, he tells me to try to start the car. I do, nothing happens.
All I can imagine is this guy is going to end up frying himself like an inmate in The Green Mile, or he will be zapped while turning all shades of blue, white, and silver like a ghost in Ghostbusters.
He rattles his connection again, and I think one of his hands gets a little jolt. That’s when I tell him thanks, but I don’t want you to be hurt. He agrees and regroups to restart his drive back to Kentucky.
More long minutes pass, and then I receive a call. It is the tow truck driver. Now, I know the name of the rest stop, and I tell him Wallkill. He is only minutes away.
When he arrives, I am immediately relieved. This guy reminds me of Bill Murray.
I expect him to start talking to me like Carl Spackler, the greenskeeper in Caddyshack. I imagine Bill Murray’s next movie—The Tow Truck Guy.
But none of that happens, I explain the problem. He jump starts the car, but he advises me don’t turn the engine off when I make a stop.
He drives off. I work my way back on to I-84.
Back on the interstate, the car does some goofy things. Dashboard lights flash on/off. There is an unexplained jolt.
So, I’m thinking as I cross the Pennsylvania line—something isn’t right. Instead of pushing ahead, I’m going to leave I-84 at Milford, Pennsylvania.
I stop at an Exxon for gas. As I’m pulling into a pump, the car feels like its lost the power steering. I leave the car running, I fill it up, and then park it out of the way.
I walk in to speak with the attendant. Turns out she is a pleasant young lady.
As I explain my dilemma, I’m looking at her carefully, and I see a face with a makeup covered black eye. I’m sure she tried her best to make the makeup work, but it didn’t.
My heart hurt for her as she guided me to Kost Tire and Auto Service. She told me Milford only has one stoplight, and I was to turn left at the light. It was a short drive to Kost after the turn. I thanked her and returned to my still running car.
I found Kost Tire and Auto. I parked and entered the service desk reception area.
A young man greeted me, and he patiently listened to my story. He told me to give him a few minutes. Today, Kost was busy.
I found a seat and waited.
After about a half hour, he asked me for the keys.
More wait time, and then, I was called back to the counter.
My non-mechanic brain had reasoned out that it couldn’t be the battery as the battery had been put in new in June. I was expecting to be told the car needed a new alternator. If it was an alternator, I’d been surprised if they had one in town. So, I’m preparing mentally to spend the night in Milford.
In talking with the service technician and the mechanic, I learned the computer’s electrical assessment of the car’s systems said I needed a new battery—the battery had a bad cell. Their analysis deduced the car had been running off of the alternator—too much car talk for my uneducated brain.
A new battery was installed. The mechanic wrapped the uncooperative battery in plastic for the ride back to Richmond. That way I could return it to my local mechanic.
And just to confirm that it is a small world, the mechanic has a daughter who lives in Mechanicsville, in Hanover County, Virginia. That is a twenty minute drive from our house in Henrico County.
I thanked them for letting me interrupt their day.
At some point after two, I was driving back through Milford toward I-84. And just so you know, Milford is a pretty little town, a town worth a stop for exploring.
With new confidence, I made the drive to Scranton, connected to I-81, and headed south.
The further south I drove into the mountains of Pennsylvania, another nemesis arrived—fog.
During the morning, that collision of air had not burned off. At times, the fog was so thick I could not make out the brake lights that were supposed to be in front of me. These conditions lingered for many, many miles, and of course, I reduced my speed for safety.
I don’t remember where, but gradually the fog dissipated. I was looking forward to crossing into Maryland followed quickly by West Virginia, and then Virginia. When I reached Virginia, I really wanted to exit the interstate and travel the backroads, but I opted to stay with the interstate.
Somehow during the drive, I stayed awake, and somehow much to my relief, I made it to our house before ten p.m. The normal eight hour drive had been stretched to sixteen. I would not wish that tension filled drive on my worst enemy.
But, I am thankful for one thing. I’m glad I was the driver, not my loving wife, the Commander Supreme.
When our kids attended Trinity preschool at our church, I loved attending programs and hearing the enthusiastic harmony of the voices of children singing out these words—“All night, all day, angels watching over me my Lord.”
I think Thursday, December 30 was an “angels watching over me” day.
Every person who rendered me assistance was patient, kind, an angel.
As I recall their faces, I will never forget the young lady at the service station with the makeup covered black eye.
I hope in her future that angels will be watching over her.