Do you know what’s not a good idea? Taking a baby in a white shirt camping. Ask me how I know.
Over the past month, I have driven five different cars. Not like, test driven, but driven around, kids in the back, running errands, living my life. First, our van broke. The repair has taken FOREVER, but it might be (fingers crossed) that Toyota will pay for the whole job (including valve replacement and cam shaft something-or-another, I have no idea what all those words mean, but they are expensive words), so that’s lucky. After my van broke down, I drove my parents’ Suburban for awhile, until they needed it to pull their camp trailer, so I swapped for my mom’s Mini Cooper. My parents live 230 miles away, so car swaps are not easy for anyone, but it sure beats having to rent a car.
Then I drove Tony’s truck this weekend, though it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll ever let me drive it again. Not that it’s MY fault that these things happen to cars I drive, just that I have the misfortune of being the driver when shit happens. Case in point: When I was 17 years old, my boyfriend at the time (one of those great mistakes on a long list of many that helped me know what a fantastic catch Tony was) totaled my first car, so I had to drive my parents’ original Suburban (they had a 1986 model and now a 2001 model) for a few months to get myself and Leland to and from school and work and extra-curriculars. After I had driven it for a couple of months, I told my dad that I was sure something was wrong with the engine; the truck sounded so loud and weird and was starting to smell (more than just over-perfumed teenagers with poorly-managed B.O., too). Dad didn’t believe me. He totally brushed me off. So I told mom, and she drove it, confirmed that something wasn’t right, and crawled under the truck, at which point she noted that the entire exhaust system had rusted out. My dad was livid – it’s no fun to be facing a multi-thousand dollar car repair after your daughter’s idiot boyfriend just caused the complete loss of another car in your fleet – but obviously it wasn’t my fault. The injury had happened over years of driving it in the salt air. To this day, though, he’ll say things like, “You only drove that truck for three months, but you rusted out the ENTIRE exhaust system!” I think he’s mostly joking now.
Anyhow, I packed the three kids and the dog in Tony’s Dodge Ram pickup on Friday morning and headed south. We stopped at the kennel in Stanwood to drop off Buster and his cloud of fur (seriously, he’s like Pigpen from Peanuts, only with fur, not dirt) and proceeded to wend our way through terrible traffic toward Olympia. It used to be that we could leave early and blaze through Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, JBLM, and Olympia at or near 60 miles per hour, but not anymore. In the last year or more, EVERY trip hits a slowdown in each of those cities/areas along I5, JBLM being the WORST. So yeah, when we FINALLY made it to Tacoma, it was time to stop and have some late lunch. Really late. My poor, hungry boys were almost eating their own arms.
After lunch, we drove for another hour to Millersylvania State Park, where my family reunion has been held for the past several years. Just as I pulled up to the ranger station, the engine (the big, burly diesel engine that makes me feel like a total fraud driving it – shouldn’t I have a sleeve tattoo or a gun rack or something?) started making this whap-whap-whap-whap-whap noise and smelling a little burn-y. Not cool. I drove to our campsite, turned the engine off, and was immediately greeted by a fellow camper smoking a giant cigar and drinking a beer (he’s the type of guy who should drive this truck) who said, “Sounds like you’ve got something stuck around your fan.” Sure enough, the serpentine belt had split and half of it was wrapped around the fan. Tony brought the appropriate part and tools and then he fixed it. No big deal, I guess.
Then we camped. The kids got dirtier than they’ve ever been, ever. We ate, we hung out with family, it was great, and then it was time to leave. Tony and Charles headed south with my parents for a week of fishing, while Freddie, Jamie, and I headed north in Tony’s truck. Of course, I was immediately snarled up in terrible traffic. The baby started screaming, Jamie fell asleep, and I began to dread the loooong drive home. Maybe, I thought, we’ll be able to make it all the way to the Fife rest area before stopping. Hahahaha! I should know better than to tempt fate, because that’s just when I noticed the temperature gauge on the truck: it was pegged all the way to the right, a clear indication that something was WRONG.
I pulled over and killed the engine. I was still on the freeway, but within sight of an exit ramp. Still, I didn’t want to exit without at least cooling the engine a bit. I popped the massive hood and couldn’t see anything wrong – there was no steam, no fire, all the liquid reservoirs were full. Some young guys pulled over and checked to see if I was okay, but they couldn’t offer much help. I chilled for a few minutes, fired it back up, cranked the heater on full-blast, and drove the shoulder to the exit ramp and pulled into McDonald’s. For the second time in a month, I used my AAA benefits. The tow truck didn’t arrive until almost 7:30 pm (it was 5 pm when we got off the road), so we had ice cream and a happy meal and waited.
Though I wanted to cry, I quickly realized how blessed we are. Not only was no one hurt, but I called around and family immediately jumped into cars to come help us out. My uncle and aunt forewent an additional night of camping in order to pick us up and drive us to Kirkland, where my brother met us at our cousin’s house to take us home. The tow truck beat us home by about 20 minutes and my neighbor drove our truck off the tow truck and into our driveway. It was a stupidly late night for me and the kids, and Freddie refused to sleep anywhere but in the crook of my arm, but we made it.
The most surprising loaner car has been the last one: Leland is allowing me to drive his 2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon until I get my truck fixed. He is even allowing me to put my kids and dog in it (!). I never thought I’d see the day when this would happen, but it just goes to show that he loves me after all. In return, I changed all of his radio presets to the most obscure foreign-language stations I could find. Hey! Maybe he’ll learn Russian now!