Oklahoma Sooner or Later

Soooooo . . .

Trying to save money for the second son in college, we chose to get a trailer hitch, borrow a trailer, and drive from Gainesville/Athens, GA, to Oklahoma City. We chose the less steep route, knowing the minivan would be at its limits. The plan was to take our time and save $500. He’s paying the bill, and the fund is dwindling. He’s actually headed to OK to work full-time and save money toward starting back to junior year in the fall.

The best-laid plans . . . a little more than a hundred miles from home, near Oxford, AL, the engine overheated. Red line. Not good. We pulled off, let it cool, checked fluids, added coolant & water. It was after 2:00 a.m. [Thursday]. Yeah, we start our trips when we’re good & ready, not paying attention to clocks, etc. We paid attention to the tachometer & temperature gauges, though, kept the speed below 60 & mostly below 50, and kept going. It didn’t overheat unless RPMs went above 2500, so we kept them to 2000, but hills were a problem. During the night we traded drivers and I had to drive one stretch at 4 mph in the emergency lane to get to water to refill (I’d emptied the jug we had onboard). Red line, slow down, blinkers, pull over, stop, wait, drive slowly, temperature rises, repeat. We were near Hamilton, AL, at that point but I’d passed the little gas station where the nice young man cooks a truly tasty buffet all night. We’d met him on another trip west but I’ve missed the exit every time since then. Ah, well. We found light and water.

Around daybreak I was driving. Stopped at a big station with all the amenities. Got an Arby’s Jr., filled with gas, checked all the fluids, added water and oil (not mixed), checked all six tires and filled up the two on the trailer. I don’t know how to do all this! Ah, well. Somebody has to, so figure it out. The college boy drove for six hours and is now unconscious. I need him to rest so he can take over later; not going to wake him. I talked by phone to our mechanic back home to make sure I was doing everything right.

I dropped one of the valve stem caps into the wheel and decided not to see if I could buy a new one inside; drove away from the air machine to wait for the college son who had gone for a pit stop. (Did I mention I’ve never driven with a trailer before? Ah, well.) While waiting, it occurred to me that the stem cap may have fallen out when I drove off. I looked toward the air machine and sure enough, I could see a tiny green dot on the pavement. Walked over to see if that was my green dot; it was, but the cap was mushed a bit. Guess I ran over it. I put it in my mouth and bit it back round. Yeah, I did that. It’s on the valve stem again, good as new. I have grease under my fingernails. This is getting real.

We were driving so slowly we could count the reflectors on the center white line on the interstate & US highways we followed, but we didn’t – it would have made us crazy. It felt as if we could walk or at least run as fast as this laden car could drive. Ah, well. Take care of your car, your car will take care of you. So far we hadn’t been stranded. Ten hours, four hundred miles. Six hundred to go. The nine-year-old in the back was fine and pleasant, sleeping, listening to music, playing games. There’s truly not much scenery on this route, so I didn’t force her to look out the windows and be enriched. We noted that the dry grass was a different color from the dry grass at home. Lesson done. The sky was the same gray at mid afternoon as at dawn and dusk. Time seemed to be unrelated to our travel.

Things went on about the same until around 5:00 p.m. Seventeen hours on the road; we would have been unloading the van by now, on a regular trip. This time when the van overheated the engine was chugging, too. Half a mile in the emergency lane, rolled downhill into the Phillips 66 in Alma, AR. Open the hood for a new surprise: steam pouring out of the middle of the engine compartment. That hasn’t happened before.

Roadside assistance. I’d gotten the numbers from our mechanic in the morning. Yeah, I thought of that. Planning ahead, you know, even though this whole idea was probably crazy from the start. The college boy called a friend in OKC; the friend called a frat brother, borrowed a truck, and was in the road to Alma within half an hour. Three hours later he picked us and the trailer up while a wrecker towed our van to Dan’s Auto Center in Barling. Yay.

Twenty-four hours after our start, we got to sleep on a couch in a college guys’ house. Nice. A “bed” that wasn’t attached to the van. Yum. Really.

I spent Friday waiting and checking in with Dan. He was very nice and concerned about our plight. I didn’t want to leave OKC for the van until he assured me it was ready. We thought that was happening at 5:00 p.m. Friday. The college boy borrowed another friend’s car so we could drive to AR and bring the van back (3 hours, over 200 miles) to OKC. The van was still full of boxes destined for college. Dan called at 5:30 and said he wasn’t comfortable with the van’s running temperature. He suggested a no-extra charge radiator flush, but it would have to be on Saturday  morning. We had our Taco Bell dinner in the restaurant, rather than on the road, went back to the college boys’ house, and waited for Saturday.

Saturday we left just after daybreak, drove to AR, and brought the van to OKC. 6 hours, 400+ miles. Yeah, we did that. And the van did make the trip to Oklahoma, in roughly 63 hours.

I planned to start home Saturday night after dinner. Might as well start moving while I was awake, I thought. Plans, right. I know about those. The van overheated in town at 1000 RPM, under 15 mph, in 40 degree weather, with nothing inside. I guess, you know, if I’m being logical, I’m not starting out at 10:00 p.m. in that van to drive 1000 miles.

More waiting. Ah, well.

Monday morning, first thing, van to the shop. I said, “I need you to lay healing hands on this vehicle so that I can get it home to Georgia to die.” Or I may be donating it to charity and buying a car in Oklahoma. Or I may leave the car for the college boy and fly home with his little sister. Thing is, this all started by trying to save money – of which there is very little – even in times of crisis.

Monday noon: The head gasket is leaking. Re-machine the head. Take apart the engine. You know, stuff. “Is this a one-day job, or two days, or . . ?”

Three. I can plan to have my van by Thursday.

Meanwhile, the college boy has moved into a beautiful house with a couple of roommates who are very gracious. They’re treating little sister and me like honored guests. We have washer and dryer and a real bed; one roomie grilled steak, venison & shrimp for dinner Sunday evening. Yeah, we ate that. Ah, well.

And yeah, I guess I’ll leave all this on Thursday!

One Comment

  1. Meanwhile, back at the ranch.

    My wife calls me telling me everything the car is doing and everything she and “college boy” have done to inch their way to Oklahoma. She has done everything exactly as she should — no mistakes — only the car isn’t cooperating. Clearly something is wrong beyond a strain due to pulling a trailer.

    After the trip to Dan’s and the repairs, we talk about what repairs had to be done: replace the water pump, hoses and thermostat. Oh, and flush the radiator. Grand total: $500. Well, there goes the savings we had accumulated by taking the van rather than a Penske truck; nonetheless, my wife and son have had some good travel time together and the van now has a new water pump and a flushed radiator which it would not have had otherwise. So far, so good — even if it took an extra amount of time.

    That aside, I do miss her terribly. She’s the best wife on the planet, in case anyone wants to know, and now that she has grease under her fingernails, she has moved into a league of her own :-).

    After the eventual arrival in OKC and the subsequent journey to yet another shop, she calls and, in a playful voice, asks if I want to hear something exciting.


    Of course.

    Tell me more.

    She then reveals that the shop in OKC has done the diagnostic work and determined that a new head gasket is in order. Even though we don’t have a spare $X,XXX.XX sitting in the bank, I tell her “it’s only money.”

    I hope she smiled at that, because I come to realize that sometimes (all the time, actually) you have to look at life through God-sized glasses. When you “realize” you have nowhere to turn, you actually do. You turn to God.

    “God, I’m really sorry to hear that your car needs a new head gasket. Glad you’re able to cover that…”

    Funny thing is, He does cover it.

    I have no idea how He’s going to make up the deficiency in our checking account, but He will. He always does. Always.

    I love my wife. She never seems to lose sight of this and has reminded me of this life-altering principle so many times in our marriage that I can’t keep count.

    But what I am counting are the days remaining until I see her and my daughter again. To be fair, we have video chatted several times. It makes being apart that much more bearable. Today is Tuesday. Tomorrow is Wednesday. The next day is Thursday. That’s the day they should be able to leave Oklahoma and head home. The next day is Friday and, if all goes well, I should see them by Friday night.

    As you know from the original post, my son is in a great new house with two awesome roommates (five if you include the two dogs and the cat). He’s got a lot of friends around him who have adopted my girls and taken care of them. I can’t thank them enough. It’s good to know that my son will also be well taken care of. It’s good to have good friends.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it’s still three more days until I see the loves of my life. Three. I can count to three…

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