Breakdown

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Well…something has happened. The old truck had a slight problem on a return trip from Omaha to Minneapolis…and by slight problem I mean catastrophic failure. Here’s the situation:

I was driving back to Minneapolis after a perfectly wonderful weekend in Omaha. The drive was going fine for about 4 hours. Around this time, I needed to stop for gas. So, I pulled off at my usual stop in Mason City, IA. As I was waiting at the light behind a couple semi’s, while not moving mind you, I heard a distinct pop/crunch. Now being trained in the art of Stein Car Maintenance, I immediately ignored the noise, thinking, “Well, that was weird. It was probably just my rusted out running board finally falling off. Or the wind…” But, as the light turned green, I noticed the power steering had gone out and the battery gauge was reading a little low. Having seen my dad drive numerous family trucks that had lost power steering, I felt this was a problem I could handle. So I drove to the gas station and filled her up. While I was there, I popped the hood to try and “evaluate” the situation. I’m not entirely sure what the hell I thought I was going to do. I suppose if there was a cat stuck in something I could have pulled it out, but nonetheless I popped the hood, if for no other reason than to say, “I checked under the hood,” if I was asked at a later date. Things seemed to be alright. A bit of moisture on the right side and by the battery. One of the battery posts had some pretty wicked corrosion on it, which I figured was the reason for the low reading on the battery gauge. “Bad connection,” I thought to myself. “But, at least that probably accounts for the pop. Good to know.” And I promptly closed the hood.

At this point the story could have gone one of two ways. The first, I could have gone into the gas station at 7:15 on a Sunday and asked for the phone number of the nearest repair shop. It went the second way…”Hey, we’re only two hours from the Cities. Lets give it a go.” So I hopped back into the old girl, pretended nothing had happened, and set off down I-35 N with no power steering. Things went ok for about 20ft. That’s when I noticed the temperature gauge had spiked. “That’s probably just a gauge malfunction from the low battery reading,” I told myself, knowing full well that bigger problems were brewing. I’m not an idiot, but desperate times call for desperate internal dialogue.

I got about 7 miles down the road and everything seemed to be going fine. I had turned the radio off to save power and that was clearly doing the trick. Then I checked the rear view and notice an unhealthy amount of smoke pouring out of the back end. So, my natural instincts kicked in…I knew I had to act fast. Quickly, I pulled over, threw it in reverse and backed up an on ramp. Through the poisonous cloud of smog billowing out of my truck, I spotted a gas station just across the overpass. “How fortuitous!” I thought, and made my way towards salvation.

It’s a funny thing, though. Salvation turned out to be more if a sinking feeling. As I pulled up to the gas station, fought the steering wheel to get it turned in there, and took a look around, I realize this was an abandoned gas station that I had pulled into. Outstanding. But, at this point even the wildlife was staring at the amount of smoke coming from under the hood, so I knew it was time to shut it down.

So here I was…a man, with a smoking car, in an abandoned gas station, somewhere in Iowa. When I looked around I had a momentary sinking feeling. The kind of feeling you get when you’re the character in a horror movie that has just realized you’re the comic relief. You know, that “oh shit” kind of feeling. If I’ve learned nothing from zombie video games over the years, it’s that you always need to do a quick inventory. So I did. I had a Pepsi, a basketball, some ice skates, and a tarp. Not bad. Not great, but not bad. I decided to see what was going on under the hood, hoping that the truck was somehow just low on Pepsi.

After an unsuccessful attempt to locate the Pepsi meter, I decided to wipe off some of the battery acid on the negative post. Knowing that battery acid is not something you want to touch, I grabbed 5 napkins, wadded them up and made do. I got off what I could, but knew it was more than likely a lost cause, especially since the water overflow container was steaming and full. There was no cap on that container so I thought maybe I needed to cover that up, get some pressure going, and watch the engine magically cool itself down. After scouring the truck, I determined I had nothing that would work that wouldn’t melt. So, naturally, I went and scoured the abandoned gas station. I’m sure if there were any people around they would have thought I was searching for copper to sell on the black market. I was not. After a quick lap I had only managed to find a plastic thing-a-magig that in no way fit over the hole. In a stroke of genius I decided a rock would probably work, so a grabbed one that fit pretty snugly, shoved it in there, and decided to fire up the beast and head back towards Mason City. It was my only chance at not sleeping in an a zombie death trap abandoned gas station.

To my surprise, the old truck fired up and the temperature gauge had gone down…slightly. So, I mustered up some strength to get the vehicle turned around and away I went. About 30secs in, the smoke returned. “Damn you, rock…what good are you?!” I thought to myself. But I only needed to go 8 miles. “If only I could crank the Eminem right now…but I can’t turn the radio on!” I thought. But, no turning back now! I had the truck going at 55mph, hazards on, with people passing and giving dirty looks because of the trail of toxic fumes that was spewing from my ride. But, I kept my head down and powered through. 55mph slowly became 45mph, which slowly became 35mph, 30mph, 15mph, 17mph (maybe I can make it!), 0mph. 4 miles outside of Mason City. So close.

The first towing place I call, no answer. Awesome. The second, Affordable Towing (which really, with a name like that I should have called first), answers the phone. I explain the situation and the tow is on the way. Now, I have 30 minutes to think about where I went wrong. Honestly, it was probably the gunning it up to 17mph on the last leg that did me in…yep, that’s clearly where it went wrong.

Now I start thinking about work. I’m supposed to be there at 9am on Monday. It’s 7:50pm on Sunday…not looking good. But, after Siri told me there was an Enterprise rent-a-car in Mason City, I started to feel a little better. “Maybe I can rent a car tonight and still get to work,” I thought. Enterprise, in an awesome business model, is not open on Sundays. Whelp, that meant hotel time.

The tow truck showed up soon after and we got the old girl locked and loaded. Dave, the tow truck driver, was quite friendly, and I, having plenty of experience chatting with tow truck drivers (the band van breakdown, our 1st anniversary, etc.), became fast friends with the man. He was the owner and started the business as a project in college while at Northern Iowa, then kept it going. He said he’d take me to a repair place that would treat me right and be open at 7:30. He also drove me to the Holiday Inn Express, where I currently sit, penning this fateful story. Good thing I had my trusty Virtual Knowledge American Express card. (A lesson from Dad.) And, after a call to my new boss in MN, explaining the situation and how I feel like the bastard son, always calling him with another problem (he was very awesome about the situation, btw), I feel like I’ve won the day. Probably because I’m staying at a Holiday Inn Express tonight.

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One thought on “Breakdown

  1. […] pretty much there.  Luckily, having previously gone through a scenario like this (see: Breakdown), I knew exactly what to do.  Grab a rock from the side of the road and pop the hood! […]

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