Saturday, August 09, 2008

Paradise Lost

David and I enjoyed picking blackberries on our walk so much that yesterday morning we decided to go on a much longer hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The path leads to a blueberry grove. Neither of us brought ideal shoes or paraphernalia for a real hike--but although the walk was long, it was supposed to be on easy terrain. So we put on our sandals and packed our tote bags with water, peanut butter sandwiches (with delicious local blackberry jam), and empty plastic pint containers to hold our day’s collection of berries.

We started to drive up into the mountains--higher and higher, the views getting more and more beautiful. As a person with a significant fear of heights (which I did not seem to have until my child was born), I occasionally leaned away from the window and held my breath when we rounded a curve with an especially beautiful view.

David and I were engrossed in a deep conversation about how hard it might be to turn our town into a transition town, or a post-carbon city, or hub of relocalization. (More on these thoughts another day.)

As we gained even more height, getting close to the highest point, our car started to make a funny grating sound. There was a smell, not terrible but getting worse. And after a half a second, smoke was pouring out from the hood.

We pulled over and opened the hood. I keep telling David thank you for pulling over on a wide safe slightly-inclining shoulder. The last thing I needed was for our car to look like it was about to explode on the edge of a fatally-dangerous cliff--ur, “scenic lookout.”

Perhaps because we are in North Carolina, generous home of my birth, or perhaps because we were on a road that no one travels who is in a hurry to do anything more time-pressing than reach one of those scenic lookouts or find a hiking trail, many many cars and motorcycles stopped to see if the inhabitants could help. With all these offers of assistance and an absolutely beautiful day to boot--sunny and warm but with a cool breeze--things seemed a lot better than they could be.

Not quite as nice as blueberry picking, though.

Neither David nor I know much about cars. Between the glove-compartment guide to our little 11yo Honda Civic and the advice of one kind couple who pulled over very early on, we figured out that the radiator was overheating and that we could add water to both the reservoir (which was completely empty) and the radiator’s main opening. We let it cool down for a long while, added water, let it cool down some more when the water bubbled and steamed out of the opening, then poured in more water.

After we had finished our sandwiches and enjoyed the peaches we brought for desert, we headed back to the road. We started heading the car down the mountain and all seemed well for a few minutes of coasting downhill.

Then we hit a flat spot and David pressed the gas pedal. The temperature marker shot up. Now we were in a busy swath of road in a less ideal (but not mortally dangerous) spot. We were surprised to discover that the radiator reservoir was still full--is it possible even more full than it had been?

Should we call a tow? Where were we, exactly? David pulled out his cell. No reception. Well, we could flag someone down here if we needed to, but surely we can make it to the ranger station at the base of the mountain. It isn’t that far, is it?

Well, each time we pressed the gas pedal, the car would begin its quick climb toward overheating. We’d pull off, open the hood, and let the car cool off for a while before trying to get a few more yards down the road.

Now, I carry books and knitting absolutely everywhere I go. So does David. But because we were using our tote bags to hold our picnic and drinks, we had unpacked our entertainment.

I suppose that, given the choice between words and stitches versus food and water, I’d rather have the latter.

I suppose. Don’t let me think about that choice too long…

Really, I could have gone without food for the day better than I could go without knitting in this time of crisis. We found an old book of ghost stories from the Outer Banks stuffed in the door of the car, I think from a visit to my parents many many years ago. Hey, the Outer Banks are the right state! Sure. We read about the flaming ship of Ocracoke while we waited.

It took us more than four hours to get down the mountain.

We still did not have cell reception when we hit the ranger station, but they were kind enough to let us use their phone.

It was 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. David is expected back at work in Washington on Monday. Could this be fixed by our departure time, or were we going to have to extend our vacation (heartbreak) and have David miss a relatively important meeting (a more serious issue)?

The tow truck arrived in less than 15 minutes. That is pretty much how long it takes to drive from the center of town to where we were if you are speeding. The tower hooked up our little red car and lifted it onto the massive towing bed. David and I crawled into the cab with him and down the mountain we went. He recommended his favorite fix-it shop which stayed open until 5:30. They would try to fix it as soon as we arrived. If they diagnosed a real problem, it might be at least Monday before they could fix it. Yikes.

The owner and his wife and 5yo son were kind and friendly. We asked the young boy what work he did at the shop. He said earnestly, “Oh, I don’t work here. I play here. That’s because I’m still little.” The young boy drew us pictures, threw paper airplanes with us, and told us all about his band-aids. It made me miss our son so much!

The mechanic was very serious. At some point he walked away from the car and a few minutes later came back with a steaming coffee mug. He looked into it with knitted brow, concentrating deeply and pacing as if he were walking a labyrinth.

After a few moments, he picked up a pair of pliers and pulled out a piece he had been soaking in the fluid in the coffee mug.

His frown made it clear that things did not look easy. Soon, the two mechanics together determined that we might “only” need a new radiator, but we might have “busted the head gasket” or something. This would be a huge overhaul costing a lot and taking some time. Keep your fingers crossed.

We called the one car rental place in town in the moments before they closed. “Sorry--no cars right now. Don’t have a thing.” Yikes. Our little cabin in the woods is miles from here, from everywhere. We have to pick up our son at camp on Sunday. We have to have a car. And this one is our only one—here but also at home.

If we were going to have to pay $4000 for an overhaul and wait a week on top of it, would this be the time to finally break down and buy a new car? How long does it take to get a Prius these days…?

The mechanic continued to study our car. I went for a walk and wandered in the conveniently-located local yarn shop (!), independent book store, and natural food store. I was so worried about what we were going to figure out for the next few days that I did not really pay attention even to the yarn. (When is the last time that happened?)

I walked back. They had found a radiator available very nearby, gone to pick it up, installed it, and were testing it.

We played with their very funny young son. When we told the 5yo what a great artist he was, he said in all earnestness, “Oh, I’m not an artist. I’m a KID.”

And suddenly they were taking our little car out for a test ride, up some of the big hills in town. It came back cool and humming--no smoke, no smell, no busted head gasket. Beautiful!

So the day had a happy ending, although all those “there’s-not-a-care-in-the-world” thoughts that we had been cultivating were totally shot.

We arrived back at 8pm with bread, candles, and a bottle of red wine so we could celebrate Shabbat.

But we were zonked. We made some super-quick pasta and drank beer while watching the Olympics opening ceremony. I know it is weird, but our plan is to celebrate Shabbat tonight, instead.

* * *

I think we’re going to try the mountain and the blueberry hike this morning.

This time, I’m packing my knitting.

Shabbat Shalom. Peace.


Francesca said...

What a story! I'm glad it had a happy ending. And moments of serendipitous happiness along the way, too.

Red said...

It's nice to go away, but it's even nicer to get back home.

Veggie Mom said...

I sure do love picking blackberries myself. And, I love reading your stories, too, BTW!

Chile said...

What an adventure! Glad the ending was happy, but wondering if you're a little wistful about the lost excuse to look into the Prius.

Martha H said...

Phew! You had me worried, there. I hope you made it back home safely, by now.


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