Tuesday, June 19, 2012


This past weekend, Benjamin and I decided to take a mini-vacation to celebrate our anniversary. We drove up to Bentonville to visit the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and I will be telling you about the good parts, the fun parts of the trip later - once I have the pictures off my camera; but first, I must relate our story of woe that occupied the last 5-6 hours of the weekend. To give you an idea of what follows, let me just say that is never a good sign when the guy working on your car comes to you and says "I have the worst possible news. I have never seen this in 35 years of working on cars - I've read about it, but never seen it."

We had just gotten on the freeway to head back to Maumelle when things went wrong. The air conditioning in the car was not working - no cold air at all - and then I noticed the heat gauge was all the way at the top. This has never, ever happened to me. No warning lights were on, no check engine light, nothing, but we decided we'd better get off the road pretty quickly and see what was going on. Luckily (or by grace, which happened a lot in this story), we were just coming to an exit, and the exit had a shopping center with a mostly empty parking lot, so we got an unobstructed spot. Benjamin opened the hood, and there was definitely something wrong - smoke or vapor was pouring out, and some sort of slippery fluid was leaking out the bottom. "You'd better call AAA," was all he said. We took shelter from the sun in a copying/shipping store, called AAA and got a tow truck lined up. The repair place the rep recommended was too busy, and wouldn't guarantee they could even look at the car that day. Now what? We were in a town we didn't know, with no way to figure out where to find a better option. Here is where grace, or divine intervention or luck starts really coming into play - one of the clerks at the store, listening to our plight, recommended the auto repair place she and her husband have used for 15 years. When I called to see if they could at least diagnose the problem in a fairly rapid manner, they said they could, to bring the car on in.

Once deposited at the repair place - Norm the Tire Man, in Bentonville, if you are curious - we waited, as you do at repair places, feeling nervous, antsy, tired. We both had appointments for later in the afternoon that we had to cancel or reschedule, which didn't help. As an aside, the TV was on the History Channel (luck or grace again - it wasn't FOX!) which was showing a marathon of American Pickers, a TV show I had never heard of. A couple of guys drive around the backwoods and try to find antiques to buy and resell? I've now sort of seen 3 or 4 episodes, and I have one major question - why the heck is that on the History Channel? Ahem. Back to the story of woe.

Turns out, the engine had a crack in it that spewed coolant as soon as any pressure was pumped into it. Or as the repair man said "It just pees it right out." It must have happened in a split second as I was getting on the freeway. The entire engine needed to be replaced. Again, now what? We couldn't drive it, but we needed to get it fixed and we needed to get home. Seeing the helplessness on my face, and probably sensing the fact that I was *this* close to completely losing it, Mike the repair guy stepped in, called the dealership in Conway where we bought the car, and found out - another miracle - that the problem was the subject of a service bulletin from Honda, and that the parts and labor would all be covered. Then, Mike called the dealership there in Bentonville, to see if they would take the car and fix it for us, so we wouldn't have to have it hauled to Conway. All we had to do was get in touch with Honda's roadside assistance and arrange to have it moved. Once that was settled, we were able to hire a rental car with relative ease, since there were 3 car rental places within a 5 minute walk from the repair shop (I assume this is because it was also across the street from the Wal-Mart corporate headquarters, so visiting executives etc. need cars often). Since Benjamin is going to have to drive back up later this week to pick up the car, and we need a second car until then, we got it for the week for not too much more than a one-way rental was going to be.

So, in the end, a terrible situation wasn't as terrible as it seemed or as it could have been. We experienced genuine kindness from the woman at the copy place, and from all the men at the repair shop, who were doing it because they wanted to be helpful, not because they expected anything from us - they wouldn't take payment, and they knew we were from out of town and couldn't bring our car to them in the future. As for the actual problem - needing a new engine is pretty darn bad, but having it completely covered is pretty darn good. All we have to cover is the rental car, which we can totally afford. And we broke down in the best possible place - another 30 minutes and we would have been on a stretch of freeway with nothing for miles and miles.

Thus ends the story of woe (I hope), for me anyway - Benjamin still has to drive the three and a half hours back to Bentonville later this week to pick up the car, once it is repaired. And we have a pretty interesting story to tell about our 11th wedding anniversary.

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