Surely the end must be near…A saga of infinite proportions

Have you ever wondered how far Aurora, IN is from Angola, IN? If so, I’m happy to tell you that it’s exactly 20.9 miles.

I really wish I didn’t know this fun trivia fact.  Go ahead, ask me how I do know.

That’s exactly how far we managed to travel from Barron’s Auto Shop and the exit where we coasted into a Shell gas station, temperature gauge maxed out and red-lining.    I had more than a few choice words bubbling up in my head, but for the sake of my six children’s ears and impressionable souls, I somehow pushed them down and instead called Todd.  Those phone calls were growing increasing more difficult to make, as I’m sure he saw my name come up on his screen and felt further and further away from us.  Nevertheless, I called him.  In the meantime, Patrick and I already knew the drill by this point:  open the hood, check the reservoir, open the radiator cap that reads “NEVER OPEN HOT.”  (We didn’t, but let it cool for a few minutes while we overheated over the situation we once again found ourselves.)  At every stop and with constant reminders from Todd, Patrick had a thick jacket around his hand to protect him should the radiator decide that it too had had enough and blew up.  (It would been par for the course at that point, probably…)

After the appropriate amount of time had passed, Patrick successfully opened the radiator again.  It appeared to be empty.  (Expletive deleted)  Actually, by this point, we all already knew what we’d find when we peered into it.  We had water from the last stop just 20.9 short miles before, so Patrick filled it up and checked the reservoir, which was still full.

My Uncle Gary, who is well-versed and quite knowledgeable in all areas mechanical, called me.  He guessed that we had a sticky thermostat and it was not doing its job in opening the valve to allow the coolant to make its way to the radiator.  It made perfect sense:  every time we overheated, we found that the radiator was empty, but the reservoir was full.  Denny back at Barron’s told us that he’d checked the hoses and they were all open.  Unless a message wasn’t getting through for the release of coolant, it made no sense as to why it continued to act improperly.  Clearly, the van wasn’t “be-in-haved.”  He had a suggestion for me to ask a mechanic to remove the thermostat altogether.  At this point, it would allow the coolant to flow freely, and although the engine might run a little warmer than normal, it would still run.  “Warmer than normal” was  sort of a humorous way to put it, I thought: Can it get “warmer” than red-lining?

In any case, I was desperate for anything at this point.  Todd and I agreed that we had to get it to someone, and I knew I couldn’t travel far before that gauge would torment me again. Siri informed us that the closest repair shop was less than half a mile from where we were, and since it was after 4:30 (and quickly closing in on 5pm on a Friday afternoon), we needed to book it.  The engine definitely ran hot, but stayed out of the red as we made our way to what we thought was an auto repair shop.  Pulling off the main road onto the side street, we saw a lot of boats to the right and left, as well as Marina-related shops.  Siri had directed us to a Marine repair shop.  At 4:58pm.  SIRI!!! I ran up and knocked on the door, thinking if nothing else I could ask for help in finding someone who could help us, but no one answered. Then one of the kids noticed that they actually closed at 4pm on Fridays. Of course they did.  Since we weren’t driving a boat, however, I figured we were barking up the wrong tree on all counts.

By this time, I was getting a little frantic.  What was even going to be open for us to go to?  Back to the phone I went, and managed to find a chain Tire and Auto shop that was only a mile or so away AND open until 6pm.  At least I’d have a chance to plead my case (again) and see if there was any hope for us at all.  After a wrong stop (DOH!) at a Midas (who also closed at 5pm, but didn’t handle our sort of problem anyway), I accidentally turned left on the road instead of right like Siri tried to tell me, and we had to turn around a bit down the way.  Let me just say that trying to navigate in a strange town while watching my temperature gauge was not easy.  I’m afraid I buckle under pressure, much like a sticky thermostat.

Our turnaround showed us that there was an Enterprise car rental in town (more fun trivia facts), but finally we pulled into the Best One Tire and Auto shop.  Once again, Patrick accompanied me into the lobby, where we met a poor receptionist who was about to hear my sob story which had been perfected over the course of the day and added on to as we feebly tried to drive north.  Her eyes grew bigger as my voice cracked, and finally she excused herself to go get “one of the guys.”  When Mike came out, I had to begin yet again and go through the same story.   I had my receipt from Barron’s to show him what they’d done and pretty much flung myself at mechanical mercies.  He agreed to speak to Todd and the two of them spoke for quite a while.

He gave his impressions of the problem based on what both Todd and I described (either there was a leak in there somewhere that no one had been able to find or a gasket was causing trouble), but he was not going to be able to even pop the hood until the next morning (understandable).  Mike suggested we call Enterprise and try to rent a car to get to our destination.  Quickly I instructed Patrick to run out to the van and have Hannah call Enterprise to see if there was even a van available.  The time?  5:14pm.  The time when Enterprise closes on Fridays? 5pm.  By now, I was close to tears, and I was honestly surprised that it had taken me so long.

Between Todd, Mike, and I, we decided that I should get a hotel for the night, bring the van back first thing in the morning, and hope that Mike could miraculously do what no one else had been able to accomplish thus far: MAKE THE BLASTED VAN RUN.

I was more than a bit relieved to at least have a plan.  It had been such a long day, and everyone involved was beyond tired.  Although we were still over 100 miles from Grand Rapids, there was no other choice.   It was the best we could do.   If it worked out in the morning with Mike the mechanic, we still stood a chance of arriving in time for the 4:30pm wedding.

In the back of my head, I knew that we had to cancel our hotel reservations before 6pm or we’d be charged for the first night, so I tried to call my mom to have her speak to the front desk.  She didn’t answer her phone.  Oh no!  I called my brother Mike (lots o’ Mikes in this story) and he answered.  He was actually at the front desk, so while I was on the line, he cancelled our first night.  Not a problem.  Staring down car repair bills is never exciting, but paying for empty hotel rooms on top of it would have been infuriating.

After Mike (my brother, not the mechanic) heard of our plan, he agreed to tell my parents so they knew where we’d be for the night.  Lovely, scenic Angola, IN, that’s where!  Mike (the mechanic, not my brother) gave us hotel recommendations, which I was thankful for (especially since I had picked “the worst hotel in the city” originally). Thanks, Mike the mechanic.

We were in the process of looking up hotels when my phone rang again. It was Mike (my brother, not the mechanic), who offered to drive down from the hotel outside Grand Rapids to Angola with his wife Nicole in two cars to pick us up.  I was floored, but then again, not surprised.  Mike and Nicole are two of the most selfless people I have ever met, and it absolutely within reason for them to extend such a generous offer.   At first, I declined, thinking there was no way they could drive the 130ish miles from where they were to where we were after driving from their house earlier in the day AND driving us all back to the hotel.  Inconceivable!

Mike wasn’t interested in taking no for an answer, and after his practical appeal (“You’ll be at the hotel in case something happens with the car that would keep you from getting to the wedding,” etc.), I acquiesced.  Within a few minutes, we made our final plans and they were on their way.

 

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Now…to figure out how to keep the already-worn out kids occupied for the next two hours while we waited….. We managed to pull into a repair shop on the “main drag” of bustling Angola, and there were a few eateries to choose from.  The Pizza King, for example, was right across the street.  The Dairy Queen, however, caught  the kids’ eyes and that’s where they voted to go.  We bundled up as best we could (it’s cooooOOOooold in the north!), locked the van, and trekked over to the DQ.  Because we’d eaten lunch so late (remember it was after the first auto repair shop stop?), the kids were not starving, but we ordered various and sundry items based on appetite.  Since we had so much time to kill, it was fortunate that one of the boys had packed a deck of cards.  It proved to be a lifesaver as we passed the time waiting for my brother and sister-in-law.

 

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The kids were such good sports while we waited. After the ups and downs of the day, I would not have blamed them if they had a meltdown, one at a time, by this late hour. But they did not. For the most part, they played cards quietly (as quietly as four brothers who are passionate about competition and not afraid to say so). At first, however, I was ready to sit in a booth by myself and just cry. Our situation really stunk. Had the guys at Exhaust Pro back in Lexington missed the original diagnosis or completed a faulty job? Was the thermostat really the problem and, despite being newly installed, somehow a dud? Or had something much more nefarious occurred under the hood during the course of the first 300 miles? How were we going to get back to the van after the wedding? Once we arrived in Michigan, we’d be equally reliant on the inconvenience of family as we were at this very second.  Suddenly, I  just wanted to be in my own house with the ability to sleep in my own bed. I had a momentary pity party right there in the DQ, but then, looking around at my kids, I realized that we were all OK and safe, and although it was a huge nuisance and giant inconvenience (and probably a costly repair…let’s not sugar-coat that reality), it could have been much, much worse.

So instead of weeping into my water cup, I decided to make the best of it and started blogging.  After all, who knew when we’d actually get to the hotel, and I had made a commitment.  I started writing while the kids played and wrote until my phone was almost dead.  Thankfully, as we all started getting antsy, Mike and Nicole pulled in.  They didn’t even stop to say hi before making  a beeline for the bathrooms.  I can’t say that I blamed them.

After a short dinner break and breather, we climbed in to the two cars and drove the short distance to the Best One to transfer all our luggage from the lifeless van into two smaller cars.  I was so glad at that moment that we had packed light for the trip; it was going to come in handy.

Before long, we were on our way.  It was a long trip and I knew Mike and Nicole were already tired, but somehow we made it after 11pm.  Exhausted, the entire crew dragged ourselves and our luggage into the hotel and quickly organized it all before joining many of the family who graciously waited up late to welcome us all.  We stayed up until close to 1am visiting with family we hadn’t seen in years, and singing grateful praises of Mike and Nicole.  By the time we said goodnight, Chloe had almost put herself to bed on a nearby couch, and the entire gathering was quickly fading.

It didn’t take long to organize the kids (boys in one room; girls in the other).  Although we didn’t have adjoining rooms, I could tell that the boys dropped off fast, and we weren’t far behind.

The next morning we met for breakfast, and I have to admit, it was really nice to wake up in our original destination.  We didn’t have to be ready to leave for the wedding until 3:30pm, so we had some time to lounge around. The kids even had some time to swim and hit the hot tub with their family.  Poor Andrew had to keep his cast out of the water (which he did to varying degrees of success).  Mike taped his cast up with a ziplock and tape and it worked as long as Andrew didn’t drop it in the water.  What a tough challenge for a nine-year-old!

 

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Patrick helped him out by carrying him around the pool for a while, too….

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While the kids seemed to be enjoying the morning, I was anxiously awaiting the news from Todd, who was anxiously awaiting the news from Mike in Angola. When my phone finally rang, it seemed like the best possible news. The thermostat–the one we’d just had replaced about a week ago–was in fact faulty and had failed, allowing the engine to overheat when the coolant was ample and able to do its job. He replaced the thermostat with a “Fail Safe” model, assured Todd that he couldn’t find a leak in his diagnostics, and didn’t see any tell-tale signs of the 2nd cylinder having failed. Apparently he drove the vehicle around for a while and couldn’t get it to overheat. Although he couldn’t guarantee that we had not caused some sort of damage to the engine by driving it hot (I knew that we had not driven it more than 2-3 miles when it was “in the red”), but as far as he could tell, the sticky thermostat was the reason for all our repeated woes.

That seemed like reason to celebrate. All this time, it had been the thermostat. Wahoo! Although I was upset about the timing of the whole ordeal, we were all just so thankful that it appeared to be coming to an end. It wasn’t ideal and it was going to require a lot of juggling and extra driving, but Mike and Nicole assured me more than once that it’s what you do for family. I had to accept that as a universal truth!

The rest of the day was spent on wedding festivities. The actual wedding itself was beautiful (but chilly! It was outside in a lovely setting…but the wind was relentless), and the reception was full of fellowship and fun. By the time we returned to the hotel later that night, we were tired, but so glad that everything had worked out and that we had been able to join in the celebration of Doug and Emma. We made our plans for the next day (we’d ride back to Angola with Mike and Nicole, pick up the van, and GO HOME.) and said goodnight to everyone.

Could it be that all’s well that ends well? The next day would surely tell…
 

There was some time before wedding prep to play cards with Papa.

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The kids and me after the wedding, but before our clothes got too wrinkled:

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