Chapter 5 - "breakdown"

We made our way through Illinois and on into Wisconsin. I must say that the aesthetic scenery wasn’t keeping my head from bobbing in the passenger seat. It’s the kind of land that makes you feel like you’re watching a video loop. Every now and again there’d be something that would catch my eye, but mostly I just felt like time was dragging and my eyelids were heavier than molten lead.

It came time for me to take the wheel and give my buddy a chance to get some shut-eye. We had converted the extended cab into a nice little bunk. It was just short enough that you had to bend your knees slightly to fit, another inch and you could have sprawled out without that small and annoying little knee-bend. But it was better than sitting upright and trying to find a comfortable position leaning against the door or the head rest. So I shouldn’t complain.

After filling up at a gas station, I climbed into the driver’s seat and got acquainted with the clutch and the stick shift while adjusting the review mirror. It had been a couple years since my last manual transmission encounter, and it usually takes me a couple minutes to get to know a vehicle’s personality. This truck had some low gears that didn’t even need to be used. You could have just about started in third gear, but I never did. I jerked myself forward in that sensitive first gear. I couldn’t ever quite get used to the hair trigger response of that dang gear. Time and time again, I would try my best to start with a gentle and gradual movement, but no matter how slow and methodical I was, it would prematurely engage and yank us forward like we were hauling a hay wagon with a loose chain. I got a little better as the days wore on, but I can honestly say I never did master that temperamental vehicle.

As I put the truck into cruise control, dusk fell on the monotonous landscape and eventually gave into the darkness. Because of bypassing my traditional Sunday afternoon nap, my mind and body were weary beyond words leaving me less than poised to get us through Wisconsin and into Minnesota. But I used every technique I knew to keep my eyelids pried open. Shaking my head, listening to my Ipod, singing music, praying prayers, opening the window for some fresh air…you name it. I hit the rumble strips several times which sent this adrenaline through my blood stream waking me up for about a minute or two until my head started jerking around like a bobble head once again.

After about two or three hours of dreadful driving, I saw a dashboard light flicker momentarily. At first I wondered if it had been doing that all along and I just became aware of it. But as it flashed on and off, I had a feeling this was a new little dysfunction. I turned around and woke Doug up asking him if this mishap was anything to be worried about. It was the battery light and I knew what that probably meant because I remembered having this happen to me a while back just before my car died leaving me stranded and ticked. He acknowledged that this was a new misfortune and said that we should probably stop and get it checked out…so I did. We stopped at a truck stop, the kind where you can take a shower, do laundry, grab a greasy burger and talk with other truckers around the clock. They had a mechanic shop connected to the operation, so we coaxed a greasy man to check our alternator. Doug climbed up into the engine and hooked some little clamps to the battery and a ground looking for irregularities. There were none to be found, but the little flashing battery light begged to differ. “who knows, maybe there’s nothing wrong and the fuse is jacked up or the communications computer is trippin’.” That’s what I thought inside my brain.

Doug decided to drive again and I tried to catch a cat nap in our little makeshift bunk. It seemed like it wasn’t long before I felt Dough pulling off the highway again. I knew something must be the matter, cause we weren’t on the road for long. He mentioned that the lights seemed to be dimming and that the battery gauge was falling. After hitting a gas station and asking where a Ford dealership was, we were delighted to find that it was about two miles down the road. It was about 2 in the morning, so the dealership wouldn’t be open until 7:30am, but it would give us a place to park until the morning.

We drove down the road and saw that the dealership was next to a hotel…perfect! “God is so good”, my heart mused. You know, all these phrases fill your mind when you realize that God caused the battery to die at an exit where there was a dealership available to care for the unique needs of this Ford (Found On Road Dead) truck. We turned to take a side road that led to the parking lot of this dealership and the truck died just as we turned onto this road. I mean, it croaked. It wouldn’t even turn over. We sat in the middle of the road about a thousand feet from the desire destination, my buddy was torked. He decided to walk to the hotel and get a room for the night, but what he didn’t realize was that the sign that appeared to be a hotel was only a sign pointing to a hotel that was about a half a mile down a side road. So he decided to walk the remaining distance only to find that the hotel was closed when he finally got there. He has a bum knee, so he was limping pretty bad when he finally got back to the truck.

He decided to call a towing company and get pushed to the dealership. About 45 minutes later, a truck showed up and pushed us down the road to the parking lot we called home for the night. It was about 30 degrees outside and we had no heat. I bundled up in the back and did my best to stay warm. I heard that if you get naked before you get in your sleeping bag you stay warmer, but I couldn’t bring myself to heed that old wives’ tale, so I stayed fully clothed and risked misery. I couldn’t believe how well I slept even under the less than ideal circumstances. When I finally woke up, there was two inches of snow on the truck and I could see my breath. My nose was freezing as I scrunched up my top lip to stop the steady flow of snot oozing out of my stiff nostrils.

An employee finally got there and was gracious enough to get us in right away when he heard our pitiful story. An hour and 500 bucks later, we were on our way. It was Monday morning in Minnesota and we had a long day of travel ahead. We stopped off to McDonalds, grabbed an egg McMuffin, an orange juice and a hash brown. I was so hungry. It tasted so very good. And with that, we were on our way once again.

The adventure had already begun and I was happy for the dicey detour.


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