It was an inauspicious start to the annual family reunion campout trip. I was barely two hours from the house, not quite 10% of the way into the 1300 mile trip, when things came to a halt.
I was coming up on a fairly new bridge that flies up and over some railroad tracks, replacing what used to be a squeezing cork-screwed dip that carried the road under those tracks, but only if you were less than 13’ high.
I saw the brake lights flaring less than a mile ahead up there on that bridge, eased up on the gas, and checked Google Maps on my phone which is piggy-backed on my laptop (The primarly on-the-road GPS) but saw nothing but green road ahead. By the time I drifted to a stop, there being no escape routes between here and there off that new K-barrier lined stretch of pavement, a little dash of red had appeared on the far side of the bridge and continued to creep back towards me as I watched.
According to the CB chatter there had been a high-speed chase ending in a wreck earlier in the morning and the State Troopers had just shut the road down for an accident investigation.
I wanted to key the mike and shout that there are very few true accidents and this certainly wouldn’t qualify as one of them!! Our continued insistence on calling these things accidents is not only very poor use of the English language, it also has the effect of letting us off the hook for these highly preventable incidents. Even a wreck caused by a blown tire can often be traced back to careless inattention, and careless inattention is not an accident. But there is hope! I’ve noticed that the TV traffic person in the nearest large city now calls them wrecks and not accidents.
Anyway, once the initial creeping, as vehicles tighten up the gaps between themselves, stopped I turned off the lights, put The Van into park, and waited. I would have shut the engine down but this was mid-August, the cruelest month here in Texas, and The Van's ambient air temp gauge was already showing 100 degrees and since it was only a little past mid-morning that wasn’t going to get any better any time soon.
I sat there in the same spot up on top of that bridge for an hour and a half, and it took another half hour to creep down the other side and squeeze past the spot where emergency vehicles were still clustered. By now I was a good 100 miles behind where I should have been and the delay set the tone for the rest of the day, making the normally interesting trip up through the towns of east Texas a painful slog instead.
The next day I was back on schedule, having made up the lost time by driving deeper into the night before stopping; but that didn’t last. . .
On day two I was eating up miles on the interstate, listening to one of my lecture series on CD, The Other Side Of History, a course on what it was like to be an ordinary person at various points in history rather than a king or general or someone like that. I had just finished the lecture on Being a Dead Greek and the professor previewed the next lecture, Being Persian, by saying that we would learn some of the philosophical and cultural differences between Persians and ancient Greeks that are still relevant in today's east/west issues.
‘Oh good’ I thought as I ejected one disk and inserted the next. ‘Learning something about why east and west have so much trouble getting along. How topical!’
Except that the radio only loaded the next disk partway then stopped. At this point it wouldn’t do anything. It was stuck on some in-between FM station. I couldn't eject the disk, I couldn’t change the station, I couldn’t switch it to AM, I couldn’t even turn the volume down! I punched buttons until my finger was sore but it just sat there hissing at me with the CD partially swallowed.
Once in a while as I dipped in and out of the mysterious radio-waves while following the white lines of the highway I got the ghostly hint of voices, but mostly I was listening to static and couldn’t do a damn thing about it. After an hour of this crap, even though it was early for a fuel stop, I located a Walmart with a Murphy’s gas station up ahead, pulled off the highway, and eased up alongside a fuel-pump relieved for the chance to get away from that incessant hissing.
Only when I turned the key off the radio kept hissing. I opened the door and the radio still kept hissing. I filled the tank, washed the windshield, wrote the miles, gallons and cost in my little notebook, and the radio was still hissing. Crap! This isn’t good!
Now my plan was to pull over out of the way into the parking lot and see what I could do because listening to that damn static for hours on end was not an option!
On the Sprinter, when you turn the key to the start position it uses relays to drop power to everything other than the starter, then returns power as soon as you let go of the key. At this point two things happened. The CD was promptly swallowed, the one with the lecture I was so looking forward to, the radio finally went dark, and quiet!, then it sat there staring blankly at me while ignoring all button-punching. Then, when I finally gave up on the radio, resigned to continuing on my journey lectureless, I turned The Van’s lights on as I prepared to pull out and get back on the road, and the dead-light indicator lit up on the dash.
Oh great! Now the damn radio has eaten my CD and won’t give it back, and last time the dead-light indicator lit up it took me forever to find the friggin dead light. (It was the license-plate lamp but there are actually two bulbs in there and only one was dead so every time I bent down and looked up there it was lit. . .)
I went ahead and pulled over into the parking lot and, unable to resist the temptation, wasted yet more time trying to get the damn radio to give me the CD back so I could at least play it through the laptop. Eventually I gave that up and went looking for the dead light, which was really easy to find this time since it was the left headlight. I keep spare bulbs in the foot-well compartment under the passenger seat so it didn’t take long to get the headlight working again.
But I had just used my last spare headlight bulb so, pretending I'm actualy a responsible person, I locked up The Van and trudged all the way across the parking lot into Walmart to buy a couple more spares because you never know. (Headlights tend to die in pairs and I couldn’t remember if this was the second of the pair or the first. If it was the first then the second would probably die soon and me without a spare!)
By the time I located the auto department in the unfamiliar store, found the right bulb, paid for it, and made the dangerous trek back out to The Van, (Oooh! Look at all this open space at the far end of the parking lot. I can drive any-which way I want, never mind the old guy on foot out there trying not to get run over by idiots like me!) I had a couple half formulated plans for trying to retrieve my CD from the radio, but by now, for the second day in a row, I’d already lost a bunch of time screwing around so that would have to wait for later. Right now I need to get back on the road, lectures or not, before I get anymore behind schedule.
Don’t ask me why, but The Van’s radio has two separate 15 amp fuses. Pulling one, checking it, putting it back, and pulling the second to do the same didn’t do me any good, but after pulling both at the same time, letting the radio sit for 10 seconds or so and plugging both fuses back in apparently resets the clearly computer driven radio and the damn thing started working normally as if nothing at all had happened. It’s still working today. I keep feeding it CD’s and it keeps dong its thing and then giving them back.
By the way, I think that bit about understanding the east-west differences was over-sold. Apparently ancient Greeks could not grasp the concept of living under the Persian autocratic form of government and Persians were horrified at the loose morals of the Greeks. (Remember, this is all pre-Islam, which makes it pre-Christianity too.)
Follow up to the Follow up:
Just as I was getting back home from yet another trip to Michigan, the third in three months and second in three weeks!, one planned, two unplanned, the radio pulled the same stunt all over again. The Van is sitting out there in the driveway as I write this, waiting on me to go do the double-fuse-pull reset trick again. I'm a little hesitant to rush out and do it though because I have this nagging fear that as soon as I get The Van all cleaned up and prepped I'll get yet another call from Michigan. . .