A Comedy of Errors

Last weekend was supposed to be our weekend at Cannon Beach. It didn’t happen.

We went out in good order, leaving home at noon on Wednesday.  By two o’clock, we were southbound on I-5, making good progress, and talking about stopping at the Kelso Burger King for lunch.  (On our travels that particular fast food joint is designated as the “Throw it out” Burger King.  Years ago, we stopped there.  When it was time to leave, I was stuck holding two soda cups filled with ice in a car with no cup holders.  [This was so long ago that it was pre-cup-holders!] “What should I do?” I asked.  “Throw it out,” Bill said.  If ever there was a case of faulty pronoun reference, this was the one.  When he said “it” he meant “ice.”  I thought he meant I should throw out the cups.  So even though I am opposed to littering and surprised that he would suggest such a thing, I did exactly what he said—I rolled down my window and heaved the cups out onto the shoulder.  Hence the Throw It Out designation.)

But I digress. We had settled the lunch question when, just past milepost 44, the car slowed suddenly and quit. Period. Bill managed to safely ease us over to the shoulder of the road, and there we were, stuck for the next three hours—in 96 degree weather with three lanes of traffic roaring past us only a few feet away.

We tackled the problem as best we could. I tried calling AAA and was assured that my call was very important to them but that due to high call volumes it might take a while for them to answer. In the meantime, Bill was trying to call the roadside assistance department of our car insurance provider. He won the phone war and got someone on the line first, but the national call center guy had a hard time locating Kelso on any given map. In addition, we weren’t exactly in Kelso. The only identifying feature we could see on the freeway was a dead Weigh Station a few hundred yards ahead  Eventually the Highway Patrol informed us that we were just south of Mile Marker 44.

The first two towing companies the insurance company called declined to take the job.  The third one, from Longview, agreed to tow us to the nearest Mercedes-Benz dealership which was in Portland. Unfortunately the driver was out on another job right then and was at least an hour and a half out.  And so we waited.  Sitting on the guardrail most of the time and moving from one paltry patch of shade to the next.

It’s noisy standing next to that much traffic.  I tried to let the people who were expecting us to arrive know what had happened.  I called the hotel in Cannon Beach and canceled our reservation.  I called the Riverplace in Portland and made a reservation. And we kept waiting.

Eventually the tow truck arrived. It was a big truck, one with very tall steps. Two years ago, on our Rick Steves Adventure, it was all Bill and I could do to haul ourselves up and onto the bus. A year and a half of walking and working made it possible for us to heave ourselves up into that air-conditioned tow truck with NO PROBLEM!!! That constituted a little bit of good news. The second bit was that the tow truck driver said he’d be glad to drop both our goods and us off at the hotel which, by coincidence, turned out to be a mere block and a half from our hotel. That was the second bit of good news.

Getting to the dealership was a nail biter. We were driving into Portland during afternoon rush hour, and we knew the service department closed at six. We got there, but too close to closing. We had to drop our car keys off in a key drop along with a description of the problem on an envelope:  Ran out of power.  Cranks but won’t start. Plenty of fuel—3/4 of a tank. No overheating.  

And then we went to the hotel. We’ve stayed at Riverplace for years, but this was the first time we ever arrived in a tow truck. We took our luggage up to the room, and then we went down to the bar and worked our away through the small plates menu: Heirloom tomatoes?  Definitely. Barbacoa shrimp?  Yup. Pork Belly?  Sounds good. Crab salad toast?  Yes, please. Cod fritters?  We’ll have some of those, too. I believe it’s called stress eating.

The next morning we got up. I walked 10,000 steps in 2000 step laps around Riverplace. At eleven our “Service Adviser” called to advise us that we needed a new fuel pump. It was coming from California and would be there the next day. We extended our Riverplace stay for another day and waited and worried. Because by now it was Thursday afternoon. What if they weren’t able to finish the repairs on Friday when we had another whole week of travel lined out starting on Monday?

So Friday came. I got up. Walked 10,000 steps. We went to see our “Service Adviser.” He advised us that the part was in but it was noon and all his technicians were having lunch. We went back to the hotel, extended our stay until four PM, and worried some more.

About 2:30 our “Service Adviser” called to say that we needed a “sending unit” and the closest one of those was in California. I was despairing when he went on to say, that they were in the process of “buttoning us up” so we could get back home.” Huh?  What?  We extended our stay to 6 PM.

So we took our block and a half walk—800 steps give or take—where our “Service Adviser” advised us that what was really broken was the gas gauge—the sending unit of the gas gauge. The sending unit send we still had three quarters of a tank of gas when the tank was really bone dry. We didn’t need a new fuel pump—we needed gas.

So they filled it. They charged us for the gas and a hundred bucks for the technician taking the car apart to get at the fuel pump and for putting it back together. We left the hotel about 5:30. They were as glad to see us leave as we were to go. The sending unit will be replaced later—sometime in November, most likely. Taking the hotel bill into consideration, it was probably the most expensive tank of gas ever.

But here we are. We made it through. We can already laugh about it.

What is it my mother always used to say? Oh, yes.  I remember. “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”

10 thoughts on “A Comedy of Errors

  1. I can relate.
    Sounds like out trip to Vegas just before the 4th of July several years ago. So fun to spend too much of a trip dealing with car issues. Overheating cost us towing, 7 hour wait. One week car rental. 500 unnecessary detour and a few adventures not worth mentioning. Maybe I can mention the lost wallet of vacation cash but that worked out as it was lost in the car, not 200 miles back. But we encounter so many kind and helpful people that the wrong thermostat replacement that broke a less common part was almost worth the worry and time. ??? No, not really.
    I hope the rest of your trip was great!

  2. I think most of us have had car trouble on a trip and can relate. Our car died near Nowhere, Nevada, as we were driving from one Navy base to another. We had to buy a used clunker to get us on our way. I’m glad everything turned out ok and that you can laugh about it.

  3. I can sooo empathize with you and Bill. Mike and I’ve had the phone war trying to get roadside assistance; we have nicknames for different locations, too. Mike and Bill must be related – he says the same things. When the confusion ensues, he says “you need to hear what I’m saying, not what you **think** I’m saying”. LOL My EX-husband and I had our car break down in Gila Bend, AZ – the place where God would put an enema, if He decided the world needed one. We spent a week there in a hot, tiny motel room with our kids. On the 2nd day, we had friends drive down from Phoenix to pick up the kids. Meanwhile, we waited another 5 days for the part to get there FROM PHOENIX and it finally got installed. John Denver had a song about Toledo, Ohio with the line “I spent a week there one day”. I thought of that song often during that week, with a slight change of words. “I spent a year there, one week” in Gila Bend! LOL

  4. Another of life’s fun adventures you really didn’t want to have, especially the up close and personal with I-5 noisy, hot part. I try to avoid that road whenever possible! Glad you and Bill and the car made it through relatively unscathed. Those mechanic fellows deal with mysteries all the time don’t they!

  5. We lived in a 34 ft. Motorhome. Webt tova ralley outside of San Diego. While heading back to AZ. the motorhome quit. I was driving and coasted to the side of the road. Called AAA. They were busy but came 3 hours later.We were towed into 4 garages who said the motorhome was to big. It was nerve wracking following that big vehicle being towed all thru Calif traffic. Finally found a garage who would take it and we could live in it while being repaired. Ended well.

  6. No car trouble this week but I need new struts, whatever they are, and it’s going to cost $2,000 which I don’t have. Otherwise , it sounds like the same kind of week that I just had. Why does it seem like everybody is trying to make it even more stressful for those of us who are seniors?

  7. Having had the same problem on two different cars we now set one of our “trip odometers” to zero each time we fill up with fuel. A handy reference to back up the fuel gauge. (If you can go 400 miles on a tank, you know something is wrong if you have gone 450 miles and the guage says 1/2 full)

  8. Thank goodness I am married to a journeyman mechanic. I have broken down in an old Taurus on my way home from school (when I was working on my Masters) an hour from home. It was the fuel cut-off in the trunk. Luckily he could come and rescue me. We no longer have the Taurus. We have much more reliable cars – a Camry and a Chevy Silverado. Maybe you should get a more reliable car than a Mercedes. They are notorious.

  9. When I was a kid in 1967 we were on our way to my dad’s new duty station in Denver. 2 adults, 6 kids and 1 dachshund in a Dodge station wagon. We ran out of gas somewhere in Idaho. Fortunately it was at a gas station. Unfortunately the station wouldn’t open until morning. So the 9 of us spent the night under the station canopy. I was 10 so I was in the front seat between my mom and dad. My 4 brothers and sister took up the back. A gas delivery drive came in the morning and gave us enough gas to get on our way. What an adventure!

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