(Wherein I find I am much more comfortable with "Bible clinging, gun toting, Nascar fanatic Bubbas than I am with 'intellectual liberals'".)
Little sister had busted her butt trying to make it as convenient for me as possible. She actually asked what dates were best for me, then told everyone else when to show up. How can ya not love that? But my work schedule is still inhuman, and to attend meant getting off work one day, packing for the long drive that night, then getting up early enough the next morning to arrive at the site before dark.
The plan worked fine until it didn't.
I got up early, well rested. I decided to make an adventure of it, so I plugged the destination address into "Carmen the Garmin" and let her take me along the route she thought most efficient. The path Carmen chose was interesting...
About an hour from home she had me on roads I had never driven. But her chosen route was gonna avoid major cities and therefore shield me from Friday afternoon-evening traffic jams. Good for Carmen!
A little Interstate driving, then she turned me onto a U.S. Highway... not limited access, but two lanes on one side with a median dividing two lanes goin' the other way. Traffic is light most of the way... nonexistent at other times. Other than a stop light once every two or three hours, this is far preferable to bein' trapped in a slowly moving parking lot on an Interstate.
Five hours into the drive I'm in the deep South. It's 94 degrees outside and the humidity is high enough that just conversing at the gas pumps is enough exercise to start a trickle of water flowing down your backbone into your butt crack. Sara Jean has allowed me to drive her car on this trip because hers is the only car with functioning A/C and we expected these temps/humidity. The A/C sputters and quits.
"The best laid plans..."
I smirk at my bad fortune and roll the windows down. Oh well, soon the sun will be gone and the temps will be bearable.
I press on. The drive is easy because roads are good and traffic remains light. Half an hour later my eye is drawn to a red warning light in the center of the dash...
It's the battery discharge warning. We've had a lot of trouble with batteries in this car so I'm frustrated but not surprised to see this light. I start thinking about how I'll find my way to Wally World tomorrow to have this battery replaced- again. After a few minutes I notice something else... the car is harder to steer.
Uh-oh. Now, finally the equation is plain... 2+2=4. Air conditioning, power steering, battery discharging... the common thread is that all are run by belts attached to the engine's crankshaft. I've got belt problems. I'm an idiot. These belts are original equipment on this car with 133,000 miles on it. I should have replaced them long ago.
Now my mind races, considering my options. It's Friday evening. I'm 90 minutes from my destination and I have to turn my lights on. If I completely discharge the battery the engine will die and I'll be stuck wherever that happens. I've got to have new belts installed to continue. Where to do that?
In a tiny South Alabama town I stop for gas, lift the hood and confirm both belts are in pieces in my engine compartment. Bubba comes up in his pickup truck with his date sitting alongside and asks about my problem. When I tell him I'm 90 minutes from a family reunion he says, "Buy me a tank of gas and I'll drive you there." I'm amazed... he just offered to drive for three hours and cancel whatever plans he and his lady had for the evening! I thank him and decline his offer.
I go back and ask the station attendent if there is an auto parts store nearby and am directed to an "AutoZone" store just down the street. Perfect! I like AutoZone-
I can buy the belts and they'll loan me tools to install the belts there.
I pull into the AutoZone parking lot 15 minutes after they have closed. I know I can't go on, so I go back to the gas station and get directions to both motels in town, aware that at any point the battery may discharge completely. It's dark and I'm having to use my headlights. Both motels are displaying "no vacancy" signs. I cross my fingers, and the car starts again. I drive back to the AutoZone, roll the windows down, recline the seat, and shut the engine down for the evening. It's 9 P.M. and the store opens at 8 A.M..
It's clear so the night cools quickly. I fully expect the local constabulary to stop by in the wee hours to find out what the heck I'm doin' sitting in front of this store, but she/he's too busy...
I watch as she/he chases down a speeder and issues a ticket. Later I hear her/him zoom by with lights and siren, only to watch an ambulance follow 15 minutes later.
I wake at 6 A.M. feeling surprisingly rested, considering. I pour the last cup of coffee, now tepid, from my thermos. It's far better than nuthin'. The AutoZone manager shows up at 7 A.M., opens the door, then locks it behind him. I get out to stretch my legs, sipping my coffee, and he comes to the door and says "How can I help you?" When I explain my dilemma he opens early, sells me the belts, and hands me the tool I need to put them on.
Hood up again, I'm already sweating in the heat even though it's not yet 8 in the morning. I'm out of my league with this repair... the space available to install the belts is minimal, and I don't know how to adjust the idlers/tensioners to loosen them enough to fit the belts, then re-tighten them. A young black man walks up and asks about my problem and I tell him. He says, "Lemme help you." He quickly realizes he needs another wrench and obviously the store manager knows him 'cause he comes back out with wrench in hand. In 20 minutes my belts are installed properly. I pay him for his work and I'm on my way. The Air Conditioner blows cold air. The power steering works. The battery discharge light is gone. It's a beautiful day and I'm on my way to hug friends and loved ones.
This story will surprise only those that have never spent time in the South. I've experienced similar scenarios several times in my life. It's part of the reason I love the South and those that live there.
Can you imagine how this story would have unfolded in Chicago?
Differently, I think we'd all agree.
One quick observation that puzzled me:
I had occasion to drive through the tunnel that goes beneath Mobile Bay on I-10 this trip. Carmen continued to track my progress even when I was in the center of the tunnel, probably more than a hundred feet underground/water.
How'd she do that?