Friday, January 23, 2009

Calamity Jane and the Desert at Midnight

Hi Friends!

Today I bring you a harrowing story straight from the Palm Desert in California, where I was stranded for a couple hours last night.

I should start the story by saying, "It was a dark and stormy night" - but that would be a lie. It was a pretty typical California evening, cool, breezy, and mostly clear. I was driving to my folk's house in Phoenix, to attend the wedding of one of my dear former students: Derek Robinson.

The day began rather well; I left my apartment about 30 minutes earlier than planned and was feeling great - until about 20 minutes into the drive I realized that I had left the outfit I was wearing to the wedding.... in my apartment. It took 30 minutes to get back and 5 to get the dress, so by the time I was back in the car and on the road it was now 30 minutes LATER than I planned to leave. Now it was 3 o'clock. At this point, my expected Phoenix arrival time became 11pm (because its a 7 hour drive and a one hour time change).

Well, I rebounded well from that disappointing detour and was prepared to enjoy my drive with phone calls to friends, good music, and the excitement of being home as soon as possible. I had a fantastic talk with my friend Laura - we have a hard time connecting because of the 3 hour time difference, but we ended up talking about great and deep things for over an hour - what a blessing!!

By the time I got off the phone with her, I was entering the Palm Desert. I stopped and grabbed a quick bite to eat at a drive thru, and kept on keeping on. Suddenly I heard a *noise* under the front left of my car, near my tire - in fact it sounded like I ran over something metal - but it was fast and brief, and when my car seemed to continue to drive OK, I decided that my best option was to try to get the 10 miles further to the top of Chiriaco pass where there is a well-lit gas station off the freeway (because the only thing around me was desert and darkness). I didn't remember driving over anything (I didn't see anything in the road) and I was a little nervous, but the car was handling fine and I was just trying to be alert.

Suddenly there was a noise and out of the darkness I see a tire tread FLY UP out from under my front left tire, in the process, shattering my driver's side mirror. Frankly, I was pretty startled, but managed to get pulled over onto the shoulder of the pass. (side note: for those of you from Washington - its not a "pass" in the sense of like Snoqualmie - I was halfway to the top and my elevation was only 1400 feet - so it wasn't snowy or anything) It was pitch dark (no lights anywhere except cars) and the cars and trucks were blowing by at 60-80 mph outside my door. Yikes. I was pretty freaked out for a minute, but was able to get myself together.

I called home to tell them what happened, and then called the state patrol. They were sending an officer to help me - I needed to put on the spare, and I feel comfortable doing it myself, but not on a tiny shoulder in the dark when the tire is on the road side. When no officer appeared after an hour, and I was worn out of waiting, I called the patrol office again to follow up. There had been an incident, and the officer had to take care of it, but eventually he'll be there, the officer on the phone told me. Also, he reminded me that the California Highway Patrol is not AAA, and would not be able to change my tire. To which I informed him that I didn't need someone to change my tire, I needed someone to provide light, and protection from getting splattered over the highway (I just said "hit" - didn't want to be too dramatic...). Apparently those were the magic words, because he was nicer after that and said the officer would be there as soon as the incident was taken care of.

On a side note, ladies, I asked the officer on the phone to tell me the name of the officer that would be responding to the call - that way I could verify if it were really him/her when the officer arrived. The phone guy didn't think this was odd or anything, and then later when they switched responding officers - he called to tell me, and told me the new name. Stay safe on the roads, ladies!

To continue... I decided to do as much as possible to safely prepare my car to put the spare on (this was my mom's encouragement - frankly it was kind of scary out there and I watch a lot of cop shows, so I didn't feel good about being out of my car... but I did it!) - so that once the officer arrived it would be faster. I went out the passenger side and started taking things out of the trunk so that I could get to my spare - all the trunk items when into the car and I got the spare out put it behind the car, and then got back inside to wait again.

This whole time - to my dad's surprise and frustration, and to my expectation, no one stopped to help me. I didn't have the heart to tell my dad that if some stranger had stopped to help me, I probably would have not accepted - I mean, it was dark and the stranger might be some sort of attacker! (Now in the daytime, would totally accept help, because then passing motorists can see if anything crazy is happening) But anyway, no one stopped or even slowed down.

Well, after about another 30 minutes, the CHP called back and told me Officer McFarlin (sp?) was on his way. The Patrolman showed up and put his lights on my car and I got out to start the work of changing the tire. (Ladies, I should have waited to let him identify himself, but frankly, I was really ready to get out of there!) It is at this point that the story goes from harrowing to sweet and hilarious.

I am a twenty-first century woman. I am single and handy, and often have had to fix things without the help of my opposite sex friends. Changing a tire is not a big deal to me in general, it was just so dark that I didn't want to do it without the patrolman there. But this was the first time I was doing it on the Olds......... which has hubcaps....... I was totally prepared for Officer McFarlin to hold the flashlight and protect me from oncoming traffic while I changed the tire. I had no expectations of him further (though I try to never turn down help when it is offered).

I get the spare over to the front of the car, grab the 4-way wrench and start to loosen the lugnuts (which you have to do before you jack up the car). As Officer McFarlin approaches, I realize I am turning them the wrong way - seriously. But they aren't getting tighter, so that explains my confusion. I say to the officer "I'm turning this the wrong way, aren't I?" because I know I look like a fool, and he says, "Yes, but those are actually the caps....." - which he proceeds to quickly twist off, practically with his fingers. Then he says, "Here, I can do this".... and basically ends up changing the tire almost completely by himself while saying to me, "The most important thing for you to do is to not get hit!"

Officer McFarlin, of the California State Patrol, you are my hero and I'm grateful for your kindness, and your good sense of humor, and your willingness to step in and put on my spare... even though the CHP is not AAA.

Once we got the spare on and the bad tire back in the trunk, I get ready to drive slowly to the summit, to the gas station to fill up the tire with more air. As I'm doing it, I realize both my GPS and Phone need to be charged - luckily, I have this cool "cigarette lighter" expander that plugs into the lighter and has three spaces for chargers. I plug in the expander and the blue light comes on. Then I plug in my GPS and the yellow light comes on.... suddenly both lights go out. Yes, the fuse blew.

You can imagine all the thougths running through my mind now. Mostly things like, "Lord, seriously?" Praise God, I was already planning to stop at the station, and I had extra fuses, and I was able to easily replace the cigarette lighter fuse - and it worked fine after that.

But I lost two hours between being stopped on the pass and getting the car finished up at the gas station and getting myself cleaned up. Ugh.

Well, the rest of the ride home was uneventful. I was grateful to my family for their support while I was stranded, and my parents dozed in the living room until I got home safely... at 2am Arizona time.

So here I am on a Friday morning, with homework to do, and I'm barely awake. I took the car into the shop this morning to fix the mirror and while they were at it, a couple other problems the car is having... and almost $600 later, I am going to be back in business, with a nice mirror, working driver's door, etc. Oh, and I haven't even bought a tire yet. We'll save that error maybe till tomorrow morning.

Anyhow, Yesterday was a day of calamity, but well worth it to have the opportunity to see Derek marry his Pam tomorrow afternoon, and to get a reunion with some of my Greenville favorites.

Blessings, friends!


bleev said...

I love this story. You should be a writer. :-)

fblife said...

What an adventure! You will never forget this wedding! Can't wait to see pictures!

The Bullards said...

Wow! Hilarious. But at the same time, not funny at all. Right?