We should have just turned the truck around and gone home. This is what I was thinking as we sat in gridlocked traffic on the entrance ramp to I-5. We were driving our friend’s big 1992 Ford 250 pick up truck down to the marina to pick up Puddler. Puddler needs a bottom job and our friends, Chere and Edwin, who leave their truck at our house in exchange for our occasional use of said truck, will be selling this truck at the end of July. We felt anxious to bring Puddler home before that happens and today was a ‘free’ day. We had nothing else planned.
As we approached the freeway we saw that traffic was stacked up in the right hand lane for a least a mile but was moving freely in the other two lanes. Apparently there was an air show at McChord AFB and hundreds of people thought they might actually drive to the show to see it, meaning that traffic would be impacted for miles. We were entering the freeway just before the exit to McChord, so everyone who wanted to go past that exit was in the left two lanes. Mike had to make a split second decision about whether to turn around and go back, or whether to brave the entrance ramp to the highway. He chose the latter. It occurred to us both that the Universe was trying to tell us something about how this day was going to go, but the siren call of Puddler’s need was simply too powerful. We soldiered on. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
After sitting at a dead stop, teeth grinding, for a full 10 minutes, slowly a couple of cars on the ramp bravely worked their way around the traffic, inching up to the front to cut over into the lanes that were moving. Smart people, I thought. They get where they are going, which is NOT, apparently, to the air show, and free up space on the ramp for other cars whose drivers want a place to sit and nap.
Me: “Look, honey. That car has made it past all of these suckers going to the airshow and is now merrily driving down the highway unencumbered! What a smart person!”
Mike: (as he is inching his way forward to do the same thing) “Oh, sure and everyone sitting in this line thinks he is a complete ass because he has cut in line like he is more important than they are.”
Me: “No, they don’t. He isn’t going the same place as everyone in this line. He is making room for others who want to go to the airshow. He’s getting out of everyone’s way.”
Mike: “Well, they don’t know that. They just think he is self-important and should wait his turn like everyone else.”
I wait silently while my spouse does the intelligent thing by colluding with another driver to cross the small grassy median between the ramp and the lane of stacked up traffic. They both make it just fine and the other guy is off and running, but there is now a disturbance in The Force around my husband, who apparently feels guilty because other people are still sitting on the ramp. This disturbance has attracted the attention of our local constabulary. Literally out of nowhere a very loud robotic voice shouts ‘MOVE OUT OF THE WAY! THE MEDIAN IS FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY AND IS NOT FOR YOU TO DRIVE ON!!’ Guiltily, Mike gets out of the way for one of the Washington Highway Patrol’s finest, who drives by without even a nod in his direction, likely on his way to his favorite lunch spot. If that cop could see Puddler’s bottom, he’d agree that this IS an emergency and stop harassing reasonable people who are just trying to get out of everyone else’s way and move on down the road.
As we manage to reach the speed limit, we sigh with relief and say a prayer of thanks to the traffic Gods who took care of that little hurdle. We decide we’ll park down at the Thea Foss Park at the end of the waterway, walk to the marina, and row puddler down to the public ramp for dingies and kayaks.
We are almost there when Mike gets off the wrong exit and we are stopped by road construction. I sigh heavily. Mike rolls his eyes and takes his foot off the brake to accelerate. We’ll have to turn around and go back. Then we hear the noise. It is coming from the engine compartment, I think. It’s sort of a grinding noise, with undertones of ‘death rattle’ and light notes of burning rubber smell. I glance at Mike, who I fear is on the verge of hysteria. He’s either going to laugh maniacally or begin cursing. His jaw is set. He pulls over, opens the hood and does some man stuff. Then closes the hood and decides it was probably the brakes; that they need new pads, and that whatever was making that deathly rattle has gone away now. A veil of denial descends upon us and we both agree that all we want is to get safely to the marina, collect our little boat, and go home. We carry on.
Down at the park the weather is fine and we enjoy a brisk walk to the marina, only having our way blocked a couple of times by a huge gang of Harley riders and more construction. We enjoy a pleasant row down to the park from Moonrise and arrive just as some kayakers are launching. As we pull Puddler out of the water, a man from their group offers to help pull the dingy up the considerable slope to the curb. Excellent! Things are looking up! Mike goes and gets the truck and we load Puddler into the back, ready to go! We love how easy it is to hoist her up into the bed of this behemoth and just shut the gate. She fits like a proverbial glove! Mike inserts the key into the ignition and turns the key. Click. We look at one another. He turns it again. Click. We are parked sideways in a loading zone.
In my mind I think ‘Great. The starter has gone out.’. Now I know why we should have turned around and gone back home before we ever thought about getting on that highway. Shades of a 1964 Ford Fairlane begin a slow dance in my memory. It’s all coming back to me now. 1980. The Ford. The Starter. The trip from Hell. My frozen feet. This must be what it’s like to have flashbacks. That’s a story for another day. At least that Ford was red.
At Mike’s request I rummage around behind the seat and find some jumper cables. I know they are not going to help, but it’s worth a try. A couple drives up with a large aluminum canoe on top of their newer truck ( also a Ford, I might add). Roger and Erin Legg from Tacoma are bringing her family canoe down for a little paddling and Roger agrees to help Mike see if the car can be jump started. Of course, it cannot. So they do some other man type stuff under the hood, trying to find some kind of voodoo magic that will work, but finally agree that it’s something about the starter. I could have told them that, but men, after all, have their own ways of knowing.
We chat for a bit and I find out that Erin is a student in the School Counseling program at University of Puget Sound and, since I used to have student interns from that program, that’s pretty cool. She used to teach English in Prague and since we have a daughter who longs to have a job where she can travel, that’s pretty cool, too. Mike and Roger have histories with the Air Force in common and they both look like they know something about cars. At least old cars. We exchange contact info and help them launch their canoe. I think to myself that if we’re going to be stranded with a huge, broken truck in a loading zone with Puddler in the back, feeling like a couple of Okies, at least it’s nice to meet friendly people with whom we have something in common. It’s always best to try to find something good in these situations.
After contacting our friends and their insurance company, we decide I would row Puddler back to her place by Moonrise. Her bottom, while foul, will have to wait for another day. Mike will stay with the truck visiting with passers-by until the tow company comes and our friend, Chere, picks us up and takes us to lunch. The tide is with me and I have another pleasant row back down the Foss Waterway, back to Moonrise and a little time to myself on the boat.
Lunch with Chere was delightful. It was great to visit with her as it’s been too long since we had coffee together. So what if I overindulged in carbohydrates? Just another nail in this day’s coffin. We drove back to our place and Chere stayed to walk around the garden for a bit and finish our visit. Mike retired to the bedroom for his much-needed nap. When Chere left I made myself useful by loading up the car with a bunch of crap to take to Goodwill. After a day like this it’s nice to end on a positive note. I figured the day was done, nothing else could happen. I was well on my way to putting this day in perspective until Mike joined me in the garage and said one thing:
“I have food poisoning.”
And that is where we stand. At least I ordered the fish.