Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Nature of Mojo

The quote of the weekend became, "Wow, there is some bad mojo around that flat." We had ridden without incident to the beach, where we would be meeting friends. We were early though, having taken the whole day off and headed out early. So we stopped by another friend's house, napped, and hung out on their dock. We then went to meet our host-friends for dinner at Port of Call, a delicious restaurant in Salter Path. The waitress was nice, but our friends were late, and we ended up making ourselves at home, plugging in our phones and helmets and starting to cut up a bit in the corner. Our friends eventually arrived, and then we got really loud, ultimately closing the place down, with the staff pleasantly but firmly wishing us ON OUR WAY. In the parking lot I had a squirrelly experience pulling out of the spot, so I checked my tires, but all seemed fine. We headed off and in a few minutes, were pulling into the driveway of what would be our weekend home. It was lovely--perfectly decorated, welcoming, and delightful.

The next day we got up for breakfast, wandered around the town a bit, and even went for a walk. At 2, when we got ready to go out on the bikes, I discovered my tire was flat. By contrast to my last flat experience, my life was never in danger. My tire went flat in the driveway.  It was obvious, though, that whatever caused it had already started the night before, when I felt something weird in the parking lot.

And then began the series of small but significant problems that would become the most bizarre and frustrating weekend I have had in a long time. There were no tragedies. No one was hurt. No one suffered. But in spite of all this, one of us was heard to say (and the rest of us agreed), "I just want to curl into the fetal position and have a good cry."

So first, to set the stage, I have AAA for just such an occasion! A tow package. Specially designed for recreational vehicles like motorcycles. We called the very nice lady on the phone. She was happy to hook us up with a tow service. She was happy to call local shops and get us taken care of. Oh, but wait, motorcycle shops at the beach close at 2 on Saturdays. And then open again on Tuesday morning. Tuesday. Morning.

We called everywhere. The very nice AAA lady called everywhere. No dice. I told her we would wait on the tow, and I would get back to her.

We looked into fix-a-flat. Each can at the gas station stated in big, clear, bold letters, "NOT FOR USE ON MOTORCYCLES." We looked up fix-a-flat on the internet, which we could access intermittently from our phones. The 21st century is AMAZING, and I hold access to almost the entire knowledge of mankind IN MY HAND. But not at the beach. At the beach, you watch the spinning circle of lines spin on your phone. And spin. And spin. And spin. Almost the entire knowledge of mankind, stuck behind a spinning circle that will not relent.

But eventually we were able to discover that there are no hand-held, aerosol-can, fix-a-flat-style products that would be safe to put in motorcycle tire with a tube. And besides, I would not have trusted any such product to get me home, which left us back at the dilemma that the bike shops weren’t open till Tuesday.

But then our friend said, "I have a trailer hitch I have been wanting to put on my car. If you help me get it on the car, we can rent a trailer from U-Haul. We can trailer it back to Durham, getting everyone home in time to get to work on Tuesday, and then you can take it to a shop you know and trust."  Yes! What a great plan!

And this is where the true bizarreness of the weekend kicked in.

Around noon on Sunday, we pulled in to the Lowe's parking lot where the men were going to install the trailer hitch. The women folk shopped around Lowe's, oohing and ahhing at the Halloween decorations, considering faucets, and envying the Maytags. We blew about an hour, and then headed to join the menfolk, who most certainly must be nearly done with the hitch by now.

But no, they were still working on getting the bumper off. Older cars, such as we drive, have lots of rust and goo and age on their bolts, and this bumper was bolted on with serious determination. They had been working an hour and had two more bolts to go.

The women folk wandered to the nearby coffee shop with its free wifi. We caught up on all the internet happenings of the last few days, wrote the "Friday" blog post, and essentially spent several hours awaiting the men. Finally we texted them, hours later. The news, "Only two more bolts to go."


I learned later it was not the same two bolts, but rather, with each unbolting, they uncovered more. And each bolt took forever, as over a decade of rust, highway goo, and weight bore down. Over and over they prepared for the victory cry, and over and over, they were met with more bolts.

So when we strolled back over to the car an hour later, now truly FIVE HOURS in to this process, the bumper was at least off, but the men were struggling with a large bolt under the car that was in the way of the hitch. The four of us spent the next hour working with that bolt. And by “the four of us,” I mean the two men working the bolt, and the two women cheering them on as they made microscopic progress. We purchased an iron pipe to insert over the wrench handle to create more leverage. By the end of the process, the pipe was mangled. The bolt stubbornly stuck, but with each attempt, we saw the tiniest bit of progress--enough to keep us trying.

We took breaks periodically to re-assess. Should we be trying a different tactic? Should we go completely to plan B? Ultimately we kept trying. During one conversation we were interrupted by the sound of a loud explosion off in the woods.  My anxiety level was already through the roof, and the thought of whatever it could be certainly didn't help. However, no one else appeared to be reacting. The electricity in the shopping center didn't even flicker, and we decided a transformer had blown on a different line. Meanwhile, the parking lot emptied. Over to our left, a n SUV pulled up with the radio blaring. He waited a few minutes and then a Lowe's worker came out, screamed happily as the driver dismounted the car, and they embraced in a hug of the long-since-seen. They chatted briefly, and then she returned to the store, shouting over her shoulder to finalize the plans they had just made to get together at the end of her shift. Soon enough the lights dimmed, and Lowe's closed, while we fought that bolt.

We continued on our quest. Line up the bolt remover, line up the wrench under it, lock them in place. Slide the iron pipe over the wrench handle. Push, pull, stabilize. The men continued, the women cheered them on. It was after 7:00, no lie--we had been in the parking lot for more than six hours--when BAM! The bolt sheared off, toppling the wrench, the iron pipe, and the human pushing it. Boom. Gone. There was now no way to get the bolt out.

But in the end it was ok. The menfolk were able to get the hitch on the car, albeit a little crooked. The womenfolk, meanwhile, had been internetting and phoning to find a restaurant with crab legs, to tame the wild cravings growing restless and strong in the workermen. We called the restaurant and begged them to stay open while we headed over there.  At 8:45 we rolled in, were seated in the way-back, and then ate. Those who partook of the crab legs were pleased, as crab legs were exactly what they needed. Those of us who ate otherwise were less happy (the food there was kind of crappy), but we were hungry and had reason to celebrate the attaching of the hitch. The bumper was not re-attached, but we (the men) could do that in the morning before we picked up the trailer. According to the internet, a U-Haul renter about 30 minutes away had a trailer, but they were closed on Sundays, and I didn't trust that they would surely have it till we were able to reach them by phone.

The normal people in our bunch watched a movie before going to bed, but I-the-anxious fell sound asleep. This was all just too much for me.

The next morning was more of the same. The initial assessment to put the bumper on looked like it would be a difficult task, as now the hitch was in the way of the wrench. More importantly, we needed to get it wired first. The men set to work. More hours passed. It was about now the talk began about curling up into the fetal position. A call was made to the U-Haul place, a message left, but we had not yet heard back. The men went off to the auto-parts store to find the needed thingamajiggy to wire the lights. They did not return. An hour crawled by. A second hour. I texted. I heard nothing. Finally I got a call. They were on their way back. The needed parts did not exist on the east coast. They had reached the U-Haul people, who had the trailer, and were willing to assist with the wiring, provided we could find that thingamajiggy. They transferred my workerman to their service center. He talked to them for over 30 minutes, describing the situation, the needed part. Yes, yes, they understood. They had what he needed. No problem. Man said, "We will leave right now. Where are you?" Nice service center phone parts person said, "Ottawa." Man turned to manfriend, who was waiting to punch the location into the GPS, and said, "Ottawa, North Carolina." The nice service center phone parts person overheard him. "No, sir. We are in Ottawa, Canada."


Thirty minutes wasted. UGH! The men returned to the beach house to relay the tail of the Ottawa service center phone parts debacle. UGH. Meanwhile, they had also placed a call to the U-Haul people who had said they MIGHT, if we beg hard enough, be willing (for they were surely able) to "work something out." We waited. They called. Yes, they could wire the hitch for us. 

FINALLY, some good news.

We then went to the U-Haul place, and waited while the very pleasant people wired the hitch, then hooked the trailer up to the car. I just kept handing them my credit card. Whatever it took. Let me get this situation to a point where I believe this is actually going to work. And frankly, we were STARVING. By now it was late in the afternoon and we had been focused on this situation all day. We desperately needed food.

Once the trailer was attached to the car, my anxiety level finally dropped. I had been running in near-panic mode since Saturday at 2. Now, 48 hours later, I could breathe.

We ate at a steak house, where the waitress acknowledged she was brand new. Apparently the training consisted of letting her work the lunch shift alone. We took pity on her, especially when it became clear she knew nothing about steak. At a steak house. It's not exactly rocket science. But she was sweet and kind and did her best, and we were happy to eat. Eat eat eat.

Meanwhile, it was now after 3:00 and we were still hours from departure. The trailer had a large sign posted backwards so that it could be easily seen from the driver's mirror. MAXIMUM SPEED 50 MPH. It was going to be a long ride home.

We cleaned the house we were staying in, packed everything up, and eventually all the stars aligned just perfectly such that we could head back home. The two-and-a-half hour trip from this beach took over six hours with the trailer and the frequent stops for Bill, who was still on a motorcycle, to get gas. It felt like the middle of the night when we were finally pulling the trailer in to our driveway. Thank the stars above, we were home.

The next morning we took the bike to Combustion where we could be assured of good work. I had needed a new front tire when this back tire went flat, so I went ahead and ordered that, along with a much-needed service. Ultimately they discovered a nail in the rear tire, the cause of all our travails.

But then came the adventure to return the trailer. We had an address, and the name of a business, "Korean Express." I pictured a restaurant, with U-Haul rental out back. We drove down Alston Avenue, past the series of commercial fronts, past the residential section, back into a commercial section, back into residential. Rolling, rolling. Finally I saw a fenced area that looked like the kind of place that would rent for U-Haul, but it was closed, like permanently. Oh no! Was Korean Express gone??? But no, that address was slightly off. Oh, there! Two driveways down. Oh yes, a U-Haul. We pulled around a building and into the lot, and there, enormous, were three "Korean Express" trucks, clearly a wholesaler of cheap plastic crap. We burst out laughing, taking in the absurdity of the trucks backed against a closed warehouse, the large pixelated pictures of their wares plastered onto the trucks. Off to the left, the door said, "U-Haul. OPEN." We went in to find a teenager in basketball shorts and flip-flops watching something (let's call it PG-rated netflix) on his computer. He minimized it immediately when we entered, and jumped to his feet. Kind, helpful, and professional while simultaneously projecting, "Ack! Get out of here!" He perused the paper work, leaned out the door to spy the trailer dropped off in the lot, and waved us cheerfully, oh so cheerfully, on.

The entire adventure, including the work on the bike that needed to be done anyway, ran close to $1000, and I came in to work on Wednesday to learn I had been laid off, that my contract would not be renewed in February. I still had a job till the end of January, at least, but now I am on the job hunt.

Suddenly the mojo of the trip became clear. It was all leading up to that moment.

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