Delaney’s husband was driving her to the Baltimore, Maryland airport on Friday morning. She was flying to Houston, Texas to attend my nephew (her cousin) Ren’s wedding. I called to say good morning and wish her safe travels.
Annie spent Thursday night in St. Paul, Minnesota at my cousin Andy and Sarah’s house. He would drive her to the airport in the morning. She was also going to the wedding.
I called to wish Annie safe travels. She was en route to the airport with Andy. “When you get out of the car, I double-dog dare you to give Andy a wet-willie. Then, you better run fast because he’s pretty quick for an old guy.” (A wet-willie is licking your finger tip and sticking it in someone’s ear. Gross! I discovered it in elementary school.) We shared a good laugh and she said she would get right on that.
Next, I called Andy. “When you get to the airport, I triple-dog dare you to give Annie a wet-gumby. Then, you better run fast because she’s certainly not afraid to take down an old guy such as yourself.” (A wet-gumby is licking your thumb and index finger, then grabbing someone’s chin. Gross! I learned about it in elementary school.) Andy laughed, saying he would get right on it. Visualizing the mayhem, I chuckled to myself. “This should be good; I wish I was there to watch. Gee, I hope airport security doesn’t lock them both up!”
I was driving across the Florida panhandle, around the Gulf of Mexico, west on I-10. Destination: Houston, Texas. The overhead highway information sign read; TROPICAL STORM WARNING IN EFFECT. “I’ll bet there is,” I laughed aloud, thinking about the pending ruckus I initiated, “and it runs from the Gulf Coast to Minneapolis, Minnesota.”
I would pick up my girls at the airport in Houston. Delaney sent a group message, “I’ve got dibs on the front seat.” Annie quickly responded, “My flight arrives an hour before yours. I’ll already be in the front seat when you get there.” I set my cruise control at eight miles-per-hour over the speed limit, “I’ll beat you both there!”
The race was on. Three people, from separate, far-away places, racing across the country to Bush Intercontinental Airport, in Houston.
Annie texted, “At the airport, through security, boarding soon.” A short time later, Delaney reported the same. I kicked the cruise control up another two miles-per-hour.
Annie was disappointed when telling us her flight was delayed forty-five minutes. She had a connection to make in Dallas-Fort Worth, which is always a mad house. A late departure could cause her to miss the connecting flight at DFW. With a nonstop flight, Delaney declared victory by default. I added another notch to the cruise and snickered - I’m going beat you both there!
Annie was 1,200 miles away; Delaney was 1,400. I was only 550 miles out. Airplanes are faster than cars, but considering the girls had to deal with airport security, boarding, baggage, blah, blah, blah - I could still beat them.
Traffic was moving along well in cities where it often gets congested: Mobile, Alabama, Pascagoula and Biloxi, Mississippi and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But, when I got to the Houston metro area, it slowed way down.
I was thirty minutes from the airport when Annie said she’d just landed. “Darn it. I’m so close.” Within a couple minutes, Delaney also reported landing in Houston. They still had to taxi to the jetway and deal with the baggage claim crowd, plus find each other to meet me outside Terminal A. I hurried as much as anyone can – at ten miles-per-hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
They beat me there, but that was no reason to concede defeat. Being careful not to tell any mis-truths, I said I was driving around outside the airport complex and I would head their way. “I’ll drive by the arrivals lane. If you’re not there yet, I’ll go around. Call me when you are together.” When I drove to the pickup area, they were waiting on the sidewalk.
We said our hellos, shared quick hugs and tossed their bags in the truck. I honestly don’t remember which one got the front seat and neither questioned if I arrived before them or not. It didn’t matter; we were on our way and right on schedule. It was 3:30 in the afternoon, the hotel was forty-five minutes from the airport. We had plenty of time to settle into our room, clean up and make the reception at 6:00p.m.
Just outside the airport complex, the battery light appeared on my dashboard. “Well, that is never good...” I said, also losing my power steering. “…not good at all.” The girls questioned what I was talking about. “I just lost the serpentine belt on the engine, which should overheat in just a moment.” We were in the center lane, at a red light. There was a gas station on the other side of the intersection. I turned on my right signal. “Come on light, turn green.” As the traffic light turned green, the red temperature light came on. Red and green - it was like a Christmas tree…but without the associated joy.
I was about eight cars back from the intersection and needed to get over to the right lane. Fortunately, the car in the next lane, behind me, flashed his headlights, allowing me to change lanes. I got to the gas station, shut the engine down and lifted the hood. Steam rolled from the engine compartment. Is there anything that stinks more than the putrid smell of hot anti-freeze? And, of course it sprayed all over the engine making a big mess!
I called AAA for a wrecker; they said one would be available in 90 minutes. Great. I’m in Houston on a Friday afternoon with a broken car and can’t get a wrecker until after 5 p.m. So much for making the reception.
The girls went to work on their smartphones, searching towing services and repair shops. In just a few minutes, the roadside service people called back, they had a wrecker that could come in twenty minutes, but Delaney already found one that was just five minutes away. Annie found a repair shop that could work us in, seven miles away. AAA recommended Christen Brother’s Automotive Repair, just three miles away. As AAA members, we would get priority treatment, moving to the head of the line. She would let them know I was on my way.
The driver from Humble Towing Service arrived. How appropriate. Although the H is silent, (it’s pronounced Umble) humble was exactly the way I was feeling with all these people helping me get back on the road. The tow truck driver loaded my truck onto the flatbed. We would ride with him to the shop. Here we go again - who gets the front seat?
Delaney jumped in first, I was second, then Annie squeezed into the cab, sitting on my lap. It was tight quarters, but we were on our way. The first mile wasn’t so bad. The second mile, I started to notice, Annie has a really boney butt. I spent the next half mile trying to shift a little, seeking relief. The next quarter mile, I was in pain. Annie’s tailbone was cutting off my circulation and no doubt had broken my femur – probably both of them. The final 2/8ths of a mile seemed like 100 miles long. The driver turned into the parking lot which had a big bump. Ouch! Annie opened the door and we fell out like clowns coming out of a clown car. Whew.
The shop got my truck right in as promised. This shop was amazingly clean. Not only in the customer waiting area, but even the mechanic stalls were clean and shiny. The owner asked if we would like bottles of water and offered cookies and snacks while we waited. It was southern hospitality as good as it gets!
The mechanic came in with the bad news. My serpentine belt was gone, as I suspected. He pumped pressure into the radiator and showed me where the water pump was leaking. “Can you put a new pump on today?” He said yes and the truck would be ready to go between 5:45 and 6:00 p.m. “Go ahead and do it. I can’t drive it home with a bad pump.” I told him, “I really appreciate you guys working me in on a Friday afternoon.”
I called my sister to let her know we would be at least a couple hours late to the party. Patti, and everyone I told our story to, expressed how sorry they were that I had car trouble. “No need to be sorry.” I explained, “I drive over 100,000 miles each year. A car is going to have things that need to be repaired in that time.” I told them, “My repairs are needed out on the road more often than not. Do you know how lucky I am to have this problem in town and not out in the middle of Montana when it’s twenty below zero?” I truly felt no misfortune – just blessings.
At 5:50p.m., the guy at the desk told me, “Your truck is out front and ready to go.” The total bill was just under $500. Again - no misfortune – just blessings. It would have cost me the same at home.
The party was fun. Ren and Lauren had a beautiful wedding. We ate well, danced, enjoyed beverages and got to visit with family and friends – some I hadn’t seen for decades and I met some new friends too. What a great weekend!
Sunday, I took the girls to the airport, then started for home. The weather was threatening; severe storm warnings and tornado watches were issued for much of northern Texas. Fighting strong crosswinds and heavy rains, I made my way up I-35 to Norman, Oklahoma. At least the truck was running well.
I stopped for a couple hours to visit my brother-in-law, Gary, his four kids and his grandkids. We had a blast, but that’s a whole other story! I’m telling you - those kids are mischievous. My nephew Wade, picked me up in his arms, like a groom carrying his bride. They came after me with a can of shaving cream! Luckily, I escaped. After our visit, I drove north to Oklahoma City where I met my brother Gerard for a late dinner. Then pressed on toward home – Minnesota.
The Kansas plains were exceptionally windy. Along the way, I listened to the news on the radio. Not long after I passed through Dallas, parts of the city were hit by tornados that did a lot of damage. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
The wind and rain continued all the way home. The closer I got to Duluth, the stronger the winds. The rain came down even heavier and it was cold! Melissa called to let me know Lake Superior was under a gale storm warning with twenty-five-foot waves expected. Wow.
The highway sign in Florida read: TROPICAL STORM WARNING IN EFFECT. I remembered saying, “I’ll bet it runs from the Gulf Coast to Minneapolis, but I was off a bit. The storms ran way past the Twin Cities, all the way to Lake Superior. Despite all the weather, I made it home safely. Thank goodness for guardian angels!
a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!