RIDING in FLATBEDS
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Originally 8/30 2010
We find ourselves back home, a touch overwhelmed, this, after a brutal trip north.
We spent the weekend doing a thorough walk through and extended test of all the ‘house’ systems in our new home (2004 Airstream Sprinter Westfalia). Rain brought us in before we finished, but all is functioning well (knock on wood).
Left Orlando last TH a week, mid-afternoon, after a couple of different test drives and system walk throughs, the sale paperwork, and the updating of insurance and AAA. Got as far as a rest area south of Jacksonville on I-95 N and the new to (prideful) us camper/RV would not start. Southern Florida AAA farted around trying to get us a flat bed to haul us to a Freightliner 24 hour service facility north of J’ville. After 3 or 4 hours, AAA tells us we do not qualify for RV service until next MN. Now it is close to midnight, I call around to wreckers and get the new to us camper van on a flatbed ($175.00). I am way weirded out by the height of the camper up on the flatbed going under overpasses at 70 miles per hour. After suffering silent anxiety attacks under the first couple highway bridges, I manage to develop a sense that the driver has done this before and knows what he is doing. After that, the flatbed ride through J’ville well after midnight was visually exceptional: lighted skyscrapers, lit waterfronts, the I95 Bridge over the St. John’s River. All of it lit up with the dark of night as backdrop. The eye of the photographer, but sans the camera, I will return to capture that image.
So … we are at the Freightliner facility by 2 AM and trying to sleep but at the same time be aware, in a chilly overly air-conditioned truckers’ lounge. Morning comes; the night shift leaves and pessimistically wishes us good luck. Everybody and his brother that owns a big truck seems to show up at the same time for service. Lots of truckers are told not until MN after the weekend. Go away.
Way busy place, tons of service bays and tons of technicians with laptops hooked up to way huge diesel truck engines: not my vision of diesel mechanics. Not to be forgotten or overlooked, we maintained a visual and physical presence throughout the morning. By noon, we were in a service bay and having a new battery and alternator installed. ($1,300.00) The 200-amp model alternator that was original equipment was only in stock on a parts’ shelf somewhere in Germany; we left with an adequate but downsized alternator (150-amp). The technician (no longer are they diesel mechanics ??) noted that we are going to need a glow plug and a new glow plug coordinator before cold weather sets in; this as we head for northern New England.
So … we beat feet out of northern Florida driving north on I-95 shell-shocked and wondering what and when the next shoe to drop will be. Slept in a rest area just into the state of Virginia and woke up the next AM to find a crack in the new to us vehicle’s windshield (what sound does a shoe dropping make?) The crack did not seem to be traveling and, we theorized, should not get in the way of the NH state inspection. (Fools)
Wait, there is more: Got to the Manchester Airport long-term parking and dropped Debbie off to get the Element and then meet me in Concord at that Mexican place for the evening meal and a break from driving. I am waiting in Concord when I get a call from Debbie still in Manchester that the Element will not start. After some discussion, she tells me to drive home and she will deal with it and be in touch. She finds a tow guy through Northern NE AAA who, after attempting to charge the battery to no avail, tows her no charge all the way from Manchester to Stan’s Service Center in Conway.
Stan checks out the vehicle the next day and it starts right up no problem.
Needless to say ‘shell-shocked’, the both of us; finally are emerging from our self-imposed protective psychological cocoons today. In the end, the camper van will meet our needs and I am sure it will serve us well but the first road trip was the road trip from hell.
Some while later, in the midst of shooting a bicycle century event in the beauty, rain and mists of Franconia Notch in northern New Hampshire the Element refuses to start once again. Northern New England AAA rode to the rescue. A flatbed ride through Crawford Notch brought us home again to Stan’s Service Center in Conway. You guessed it: once off the flatbed the vehicle starts right up first turn of the key. Go figure.
Some time after returning to Conway from the abortive trip south, I called Northern New England AAA just to check in and give them some feedback. I mentioned that I thought it was poor business practice not to have honored our upgrade in AAA service plan as we sat marooned in a pull off in Florida far far from our New Hampshire home. They must have agreed with me because I got a phone call a day or two later looking for documentation on the flatbed ride bill so Northern New England AAA could reimburse us. They were full of apologies for our Florida AAA experience; seems there are different regions, different clubs and different ways of doing business in the AAA world.
The Element, age and the learning curve conspire once again…
So … we are on our way over to a Mercedes Benz service center on the coast of Maine to have the glow plug issue and the engine unit malfunction light addressed but we are not out of the dooryard yet. I am in the Westfalia backing around in the front yard while Debbie is starting the Element to follow me. Seemingly, out of nowhere she is at the driver side window of the Westy looking up at me in frustration and irritation. The Element will not start for her. We are running late and I am feeling frustrated as well. I bring the camper to a halt and jump out to go start the Element. There has been a pattern of it starting for me but not for Debbie. It will not start for me either this time; but even more unexpectedly as I sit there glancing out of the rear view mirror is a 20 foot long 11 feet high camper van slowly (but not) lumbering into and through my field of vision…
“What the Hell!”
In a BIG man’s flash, a 59-year-old man’s flash, I am out of that Element running around to the driver’s side of the camper. Heading towards the rear of the vehicle, I am not sure what I would have done if I had gotten there; only to have this eight thousand five hundred pound vehicle fetch up against a low New England stonewall and lurch upward and to a stop. Yikes (expletive here): heart pounding, I throw open the front door to realize I left the camper in reverse. At this point in the story, I could make all sorts of feeble and lame explanations about my having driven manual transmission vehicles all my life, and underscore my lack of familiarity with automatic transmissions, but no, that would sound feeble and lame. My heart now beginning to return to a semblance of normalcy I put it in Park and walk around the Westy to see four inches of rear end and side clearance between it and the 48″ circumference I-ain’t-going-no-where pine tree that sits mid rear wheel passenger side. Amazingly, there was no real damage other than a few under body scrapes, a detached rear wheel mudguard and a crushed wastewater tube cap.
Can you say: “Bullet missed!” We did!