Day 1 (Tuesday, July 17)
The Trip Starts on a Hysterical Note.
Yesterday (the day before we were supposed to leave), Wayne called to tell me his passport still hadn’t arrived from the government. He’d checked, and the agency said they’d mailed it on Saturday, so it wouldn’t probably arrive until Wednesday. So I blew off cleaning and packing; instead Matt Kranich and I tore apart the truck stereo system (since I planned on having an extra day to putz around). I even unpacked the VCR and rented a movie (The Rock) at 11:30pm since there was no rush
Well, there was a rush after all. Wayne woke me up with a call saying that the passport was in and we could leave. What a wreck that whole morning was, trying to clean, pack, check out, and get last minute items purchased. We’d originally planned on leaving really early in the morning (this was before the supposed passport fiasco), but I ended up not even getting out of the apartment until 12:30. I then had to go to ITA to get my CDR’s and Matt’s house to get ‘The Club’ that he was giving me. So I didn’t actually even get to Wayne’s until around 3. There I found him sitting out in the yard reading a book. We got everything packed up and loaded on, and we were on the road.
We headed south on I-39 towards St. Louis. It was a great road with very little traffic, so we were cruising right along. I was happy to see that Suzy (who had not really been on any trip further than Milwaukee!!) was tooling along at 70 – 75 and holding her own. We got about halfway through Illinois, however, when the roof fell in (literally). It started to rain. And pour. And deluge. What a mess the roads were. We heard later on that tornados had actually touched down in the area as well. That didn’t put an immediate crimp in our plans, but it did slow us down a bit.
As a side note, John Weiss had given me a going-away present of some Mobil gas cards. As a result of this, one of the things we’d started doing right off was looking for Mobil gas stations to fuel up at (something we had to do quite often, since Suzy only averaged between 18 and 21 miles per gallon).
So we pulled off the interstate at Mt. Olive, IL (around 9 at night), since there was a Mobil station in town and since we were riding on fumes. As we rolled down the street, the truck sputtered and died. When I went to start it, however, it cranked a little bit but didn’t fire up. Oops. We were stuck on the side of the street, across the road from the gas station. Out into the pouring rain we went, pushing the truck into the station. We got it in; I put some gas in, but still nothing when we tried to start it. In fact, now it wasn’t even turning over. No sound, nothing – but the lights, radio, and all electronics worked fine.
AAA – here we come. We called Triple A and they sent someone out. In the meantime, Greg, who had a semi truck repair station across the road, had tried to jump the truck and was fussing around under the hood. He said he could do more work on it tomorrow, but he didn’t have the foreign car repair CD for his shop computer. He thought that it was a matter of maybe some bad gas or junk in the fuel tank that was just conking out the engine, and maybe a problem with a relay for the starter. The AAA truck showed up and, after checking and finding we were about 2 quarts low on oil, the guys suggested we try to push start Suzy using the tow truck. We took off the spare tire (so he could push us) and he started to push me around the block hitting the right rear bumper (bending it all out of shape). After 10 minutes or so of trying, the truck did rumble back to life, so I brought it to the gas station to pick up Wayne, and I promptly killed the engine again. Once more around the block, we were running, and both guys suggested we just get on the interstate and run the truck as far as we could, to work out whatever was stalling the motor.
Out on the highway again for about 20 miles, when Suzy died again. The lump in the pit of my stomach was growing by the minute. Here we were, 11 at night on our first day of travel, and the truck is dying in the middle of a rainstorm on the side of the freeway. When I tried to start it, nothing happened – no crank, no noise, nothing whatsoever. What choice did I have but to get out and walk to the next exit? Leaving Wayne in the truck (no doubt contemplating the next week and his $600 return plane ticket), I set out in the rain. I made it over a bridge when a van pulled up next to me and a guy with a CB (“Boys. I picked up the walker.”) gave me a lift to the next town (with a Mobil station, nonetheless). I again called AAA, spoke with a cop who stopped in (“You wouldn’t happen to be from Wisconsin, would you?”) and felt physically ill at the prospect of the truck giving up the ghost.
The second tow truck of the evening came and hauled us to Hamel, IL, at a cost of $20 since it was further that the 3 miles (!) he was paid for by AAA and dumped Suzy in the parking lot of a local repair shop. We took a motel room across the interstate, tried to sort out the clothing that I’d had in a duffel bag on the roof (al soaked), and contemplated a crashing, horrible ending to our first (half) day on the road.