Visiting Maggie in Seattle we decided to park the motorhome on the Olympic Peninsula, a ferry ride away from all the madness in the greater Seattle area.
I knew I was close to Maggie’s place when I stopped at a Burger King and had to use what little Chinese I know to order a milkshake, “Moo Moo no Baa Baa” seemed to do the trick. You had to be buzzed into the bathroom which is always a good sign that you’re in a great part of town.
We only had a chance to see Maggie three times, but she is busy working. We loved our little place outside of Port Townsend, Washington. It was in a town called Chimacum. I was able to get a lot of walking in. There was a thrift shop about a mile away with a donut trailer in the parking lot. I would walk all the way over, have a couple donuts, and walk all the way back. I felt like a new man. I worked up to three laps before we left, six miles and six donuts.
One day we were out shopping for a desk. Maggie needed a desk and we found one 30 miles south in another cute port town. While there the Saturn transmission began pounding like a sledge hammer hitting a rail spike--not a good thing. We limped home in second gear and started working on a solution. It is hard finding a good mechanic on the road. Going in blind you can often get ripped off. Life’s a crapshoot, and an adventure. You can do all the preparation in the world, but sooner or later you have to throw the dice.
When we returned to the park I asked management and a few permanent residents for a recommendation. I went online and read many reviews. My first thought was to find someone local. I also Googled my problem on several online forums. I made a list of several shops in a 50 mile radius and started interviewing. That’s right, they were going to go to work for me. I wanted someone nice, polite, competent and honest. Everyone I talked to seemed to fit the bill. They were all nice, polite, seemed competent and all had the same diagnosis. From my online studies it sounded like the transmission valve body needed replacing. Everyone I talked to seemed to agree. I finally made a couple choices and decided to tow the car to the transmission shops with the motorhome. It was my birthday. It didn't seem right to spend my birthday at transmission shops, but life is not always fair. I picked two places about 40 miles away in close proximity to each other. If I didn’t like the first one I could move on for a second opinion.
The first guy was really nice. Took the car in immediately, ran the electronic codes, test drove the car and told me I needed to have the whole transmission rebuilt. He had so many code errors my car should have died three years ago. For just under three thousand bucks he could have me back on the road in about a week. That’s when it hit me. Railroad employees always used to say that Jesse James was nice and always polite, but he still took all their money. I paid the $52 for their advice and moved on. When I was leaving the guy said, “Reverse doesn’t work very well.” I said, “That’s okay, I’m not coming back.”
By the time I hauled the car to the next place it was four o’clock in the afternoon. I was hoping they could at least take a look at it before they closed. It was at a business called Tranco in Port Angeles, Washington. It looked very clean and organized. In fact, I think you could eat off the floor. They brought me right in, and let me watch them as they plugged the code reader into my car. Surprise! There were no error codes. They said that 95% of the time it is just the valve body gone bad. They could order one (out of state) and have it there by the next morning. With the hour they had before closing they could have the old one off and ready for the new one in the morning. I would be “Back on the Road Again” for $752. I pulled the trigger, “Let’s do it.” Went out to the Dynasty Chinese Restaurant, spent a quiet, beautiful night camped in Olympic National Park and the car was ready for pickup by nine o’clock the next morning.
My old Saturn is now purring like a tomcat in a creamery. It pays to be a little suspect. Stories do not always have a happy ending, but if you go through the motions, control your emotions and dial out all the commotions, you have a better chance than being treated like lambs to the slaughter.
We seemed back to normal and made arrangements to visit Maggie again the next morning. That night Gaila decided to drive over to the park laundry and do a quick load. As she pulled away from our site she failed to see a large cement abutment placed to protect the utilities for our site. By the time I heard the crash and looked out the window, Gaila was trying to back off the cement and the bumper was hanging low. Luckily the sway bar stopped her before she took out the oil pan and a brand new transmission valve body. Antifreeze was shooting out of the crushed radiator, the fan motor was hanging limp, and three unidentified car parts lay on the ground.
I was afraid to go look because they say things happen in three’s and she was still behind the wheel. It was getting dark, so after a sufficient amount of checking for damage, and swearing to relieve pressure, I went to bed. We wouldn’t be going to Seattle again in the morning.
With new daylight on the situation I figured I could wire up a lot of parts. The main problem was stopping up the radiator. It was crushed in the lower right corner. The nearest auto parts store was about ten miles into town. I decided to ride my bike in to get a few parts, a jug of antifreeze and some magic stopper upper glue.
It was very dangerous riding my bike to town. I had to leave Gaila back at the campground with the car, unsupervised!
I am also amazed at all my cyclist friends who do long-distance, cross-country rides. I find it unnerving riding along a highway shoulder on a twenty-pound bike next to five-thousand plus pound vehicles speeding by. If there is ever a fight, I am going to automatically lose.
Instead of riding with traffic, I rode against it. If someone is going to yell, throw something or run me over, I want to see it coming. On the way back a guy was passing me on the other side of the road. He was a cyclist on a long trip. He had panniers loaded with packs on the front and back of his bike. He was yelling at me!
Through the loud din of the traffic I could hear him telling me I was riding on the wrong side of the road. Since it was so loud I thought I should reply with the universal sign language that everyone understands, but there was enough of a break in traffic that I yelled, “Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau'oli Makahiki Hou,” which is Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Hawaiian. That seemed to sufficiently confuse him, which was my intent. He shook his head, waved me off, and moved on.
Had he been a bit more polite I might have told him he was heading for a narrow bridge and to come over to my side and take the safety path underneath. But because he seemed like such an expert I let him go. Adversity builds character and he wasn’t as much of a character as I am yet.
By the time he figured it all out I was miles ahead of him. When he caught up to me the second time, he didn’t say a word.
Back at the ranch, I climbed under the Saturn with my goop and started slathering it on. A couple applications, a spool of baling wire and a bit of duct tape and she was good as new. I had just replaced the radiator before we left home, so it needed a little breaking in, and now it’s broke real good.
We finally headed for Maggie’s for the last time. We picked up the desk on the way to the ferry. Somehow, we squeezed it into the backseat of the Saturn. We looked like the Clampetts headed for Beverly Hills.
I think I can safely say we dodged the third event. Taking Maggie home after enjoying another visit to Rosita’s Mexican restaurant in Seattle, some idiot blew through a four way stop. Had I not been a bit confused as to whether it was my turn, we would have been in the middle of the intersection when Einstein came through.
This morning we are much more relaxed. We are camped at an ocean overlook in the town of Port Orford, Oregon with a view of sea stacks and spouting whales off our port bow. Life is Good.
--Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird