As I left Vermont, I was feeling good. Four amazing days in such an incredibly beautiful setting made me feel refreshed and ready to tackle the next leg of the trip.
I was excited to be going to Boston. First stop would be Cape Cod, where my friend and fellow adventurer, Mary Elizabeth, was currently residing. She retired a year or so ago and hasn’t stopped since. Lived in France for almost a year (I think) and has spent the last year having adventures on the road, traveling everywhere. I was looking forward to spending time with her and seeing Cape Cod. Then I would be on to an area just outside of Boston near two friends in different towns. One set of friends I haven’t seen in more than two decades. The other friend was Anthony, my best friend from China. He had stopped by Los Angeles a couple of times as he and his wife were pondering moving out to LA. They landed in Boston for the immediate future so I was looking forward to spending time with them. And I was looking forward to seeing Boston. I had booked three days at a local state park which was near both places.
I stopped to get gas near the state park as I left. As I pulled out, the car sort of hesitated then jumped into gear. Weird. I had had that happen once in a while and wrote it off as something to do with pulling the Teardrop. But as I drove, the hesitation became more and more frequent. I had a three hour drive to Cape Cod ahead of me so I hoped I could struggle through that and find a mechanic once I got to the Cape.
Panic set in as my route took me through tiny, winding, hilly backroad in Vermont. Why the hell does any map do this? Send you on the most circuitous route instead of directly to a highway or a more traveled road? I struggled up on hill, almost not making it to the top. I couldn’t figure out what to do. I was worried I would get stranded on this little tiny two lane road in rural Vermont. How would AAA be able to get there and get me out? Should I stop at this little one street town and pray that I can find a mechanic who can fix it? And where would I stay? Obviously no hotel around and I couldn’t exactly park my trailer somewhere to wait? I decided I would still struggle on, maybe stopping if I came across a larger town. However, once I got to the highway, the car seemed fine. Any time I was driving over 30, no problems. It was the lower gears that were struggling. My heart stopped as I considered it was probably my transmission. That would basically mean the end of the Embrace The Chaos Tour.
I didn’t want to pull over as I was afraid what the car would do if I did. I fumbled with my phone, trying to see how far it was to where my long-lost friends lived. It was only forty-five minutes away. That made more sense than two-and-a-half hours to Cape Cod. I texted my friends, telling them quickly about the situation and asking if I could come to their place so I could find a mechanic and figure things out, even if it was just for the day. They immediately texted back and said yes.
I held my breath over that forty-five minute drive.
My friends greeted me with open arms and an open front yard where I could park the trailer.
We talked logistics – I could still probably get the trailer up to the state park if they didn’t want me in their front yard while the car was fixed. They assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. She was very concerned regarding COVID as family members have health issues that would make COVID deadly to any of them. I assured them I would stay in the trailer as much as possible, only needing to use their bathroom. They also have a beautiful backyard so we decided I could work out there during the day and just follow simple protocols inside the house – take off my shoes, wear a mask, sanitize the taps, etc., after using the bathroom. I had no problem with any of these requests.
We talked about what to do with the car. They had a couple of mechanics nearby that they had used before but since I had arrived on Labor Day, nobody was open. We decided to just chill for the night and tackle things in the morning. We sat outside in the backyard while he grilled some dinner and caught up. Despite having started as such a shitty day, it ended with happy chatter and hope. I was even able to cancel my reservation at the state park and got most of my money back.
The next day, she called around and reached a mechanic nearby that they had used before. We took the car in, leaving it for them to check out. I’ll post another blog about the fun things we did while all this car stuff went on because while the car stuff was frustrating and exhausting, we did do a lot of really fun stuff. So that will come later.
The mechanic said he would check out the car and suggested changing the transmission fluid and filter, if nothing else. That sounded reasonable. He called later to say he couldn’t find anything wrong and that the car wasn’t hesitating, but suggested replacing the fluid and filter anyway. I said, sure.
I picked up the car the next day and, at first, it seemed fine. But as I drove it, it started sporadically hesitating again. I even had the hubby drive it around the block with me and he also felt it. I had to admit that I didn’t like the mechanic in the first place. He kind of blew me off and treated me as though I had no idea what I was talking about. I honestly don’t think he even drove the car, otherwise he would have felt what we were feeling. She apologized profusely as it was a mechanic she had taken her car to on previous occasions. I assured her it wasn’t her fault. After all, her experiences had all been good.
After driving it for a day or two, I finally gave in and took it to Meineke, a bigger service place. I figured maybe they would have better equipment than the local mechanic had.
Left the car overnight again. Get a call the next day – he says it’s the transmission. I go in to talk to him. He basically tells me the car isn’t worth fixing because it’s 2003 and not worth it. He gave me a rough quote of almost $4,000 to fix it. He didn’t charge me for the assessment and I drove the car back, feeling defeated.
I sat down at the table out back and gave myself permission for a good cry. After all, this would probably mean the end of this trip. I’d have to figure out what to do with the car, how to get the trailer back to LA, how to get Indy and I back to LA. I had just gotten the $900 unemployment bump from California and had about $700 of that left, along with whatever I had in my accounts before that. Still, nowhere near enough money to buy a new used car, rent a car, fly home, any of the options.
By now, I had been in my friends’ yard for a week. My friends could not have been more generous and giving. Even protocols in the house relaxed as it became obvious that I wasn’t carrying the virus, though we continue even now to be cautious about physical contact, still maintaining distance even in the house.
I decided to make one last ditch effort, taking the car to an actual transmission place, something I should have done initially.
Once again, had to leave the car overnight. The next day, Derek, the mechanic, called. I liked him because he was no bullshit. His opinion was that the problem was an on-board computer that affects the transmission. It’s a very common problem with RAV4’s from 2001 to 2006. I did the research and this is absolutely true. If the car had less than 100,000 miles or was under 10 years old, I could have had it replaced for free. Alas, it is neither. The cost would be somewhere around $1,600. A lot less than a transmission but still almost out of my reach. He was also honest – it could still be the transmission but he wouldn’t know until he replaced the computer. Apparently, the previous mechanic had wiped out all the codes that come up when your “check engine” light comes on, so he didn’t have a code to confirm it. And he didn’t want to drive the car around until the light came back on because he didn’t want to damage the transmission. He also suggested leaving the car with him until it could get fixed to make sure the transmission didn’t get messed up. I told him it might take me up to two weeks to put together the money and he was fine with that.
Thanks to some good friends, I was able to put the money together quickly. I told him to order the part and go ahead with the repairs. It would basically wipe me out, but I have to have the car. However, I do have unemployment coming this weekend/early next week and payment from the art students on the first, so I think I might have enough to pay for the car and get me to the next stop or two. But it’ll be tight.
He was supposed to get the part last Friday or this Monday. I called yesterday and he was still waiting on the part as it was coming from California, which is mostly on fire right now. Ugh. He was hoping to have the part yesterday or today, so I’m hoping to have the car back and running perfectly by Friday. There’s still time to light candles, sacrifice a chicken, say a prayer that it’s the computer and nothing else. Otherwise, Embrace The Chaos will come to a sudden and sad end.
Once again, I cannot thank my friends enough for letting me camp in their front yard for the past more-than-two-weeks. They have fed me, brought me doughnuts, spend countless hours talking with me and helping me figure out what to do. The universe always seems to provide good people to help me get through the tough stuff.
I wish I could end with “I got my car back and it’s perfect” but I won’t know for a day or so probably. Hoping it all goes well. My next big stop is to be Washington, DC and then probably on to Nashville, then New Orleans. Trying to truncate the trip a bit so I can get back to Los Angeles in time to vote.
If you feel you want to help with the cost of the car repair or support the trip itself, you can contribute by going to http://www.ko-fi.com/EmbraceTheChaos and buy “miles” – $3 buys one mile so you can buy one or two or ten. There are no fees involved and this goes straight into my PayPal account so it’s the easiest way to help. I absolutely don’t expect anyone to contribute as I hate asking for money at a time when so many are unemployed and facing this crazy pandemic. So don’t feel pressured to do so. I only post this because someone will ask how they can help and this is the easiest way.
Thank you all for your love and support thus far. Here’s hoping Indiana Jones and I are on the road again soon!