High Maintenance Supermodels
Being married to someone who can fix anything mechanical—literally—is both a blessing and a curse. (Blessing for me, curse for him.) He has come up with some creative fixes. Not long after we moved to Montana in 1993, something crucial stopped working in my Saturn station wagon (either the wipers or the lights, I can’t remember). The nearest dealer was in Spokane. He rerouted the wiring to a toggle light switch—the kind on the wall in your house—that he mounted under the dash near my left knee. That worked until I could get the car into the dealer a few months later to have it looked at. The mechanics there were impressed with his ingenuity, especially as he also managed to do it without setting off the airbags.
And of course, being able to fix our vehicles has saved us a ton of money, as evidenced by the recent transmission problem in the BMW. The new shop is part of the husband’s retirement plan; when he stops doing concrete, he is going to switch to small engine and auto repair. It is for no small reason that he is also Deputy Chief of Fire Operations and is responsible for looking after our fire department’s fleet of engines.
And now, the story of where I disappeared to for three days:
DD#2 and her friend came home last weekend so the husband could replace the failed heater core in her 2014 Jetta diesel sedan. She bought that car last fall, largely due to the great experience I had with my Jetta diesel wagon before the big recall. It has been a reliable car since then, heater core notwithstanding. The husband spent all day Saturday buried in the engine compartment, but when he was done, the heat was working again.
The girls left here Monday afternoon. They planned to spend the night in Spokane visiting friends before heading back to Seattle. DD#2 had to be back at work on Wednesday. About halfway to Spokane, just as they had gotten onto I-90, the temperature light in the car went on, followed by the check engine light. Our kids know to pull over ASAP when that happens. They got the car to the nearby exit where there was an Exxon station and called us. One of the clips holding the radiator hose had come loose. (Apparently, hose clamps on cars are now passé.) A very nice gentleman at the gas station came over to see if they needed help. He got on the phone with the husband and then helped the girls get the hose reattached. (DD#2’s friend did much of the work because her hands were the only ones small enough to reach the hose.) They were able to get to Spokane, and DD#2 called the VW dealer and made an appointment to have the car looked at the following morning.
The dealer checked the car over, flushed the coolant and replaced it, pronounced the car fine, and sent them on their way. About 125 miles later, though, the temperature light came on again and they discovered that the coolant level was dropping. The husband had advised them to get a couple of gallons of distilled water just in case, so they were able to top off the coolant and keep going. They had to top it off again after they got over Snoqualmie Pass, but managed to limp into Seattle, tired and hungry, Tuesday evening.
Unfortunately, all of the VW dealers in Seattle had appointment wait times of two weeks or more. The husband came home Wednesday afternoon—just as I was admiring the crate of apples Susan and I had picked that day and contemplating how many jars of pie filling I could make—and said:
“Do you have time in the next couple of days to go to Seattle and pick up [DD#2’s] car?”
The short answer to that question is, “I am unemployed and have nothing on my schedule,” but it was thoughtful of him to ask the question anyway. (As a matter of fact, I did have a podcast interview scheduled for Friday morning but I was able to cancel that. Hopefully, it will be rescheduled.) I knew it was killing him that he and the car were not in the same zip code. And we all know that it doesn’t take much arm twisting to convince me to take a road trip. I made the necessary arrangements, packed my Annie’s Ultimate Travel Bag (the one I made last spring), and headed out in the police cruiser early Thursday morning.
[That police cruiser, BTW, is probably the best $4000 we ever spent on a vehicle. DD#2 drove it for five years and it has saved our butts on more than one occasion. The AC is inconsistent and that V-8 engine sucks up a fair bit of gas, but it drives well. People tend to get out of the way when they see it coming, which is an added benefit.]
If you power through and don’t stop at every Joann Fabrics between here and Seattle (there are four), the trip to Seattle takes about nine hours—eight hours to get to the outskirts and another hour to drive the last 20 miles because of traffic. I pulled into the parking lot at DD#2’s Nordstrom at 4:30 p.m., just as she was scheduled to go on break. I love to see DD#2 in her natural habitat. We went to the grill inside the store and had dinner and discussed the car situation.
The working theory at that point was that the car was losing coolant because of an engine issue, with the worst case scenario being that it would need a new engine. We just didn’t know. And because we didn’t know, I had an entire flow chart of contingency plans. I was staying at a hotel in Mill Creek, where DD#2 is currently living, but I had to get back down I-5 to I-405 to I-90, and then I had to get over Snoqualmie Pass. Would the car break down on the shoulder of the highway? Would I have to stop and add water every 20 miles? Was water mixing with the oil? Would the engine have a meltdown halfway up Snoqualmie Pass? I knew the husband wouldn’t have sent me on this mission if it was frankly dangerous, but it wasn’t without a few risks.
Getting to and over Snoqualmie was the big issue. I figured that if I had to, I could get the car towed to Spokane once I was out of the mountains. I did not want to have to deal with the spaghetti bowl of going through Bellevue to the interchange where I-405 meets I-90—it’s awful, trust me—so I looked at the map and found the back way around Bellevue down to I-90. Coincidentally, that route went past the BMW dealer where I bought my car AND it went right past DD#1’s office. She doesn’t work on Fridays, but her office was about 25 miles from the hotel. Stopping there would give me an opportunity to check the car and also a place for her to meet me if there was an issue.
I waited to leave until 9 a.m., hoping to miss the worst of the rush hour traffic. We topped off the coolant tank. DD#2 took the police cruiser and headed to work. I held my breath and got onto the highway, staying in the right-hand lane and driving conservatively. I made it to DD#1’s office and texted the husband while the car cooled off. It seemed to be running well, or at least not running like a car with a serious engine issue. I couldn’t see any obvious leaks. I topped off the coolant again and got back on the road, planning to stop again at the summit of the pass.
Being Labor Day weekend, there was a lot of traffic going over the pass. I hung with the semis in the right-hand lane and let everyone else zoom past me at 80 mph. When I checked the coolant level again at the summit, it seemed to be holding, so the husband told me to keep going. (It had taken me more than two hours to get from the hotel to the top of the pass, which is twice as long as normal, even in traffic.)
One of the benefits of having traveled the Kalispell-to-Seattle route so many times is that I knew where I could stop safely. I would have hated to make that trip in unfamiliar territory. Once I had a handle on how fast the coolant level was dropping, I was able to calculate how often to stop. But because I had to stop every 45 minutes or so, however, and because I was driving more slowly than normal so as not to stress the engine, it was clear that I wasn’t going to make it all the way back to Montana in one trip. I rolled into Spokane just before 5 p.m., checked into the hotel, and turned on the Weather Channel so I could watch the hurricane coverage. I had added half a gallon of distilled water to the coolant tank on the first part of the trip. The husband revised his theory to something other than an engine issue.
I left Spokane at 6:30 the following morning. My plan was to take I-90 all the way to Missoula and then go north to Kalispell. It adds a good bit of distance and more than an hour to the trip—and I lost an hour with the time change—but I didn’ want to get stuck on a back road with no cell service. I pulled into the driveway just before 2 p.m.
The husband says the water pump is leaking and needs to be replaced. I commented that it was nice of the water pump to wait to malfunction until he had replaced the heater core so he would have to take the car apart twice. He said these newer cars are like high-maintenance supermodels. In order to replace the water pump, he is going to have to take the timing chain off, which I gather is no small job. The water pump has been ordered. I have to go to Portland and Seattle later this month for that denominational board meeting, so I will take the Jetta back with me then. In the meantime, DD#2 has the police cruiser.
It is September 1, the beginning of meteorological fall, and I am back to being pianist at church today. I am going to hope that I can resume something resembling a normal schedule this week. If nothing untoward happens, I will be making pie filling tomorrow and applesauce on Tuesday.
While I was gone, this arrived in the mail:
I’ve been trying to be good about not acquiring any more fabric, but I’ve had this on my wish list for a while now. It’s been out of stock for weeks at Fabric.com. I thought that was a good thing and that I would have forgotten about it. It is still out of stock there, but I found an Etsy seller who had some and I went ahead and ordered a yard. I thought I might use it for the Metro Hipster bag—how cute would that be?—but now I am thinking an apron instead. We’ll see. This is the same Robert Kaufman line as the black and red fabric I used for the Fika Tote. It’s 80% cotton and 20% linen.