September 4, 2016: Adventures in Driving

We didn’t even manage to escape New Jersey before, on Interstate 80, the car suddenly had the check engine light, the skid light and the error code come on the dashboard.  Not good.  We made it maybe five minutes before the car started to lose power, quickly.  Lots of power, so much so that we could not keep driving.  I had to immediately pull over on the side of the highway, in the middle of nowhere, about ten minutes east of the Delaware Water Gap.  Argh.

So it is now around three in the morning, and the car is dead, and Maria and I are stranded in the dark, on the side of an empty highway, in the middle of north Jersey, on Labor Day Weekend.  I had already scouted out the hotel options before leaving on the drive last night and knew that there was effectively nothing left available anywhere from Newark to Rochester, so stopping at a hotel was not even a reasonable consideration when the car worked and could drive us to one.  So this is extra bad.

Thank goodness I remembered that Liberty Mutual had roadside assistance.  I called them and they had a wrecker come out to get us, for free.  That sure helped to justify keeping a car with good insurance around!  We didn’t get off of the phone with Liberty until about three twenty.  It took the wrecker until nearly four thirty to get to us and then maybe twenty minutes before it was up on the flat bed.  So getting close to five in the morning when we were in the truck and on our way somewhere.

While we were waiting, someone did stop with another truck and took a quick look at the car and noticed that there was a smell of fuel, so he guessed that something was wrong with the engine causing it to misfire.

Once she knew that we were in a truck and that he could drive us somewhere, Dominica set about trying to find us a hotel, anywhere.  This took easily half an hour, maybe an hour.  She called everywhere.  While she did that, we were driving around looking for a garage to take the car to, but we never found one.

Eventually Dominica found that the Baymont Hotel didn’t have any available rooms but would let us hang out in the lobby until someone checked out.  Good enough.  So off to there we went.

It was almost six when we got to the hotel.  We started to drop the car in the parking lot but the front desk guy told us to drop it at the Mavis next door and said that it would be open tomorrow.  We were skeptical but he was pretty adamant, so we figured that we could as easily tow it from there tomorrow as anywhere else so… whatever.

The hotel actually had a room that had broken AC so they gave it to us for half off.  Pheww.  At least we don’t have to sit in the lobby.  But the room was ridiculous, too.  There wasn’t even a private bathroom in it.  The shower was open to the sleeping around and the toilet was right there.  It was kind of a gross room.  Thank goodness that there was a public facility right out in the hallway that we could use easily.

Maria was asleep before I even returned from dropping the car in the parking lot and getting all of the paperwork wrapped up for the room.  Maria managed to get several hours of sleep.  I was up talking to Dominica all night trying to figure out what to do. I was working at the computer by seven and at nine thirty was out walking around and managed to get the car into the shop next door – it was actually open on a Sunday!  We are saved, sort of.

I got back just in time to wake up Maria five minutes before the end of breakfast so that we could eat.  Breakfast was good, eggs, hashbrowns… more than I was expecting.

After breakfast we went over the checked in on the car.  Then we hung out in the lawn for a while, not much to do.  We were checking in on the laptop from time to time.

Danielle left early this morning to come down and get us.  We were sure that we were not going to have any car to drive back in today so it is what it is.  But it is still four hours for her to drive to us so it was going to be a while before she could get there.

We checked out of the hotel knowing that Danielle was coming shortly after noon.  So we just put the luggage and stuff in the auto shop.

At ten this morning, when Maria’s flight was scheduled to arrive in Rochester, Art and Dominica drove up to Rochester and retrieved her suitcase.  She felt much better knowing that at least we had that in hand, even if we had no car.

So the shop determined that we have a dead cylinder in the car and are not going anywhere and that there is nothing that they can do to get me moving again.  They think that it might only be a spark plug, but they can’t be sure.  But there is nothing further than they could do.  But they felt that a local Chevy dealer would be the best bet and thought that we could limp it up there.

Dominica was insistent that we try to drive it the hundreds of miles back to dad’s place.  I kept assuring her that that was impossible.  This went on for hours.

We made the attempt to drive from where we were to Mt. Pocono to the dealer there.  Moving the car around the parking lot wasn’t too bad, but the moment that I needed to pull out onto a real road, I was not sure that the car was not going to just stop sideways in the middle of the road.  Zero power, zero acceleration and I could not tell if it was going to just stall.  Very bad.

After a bit of practice, if I babied the car and did not have an incline I could eventually coax the car up to 30 mph with the needle over the red line.  The car does not shift when the engine is having problems so this made things so much worse since it is an automatic (boy do I hate automatics.)

It took a very, very long time in terrible bumper to bumper traffic to get to the dealer in Mt. Pocono.  We stopped at a gas station and I topped the car off with 93 octane and it immediately improved.  Instead of missing every fire on that cylinder, it only missed them when not at a specific speed, that I could kind of hold while driving about 20 mph. So that is what we did when we could.  We got an octane booster, too, to see if that would continue to improve things, but it did not.

We met up with Danielle at the dealer, dropped the car off with the key drop and headed out.  Four hours back to home, now.

We stopped at the Cracker Barrel in Binghamton and introduced Maria to a lot of Americana and cuisine.  We had her eat okra, hush puppies, hashbrown casserole, corn bread and more.  She loved it.  Quite an introduction to America (or this part of it, at least.)

It was moderately late when we got up to the farm.  We were all exhausted.  Zero sleep for me, not a lot for anyone else.  We visited for a while, the kids were so excited to see Maria.  It’s been a year since they have seen her.

I took Maria over to Geneseo, showed her around town so that she would know what there was and where to go for things.  We went to Pizza Paul’s and she got two slices of New York pizza.  She was very impressed – both by the quality and the size.

Then we went to Walmart and got some stuff that she had not wanted to fly with (tooth paste and other cheap, bulk items.)  Then I got her checked into the Hampton Inn in Geneseo so that she could get to sleep.

It was after midnight when I got home and off to bed, zero sleep in two days. So tired.