Saturday, April 07, 2007

Stranded in a Strange Land

Was leaving Utah a mistake? No, I don't think so. Perhaps it is just my excess of good and bad karma. I think this is the fourth time I have made this statement on my blog, but I'll say it again. I live twice the life of the average person. Things happen to me. Really they do. Everyday it's something new, sometimes big sometimes small. I don't post everything that happens, but literally something strange or ironic happens nearly everyday. A good example of this would be how the computer I am using at this internet cafe froze on me just as I was about to publish this post. It could have happened to anyone, but it happened to me. I don't victimize myself, because I am an optimist through and through and there is nothing that ever really gets me down for more than a moment. I do something ordinary and the extraordinary happens in the process. My experience with taking my computer to CompUSA would be another prime example.

So I left Thursday evening to head out on my long trek to the Atlantic coast. I drive an awesome 1983 Land Cruiser. It's been my dream machine for years now and I bought it last summer. It's easy enough to work on and it's in nearly mint condition. It's rugged, fun and I can run over shit with it. The only truly unfortunate thing about it is that it has never met a gas station it didn't like. It averages about 18 mpg -which isn't too bad considering the engine size and age of the vehicle. In any case, I constantly must fill it up while on this road trip. While on the desolate stretch of freeway between Evanston, WY and Laramie, WY I realized that refueling soon was gonna be imoprtant. I unwittingly followed the Gas Next Exit sign on the freeway to the service road to Elk Mountain, WY, population: 198. The town, or rather village, consisted of several little cabins that appeared to be of original 19th century construction and a few rusty trailers. There was no visible gas station. I turned around and headed back toward the freeway in search of fuel. The next gas service was another 18 miles east on the freeway. I again, extending my trust, followed yet another Gas Next Exit sign at Arlington, WY, population 14. It was indeed even more of a ghost town than Elk Mountain was and I saw no gas station (though I later learned that the gas station was really just a singular pump out front of an unlit ramshackle trading post that closes everyday at 5:00 pm). In a bit of a frustrated panic, I turned around on the road only to watch my battery light on my dash light up and and my engine make a soft clunk before coming to a soft sputtering end. I tried to start it back up but it lasted only a few seconds before dying again. This was not on account of running out of fuel, which would have turned out to have been a much easier problem to solve. It was 1:30 in the morning, pitch black and just over a mile from the freeway. With frustration I popped my hood and only to find that all three belts had come off of their pulleys including my alternator pulley which of course was why my battery light had lit up.

As early as Monday I had paid a friend to replace my power steering pump, only to find that the new pump I had installed came faulty (or so I had thought) and leaked terribly. I had a hunch that this new problem likely had something to do with my new POS power steering pump. With no cell phone signal and already being terribly exhausted from the long drive I decided to camp out for the night in my car. It took me some time to calm my troubled mind in order to sleep. All I could hear was, What are you going to do? What are you going to do? What are you going to do? over and over again in my head. Finally I screamed, I don't know what the hell I am gonna do! SO SHUT UP ALREADY! I gently coaxed myself to sleep curled up across the driver's seat, plastic center consul, emergency brake, and passenger seat. About an hour and a half later I woke up with a start to discover that my car was gently rolling down into a ditch. I had inadvertently knocked the car out of gear while sleeping and gravity took advantage of my error. I quickly hit the brakes and threw it into gear and prevented an even greater tragedy from happening. I was on a steep slope and crunched up against my door. There was no way I was gonna get any sleep after that.

Far away from anything familiar, shivering with cold, and feeling sorry for myself, I cried three tears, swallowed the growing lump in my throat, took a deep breath, grabbed my jacket and began to walk the mile back toward the highway in search of help through the thick, snowy fog. Half way there I found that I had one bar of roaming cell signal on my one bar of battery. I called my brother (who also was making the same journey, but was more than a day's drive behind me). It was a staticky miracle. He said I should call 911, so I did, which was also a staticky miracle. A very nice Argentinian state trooper named Regina Shulmeister was my savior. I sat in her warm Crown Victoria glad to not be alone. We waited for the tow truck and watched the fog rolling around the flashing lights from her police car and the wind ripping the snow flakes in furious circles. Apparently there are two thriving businesses in Arlington. The part-time gas pump/trading post and Ray's Towing.

Ray was a crusty old guy with a cigarette limply dangling from his lips. He wore a pair of stained brown jeans and a denim shirt that had been mis-buttoned so that one end of his collar stuck up into his chin. He had a ragged beard that lined his cheeks and chin and it was difficult to tell if it was intentional or just on account of many days of not shaving. Apparently he was born and raised there. His grandparents homesteaded the land over a century ago. He was very friendly though and I was glad that someone was there to help me.

Ray opened my hood to see if he could put my belts back on and send me on my way, but with his flashlight he was able to see what I had not. He reached down deep into my engine compartment and retrieved the pulley that had come off of my smog pump and derailed the other two belts. This was not looking good. He generously offered to tow me to Laramie in exchange for $286.00. After he got my truck hitched up we drove to the locked and closed trading post where he swiped my American Express and gave me a FREE cup of the worst coffee I have ever tasted. I'm not just saying that for dramatic flavor either. It was really disgusting. I think it was brewed from coffee grounds that were several days old. I took one sip and discretely poured the rest out onto the pavement.

I reached Laramie at 7:30. I was exhausted. Being too exhausted to really care about much else, I had grabbed my toothbrush and cell phone charger and went in search of a place to sleep. Paul, the mechanic at the auto shop where my truck had been towed, dropped me off at a cheap motel that he said was in a prime location being close to all of the best bars in Laramie. So after checking in I marched upstairs to my room promptly fell asleep on my $25.00 motel bed. When I woke up at noon I walked back to the auto shop to find out the bad news.

Apparently my friend who I had put my new power steering pump in had installed the pulley backwards and it caused a chain reaction of SNAFUs including smothering my smog pump with power steering fluid. The irony is that a new smog pump doesn't come with a pulley. If I want to buy a new smog pump with the pulley it will cost nearly $1000. As Paul, the mechanic, explains this to me I remember that Ray had rescued my pulley from precariously resting loosely in my engine compartment. "Oh no, I have the pulley inside my car on the floor." It ended up saving me around $800 in the end. If I had not been off the freeway looking for gasoline and turning around at that place, at that time, my smog pump pulley would have dropped somewhere off on the freeway or who knows where. That is good fortune. All in all I have no idea how much this will cost me, but I guess cost is irrelevant because I'm not planning on staying permanently in Laramie or anywhere near this depressing cold wasteland.

The ironic thing is that with all of the space between Provo and DC of all the places I could have broken down, Laramie Wyoming is where I am. This is the place where homosexual, Matthew Shepard, was brutally murdered in 1998. I remember when it happened. I was in high school at the time and even though I was deeply in denial of my homosexuality and believed that it was a huge moral crime, the story of Matthew Shepard haunted me. Public outcry was significant, and it pushed legislature forward. The most horrific thing however was how the evil Westboro Baptist Church proposed a disgusting monument in Casper, Wyoming, Matthew Shepard's home town in honor of the anniversary of his entering hell. I don't think they ever succeeded in erecting the monument, but I think they are still fighting to put it up. And to think, this is the place where it all started.

It's Saturday, April 7th. I left Provo April 5th and I likely won't get out of Laramie until late Tuesday the 10th and I probably won't get to the DC area until the 13th. Bad things happen, but so do good things. There really is nothing I can do about this unfortunate situation, so there is no sense in fretting about the hundreds and hundreds of dollars this is going to cost me, nor the excessive waste of time. So, I'll just sit in this little internet cafe, hit up the local restaurants, catch up on all the television I have missed over the last year, and avoid all the best bars Laramie has to offer.


playasinmar said...

Sounds like you are one mistaken-for-a-diplomat error away from starring in a Marx Bros. movie.

drex said...

Holy monkey. I'm glad you're a good storyteller, 'cuz that's one heck of a story. Sorry to have you gone from Utah, though I'll do the same as soon as I can get free from its clutches. Also sorry you're stuck in the Wyoming wasteland, but I'm glad you're an optimist. Anyone else would have had a nervous breakdown and given up by now. Don't give up! Good karma has to come your way now, right? (:

iwonder said...

Holy crap man! I hope things are going better now. Let me know when you get to your destination.

Samantha said...

It's not all bad. Laramie has really wonderful people...just ask me...I know...

Sir Robert Chiltern said...

Gosh that's crazy. I really hope things get fixed ok and you can be on your way again.

Mormon Enigma said...

Wow! I'm really impressed at how well you are holding together and taking this all in stride. I would be a basket case by now.