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9/30/00 - Leaving Portland, Hello York christina merrill

After some delays on my part, the Berts and I finally departed, pulling out of Christina's driveway around 9:30am, waving goodbye. I marveled at how great the brakes felt, testing them out slowly and carefully as I made my way to the Interstate.

Yes, finally on my way heading South on I-95, on my way out of beautiful Maine and on the way to Buffalo, NY. The exhaust leak was pretty loud, louder than I remembered it being. I turned up the cassette player, Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" album barely audible even as it blared behind the exhaust leak's roar.

I turned the music back down and thought about the noise, wondering if I would be able to stand it for the next four hours. I noticed that I was unable to pick up speed - I was hovering around 55 mph. I tried to rev the engine a little to get it moving up to at least 60 mph when I heard a clang and a clunk followed by a continuous, rhythmic clang-a-clang-clang.

Not good. I eased over to the next exit, slowly, holding the RV steady, and crawled at about 15 mph off the Interstate, turning right and rolling into the nearest truck stop, Howells.

I knew things had to be bad when heads started turning toward the sound of my noise. One older man stood pumping gas into his truck and shook his head. I got out and started up a conversation with him.

"Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it?" I asked sheepishly.

"Yup. I was thinking it sounded pretty bad," he said. "I heard a racket and looked and thought 'that sure sounds bad.'"

"Do you know of any auto repair shops open on the weekend?"

"The closest one is right down the road there. I can take you to it and see what they say."

I checked the oil first it was full. Then I tried to start it up and it wouldn't start. So I took the man up on the offer of a quick ride up the street to the nearest service station. He was in his 60s and his name was Tom and he was on his way to cut some yards, towing two mowers on a trailer behind his vehicle.

Tom helped me roll my RV backward into a small dirt lot next to the truck stop so I'd be out of the way. Chihuahuas in their Sherpa bag, I got into his vehicle.

"I couldn't leave you stranded. My father always said "if you see someone broke down on the side of the road, don't leave them stranded.'" Tom said, then told about the time he broke down and was able to pull into the lot of auto repair shop, only to have the owner tell him he didn't have time to repair it. "I said I'd do it myself and he told me to move off his lot to do it. But I couldn't. So I offered to call the State Police and we did. And the State Police told him I could stay there until I fixed my car."

Time for a Tow

At the service station, they said they couldn't take my RV because it was 1000 pounds heavier than what they were equipped to handle. So he called National Wrecker for me and put me on the phone.

"When you tried to start it, did it click or was it a hard start?" the guy from National Wrecker asked.

"I don't know. It didn't click. It made noise. What does a hard start sound like?" I was seriously trying to understand how to imitate car sounds which I realized was a major way of communicating car troubles.

"Was it a high WRWRRWRRR WRWRRWRWRR or was it a short WRRR?"

"The second one."

He laughed. "OK, well that's a little bit of good news."

"But it made a loud clanging while I was on the highway."

"OK, well that's a bit of bad news. I'll be right there to check it out."

He told me I'd have to pay $40 for him coming out and another $50 per hour labor. I was looking at about $100 just to get an idea of what to do next. I said that was fine what else could I do? my rv towed

Tom took me back to the truck stop and to my RV.

"Are you still in school?" he asked, making me feel 10 years younger.

"No, I've been out of school for a while. I'm a writer."

"Where you headed?"

"Montana. I just wanted to drive across the country."

"My father always said 'opportunity only knocks on the door one time so take it.' Now's the time to do it." He went on to explain how he and his wife just needed to see five more states before they'd been to all fifty with their trailer.

A little while later, a big National Wrecker truck pulled up and a big guy in black with sunglasses on got out, looking more like a musician than a mechanic. He crawled under the RV and took a look around. Opened the hood, took a look inside.

"Had a lot of expensive work done already," he said, noting the new belts and hoses. Started up the RV and shut it off. "You must be bummed," he said, extra emphasis on the word bummed. Turned back to look at the RV again. "New brakes, new rotors."

"Yeah, just had them done yesterday."

"You must be BUMMED."

He called for a tow truck, and I told Tom he didn't have to hang around any longer, thanking him for taking so much time to make sure I was okay. "Just couldn't leave you stranded." he said again as we went on his way. mirror view

We were towed to Bob's Automotive in York, Maine, and the tow truck driver did some crazy, fancy maneuvers to back the RV into a perfect parking space between two downed cars, in front of some overgrowth and brush. The auto shop was closed but I figured I could boondock (RV without electric and water hookup). The shop was on a quiet road and the RV was set back, away from the road. The area around was thick with trees so it felt private and secluded enough to be safe.

Camping at the Auto Shop

A few hours later, after I had settled into the RV, made some food, even read the local newspaper that I had found in plastic in front of the shop, I heard a car pull up on the gravel. A man got out of a car and went into the shop so I got out of the RV and walked toward the car.

"Are you Bob?" I asked. He nodded. I explained my situtation and pointed to my beautiful but immobile RV.

"The wife and I just got back from closing up our trailer for the winter," he said. "Do you want electric?" he offered, and began pulling a long extension cord from the side of the shop. An offer I couldn't refuse, and I pulled my power cord and power adapter out, and voila! Electricity!

He said it wasn't a problem for me to camp out there, but the shop wouldn't open until Monday. He would, however, be by tomorrow - Sunday - to work on his daughter's car. He listened to my description of the engine noise and shook his head. "Sounds like it will need a new engine." My heart sank. "But we'll check it out Monday, or tomorrow if I have time."

When I told him about my travel plans, he smiled. "The wife and I were planning on driving around the country in a motorhome right after I retired from the Air Force. Then she got pregnant with twins. That kind of put the KABOSH on the whole plan." he chuckled.

I watched as he drove away, then settled back into the RV for the night.

10/1/00 - Yes, I'm Still in York

Sunday morning, early, Bob showed up with his daughter's car and began work. A few hours later, his wife pulled up in her car and came over. "Bob told me about your situation. I'm on my way to church, but I can stop at the store after if you need anything." I gave her some money to pick up some ground hamburger meat for the Berts (of course, I didn't tell her she was buying good, people food for my little chihuahuas).

Spoke with Bob for a while as we worked on his daughter's car. He showed me the head gasket and some discoloration which revealed a problem, taking the time to point out all of the mechanical clues which revealed why the car was having a hard time starting. He talked about his time in the Air Force as a mechanic, and as he cleaned up, I was psychically trying to tell him to check my RV. But in my typical "I don't want to impose on you - let me disappear into the woodwork so I'm not an imposition" way, I didn't say anything.

I went to sit in the sun with the Berts, reading magazines, and after a while, Bob drove away, waving. I was kicking myself for not saying simply "Hey, Bob, would you have time to check my RV right now, just so I know what is going on." I was a wimp of the highest order. And I was here one more night without knowing what was going to happen next.

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