Fueling Up, Powering Down

Normally, January would be reserved exclusively for blog posts that tie all the loose ends of my travels abroad into nice little bows. However, yesterday was truly a blog-worthy day if I’ve ever seen one!

I got to breakfast at 7:15 when it opened, as usual, and hurried back to my dorm to finish a few pieces of Hungarian translation and bilingual video captioning before heading out for the a while. The goal? Les Miserables at Celebration Cinema with a matinee coupon.

What actually happened? Gas station. 3 hours.

Let me preface the rest of this post by noting that I have never actually read Les Miserables, although it is certainly on my list of great classics to read (along with The Great Gatsby and 1984, for example). However, after hearing all of the glowing reviews of this movie and realizing that January is probably the only time until summer that I’ll actually have the time to go see a movie, I decided to go. 

Out in the parking lot, I chipped the ice off of my windshield and hopped in, punching the address of the theater into the GPS (no, you Grand Rapidians, it’s not playing at Woodland….) and hooking up the MP3 to my aged car’s dash. Fordzilla, my trusty 20-year-old Ford Escort, grumbled a little as I started her up, but she hobbled out of the parking lot much in the way she always does. 

I turned onto the Beltline and switched to the left lane so that I could veer off into a gas station before I made my way to the theater. Once in the turning lane, Fordzilla grumbled again and gave a little lurch forward. Strange….I thought, more focused on the incoming traffic than the car. Suddenly, I took my foot off the brake to swoop into the gas station when the Ford grumbled, snorted, bucked forward, and then abruptly went to sleep.

There I was, sitting in the two-way turning lane, my front end a few inches into oncoming traffic, and Fordzi wouldn’t even turn over when I tried the ignition again. 

Silence. The only sounds I heard where the muffled whoosh of the cars zooming by on both sides of the beltline around me and the futile clicks of the keys as I turned them in the ignition. Not even a grumble from Fordzilla this time. 

I tried everything from turning the wipers on to taking the key out and putting it back in before I realized that she just wasn’t going to start and that I needed to get out of the car. In the meantime, people were backed up behind me and there was nothing I could do.

Oh the irony of running out of gas in front of not one but two gas stations. I called my mom, who also told me to get out of the car (which is what I was going to do anyway, as I had intended to dash over to the gas station). She suggested that I buy a fuel can and refuel on the road. 

Instead, I called AAA. It’s free for them to bring me gas, and that way they can stand in the middle of the beltline and refuel a car. I’m sure they’ve done it before. 

At the gas station, I quickly spouted off my membership number to the rather grumpy lady on the phone, and after a long series of questions she said that a tow truck with gas would be there within the hour. I waited for 28 minutes, having sporadic conversations with the clerk behind the desk in the Shell station, before I saw a huge truck pull up with a big red “Grand Rapids Towing” stamp on the door. He pulled straight in front of my car, taking up a huge portion of the turning lane, then hopped out and jerked back the lever to pop my fuel door open (which, in my old car, happens from the inside, as there is no notch on the fuel door to open it). He kept glancing at me, so I scurried back across traffic during a stop light down the road to meet him next to my car. He asked me to start her up, so I leaned in reluctantly, unwilling to find out if there was some greater problem than me not having gas — my gas gauge has been impeccably accurate for quite a while now, and it said I still had about 3 gallons before he put the fuel in. More than enough to move me 20 feet into the gas station, I’d imagine. Usually, four gallons is enough to move me the entire length of the Ohio Turnpike. 

I turned the key hesitantly, a relieved smile coloring my face when Fordzilla started with no problems. The mechanic smiled at me and said, “You’d better run across the street and get some gas!”

I grinned back and said, “You bet!”

He backed his truck away, and I whipped into the gas station at pump #2 to refuel. As I was taking the cap off my fuel tank, I noticed an employee with one of those “sticky poles” changing the prices of the gas to $3.36. I whirled around and punched the 87 button quickly, glancing up at the pump screen. Price per gallon: $3.16. Victory.

However, my happiness was a bit tempered when the pump shut me off at 6.6 gallons. The AAA driver had only put in a gallon, so I’d had gas the entire time, just as my meter said. Shrugging, I decided that I’d sort through it later. I got back in my car and turned the key, happy to hear her grumble. Rather, it was a grumble, then a cough, then a I give up. She sputtered and went out like a candle.

I put my forehead on the steering wheel and turned the key again with predictable results. Again and again I tried, but she just wouldn’t go. Dejected, I walked back into the gas station. The clerk was surprised to see me, and I simply said, “Well, it’s better than being stuck on the beltline.”


By then, it was a little after noon, and I’d left before 10:30. I had no choice but to call AAA again (thank goodness for free services). First, I called the tow truck guy who’d just been there to ask if he could just come back or if I had to start a new file with AAA. He chuckled and said, “Aren’t you the girl I just delivered gas to?” He told me to start a new incident report, so I thanked him and got back on the line with a much kinder AAA lady. Although she repeated much of my information incorrectly, she did eventually get it all down right. Once again, she told me they’d be there within the hour, and I gave them the address of my trusted mechanic in Grand Rapids, Zandees, in case it needed a tow and couldn’t be fixed by the itinerant mechanic.

I waited and waited, this time for about 35 minutes, when I saw a tow truck that was decidedly not the one she told me would be coming. However, he had a AAA stamp on the truck, so I went out to talk to him and asked him if he could figure out what was wrong. He got in and she started up, but it took only a few moments before Fordzi stalled out again. Over and over he repeated this process without any positive results until he looked at me and said, “You want it towed, or you want to try to drive it?”

…What do you think?

I hopped into his tow truck while he hooked Fordzilla to the bed, and we were off to Zandees to surprise them with the cute “little engine that couldn’t.” I had no ride back from the mechanic, but it was an undeniable fact that Fordzi had to go, so I figured I’d cross that bridge when I got to it and try calling some friends or even Calvin to see if they could set me up for a ride. Worst case scenario, I’d have to wait at the mechanic for about 5 hours until my friend Ashley was on her way over with her grandma and then ask them to intercept me on the way. 

I told the mechanic what was happening, and he said that he was booked up until Wednesday. 

“Is that okay?” he asked.

Well, my car doesn’t work. What other choice do I have?

The tow truck driver was in and out as I talked to the mechanic, and the first thing I did after scheduling the repair was to call Kevin, whom I take to our off-campus class to let him know that he and Kyle needed to find a different way to class for the next day. The tow truck driver popped back in and gave something to the mechanic, then opened the door to leave.

“I guess I’ll just find a ride home somehow.”

The truck driver paused, hand on the doorknob, and then stepped back into the shop. When I got off the phone, he offered to take me back to the edge of the Calvin campus. I was truly appreciative — he could have dropped me anywhere near Calvin and I would have made it back to the dorm, so anything was fine.

I really hated to be manipulative and guilt him like that, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Zandees would have closed before I could call Ashley, and I’d be standing alone in the cold for a few hours. 

With many thank yous and smiles, I said goodbye as he dropped me right at the edge of campus. I haven’t entirely figured out how I’m going to get back to Zandees for my car, but once again, we’ll cross that bridge when I find out more about when they’ll be done with it.

What an adventure!


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