When Disaster Strikes… How Things Went From Glorious to Catastrophic

I had all kinds of plans for writing about my experiences at the Woodhull Sexual Health Summit. I was going to start with an article on basic stuff about my trip there and arriving at the hotel (which was mostly uneventful), create a copy of my personal schedule so I could detail what sessions I attended and was going to write about. This would equate to a “table of contents” as it were, that I would go back to and add links directly to the articles on those sessions, etc. I took tons of notes and also recorded audio of some panels/keynotes.

I was going to basically create a publishing calendar and break it down to spend most of this week detailing everything and anything I could think of, that happened during my trip, creating an entire series of articles. I was eagerly looking forward to sharing a few tears, many laughs and some extraordinary moments of self-discovery and societal awareness. But, alas, that must all be put on hold thanks to what happened on the way home from the Summit.

Thus that is the story I will begin with; what went wrong.

First the drive back through the mountains proved to be more difficult than the drive in. It stormed in spurts for several hours, which required me to get off the road when I would’ve otherwise soldiered on. I don’t drive well through high elevations under the best of circumstances, but when it’s pouring buckets of water down, that ain’t happening. Then, of course, there was just me dealing with said elevation. It was a struggle, and I was quite grateful when two kind attendants at one rest area (that I think was in Pennsylvania) told me exactly how much further I had to go, before I was in hills not mountains.

More than a day after I left Virginia I am finally on relatively flat land, coming through Ohio, when the battery light on my dashboard turns on and the engine starts to falter. I was losing power, and fading fast. I tried to stay calm as I turned on my hazard lights, moved from the far left lane to the right and pulled onto the shoulder — and yes, as this story progresses you will note how lucky it is that none of this happened up in the mountains.

I turned the car off immediately and sat for a few minutes, wondering exactly when I’d last look at the temp gauge. But given that it is summer, and I’ve lost 2 engines due to A/C overtaxing in the distant past, I am pretty careful to glance frequently at the engine temperature. I was quite sure it hadn’t ever been above normal. After a few minutes I tried turning the car back on, and it did start, but it was very sputtery and sluggish. So I called my sister. This is what we do in such situations, call whoever is in front of a computer. Because, while you can manage to find garages, tow trucks and the like on a phone, it’s so much faster on a computer. Plus, she is slightly more knowledgeable than I am about cars, and I wondered if she’d have any insight beyond the same conclusion I came to — my alternator or my battery (which I replaced last December) were toast. She didn’t, so we began to strategize.

She suggested trying to get it to an Autozone or Advanced Auto, so they could test the alternator. She asked what mile marker I was at, and I drove along the shoulder for about a block until I could see the nearest post — mile marker 69 (no kidding) on I-70. She was trying to figure out exactly where I was from that, though it took a bit. Ultimately she found out that Wikipedia has lists of all the exits off of all the major interstates, which was incredibly useful, so keep it in mind if you end up in the same position yourself. The next exit, just a few miles up, was for a place called South Vienna. But South Vienna has a population of 376 people so she didn’t bother to search for an Auto Zone there. She moved on to the next exit, which was about 10 miles away, and was the first exit for Springfield, OH. And she found an Autozone not too far from that exit and told me how to get there.

I said I’d call her as soon as I arrived, left my hazard lights on and carefully got back onto the interstate. I was able to get up a little speed, but it wasn’t even a mile later that the sputtering got much worse and I realized there was no way I was going to get 10 miles away. By this point I could see the South Vienna exit, and though I didn’t know yet if it had a gas station, fast food place, etc., I thought it was still better to be off the interstate while I called for a tow. I drove to the exit on the shoulder (which is tricky with shredded semi tires around). Luckily there was a gas station at the exit, though unluckily I realized as I was trying to turn towards it, that my power steering was entirely gone. Though turning the wheel on my little Ford Focus, without any power steering, is still easier than it was with my first car, a ’74 Dodge that could sleep 4 and didn’t have power steering to begin with.

I pulled into a Speedway and called sis back. This time we were looking for garages, but we wanted a chain that we also have back home in Illinois, just in case any follow-up might be needed later. She found a Midas in Springfield. I called, explained my situation and asked if they could recommend a tow service to call. I had some issues getting a hold of the tow truck, but eventually the gentleman (and his wife) arrived. By now it was after 5PM, so that I was stuck in Ohio for the night had been established. The couple was very kind and helpful. They took me to Midas, got the drop-off envelope and sorted out where to leave the car when he brought it back. Then he drove to a Fairfield Inn a few blocks away (that the young and not chronically-pain-afflicted mechanic call ‘in walking distance’). He waited while I checked in, helped me get my bags and cooler out of my car and onto a luggage cart, and then took my car back to the garage to be looked at first thing in the A.M.

The hotel was very nice, but given that there’s an airport nearby and they were out of normal double rooms, it was a bit pricey. I did some tweeting, some fretting and a fair amount of crying. I was already crying in the car when it first broke down and when I was having a hard time getting a hold of the tow truck, but in fairness not only was I scared of what kind of time and costs were going to be involved in getting me back on the road, at this point I hadn’t had more than 6 hours sleep at one stretch in nearly a week. When I’m exhausted, I don’t take stress well. I was also still coming down off the edginess of mountain driving and my acrophobia. Finally I decided that I really needed to eat.

I did get one extra bit of luck here. There was an Applebee’s right next to the hotel, and for my birthday (in June) I was given a $10 gift card to Applebee’s from one of my volunteer jobs. Between that and a coupon code, that came from setting up a new online ordering account, I had pretty good and substantial meal and only spent a few dollars. I have only ever eaten at an Applebee’s once before (it’s a bit expensive for my budget), but that was some good food. I spent the rest of the evening watching Major Crimes reruns off of my computer, and whinging online a bit — though I did head to the hot tub at one point, to take down the water-retention that was swelling my ankle a lot.

Mostly I tried not to think about the call from the garage in the morning, and just how bad it was going to be. The un-budgeted extra night at a hotel was already a financial burden we couldn’t manage. But I did make myself go to sleep at a decent hour, hoping to get on the road early. At this point, I just wanted desperately to be home.

The garage called at 8:01 AM, waking me up before my alarm. I hoped it was a good sign, that they knew what was wrong already. It wasn’t. The alternator was not the problem. The water pump had blown, and taken the serpentine belt with it. With parts, labor and replacement coolant, the bill was $576.54.

Obviously I blurred out my address, VIN,etc. Though also the guy managed to put Kathy on the invoice, so I removed the HY because it was annoying me. I have issues with the name Kathy, long story. But this is otherwise the legit bill for the car repairs.

Remarkably, I managed not to start crying until I got off the phone, telling the mechanic I’d have to call him back. This wasn’t just bad, it was catastrophic. We absolutely did not have that money. This wasn’t just more than we could afford, it was money not currently in existence. I called my sister again, definitely crying by this point. I told her the situation. This conversation was more complicated and includes some private conversations about hers and my mother’s financial situations that I’m not going to share, but what it came down to was this. Sis technically had the money, and it was in an account that I have a debit card for. But it was a chunk of the down payment on her first house, which she will be closing on the first week of October. So the only way to get me home was to jeopardize the purchase of her first home.

I cringed so hard when I swiped that debit card, terrified that I couldn’t put it back in time to save the house sale, that our entire family was so far shit creek this time even a paddle wasn’t going to save us.

One of the guys who works at Midas was nice enough to drive my car to the hotel to get me. I took care of the garage, came back to the hotel, made up some sandwiches with the last of my lunch meat — because no way was I spending anything more coming home than a bag of ice and a tank of gas — packed up, checked out and headed home.

I had a few other frustrations coming home. People who were riding the left lane while being slow pokes, the Bluetooth on my phone repeatedly crashing so I couldn’t distract myself with podcasts (Standard Issue and The Guilty Feminist) or my current audio book (“Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge). So I eventually found myself checking my map app every 10 minutes, agonizing over how many more hours/minutes I had until I was home. There were also some really long construction zones that slowed me down and an inordinate need for bathroom breaks — it would seem anxiety affects my bladder.

I got home about 6:30 PM CDT last night. I left Arlington around 1 PM EDT on Sunday. 55 hours to travel 900 miles. When I came in — after another potty break — I hugged my 5 year-old nephew and sat down to dinner with my family. And I’ll tell you, that last 60 or so miles I was actually in a good mood. Elated. I just knew that I desperate needed to be home, in my own space, to start sorting this mess out, and I was almost there.

Though being home doesn’t make me feel any less overwhelmed. I have more Ebaying to do, I have some furniture in the household and some electronics that we’ve decided to sell — nothing that will fix the problem but will hopefully whittle it down — and I am once again running a Go Get Funding campaign, to ask for help from the community to get this money back into my sister’s account before October 1st.

I will be trying to get out more articles on my actual time at the Woodhull Summit, and I need to get my notes and audio up on the shared drive someone set up for we attendees. But that will have to be during breaks at night. I’ve also put most of my volunteer work on hold right now, while I focus on this financial maelstrom. I can’t afford to give away my time right now, when all of it has to be devoted to fixing the problem. The volunteer coordinator at the regional blood center, where I do reminder calls, was very kind about it and said to keep my volunteer badge until I can come back.

So now I am reaching out to anyone who can lend a hand. As mentioned I have a Go Get Funding campaign setup, and other ways to donate on my website (http://femmeappeal.me/donate/). Obviously if you have some writing, web content or other work for me to do, please reach out (http://femmeappeal.me/hire-me/) and pass my information off to anyone else who might have a need for my skills. Or contact me if you’ve seen an opening in my wheelhouse.

And please share this article, on both Medium and social media, to get the word out. Thanks for reading, and any help you can offer.

She may not be much, but she’s mine. :)
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