From the Mixed-Up Files of Alyssa's Road Trip Diaries
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
Day 2, Saturday August 20th, 2016: Melbourne FL to Atlanta GA
I didn’t make it to Jacksonville last night because my mom jinxed me and my car broke down. Today is going to be better, though.
Yesterday was one of the hardest days I’ve experienced in a long time. Yesterday was the day, planned months in advance, that I packed up the stuff I have remaining and hit the road for Seattle.
It started off waking up alone. My roommate (a very close friend) was out of town and the Guy I’m dating fell asleep at home the night before. He was waiting for me to finish up at a goodbye dinner and passed out on his couch, so I left without a proper goodbye. To be fair, we were both exhausted after a whirlwind week. But waking up alone when you don’t have to be on the day you’re uprooting your entire life is a bit daunting, particularly when you expect the day to end with packing up your car by yourself and driving off into the dark.
I woke up early to finish a home crafting project: making some stone pendants for my best girlfriends from work and Travel Club. The pendants are another story. So is Travel Club, I suppose. Anyhow it was my goal to give my friends their gifts before I left town for Seattle, but after a few failed attempts to finish them, I learned that I need a better drill or cutting tool to bore a hole in solid Icelandic glacial rock. The Dremel I borrowed from another crafty girlfriend couldn’t cut it (literally). It was disappointing having to tell my friends that I reneged on my promise because I couldn’t attach the stones to their settings (pinch bails), but hopefully the pendants will be done in time to make nice Christmas presents (?)
Then I had my last day at my job. I am an attorney and for the last three years I’ve been doing contract work as a document reviewer. My experiences on the job with the various characters I encountered over the past three years would make for an awesome sitcom. It’s a laid-back job that I actually really enjoy and that pays the bills, with easy-going bosses and great co-workers, many of whom became true friends – even best friends. It was really hard walking away from what I considered to be a stress free and comfortable work environment. Anyone who complains about the job we had is either spoiled or inexperienced, in my opinion – mistaking a pussycat for a lion. I insisted throughout the week that no one was allowed to get me a cake or throw me a party at work on Friday because they tend to do that, get cake for whatever occasion or excuse we can possibly get cake for, and I didn’t want to cry or get emotional in front of everyone. So there were lots of jokes made about cake making me cry, and non-gift gifts given to me, and really sweet and heartfelt cards, and then 12 or so of us got together for a great group lunch at a friend’s BBQ restaurant in Brickell as a final hoorah. I still almost cried when, as I was trying to sneak out of the office after lunch, a group huddle coagulated and we had a final goodbye cafecito cheers.
After work came errands to hand off the last of the stuff I owned that wouldn’t fit in my car, buy some final road-trip provisions, and close out my P.O. box. Then cramming my remaining belongings that would fit into my hatchback Scion TC. It only took 3 hours longer than I had hoped.
Moving really heavy bins and boxes out of the house by myself as the sun started to go down, wriggling things around in the car like pieces of a 3D jigsaw puzzle to squeeze in the most possible, sweating, slapping off the mosquitos, cooing and chatting to the pea-hens and a few baby pea-chicks that were fussing around the yard, and dodging longans falling from a tree in the yard and bopping heavily off my car made me feel tired, sad, stressed for time, powerful, excited, determined,
and eager to leave.
It’s funny how hurdles in life can cause split personality syndrome – bringing out both positive and negative thoughts and feelings in us.
After loading the car I packed in my angry, confused and hissing cats, Milo and Bobofat, one on top of the other in their cages, glaring at me from the passenger seat. They equate car rides with visits to the vet and having thermometers shoved up their bums.
Then two final stops before heading to Jacksonville: returning the borrowed Dremel drill and saying a quick goodbye to the Guy. The “bye” went a little rocky and teary, as some goodbyes do, and ended with a surprise “look I just bought tickets to come visit you soon!” text, which was nice.
After only about 30 minutes driving north on 1-95 from Miami to the chorus of incessant blood curdling meowing my mom started in on me via text.
Let me preface this exchange by saying that my mom is a chronic worrier. She worries so much that she’s grown to enjoy worrying. It’s what she does best. Whenever I am in her home, even now at 32 years of age, my mom will randomly call out to me throughout the day from whatever area of the house she’s in: “Alyssa!!! Where are you?” or “What are you doing?!” – I suppose to confirm and be comforted that I am safe somewhere in the house. My mother once told me that she lies awake at night, unable to sleep, worrying. And if she doesn’t have anything she’s actually worried about she runs through a mental list of things that she could worry about until she finds something sufficiently worrisome and commences worrying about it. So this is the mother I’m dealing with.
At 8:30pm while I’m driving through Broward County (Cliffnotes summary):
The Mom: do you have Triple A? I’m going to call Triple A Monday in case your car breaks down and you need roadside assistance, I’ll have them email you your membership.
Me, being a Jerk: I’m tired, I’m stressed, and I’m already on the road driving with my whiny cats. I have just had the longest day ever and no I’m not going to look into getting Triple A. Thank you, but I have roadside assistance with Progressive, I’m covered.
The Mom: Protests.
Me, being a Jerk: I don’t need it and don’t appreciate you bringing it up now. Verbatim: “It’s like you’re trying to put a curse on me or something all you ever talk about is negative stuff you don’t say have a great safe trip...instead you keep talking about me getting in a car accident.” [Grammatical errors blamed on my voice-to-text app].
The frustrated conversation ends. About two hours later the bright red “Battery” light pops on on my dash.
Crap. My heart dropped. At the time I didn’t connect it to the conversation I just had with my mom. I reasoned: well, I just had the car tuned up and the 90K maintenance taken care of. The battery is only 3-6 months old. If I leave the car running the battery should stay juiced and I should be able to make it to Jacksonville to my friend Jim’s, where I can deal with the issue tomorrow morning. If I have to stop for gas, well, I can leave the car running. Heck I might even make it all the way to Jacksonville on one tank – or at least, I can make it really close. And if I run out of gas or the battery craps out close to Jacksonville I can ask Jim to come pick me up.
Half an hour later, around 11pm, the ABS light pops on on the dash. Then the e-brake light. Then the tire pressure light. Then the radio flickers off and the AC stops pumping. By now I’m terrified and slowing down in the right lane, preparing to pull onto the shoulder. The headlights are flickering. The engine makes frightening struggling, pulsing noises. I pull off onto the shoulder and put the car in park with the engine running, but nope. Car dies. 11pm on a Friday night on the side of I-95 in an unlit portion of the highway with no mile-markers, landmarks or exit signs in sight so I have no clue where I am. Car loaded to the max with all my stuff and two squawking felines in 90 degree South Florida summer heat. Semi-trucks roaring by periodically as I hop out of the car to the side of the road and start making frantic phonecalls, ants and mosquitoes biting my ankles.
Now I try to live my life independently and I like to think of myself as being pretty self-reliant. But in times like this, it becomes very clear to me how dependent I am on others and how essential it is, at least for me, to be connected to a social network for help and support. In times of danger or high stress I sometimes freeze like a little rabbit and I just don’t know what I should do first. So as I was hyperventilating on the side of the road, fearing that an exhausted semi-truck or drunk driver would bash into my car in the dark, flipping it over into the ditch on the side of the road and crushing my cats and all of my worldly possessions, my first call was not to my car insurance company, or God forbid to my mother who would panic and then say “I told you so,” but to my roommate to ask him “what just happened”? To which he kindly and rationally explained “dude, your alternator just died. Call Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) to report your disabled-ass vehicle and get your insurance to get you a tow. Should be an easy and relatively inexpensive fix.” So I did just that. I also texted the Guy (who offered to come get me if necessary) sheerly to complain and be comforted, and my friend Jim in Jacksonville, my intended host for the evening, to explain that I probably wouldn’t make it that night. Jim was amazing and kindly texted me throughout the night until I was safe.
Here’s the kicker. Despite having some bad luck with my alternator and being fearful of getting creamed while waiting for the insurance to send a tow truck, somehow the universe ended up tilting things in my favor in the biggest way. While I was pacing up and down in the grass, my hazard lights slowly growing dimmer and dimmer as the battery was exhausted, my black car dissolving into the night shadows, three different people stopped to offer help to me. First a couple, then a random guy in an SUV. And then a kindly tow-guy who happened to see my barely flashing right rear tail light and pulled up behind me with his lights ablazing. Not my tow-guy, but a Good Samaritan tow-guy with the brightest lights I have ever seen. I instantly felt better because with his lights people would actually see my car in the dark and would, in my opinion, be more likely to crash into the barrier on the other side of the road trying to get away from his lights than hit me because they were seriously that offensive.
Danny the tow-guy was totally cool and offered to stick by me until the insurance-hired tow company arrived. He knew the tow company, its history, knew the owner personally, and knew the type and specs of the tow-truck that would show up. He also explained that due to state laws, a tow truck driver hired by your insurance can only legally bring you in his truck (not my cats) to the car repair shop (not anywhere else after that). Their duty ends at PepBoys. If you need to get to a hotel or motel after dropping the car off at a shop you’re SOL, or you’ve got to Uber or call a cab if those types of services are available in the area. So my tow-hero Danny offered to take my cats in his truck, to follow me in the insurance-covered tow-truck to the PepBoys, and to drive me to a hotel after. Being skeptical I asked him a few questions in a round-about way to figure out if this was a scam and how much it would cost, and essentially what I gathered from our conversations, whether accurate or not, is that Danny runs this tow truck for free. That he’s trying to start up a business and get his name out there but that he essentially goes around being a Good Samaritan tow-guy, at least for now. He’s a bit older and he seems to really enjoy patrolling around and finding stranded people in need of help with car trouble.
Now you’re probably thinking “this random tow-guy Danny is going to rape and kill this girl.” Nobody helps people for free just because they’re nice and they need something to do. That thought did flash through my head since I’m a woman, and it was really late, and I was really tired. There's also been a spate of troublesome face-eating incidents in South Florida lately. But everything he said turned out to be legit.
When the insurance-hired tow-guy showed up to my disabled car around 1:30am he confirmed that everything Danny told me was accurate. He said he didn’t know Danny personally but that it wasn’t too unusual for someone to offer this kind of help. He even got all protective of me and ensured me that he’d make sure nothing happened to me, that he carried protection to ensure the his safety and that of his clients (here he pulled his gun out while driving me to the PepBoys and set it on the center console in his tow truck for me to “ooo” and “ahhh” over. Though admiration and a feeling of safety are not exactly the feelings his gun brought me at that very moment).
Anyways, after leaving the car in the lot at PepBoys and saying farewell to my insurance tow-guy, Danny drove me safely to a hotel. Ultimately he was so kind and thoughtful that he suggested that I sneak my cats into the hotel, a Quality Inn, since hotels don’t usually let pets in and when they do, they usually charge several hundred dollars as a pet deposit. So I left the cats with Danny and went to check in.
How does one sneak past the front desk reception of a hotel with two cats in boxes, one in each hand, each meowing like the devil and one smelling like he pooed in his cage, without being noticed? I envisioned Ralph Steadman’s sketch of Raoul Duke, the protagonist (if you can call him that) in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, sneaking out of a resort hotel with a suitcase full of dripping grapefruits. Seems kind of weirdly obvious. It was 3:00am by that point and I didn’t have enough steam to make such an effort. Besides, the desk attendant seemed to be really kind and empathetic – he was a young plump effeminate black kid named James – so I conceded and asked him honestly whether it was OK that I had cats. And here the universe smiled at me again: sure, they love cats, it’s just an extra $20 pet fee.
I was and am still so grateful for Danny and James' help. I hugged Danny when he helped me carry (poopy smelling) Bobofat into the lobby, and he gave me his card. I removed his personal info but if you find yourself in need of a tow in Palm Beach County, ping me and I’ll give you his telephone.
And now? It’s 8:30 am Saturday, Day 2 of my road-trip quest. I've only made it to Melbourne Florida so far and I’m hanging out at PepBoys waiting for my car to be fixed. Apparently alternators can go kaput anywhere between 80 and 100K miles. I have to bypass Jacksonville once back on the road and head straight to Nashville today, or Atlanta if that’s too far, because Jacksonville is an hour or so out of the way if it’s not an official stop. I only slept for three hours this morning so I have a feeling we might take it easy today. Particularly because the weight of my car might also be an issue: its sagging so low in the back that the rear tires are only about an inch below the wheel wells. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought all those books…
But I just know that today is going to be better.