Be Prepared! 

Stored behind the back seat, I have a gym bag with a full change of clothes, shoes, an extra jacket and extra bladder management items. For mechanical issues - besides my spare tire - I have a basic tool set, a small hydraulic floor jack, a pair of jumper cables, a couple of road flares, a gallon of water and a flashlight. I keep a small flashlight in the console of my van as well. I NEVER leave home without my cell phone. I keep my AAA membership card with me at all times - in case I need roadside assistance. So it would seem, I am ready for most any normal unforeseen hiccup that I may encounter along the way.

Recently I became a part of a new musical group playing my guitar and singing. We practice one night a week starting at 7PM in the evening. Because we start so late, our practices often last until well past midnight. That does not bother me since I am a night owl. I also don’t mind driving at night. I’ve been doing that most of my life. The problem is I live about twenty miles out in the country by myself. Driving home in the early AM hours, the roads can be fairly quiet with very little traffic.

Let me share what happened on one of my recent drives home. On that night, our practice lasted until about 2:30AM. It was during a recent very cold spell for us here in Georgia. The temperature was in the low 30’s, cold enough that I had on a long sleeve t-shirt and fleece sweater. I warmed up my van, loaded my guitars and other gear and headed home. My trip home from our practice shack is about 35 miles so it takes me about 40 minutes to get home. The first two-thirds of the trip was uneventful. As I got out of the city limits, I started noticing that my lights seemed dimmer than normal. I figured it was just because of the broken headlight which I was waiting on parts to repair. I don’t have a voltage gauge in my van, just an idiot light and it was not on. All indications were everything was okay so I continued down the road. My “Spidey Sense” was tingling, however, because the lights just seemed to be getting dimmer. As I crossed Mulberry creek, a light illuminated on my dashboard. It was my check engine light. I decided I did have a problem arising due to the dimming headlights. The voltage light finally lit up. At this point, I was about 8 miles from home and 11 miles from the nearest open convenience store. I decided my best option, given the late hour and past experiences with this type of mechanical failure, was to continue towards home. It was obvious to me that I was having a problem with my alternator, which charges the battery. For those that are not mechanically inclined, if the alternator goes bad, or throws a belt, the car will continue to run on the battery until it is drained of all its energy. Then the car will simply quit running.

Well, things started going downhill fairly quick from there. I only had three left turns to make to get me in my driveway. As I made the first turn, my transmission gears started to shift incorrectly. It stayed in second gear. It was running higher than normal RPMs but I was still going down the road. The lights were getting pretty dim but I was on a small side road and was not concerned about other traffic. Right before I made the next turn, the engine started to sputter and run rough. I was 3 miles from home. I made the second turn. I got on the road into my neighborhood (which I know like the back of my hand). I turned my lights off as they were almost gone anyway. I was 1.5 miles from home. From that turn to my house there are two uphill climbs so I sped up as much as I dared. I wanted to coast as much as possible. If I could make it over the first uphill and the engine quit, I could coast to a friend’s driveway. I thought I was going to make it over that hill. I was saying out loud, “I Think I Can…I Think I Can!” but alas it was not to be.

The engine quit before I topped that rise and, unfortunately, it was at a place where I could not pull completely off the side of the road. Even worse than that - the shoulder dropped off pretty severely into a Georgia red clay ditch! So the back end of my van was sticking about a foot and a half out into the road and there was a curve as the road approached me. If anybody in an approaching car was not paying attention, it could be a bad situation. (Here is a tip I got from a friend of mine who is in Law Enforcement. If you are ever in a breakdown situation, or accident and you cannot get your vehicle completely off the road, call 911 and tell them you are broken-down and your car is “IMPEDING TRAFFIC.” Evidently those words elevate the level of seriousness with which they take your situation.)

After making that call, I reached down to get my flashlight from the console. It was not there! Okay. I always carry a penlight flashlight in my “man-purse” or “European Carry-All” for all you Jerry Seinfeld fans. I pulled it out and started looking around. I looked my glove box. No flashlight. I looked in door side pockets. No flashlight. The emergency flashers were barely lighting up. I started getting more concerned. I was in a bad spot. Maybe I could get into my back seat and reach over to find the flashlight in the back. Nope! My power-seat would not move. I was stuck!

I could have gotten out the front door with a bunch of work. I would have had to disassemble my wheelchair and reassemble it out the driver’s side door, which would have put me out in the road. Not a good idea. About that time, I started realizing how quickly the temperature in the van was dropping without the heater. I figured I would get my extra coat to put on. Uh-Oh! It is behind the back seat and I cannot transfer without my power-seat working. All my road emergency items, my flares, extra clothes, and flashlight were inaccessible to me with a dead
battery.

Eventually, I saw the lights of a car approaching from behind so I opened my driver’s side door (as much as I dared) and started flashing my penlight at them since my emergency flashers had stopped completely. I can’t remember ever being glad to see bright, blue flashing lights pull up behind me but I sure was this time. It was a sheriff’s deputy and she was very nice and accommodating.

Since I no longer had to worry about approaching traffic, I pulled out my phone and called AAA to find out my two year membership had expired the month before. That was not really a problem. I could renew it and they would respond lickedy-split. “Okay great!

“By the way I am in a wheelchair so you will need to make arrangements for dealing with me.” Silence on the line. “So you are in a wheelchair. Can you stand up at all?” “Nope. I can transfer into another vehicle as long as it is not too high.” Most wreckers are too high to transfer into and I had already discussed how they handle this kind of situation when I signed up for AAA service. They will send out a wheelchair accessible vehicle along with the wrecker to handle wheelchair bound members. I questioned her about that service. “Well, sir, you are correct. We do offer a wheelchair accessible vehicle for members that need it, however, that service is only available between the hours of 8AM and 9PM. Well, DRAT!!! AAA thank you but I will do something else this time.

To make a long story short, not only was my flashlight missing, so was my set of jumper cables. Oh, yeah. I remember. They were taken out to get the boat cranked about a week ago. “Officer, do you have any jumper cables we could use to charge my battery up with your cruiser?” To which she replied, “I’m sorry but I don’t have any in this cruiser.”

I hated to but I ended up having to call my buddy, Steve, to get out of his warm comfortable bed to come out into the 30-degree weather to help get me home. He brought jumper cables and we let my battery charge about 10 minutes.

As a side note, as we were waiting for my battery to charge, another deputy arrived. He walked up and the first thing he said was, “Have you gotten the new sticker for your tag? This one has expired.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? My birthday was 6 days ago and I had not renewed my tags before the month ended. (He was actually going to give me a ticket but the first deputy talked him out of it.)

After charging my battery with Steve's car for 10 minutes, we gave it a try and it cranked up. The nice deputy followed me with her spotlights lighting the way so I did not have to turn on my headlights. That got me about halfway to my driveway before it quit running again. We hooked up the jumper cables and charged it again for about 10 minutes and that got me the rest of the way home.

Lessons learned…. Put emergency breakdown items where I can reach them without power to my driver’s seat. (Full sized flashlight, road flares, coat, or blanket). Be safe and prepared out
there!

Grandin

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