Every year around this time, my younger sister Lindsey and I pack up the car and take the very long journey to Mississippi to visit our other sister, Randi, her husband, and our six-year-old nephew, Nate.
This is our fourth year making the drive. Normally, we try to be as efficient as possible. Since we only have a week, and want to spend as much time as we can here, we make the entire 22 hour drive in one very long, frustrating go. The first time, this went off mostly without a hitch. It was exhausting, we argued in the car a little, got pretty much no sleep, and come 4 a.m. or so, when we were making our way across Tennessee, I became very well aware of the fact that there were moments of the drive that I did not entirely remember. Regardless, we made it through unscathed.
The second time, we hit a deer.
This is a very funny, and equally traumatizing story involving kamikaze deer, loud curse words, and interesting conversations with state troopers, which I will save for a later date.
The third time, again, relatively hitchless.
This time, my muffler fell off.
Okay, so it didn’t so much fall off as the piece of metal that bolts it to the underside of my car came loose. Either way, somewhere about 30 miles outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, we suddenly heard a loud clanging coming from beneath the car. Thinking something had simply become lodged in the undercarriage, I pulled over to take a look and found that we were now dragging my entire muffler along I-40. Luckily, the entire system was still intact, minus an apparently necessary bolt, so I was pretty certain it would be a simple fix. First, though, we had to get to a garage, and since I was equally certain that any further driving with the muffler in that condition would result in a completely destroyed muffler and a very large hole in my tiny savings account, we called AAA.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of calling your auto club for roadside assistance in a place you are utterly unfamiliar with, let me fill you in on the process.
Step One: Call the toll free number for service outside your local area. Be connected to the call center FOR your local area.
Step Two: Tell operator where you are. They will now connect you to someone supposedly in the area you’re in.
Step Three: Sit on hold for 10 minutes because apparently there are a lot of people breaking down and locking their keys in their cars in your general vicinity. Listen to hold music that sounds like something out of a low-budget children’s fantasy show.
Step Four: Finally get an answer. The operator will ask what happened, and you will attempt to describe the issue despite knowing nothing about cars.
Step Five: The operator will ask where you are located. At this point you will realize that, not only do you have no idea, but there are no mile markers visible at any point along the highway in front or behind you. You will attempt to use your sister’s phone to figure this out, but it will be very confusing because the phone will not want to give you any sort of location other than “you are on Interstate 40″.
Step Six: Tell the phone to take you to the nearest location on the map. The phone will then find the next exit, which, if you are any place other than New England, will give you your approximate location (Exit number plus or minus your distance from said Exit). If you are in New England, you’ll just have to hope they understand “x miles from Exit 4″.
Step Seven: Wait on hold for another 5 minutes while they find and contact a tow company (wrecker service for you Southern folks). If you’re lucky, that tow truck will be there in 45 minutes. If not, be prepared to wait 1-3 hours.
Step Eight: Hope you don’t have to pee, that you didn’t send the truck to the wrong place and that one of the 4,000 tractor trailers passing you at 75 MPH on the highway don’t slam into your car, killing you instantly.
We were fortunate enough not to run into any of the concerns in Step Eight, and the tow guy showed up just under an hour after we called. He took a look at the issue, said “that’s all?”, then returned to his truck, pulled out a wire coat hanger, and proceeded to use it to secure my muffler to my car. Apparently, this is a common solution to this problem (and possibly others), so I’ve spent the last several days getting “duh” looks from people more informed than I in ways of cheaply coaxing a car not to kill you.
Anyway, once he was done, I attempted to stealthily pass off a $20 bill to the guy, which really just turned into handing it to him directly, because let’s be honest, I’m not that smooth. Then we drove off and spent the next 400+ miles completely positive that my entire undercarriage was going to drop from my car.
It didn’t, and we made it here alive, but I can’t stop thinking about the fact that a portion of my car is held on by a coat hanger (Joan Crawford would be so displeased). This is, of course, just days after my dad secured the fuse box in the engine to the frame with about 6 feet of duct tape.
Where’s MacGyver when I need him?