Loop de Loo!

In general, things don’t turn out the way you had planned. Have you noticed? If you can just accept that on principal life becomes one sweet kick in the pants; an adventure, instead of ruthlessly inconvenient. The problem arises from the fact that you have to make plans in the first place. We focus on our well laid plans in order to confront our fear that otherwise life will just happen to us in some random, chaotic fashion. So we diligently make plans; to change jobs, to move to a new town, to travel to foreign countries. But in the process life happens to you in some random, chaotic fashion anyway.

The trick here I guess is to make plans but also to plan to be flexible. And definitely don’t be too surprised when life forces a hard right just as you were trying to veer left.

I talk a lot with Stefanie about us being “plan junkies”. Since we’ve made the big break with our past lives to work as artists (what we called “The great leap into the unknown”) we have seemingly been in continual plan mode. And one wild plan begets another. In the context of our current lives as international gypsies our recent plan seemed perfectly reasonable; drive up from our home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to complete a small looping circuit of art fairs in south-central and midwest states of the U.S., spend a few days in between settling details on our other house being built in Paducah, Kentucky, and then head back to Mexico. All done in roughly four weeks.

Well, the drive up through Mexico went without a hitch, unlike a previous trip during which we ran into a problem with our radiator coolant pump. That required some serious Mexican mechanical improvisation to get us across the border. This time it was a smooth trip up to Shreveport for our first art fair.

That’s where things started getting squirrly. Stefanie developed an issue with her cochlear implant. With some troubleshooting we determined the problem to be with the implant itself. Not good. After the fair we drove to Dallas for a consultation with a specialist. In talking with her we realized that we would need to make a trip to Northwestern Hospital in Chicago, the home of her original surgery.

We scheduled an appointment for her and mapped out a new plan. We could do one one last art fair we had scheduled for me Houston and then grab a train to Chicago. Houston didn’t have a station (because who knows why) but there was an Amtrak rail stop north of there in Longview, Texas.

After the fair we were sailing along out of Houston when we cracked a bolt on our alternator bracket and began thrilling to the sound of a loud “Schreech!!” coming from the engine during acceleration from a dead stop; the classic engine noise from loose belts. At the first repair shop we found the mechanic pointed out the problem and said the broken bolt would need to be drilled out which would cause us a delay of at least a half day.

Our train was leaving from Longview that evening around 7 pm and we still had a three hour drive ahead of us. It was around noon. After the mechanic described the problem as being caused by the broken bolt sliding out of position (it was a hinge bolt on the alternator bracket) I suggested that he just “slap some goop on the thing” to keep the bolt in place for a few hours until we could get to Longview and have it repaired properly during our week in Chicago. I was half joking in desperation but after a moment’s thought the mechanic shrugged and said, “Might work. Can’t guarantee it in writing though.” Sensible man.

I’m not sure what made me even say it other than my experience with the many ingenious rigs that our Mexican friends devise to solve problems on the fly. It actually worked like a charm and helped us get up to Longview for the train, eventually.

The rest of the drive from Houston was a wire-to-wire thrill ride because we needed to maintain an average speed of at least sixty for three hours plus. All I remember from that segment is a white-knuckle-gripping David (me) at the wheel of our heavily loaded RAV4, zipping down hills at over eighty on a rolling Texas highway, Stefanie saying “Slow down!” and me yelling “Ya gotta go eighty downhill to clear the top going at least 45!!!” or something.

Stefanie thought there was a reasonable chance that I had become a danger to her livelihood. While her priorities were on continued earthly existence, my sole purpose in life was to make it to the Toyota dealer by closing. Survival came second.

There were some further antics ahead as we approached Longview. Mileage signs toyed with our emotions by tacking on an additional 3 or 4 miles here and there. A seriously screwed-up Mapquest printout had us driving down a small weed-choked road near the edge of town as the clock ticked mercilessly down to 5 pm (their posted closing time on the web). Stefanie is trying to get me turned around and headed back towards town while I’m insisting that “Mapquest says it’s right here!!” and she’s saying, “Does it really look like a car dealer might be around HERE somewhere???”

Heading back into town we used a bit of blind guesswork to stumble on the place, pulling into the dealer’s lot just after five to read “5:30 pm” posted as the new closing time on the service department’s glass door. I strode into the office high on some naturally occurring substance in my blood, announcing “We made it!”, and blurting out “Your closing time on the web is 5!”, and “Take a look at this set of crappy directions from Mapquest!”. The kind people in the office had a somewhat different energy level. They just smiled and waited for this invading force to settle down a minute before asking, “Help you with something?”

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