Wednesday, April 14, 2010

At Home

In the middle of the stories about Alabama life goes on at home in Key West. The car isn't fixed so Cheyenne gets her daily walks much closer to home. The heat of summer is building but we are still getting raked by strong northeast winds from the recent, rather weak, cold front.Last night I actually had to stop on the way home to put my waterproofs on as a sudden cold downpour hit the highway. I was hopping around on one foot under a street light at Mangrove Mama's at 2:20am and it was feeling just like summer.
I might be wearing waterproofs more often in the near future, after a winter of carrying them around in my saddlebag. The wind too is howling, which is good as it will doubtless dry the clothes hanging on the line. Summer, season of mellow fruitfulness, howling winds and rain. Welcome back.

Alabama Bound

The last week of March was Spring Break in Key West and by a curious coincidence that was also the alternating week in which I was scheduled to work but 16 hours, my "short week" as I call it. I swapped out four hours with a colleague and for the cost of 12 hours of annual leave I had a week off with wife and dog. We decided to go to Birmingham to visit Johnny Coley. We left home before dawn and made a quick stop to collect some cash. Cheyenne was under the illusion that the ATM spewed food. It does, I explained, but only after a fashion. We were out of the Keys before the sun was properly up and we sped off along Florida's Turnpike, stopping only for gasoline and caffeine as we wanted to explore off the beaten track further north. I wanted to take my wife to Apalachicola and she was ready to see parts of rural Florida never before revealed to her.Things started to go wrong as soon as we started to approach the northern terminus of the Turnpike. First the cruise control switched off. I stared at the green light in complete vexation as it flickered on the dashboard. I told my wife who looked up from her iPhone long enough to mutter: "Good thing you know how to drive the old fashioned way, then." Which was not helpful. As we pulled off the turnpike for more caffeine the engine shuddered horribly in idle. "Not good," my wife said in alarm. "We need lunch to think about this." She was right so instead of eating road food we pulled off to find our new favorite mid-Florida eatery, Toojays Deli. I consoled myself with a brisket sandwich of the usual epic proportions, while my wife had pastrami on wry:The Villages, mentioned previously on this blog, is a bizarre retirement community more or less self contained and focused on old people living like young'uns. During lunch we heard a table full of retirees criticizing the health care reforms recently enacted and i wanted to turn round and ask them to please give up their socialized Medicare to join us in the private market and pay through the nose for not very much. However I was on vacation and I limited myself to whispering to my Jewish wife that we were probably the only Democrats in the dining room. I felt like a coffee drinker at a tea party. I hope my retirement, if I get one, is a bit more dynamic than The Villages. This trip was turning dynamic, no doubt about that. The Kennel fired up and off we shuddered to find a Nissan Dealer for help. I had visions of total breakdown by the side of the road under thunder, lightning and heavy rain. Cheyenne, on her first ever road trip, snored in the back, unaware of the drama up front.My wife's iPhone started to prove itself as she looked up dealers and finding none open of a Sunday she remembered getting new tires at Sears in Ocala so there we went for a check up to see what might be ailing the car. "I hope it's nothing" she said as we fixed a three o'clock arrival time in the Sears shop, conveniently located for us by her iPhone GPS-assisted road map...We pulled into the covered garage at Sears as the heavens opened and we stepped, luxuriously dry out into the cavernous work area. They welcomed Cheyenne into the waiting area which we sat in for a short while. Then we got the news. "Well," the service manager started out slowly."Your computer shows seven different errors and the first one says see the dealer NOW." The check up was free, thank you Sears, and we drove off to find a hotel. Our friend Nancy, formerly of Big Pine Key, wasn't available so we took a motel room, near the dealer.La Quinta is currently our preferred chain as they take dogs and for $71 we did okay. We stopped off for beer and sandwich materials first, though my wife tends to go all yuppie on these trips and we ended up nibbling on olives and roasted red peppers and goat cheese baguettes where I was craving ham and cheese deli sandwiches. Cheyenne was learning to adapt to her first experience of a motel room.Our previous Labrador, Emma, rescued from the Santa Cruz SPCA wasn't fond of road trips and she always got wildly excited when we pulled up to a motel for the night. I think Cheyenne may learn to do the same one day. The next day while the Nissan people were fixing the car I took the dog for a walk through a less well maintained Ocala neighborhood which looked additionally depressed by the night's rain storm.Foreclosure alley, it looked like.I also spotted Ocala's only homeless dude and I was wanting to ask him why he didn't move to Key West like all Florida's other street people. After three short hours the car was ready and we rolled away $1300 poorer with a new coil and a new gear selector switch. We were half a day behind schedule so we dropped plans to see Apalachicola and pressed on up I-75 at 80 miles per hour (130km/h). the left lane of three, passing two large trucks, the car sputtered and speed and rpm's dropped suddenly and irrevocably to 55 miles per hour (90km/h)...I pulled off to the central median and waited for a break in traffic to make a dive for the nearest exit which happened to be the first stop in Southern Georgia. Cheyenne was happy to be out of the broken down kennel.It looked as though the road trip was over so I decided to take a souvenir picture of my dog outside Florida, even if only briefly.
Bummer. My wife made up for the likelihood of not seeing Johnny Coley by buying up half the fruit stand.
Thirty three dollars later we morosely headed back down Federal Highway 41 towards the Sunshine State, chomping on some extremely indigestible peanut brittle. We headed into the rather uninteresting town that marks Georgia's southern end (named I suspect for a French speaking Italian Valley in the Alps weirdly enough).
The idea was to take the less stressful highway back to Ocala at a sedate 55 miles per hour, all the Maxima could manage, and get the thing fixed and make alternative plans. We called Johnny in Alabama and told him the visit was off. Too bad, he said, Karl's visiting from California just now too. My wife was severely pissed. We drove in silence. This being the Sunshine State eventually the skies did clear briefly and we rolled on south. I started speeding up a bit on the long straightaways and I noticed the car was running fine. I pushed it up to 80 miles an hour and we rolled down the road perfectly smoothly. We stopped to pee and the car started and ran just fine. "Let's go to Birmingham," I said with conviction, to my wife. "What's the worse that could happen?"
"We get stranded by the road?" she replied with impeccable logic.
"So what?" I answered. "We aren't tied to the Nissan dealer in Ocala. let's check out the dealer in Tallahassee or Dothan or Birmingham if we have to." I was convinced we needed to salvage the trip. I saw a sign to the freeway and with heart in mouth we left White Springs (Stephen Foster Country)... ...and turned North.