Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I'm Back

So here's the story of picking up my car in Houston and bringing it back. After landing at the George Bush International Airport I was picked up by a guy named Salim. Salim is from Madagascar. He and his friend Tony had bought the car I was buying at auction. When we arrived at the lot, I was not very impressed with the place. As far as used car lots go, I would give this place 1 star out of 4.

I spotted the car. It was dark, so I didn't immediately see its imperfections. As I approached they became apparent. Some trim was damaged, there were little rust spots on the fenders and the trunk, it was generally dirty, the electric antenna was broken, and the windshield had a large crack. When I got in it I wasn't sure if the smell was telling me that the car had been smoked in, or that it had lived in Houston its whole life (Houston has a particular smell). I took it for a test drive. It fired right up and seemd to drive nice. It pulls a little bit to the left. As I was driving I tried all the controls. Radio-check. All the lights-check. Brakes-firm and smooth-check. Heater-failed (more on this later). A/C-check. Sunroof-failed. Windows all around-check.

When I got back to the lot I brought up the heater. We futzed with it for about 20 minutes but could not get it to work. They brought up the fact that the car was sold as is, but knocked off $50 anyway. I was glad to leave the lot and a little nervous about the journey that lay before me. Would this old car make it?

I spent the night in a Motel 6 in houston. The place smelled like Houston and fresh paint which woke me up a couple of times. I got up around 7 and had me some IHOP before going to a Krogers and getting supplies. I then headed further away from my final destination. Why would I do that, you ask? Because my wonderful wife, who I love dearly, wanted me to stop by the Houston Ikea and pick up some stuff for her. She had made a very specific list. I hoped I would be able to run in and run out and hit the road, but that was not meant to be. If you have ever been to Ikea you know the place is ginormous, so it took a good hour and a half and a dozen phone calls home before I had everything. I got the car loaded up and hit the road.

I didn't know how well the car would do, so I had budgeted 3 days to get home. My plan was to try to make it to Salina, Kansas by the end of the first day. Salina is at the intersection of I-35 and I-70. By the end of the second day I wanted to be to either Laramie, Wyoming, or Grand Junction, Colorado, depending on the weather. And then home on the third day. As I drove through Texas I was pleased with the car's performance. The cruise control worked (thank goodness) so I set it for 75 and watched the guages closely and listened for anything wierd. The car was very happy at 75 and we made good time. The only strange thing was that the engine temperature never made it above the bottom tick mark, except when idling. Curious.

I did not do a lot of thinking while I was driving. Mostly I let my mind rest, which I think was good for me. Texas is a big place. Unfortunately I hit some traffic in Dallas, but by late afternoon I was driving through Oklahoma. As I scanned the radio dial I found basketball games and even college wrestling on FM. Wierd. I got to Oklahoma City around dusk. I was pleased with the milage the car was getting. Oklahoma had the cheapest fuel on my trip at $1.63 for a gallon of diesel. I pushed on through Oklahoma and into Kansas. It was dark when I reached Wichita, so I was unable to spot any of the airplane factories that I know are there. I finally reached Salina at around 10 PM just as a cold rain began to fall.

The car hadn't broken yet, and I was pleased. I slept better in Salina, even though the motel was right by I-70. I checked the weather channel when I got up and was somewhat concerned. Snow was expected in Kansas and Utah. Colorado and Wyoming were clear. I hit the road after stopping for fuel and a McGriddle sandwich. The rain had continued all night and was moderate when I got on the freeway. After a few minutes I noticed a leak on the upper right corner of the windshield. I set up a system where the leak would end up being caught by paper towels, and I found myself wishing for snow. My foolish wish came true about halfway through Kansas.

Snow in Kansas is wet and heavy. It sticks to the road. In a short amount of time I was no longer worried about the windshield but worried about staying on the road. My new old car is rear wheel drive and does not have snow tires on it. We went very very slowly for a long time. At one point I found myself alone on the road which was fortunate because I felt the back end drift to the left. I corrected, but too far, so I ended up sliding to the right. Correcting again, I found myself unable to attenuate the oscillations. Finally after 2 or 3 more corrections the back end swung out to the right and I was sliding sideways, but still on the road. There were embankments on either side that I was afraid I would explore. At the last second I gently pressed the brakes and the tires grabbed and I came to a stop in a spray of snow and ice. I was still on the road, perpendicular to the direction of travel. I got out to see if there was any damage and to find out where the edge of the road was. No damage, and my back tires stopped less than 3 inches from the edge. I got back in and headed out, grateful that I didn't need a tow truck.

At this point the non-functioning heater was the bain of my existence. I was freezing. I stopped at a Walmart to see if I could get some kind of heater. They didn't have anything that plugged into a lighter outlet, so I bought a bunch of hand and foot warmers and a blanket. These worked reasonably well. By early afternoon I was in Colorado. The road from the boarder to Denver was uneventful, but I had a choice to make: continue on I-70 or go up to Wyoming and hit I-80. I was more worried about the windy steep roads on I-70 to the Eisenhower Tunnel than I was about the high badlands of Wyoming. Plus Wyoming was supposed to be clear, so my decision was made. I stopped outside of Denver for diesel. There I paid an outrageous $2.15 per gallon, the most expensive place on my trip.

I headed north out of Denver on I-25. Another decision loomed in front of me: should I stop somewhere in Wyoming, or just push through. By the time I got to Laramie I was freezing, but I had decided to push through. Wyoming was completely uneventful. The car continued to work great. I decided to make my next stop at the Grand America complex. I was so cold when I got there I could not speak clearly, but I pressed on. It was dark at this point, 8:30 or so. The road was clear until Evanston and then the snow started to fall. I had to follow a semi to keep track of the road. I couldn't follow too close or I would be blinded by the flying snow, and I could stay too far back or I couldn't see the road. It was an interesting study in the air currents behind a semi. Somehow I stayed on the road and found my way to I-84. Soon I was coming out of Weber Canyon and getting on highway 89 towards home.

Highway 89 was in the same condition as I-70 was in Kansas, and the same thing happened to me again. This time I stepped on the breaks early and got it over with. Luckily no one was around. Finally I pulled into my driveway. I had made the trip in two days. 700 miles the first day and over 900 the second. I was pleased with the car's performance. Now I just have to get that darn heater working. More on that later.

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