I woke up in the nearly complete darkness of the Maches' upstairs apartment to a call from my family back in NC. All was well, and it was a nice way to start the day, thinking of the folks back home that I miss so dearly (cue Stephen Foster music).
Robert and I went over a couple songs of mine that he's going to lend his mandolin talents to this weekend, and we drank coffee and talked about our kids and lives and the impending Continental Drifters reunion in May.
Somewhere in the early afternoon, I called my wife's grandmother in Little Rock and asked if I might come and pay her a visit. She said to come on, so I backed the Eurovan out of the driveway and sped toward I-40, as Little Rock is a straight shot west from Memphis.
It was a pleasant, easy drive for about an hour and a half. I had thought about getting some gas at the last exit at which I stopped. That thought floated back to me as the van made a familiar sound, like an air bubble in the gas line. I rolled to a halt about forty miles outside of Little Rock on the side of Interstate 40. No amount of gas pedal pumping was going to make the VW think it had fuel in it, so I began to walk the road in search of a service station. It was evident that there was nothing within walking distance, so I called AAA; I used to be a member, and Smart Wife suggested that I might rejoin now to get some help.
The nice lady at AAA said that I wouldn't be able to use a new membership for a service call like this, but she did give me the number of Harvey's Service and Exxon in Des Arc. I called the dispatcher there and talked to her as countless rigs rolled by right beside me. Had to walk through mud and wind to see the sign for the Biscoe exit to give her a location for the mechanic to come. He got there in about twenty minutes, nice guy named Charles who filled my tank with his gas can and then took my credit card info for the bill. He said to go up to the next big exit, that there was a gas station there 'that's owned by another bald guy'. Ha ha. I thanked Charles and rolled up the road to fill the tank.
When I was pumping gas and patting myself on the back for getting underway again, I heard a hissing sound coming at me from the front left tire. Well, looky there. I found a big flap of rubber on the side of the tire rapidly letting air out. I got back on the phone, called Harvey's again (one of their old roadside assistance vans was parked beside this gas station) and told them to send Charles back, which they did. I went in the convenience store, got my four hundredth cup of coffee for the day and waited for my savior.
Charles came back, shook his head, told me after he'd left me that a big rig had lost a big chrome pipe that he drove right over. We looked at each other with that desperate traveler countenance and decided that it was not our day for either of us.
Charles also told me he was a demolition derby driver, a job I've always wanted. He called himself an 'outlaw' driver, who filled his 1961 Chrysler Imperial full of extra metal, which seems crazy with a big heavy car like that. But I guess it keeps him in the derby longer, and he promised to send me a DVD of this weekend's derby if the dispatcher hadn't already sent me my repair receipt.
With the tire changed, I headed on to Little Rock where I visited with my wife's grandmother for a couple of hours. She's a fascinating person, with much travel and academia under her belt; being married to my wife, I find her grandmother to be one of the biggest side perks of that marriage. I showed her pictures of her great grandchildren and we talked books and Europe and politics until I had to go. It was two and a half hours back to Memphis, so I left her with enough time to get back and not be rolling around Arkansas after midnight when I doubted Charles would be available to help me out again.