A Calamity of Errors

Well, hell, what would you call a group of errors?  A colony, a covey, a flight,  a flock, a gaggle, a herd, a horde, a troop, a tribe, a pod, a school, or heaven forbid, a pride?  Me, i like “calamity” and will be working closely with my friends at the OED to get it added.

Well, see,  i needed to treat myself to something because i was feeling so good about having finally gotten fixed all the pics that broke during the transfer of the old material over to this new website.

But what?  Then i took a look at weather.gov and discovered that for the first time in recorded history, Portland was going to have five sunny days in a row.  That settled it.

So i threw my meds, my dop kit, and a bunch of clothes in a suitcase and filled my backpack with both cameras, my new GPS device that successfully got me to Santa Rosa and back last week, my little old mobile phone, Oregon and Washington maps, a pen and scratch pad, the helmet and power cord for my Segway, and, in case i was feeling really good when i had been up there a few days, my passport so i could go ahead and make a dash for Vancouver.

Portland?  You ask.

Well, yes.  In a word, bridges.  I’m fascinated by ’em and Portland is richly endowed.  I booked a hotel room right downtown within Segway range of eleven bridges over the Willamette and three over the Columbia.  The plan was to spend a day and a half photographing them and then leave non-essentials at the hotel and throw the Segway back into the Prius for a drive up to Mt. St. Helens, where the plan was to get as close as possible to the spot where one of my great heroes, Robert Landsberg, died so bravely.  Snap off  a few shots and then run for cover before the damn thing goes off again, not wanting to test my bravery against the standard Landsberg set.

And since this whole junket was just a quick little five-day jaunt, it wasn’t necessary to tell anyone about it although i did in passing mention it to Gloria and warned my friend CKM that even though i’d be taking my notebook PC along, my afternoon look at his drafts for his splendid Some Assembly Required site might not be as timely as he has grown accustomed.

An extra bottle of water and three favorite sets of CDs for when there’s nothing interesting on the radio, and a pit stop at an ATM to top my billfold off with money, and i was off on the morning of 10 September.

What could go wrong?

Well at first nothing, actually, although i did get an opportunity to test the GPS device up by Fairfield when, paying a bit too much attention to a PBS documentary, i caught out of the corner of my eye what might have been the exit for I-505 as i passed it.  Forgetting that i had a GPS, i pulled off into a gas station apron at the next interchange and asked the clerk for directions as i bought a cup of coffee.  Yep, i’d run past the exit but could just go back to it.

Back in the car, i saw the GPS, turned it on and discovered a short cut.  There’s a hypotenuse.  Ha!  The GPS is starting to pay for itself already.

Every time i leave San Francisco i’m reminded of how lucky i am to be able to live there and how living there for forty years has utterly spoiled me in ways great and small, but one of the greater, frankly, is that the temperatures normally stay inside the 50-70 F range.  Yes, the nighttime temperature in the winter frequently plunges into the 40’s and every summer we have a couple of heat waves with temperatures in the 80’s and even 90’s, but they don’t last more than two or three days.  Consequently, i never make fifty miles out of the city in the summertime before i realize that i deserve the comfort of the airconditioner.  And am always relieved when it comes on again after a year of sitting idle.

There are moments of beauty on I-505 and I-5 but they are rare once you tire of all the rice paddies and farmland, and getting up to Red Bluff is a bit of a grind.   After that, you’re out of the flat valley floor, and the drive becomes more scenic with lots of terrain variation and Mt. Lassen in the distance to the east.

And it becomes lovelier and lovelier as you go north through Redding, and then halfway to Weed you cross an arm of Lake Shasta.  Alas, the vista point was closed, otherwise i’d have taken some shots of the pitifully shrunken lake with a wide brown bathtub ring above the water.  We got little snow last winter, so the poor thing is now less than half full.

But then Mt. Shasta came into view, still handsome even though there’s hardly any snow left on it.  Not too damn surprising considering that according to the thermometer in my car, the outside temperature this afternoon had been creeping up as i crept north and was by midafternoon 108!  California will be well dried toast if we don’t get a decent snowpack in the Sierra this winter, but tra-la can’t worry about that since i’m on an airconditioned vacation.

Here’s Shastina and Shasta from Weed, CA.  Those little white dabs are the pitiful remaining snow.

 Mts. Shastina and Shata


And then, as i neared the Oregon border, the engine died, and since i was going up a serious hill, i quickly exhausted the battery and rolled to a stop on the shoulder.  Oh good grief.

So i was trying to be coldly analytical here and remember last year when the motor died on my way back from Palmdale and i limped home on the engine alone and then the next day when i turned the car back on again the damn thing acted like there was nothing wrong at all and maintained its stout denial under the examination of my mechanic.  Hmmm.  Maybe, i thought, if just turn it off now and then back on again, everything will be fine.  Nope.

So i dug out my mobile phone to call for roadside assistance.  No Signal.  Aargh.  I hate these things because i always feel like i’m at the wrong end of a leash whenever i have it with me, but i carry it around for emergencies.  And finally when i have an actual emergency and turn it on, it won’t work.

So whaddya do now?  The car was almost instantly uninhabitable at these temperatures, and so i stood there beside the road being broiled on the sunny side and roasted on the shady side while i considered my options.

Where’s a cop when you need one?

The obvious thing to do was pull my white handkerchief out of my pocket and start waving it until a kind soul stopped and gave me a ride to the next interchange, where i could find someplace with a phone i could use to call roadside assistance.

But first, thinking carefully, i transferred into my backpack everything of value in the car except the Segway so i’d be able to jump immediately into the assisting vehicle.  And then broiled there another fifteen minutes trying to work up my nerve to wave the white flag.  Why so long?  Well, hell, i was born in Texas and you learn very early that death is a viable alternative to surrender.

While i was standing there, the awful thought struck me:  what if i’m just out of gas?  Well, see, the gauge had been displaying Empty for some time, but that’s characteristic of the Prius.  It starts bleating LOW-ON-GAS warnings when you can still go at least 150 miles, and over the years you learn to just ignore it and instead look at the total miles since your last fillup, knowing that at 50MPG, you can go 550 miles on a tank.  Math is not my forte, but i can multiply 50 by 11 in my head by simply multiplying 50 by 10 and then adding one more 50.

Hmmm, i got back in the car to checked and was relieved to see that it indicating just 506 miles.  Whew.  Forty-four miles left.  And since i was in there, i went ahead and turned it on again.

And the engine fired right up.  Yippee!  I’m off again.

Not only was i greatly relieved that i hadn’t just stupidly run out of gas, but also, i could continue on my journey…and stop at the next station for gas, as i was a bit low.

Alas, I made it only around the next curve, about a mile, but glory be, as i lost power here came an exit ramp, which i gratefully took and coasted to a stop four yards short of the Hilt, CA interchange.  And then realized that was in the middle of the road and that there was a pickup behind me.  As he pulled around, i stepped out of the car, and oh, kind soul, he didn’t make me wave the white handkerchief but stopped and asked if i had a problem.  I admitted i did, and he waited while i rolled the car back onto the shoulder.

I told him i was trying to get to a phone because my mobile was out of service range.  He said that just out of sight around the curve over there was a liquor store,  the only surviving business at this interchange, and he could give me a ride to it.  I joyfully accepted, offering him money.  He refused.  And was sure about the refusal.  So i reached for my pack and realized that in my excitement over the car starting again, i’d left the pack sitting on the shoulder a mile back where the car first died.

And that’s when the meltdown went down.

One of my larger neuroses is my aversion to asking folks for things if i feel like i’m asking for a favor.

Another is my reluctance to get in anyone’s way/slow anyone down.

Put those two together, and you can perhaps understand why i could do nothing at that point but put the backpack out of my mind and get in the kind man’s pickup and let him take me directly to the liquor store, where the generous folks let me use their phone to call USAA Roadside Assistance.

It was a little complicated what with the car a half mile away and my using the store’s phone and having no other means of communication, but at least i could give ’em the name and number of the interchange.  They agreed to meet me at my car and said it would be 90 minutes, which gave me plenty of time to shuffle the half mile back to the car.

And to think about my abandoned backpack containing all my essentials but my toothbrush.   Taking it from the top:  Pack – well beyond its service life with the zipper falling out.   Notebook pc – won’t need to replace that since its only use was for taking on trips and clearly i’m not thinking fast enough to be going on any more trips.  Big old Panasonic DMC – FZ50 camera and little pocket camera – been thinking about upgrading the big old one for some time and this is my chance….and do i really need a pocket camera?  Mobile phone – I’ve carried it around only for emergency use, and since it didn’t work the first time i needed it, why carry one at all?  GPS device – no more trips, so why do i need one? Helmet – I can get a fresh new one for $25.  Passport – Again, no more trips although i should notify the feds that it’s been lost.  Ummmm.  Maybe i should go ahead and get a new one so i can make a dash for Brazil in case the NSA, incensed over my constructive criticism, decides to come after me.

By the time i got back to the car, i’d so thoroughly discounted everything in the pack that it didn’t even occur to me that what i should have done the moment i realized i’d left it by the roadside was to thank the nice guy for his offer of a ride, but decline.  Then, since i’d left the pack only three minutes or so beforehand, i could take the Segway out and ride it back down the shoulder the mile or so, where the odds were very high that the backpack would still be sitting there.   Then i could grab the backpack and ride back up to the interchange and find that nearby liquor store and use their phone to call Roadside Assistance.

But no, i’ve trained myself so well of late to practice Acceptance and Letting Go that i’d already emotionally written off the contents of the backpack and put them out of my mind.  Nor did i realize that since the trip to and from the liquor store only thirty minutes had elapsed, there were still fair odds that the pack was still where i left it, and i had plenty of time before the tow truck arrived to get on the Segway and ride back to check.  But no.  There is such a thing as Too Much Acceptance.  I’d written it all off.

So the truck came in only forty-five minutes, and it took me and the car north to Siskiyou Import Services in Ashland OR.  They were just closing, but said they’d look at my car first thing in the morning.  They did make time for all three of ’em to take trial rides on the Segway.

And then, towing my suitcase,  i Segwayed a block back up the street to the Cedarwood Inn – a clean, quiet, and comfortable place for only $75.  For dinner, a block on the other side of the garage was a Thai restaurant, where i had their special larb salad with both shrimp and chicken.  Quite tasty, in fact excellent, although it had a little red star beside it, which turned out to mean that i needed two Singha beers to wash it down.  And that was not a problem since i could use a little sedation after a day like this one.

Slept late the next morning, and by the time i got to the garage, they’d already fixed my car.   What a relief it was something they could fix easily.

Pity that i couldn’t continue the trip without camera or notebook pc, but still, it was an easy day back to SF, and the ride home was uneventful.

And since that pic of Shasta above was the only pic i got on the whole trip, here’s a shot of what i came back to.  I think i’ll just stay here.

Noe Street stairs


OK, everybody’s asking what was wrong with the car, so i’ll confess.  It was out of gas.

Apparently while it was resting a spoonful of droplets had trickled down into the gas line, which is what allowed me to run another mile.  And oh, at the garage Jason checked my math and pointed out that while i could go 55o miles if i were getting 50 MPG, i’d been roaring up the Central Valley all afternoon with the cruise control set to 73 MPH and the airconditioner blasting in cool luxury mode, so my mileage was down to 46 MPG, which yields 506 miles, precisely how far i’d gone on that tank.  And they were such nice people at the garage that they acted like it was perfectly normal to let yourself run out of gas.

Gotta take MPG into account if i ever venture out of the city again.  And maybe take along a navigator.  No no, a human navigator.

And there’s still more on this adventure.  I’m working on a following post, to be titled “Good Samaritans”.



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  • By Language Moment on 15 October 2013 at 15:20

    […] events have conspired against my writing the sequel to my calamitous northern adventure of 22 September, but i promise you’ll see it soon. Meanwhile, just to toss out a little […]

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