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Three score and ten or more

Saturday, June 28, 2008

There's a long long trail a winding.

A note about last weekend (not "lost" weekend, dim bulb, "last" or previous weekend.)
On Friday, last week, Janet and I made a decision to travel to Columbia, South Carolina to spend the weekend with our daughter who works in that area as a field biologist. We had a few things to deal with, but made our departure from Statesboro about noon, Friday, expecting to be in Columbia about three in the afternoon.

All went well in the beginning, I put our life savings into our gas tank, checked the oil, kicked the tires and loaded a ridiculous amount of clothing into the Pontiac Montana. I have noted in previous dispatches that, during some of our travels, the old Pontiac has suffered trauma, so this was the reason for the oil check and the tire kicking.

Everything began well enough. We wended our way over the Bypass (Veterans Memorial Parkway, for the precise minds among our readers) to US 301, which, forty years ago was the major route from the Northeast states (let me think, are they blue or red?? No matter) to Florida but which is now mostly a two (occasionally four) lane highway bounded on the edge by innumerable dead motels (some of which have been resurrected as housing for "immigrant labor".) In Georgia the main highway speed limits are fifty five mph with the occasional spurt on four lane sections of higher speed. In general one can drive about five miles faster than the limit (I was told one time that this was because of the variety of speeds denoted by the speedometers in various cars. I suspect that the real reason is to rub a finger in the eye of Jimmy Carter, the originator of the fifty five mile national speed limit).

We had just reached a point about twenty miles northeast of Sylvania, Georgia, approaching the Georgia/South Carolina border when I heard a loud bang (sounded like some equipment in the back had fallen over, but we had no equipment in the back) and soon the vibration of the rear end informed me that I had a blow-out in the right rear tire. I pulled over onto the right shoulder of the road, turned on the flashers and retired to the rear of the car to begin the process of tire changing. (At my age, this is no longer a task to be taken lightly.) As I opened the rear hatch of the vehicle, Janet reminded me that, anticipating the eventual need for such, she had subscribed to a road service through AARP. Chuckling maniacally at the prospect of letting someone else change my tire, I returned to the drivers seat, picked up my new cell phone (I will have to tell about the process of replacing my old phone with Altell, but now is not the time.) and called the 1-800 number of the face of my AARP road service card.

Problem solved, one would think, but in our case the problems were just beginning. You would think, since the major users of AARP cards are likely to be old coots or cootesses that AARP would consider the "hard of hearing, toothless babbling" old coot types and hire service agents who speak and understand normal English, but unfortunately our service operator, (probably working in Thailand or India) did neither. (I may be overstating, she may have spoken English, but her accent was so strong it was an English designed to totally befuddle the aged and hard of hearing.)

My first inclination was to identify her first comments upon answering the phone as "clackety yak phonable prack yakkety plubrish" but that would really be untrue. I did identify a sufficient number of English phonemes and grammatical pauses that I did know that she was speaking English, although it was English that I did not understand at all. I waited for an appropriate pause and said, in the cleared prose a forty year career in teaching communication should muster, "My name is Richard Johnson. My AARP service account number is **********. I have had a blow-out in my right rear tire. I am currently parked on the shoulder of US Highway 301 in Georgia. The last city I passed though was Sylvania, GA, about twenty miles ago. I cannot see a mile post from my current location but I must be fairly close to the Georgia/South Carolina border. Can you arrange for assistance to change my tire? I repeat, I am on US Highway 301, somewhere between Sylvania Georgia and the South Carolina Border."

I understood only enough of her reply to become aware that she did not understand me much better than I understood her. We batted misunderstandings back and forth until I was sure that she understood that I was parked on the shoulder of the road with my flashers flashing somewhere near Sylvania Georgia on Highway 301, though I was sure she did not understand Sylvania, only because she asked me to spell the name four times, slowly. After mistakenly inserting the name of Allendale, South Carolina into the conversations as the next city on the highway, I finally turned the cell phone over to my dear wife whose long experience as an English Teacher among students, not only from Georgia, but from a variety of other countries might clarify the situation.

Janet was more successful than I (so what else is new?), only had to spell Sylvania once, and nodded with some degree of affirmation. She turned to me and said that the lady needed both our home telephone number and my cell telephone number in case we lost our connection. I was not sure what use she could make of our home number since we were sitting on the road fifty miles from home, but I gave Jan my cell number (she knew our home number, but when she calls my cell she just goes down her directory and punches the button) and she relayed it to the nice incomprehensible lady, with Janet explaining to me that if the connection broke the lady could contact me. I then took over the phone and the AARP representative told me (I even heard and understood) to hold on the line for a few minutes till she could contact an appropriate road service and get back to me.

For the next eight minutes I sat there listening to music on my cell phone, then the music stopped and I waited a little longer, then I hung up so that she could call me on the cell if it were necessary.

In the mean time, a little Toyota Camry zipped past us, then slammed on the brakes, did a U-Turn and came back to us. A very nice black man in coveralls jumped out of the car and came over to us. For a moment, I wondered why road service folks would use a passenger car to make calls, but it was soon clear that he was not from the road service, he was just a good Samaritan, who wanted to know if we had a problem and what he could do to help solve the problem., I told him I had had a blow-out and was waiting for road service, so he offered to hang around till the road service people showed up. I assured him that such was not necessary, but, just in case, I redialed the AARP 800 number. This time I got a real English speaking person (accented, but not beyond acceptable boundaries.) This entire adventure was new to her so she had to contact the other operator. It appeared that AARP didn't have a contract representative in Sylvania, or anywhere around there, so she gave us an identification number and the phone number of a couple of garages we could call, then pay out of pocket and submit the receipt for reimbursement up to 120.00. I called one of them who said that coming out as far as we were would cost 150.00 or so, as long as they didn't have to do anything but change the tire.

At this point, getting some help from the passing stranger seemed more useful so he jacked up the car while I began to try to extract the spare. I now must insert a seemingly unrelated piece of news-- I know that I don't usually do such things ( ;->) I have owned this car for about four years and though I have replaced a couple of quarter panels, I have yet to change a tire. This is noteworthy only because when we got out the jack and the lug wrench the long rod that one uses to drop the spare tire was missing. We messed around for a long time looking for the tool till my friend with the car says, "I know a place in Allendale where they do tires. I will just put the tire in my car and take you to Allendale." Janet decided to stay with the car and a good book and we took off to Allendale SC. I made sure that I had my cell and she had hers in case of emergency, and left her with a disabled car, 90 degree temperature and a good book.

He took me into Allendale where we found a guy who repaired tire and sold used tire etc. He checked my tire out and found that a "plug" had blown out of the tread. It looked almost like a twenty two calibre bullet had gone through it. He didn't have a tire to fit my car, 215 70 R15 but he recommended that for the rest of the trip I let him install a slightly smalled tire 205 70 R15 and replace it when I reached my destination. I was a bit nervous about that (I don't know why, modern spares are little donut like things) so he removed the tire, vulcanized an inside patch into the tire, pumped it up and sent me on my way (for about twenty bucks).

My new friend took me back to my car (about a thirty minute drive), we installed the tire and away we went. I crossed the South Carolina line, went about twenty more miled down the road and it blew again. This time the whole side blew out of the tire and left shreds along the side of the road. As I got the car jacked up again, who should come putting down the road than my original Samaritan. We took the tire back into Allendale pulled it off and threw it away, and put on the original 205 70 R15, and the guy who ran the shop couldn't help suggesting that I could have saved twenty bucks if I had let him put this on the first time. (the used tire cost twenty bucks installed). My friend took me back to my car, I gave him twenty bucks to pay for his gas back and forth and went on to Columbia. Our three hour drive took almost seven hours, and Janet finished two books while waiting for me in the car. It was just one of those days.

The tire did fine, I didn't replace it till early this week. We had a good visit in Columbia, found a new restaurant (that served tapas, I am not sure what that means but we had a lot of good food), visited with the daughter and relieved a lot of the pressure that has come from not hearing from her doctor for nine weeks. (grr). I believe that I may safely say that chances for renewal on the AARP Road Service card are slight.


At 10:45 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Somebody up there must love you to send you such a wonderful Samaritan. Moral of story: another reason not to trust that commie org, AARP, and to get an AAA card.

At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Kathleen said...

I love my AAA card. That was gut wrenching just to read! I admire Janet for staying with the car. I would have chosen the car ride with the A/C.

I suggest you bill AARP for the $120 they were willing to pay to assist you. ;-)

Glad you made it fine and had some family fun.


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