Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Replace your damned timing belt!

I'm not the first motorist to put off replacing the timing belt, and I'm not the first to pay the price.

It happened smack in the middle of a long road trip, too, just to emphasize the lesson.

On May 8, I made a final stop at the university and then hit the interstate to begin a drive from New Mexico to North Carolina. My route would take me across Texas into Louisiana and then Mississippi, veering north across Alabama and Tennessee into the Cherokee national forest and up, up, up onto the reservation to begin my summer working for the Cherokee Historical Association.

My business here is playing a role in their annual summer show, Unto These Hills.  The show takes place in a 2,000 seat outdoor arena in the Ocunaluftee Indian Village, and most of the cast lives in dormitories on a hill behind the theatre.

My beloved Honda Civic was running as perkily as ever.  In Shreveport, Louisiana, I stopped to replace two worn tires and continued on my way. I was enjoying the tall trees and smells of Louisiana when suddenly, without any alarming dashboard lights or ominous noises or any premonition in my mind, the engine simply stopped.  I coasted to the side of the freeway, brought the car to a stop (its final stop), and tried to start it again.  It made a whining noise but there was no engine.

It was late in the afternoon, a Saturday, with hot sun blaring. I waited two and a half hours for a tow truck, hiking to the nearest overpass to sit in the shade with the bottle of water I had in the car. I did not get a choice of where the car would be towed.  The nearest town, three miles away, was Delhi, Louisiana -- it does not rhyme with "deli" but "well hi," with the stress on the first syllable, DEL-hi!  The town had one mechanic, and that's where we went. We dropped the car in front of the business, which would not open until Monday morning.  Then I walked across town looking for a motel.

This ended up being an expensive two-day delay in my trip, and I feared for my job. For the rest of Saturday and Sunday, I more or less hung out in the motel room, taking a few walks around town.  Like Deming, Delhi has a freight train running across town several times a day. Unlike Deming, the train goes right through the center of town. It could well be passing within a few feet of you.

On Monday morning, it took the mechanic all of a minute to confirm that the car was totaled. With an interference engine such as my car had, a timing belt failure is very likely to destroy your engine (click here to read why). So replace your car's timing belt, okay?

At that point I had several problems to solve.  What to do with my car. What to do with stuff in the car (I was on a three-month trip, and had also brought a few props and costumes for my Iliad performance). How to get to Cherokee, North Carolina. How to pay for any of the solutions available to me. How to get home if the show decided to re-cast my role.

The business where I had been towed is called Auto Doctor, and the mechanic who pronounced my car dead (unless I wanted to replace the engine) was the owner, Robert Denman. He and his wife, Vicki, were most helpful and generous. They made helpful suggestions, and Robert took time away from his business to run me to the motel and back while I figured out a plan. Even more generously, he took an hour out of his day to drive me into Monroe to rent a car. While I was heading back, he negotiated with two different wrecking services to get the best price for my car.  He was hesitant to accept any money for his services, but I insisted. He saved my summer, getting me back on the road quickly even if it wasn't in my own car.

The feeling of sadness as I emptied out the Civic was surprising and even amusing.  I don't personalize machines or project personalities onto them.  When talking to mechanics I tended to refer to the car as a she -- not sure where I picked that up. Still, it's a machine, not a pet or a person. All the same, it is a machine I relied on heavily for twelve years.  I began leasing it when I was Abbot of Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles. It went coast to coast several times, across the country a few more times, and traveled heavily all over New Mexico the last five years for work. Somehow it deserved a kinder send-off than this hasty, rushed transaction, abandoning it to a wrecker on the side of the road. I felt a sadness on the level of having to put down a pet, and shame at how messy the event was.

By lunchtime Monday I was back on the road in a rented Camry, with half the drive left to go. The rest of the trip was uneventful, and I arrived at the site on Tuesday.  Within 45 minutes of my arrival, I was rehearsing.

And that's pretty much what I've been doing ever since.  It's a large production with a cast of 45 or so, elaborate battles, pyrotechnics, dance, moving sets, and more. The stage has no deck; we are performing in sand. We open in just a few more days. Our days are long.  Although I have combat experience, I don't fight in this show, nor am I dancing, so the physical demands on me aren't as intense this summer. I get to concentrate on my scene work, and just try not to fall on my ass onto the rocks.

In posts to follow, I hope to share a bit about the character I play and things I've seen and learned out here. 


Karen Berry said...

Sorry to hear about your car issues. Why is it that a vehicle breaks down when you are far from home!? I have a similar story but I had my two children with me, scene set in Ogden, Utah, water pump failed melting my head gasket. Ugh! I feel for you!
On the bright side...I find that if you live your life helping others, when it comes time when you need help. Others appear when you need most! The up side of Karma! Break a leg, my FB friend! ♥

Kelly said...

Oh my. Shreveport, Delhi, Monroe.... you were very near me. I wish I'd known.

I'm glad to hear you're now there safely and I look forward to more reports on your summer activities.

Bob Singer said...

I thought about doing the belt change before we left LC for the three day drive to Greenbelt, MD, but couldn't afford the $500 I was told it took. My 1999 Caravan, nicknamed Lazarus, made the journey and is running still. As soon as I can afford it I will have it checked. Sorry you weren't as fortunate.

quid said...

Love what you're doing this summer and hope to hear more.

Sorry for the death of the car. I decided to sell my old VW at 129,000 miles to the mechanic that told me not to drive it one mile more without a new timing belt. Then I leased another car, which has gotten me thru the last 2+ years, trouble free. But you always hate to give up on a car that you know has more miles in it.

Work hard, enjoy yourself.