Mississippi Breakdown

When Roo and I got in the car to take her to a park a few days ago, a strange thwapp-thwapp sound came from under the hood. I risked driving it to a local mechanic who instantly diagnosed the problem. A failed water pump bearing. The water pump circulates the coolant from the radiator into the engine so it can absorb the heat that’s generated from the friction of all the metal parts moving. When it fails, the car has to be stopped immediately to keep it from frying itself. That mechanic gave me an estimate but couldn’t get to it for another ten days. I started phoning around. The only place that would take the job on immediately was a Toyota dealer 40 miles away. One always expects to pay more at a dealership, but somehow these guys aren’t charging more at all. Halfway between what the thing is worth and what I owe on it. It should be as good as new when it’s fixed, though.

Because of the possibility of the old crate quitting at any minute, for two days we didn’t drive the car at all. I found some places to walk Roo locally, and though they weren’t ideal — mostly around a local fairgrounds — they had to suffice. Roo considered it a cut in pay and gave me an occasional dirty look to let me know what she thought  of it. The camp where we were is on the banks of the upper Mississippi River, so Roo figured she would just swim there any time she liked, but I didn’t let her. She did get to swim in it once, when we first arrived, but that was just so she could be one of the few dogs who can say she’s swum the Mississippi in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri. But, the last of her hotspots has been alternately healing and then opening up for weeks, so, with the truck grounded, this was as good a time as any to try to keep her dry.

On our last day in the campground, with whatever mojo the truck still had being held in reserve for the drive to the garage, a woman drove up in a beat-up old car with every inch of its body covered in dents except for where panels were missing. In campgrounds, it’s rare for anyone ever to knock on your door. In three years, I don’t think it’s happened half a dozen times, and those were either park rangers asking where the rent was or something to do with one of the dogs we’ve pulled off the streets. The woman knocked on the door. She was somewhere between 40 or 65 and wearing a tight pink t-shirt and jeans.

“Anyone in here smoke?” she said, looking away furtively.

Naturally, I thought she was looking for a cigarette.

“Oh, no, sorry. I quit long a time ago,” I said.

She gave me a look like I was some kind of idiot and left, kind of slowly. It looked like she was thinking of stating her case more clearly. Later I realized she was probably looking to trade something for meth or crack. It was sad.

Yesterday I hooked the car up to the trailer and drove it to the Toyota dealership. On the way, the noise under the hood turned into an intermittent screech that frightened Roo and made her stuff herself down in the footwell. I drove the 40 miles slowly, hoping the whole time that the thing wouldn’t quit, especially with the camper. Minnesota people are extremely friendly, especially by American standards. Had this been California or New York, I would have expected everyone who had to pass us to at least flip the bird, but no one minded and we made it. I unhooked the trailer and pulled up to the big automatic garage doors at the service department. When the door opened and let in the sound the truck was making, all the service guys and customers looked up at once.

The service manager came to the window and said, “Ouch,” when I shut it off. “You must be Mr. Beker.“

“I am, but you can call me Brian,” I said.

“Sounds bad. You’re lucky you made it.”

“You’re telling me,” I said.

“Well, we’ll get it taken care of.”

  Be it ever so humble, there's no place like a Toyota parking lot when you need one.

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like a Toyota parking lot when you need one.

You have to hand it to Toyota service. Even though they’re always great, these guys are the best I’ve encountered. Apart from permission to park the camper in the dealer parking lot, they made sure I had electricity and gave us a loaner car. Roo hated the loaner, I suppose because it’s something new, and anything new makes her nervous. She’s a pre-Trump conservative in that way. She was also already on edge from some thunderstorms 200 miles to the west that were on their way. Later, contrary the expectations of the weather service, they lost their intensity faded by the time they reached us overnight and didn’t torture Roo much at all.

So, there we are. We traded the heat and venomous snakes of Oklahoma for clouds of mosquitos and the most pernicious tick infestation I’ve ever seen anywhere. The Bravecto works petty well on Roo, so all the ticks come for me. When they bite, they leave big red bumps that itch for days. 

The Toyota guys were as good as their word and just before they shut down this afternoon one of them pulled up to the camper in the truck. It runs better than ever.

So, it’s another night in this parking lot. Tomorrow we’ll find some other place to camp. I guess we’ll head north. We’re not out of room in that direction yet.

That, Mister and Missus America, and all the ships at sea, is the news from the front.