We are leaving town on the 22nd, I told everyone. “Rubber on the road and heading toward Hocking Hills.” That was the plan. That was what I put on the itinerary I gave my family. That is what we told the good people of Helvetia, where we planned to stay on nights three and four. It was the plan. Was.
But then, on the evening of our send-off party, I realized Sunday would be unrealistic. Too many things to do, too many loose ends to wrap up. Spectrum needed me to drop off their useless router at the UPS store. My mom and Miracle’s daughter both wanted to see us one more time. We planned to say goodbye to Neil privately because he had been so good to us over the past two years. I felt like there was more I needed to say to him. Besides, all the stuff that didn’t sell at our garage sale needed to be schlepped to his house for storage or taken to a donation center. I had tons of books I needed to sell/donate (more like donate) to Half Price Books. So, I decided, it would be Monday. We would leave early. Lay tracks and stay just one night in Hocking instead of two.
We went to see Miracle’s daughter. She wanted her usual from Starbuck’s—a huge flavored ice tea with an impossibly long name. As we turned into the lot, the little light on the dash that looks like a battery, came on.
This had happened before, in the dead of winter on a side road. I had lost power quickly and by the time help arrived, my blinkers didn’t even work. AAA towed the car to my mechanic, Norm. He called the next day to tell me I was maybe an idiot. But he said it nicely.
“You ever check the regulator in your bus?” he asked.
“I, uh, the regulator,” I said.
“Do you know what the regulator is?”Norm always asks the question to diagnose the bus owner first. He waited for a few seconds then said, “It’s that little silver box on the right side. There’s a plug that goes into it. Yours came undone.”
“So I can pick it up?”
“Sure. Give me twenty bucks because I also fixed your fuse panel. Whoever put your fuses in didn’t know what they were doing and it could have caused a fire.” Then he asked who put the fuses in.
Point is, the battery light came on and I knew what to do. I pulled over and checked the regulator. It was still plugged in—which was bad news for two reasons: 1. I had exhausted my knowledge of what it could be; and 2. Whatever repair needed to be done would be more than twenty dollars.
I called Norm and told him the battery light had come on. “It’s actually called the alternator-generator light,” he said. “People call it the battery light because they don’t know what it is. You check the plug into the regulator?”
“And it was plugged in?”
“What did you do after that?”
“I called you.”
Norm walked me through a basic set of diagnostics. (Pull each fuse and see if the light went off. And it did with the final fuse.)
“Your alternator is going bad more than likely,” Norm said.
“You think it would make it to your shop?”
“Should be fine as long as you don’t have your headlights, fog lights, or radio on.”
“Avoid using your turn signals too. Interior lights. Anything that soaks up power.”
“Try not to brake too much.”
Norm overnighted the alternator and got it in the next day. The day was scorching hot with humidity that made us sweat through our clothes even when standing in the shade.
“You planning to leave today?” he asked.
“I think we’ll hold off until tomorrow morning,” I said. “Let it cool down, head out early and cut Hocking out, maybe push things back by a day.”
We headed to Neil’s where we ate a hasty dinner and stored the last of our shit in a spare closet. Several times we joked, asking, “Is that it?” and then saying, “Oh, one more thing.”
“Actually, can I have one more favor?” I asked.
Neil stared at me, bemused.
“Can I fill up my fresh water tank?”
Neil has a spigot on the side of his house that is convenient and it would allow us to leave first thing in the morning and not worry about filling up elsewhere.
“Sure,” he said, “have at it.”
That’s when the clutch cable snapped.