Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rubber Hits Road; Road Hits Back

That may look like a trailer we're pulling, but it's actually a wobbly load of unsolved problems, interrupted gestures, unfulfilled aspirations and free-floating anxieties.

We just finished having a good time in it anyway, hauling it to Albuquerque where we wanted to put on an air conditioner but didn't, then to Los Angeles to visit family and take E to Disneyland.

It's safely home and parked now, but it gave us some bad moments along the way, starting even before we departed when I filled the water tank, turned on the pump and watched a tiny tsunami surge from under the sink, where even I could spot the problem, a burst copper pipe.

We added the leak to the list of stuff for Camping World to fix while they were installing the air conditioner and took off. But Camping World let us know after four days of slothful inertia that all the pipes were swollen and brittle and should be re-plumbed with plastic to the tune of more than $2K.

We retrieved Streamie -- as the prior owners christened her -- and took our business to a non-chain RV center, which cut out the sprung pipe section and clamped in a hose for about a hundred bucks. They did say the copper pipes would drive us nuts until we replaced them, but we were already nuts when we bought our 1969 all-original Caravel. We moved on, hoping for the best.

In Needles, CA, with the Mojave Desert just ahead, I had the tires checked and air added. "There's dry rot on those trailer tires," the attendant told me. "You should let me replace them and maybe save yourself a headache down the road."

Since I had a headache already from Albuquerque and we had invested hundreds of miles in our chosen strategy of moving on and hoping for the best, I ignored the advice. But I remembered it a half hour later when we pulled out of a rest stop and heard rotary thumping that sounded like a bad tire.

I pulled over, got out and walked around our conjoined vehicles. Everything looked normal, nothing that looked to me like a reason to violate my usual practice of not bending over and looking underneath unless I can already see why I should.

A hundred yards later the thumping stopped as whatever I had picked up at the rest stop was flung off and the empty puncture it left behind flatted the tire. Not a trailer tire, though, but the car's left rear.

Minutes later on the shoulder as we bickered over whose fault it was that we hadn't bought roadside assistance (it was mine), a guy pulled over in a little sedan, backed up to us and practically begged to be allowed to put our spare on for us. Was he a Samaritan or a predator? Only one way to find out.

Good news. He was a Samaritan, and with his own jack and heavy duty lug wrench! Our spare only had about 30 psi in it, but it got us 40 miles to Ludlow, where there was another guy sitting in a grimy tire service station waiting for something to do. We were back on the road in a half hour, with Pam on the line to AARP ordering roadside assistance.

She of little faith. Not having had a flat tire for a decade or more before this, I figured I'd exhausted my bad luck and forgot the pessimism I'd been asked to share in Needles. And after a day in the Magic Kingdom, there was too much pixie dust in the air to see anything but rainbows ahead.

But a few miles short of Benson, AZ, on the way home, there was a bang and a list to starboard, and there we were on the shoulder again. This time it was the trailer tire, blown out and shredded. Worse yet, AARP now claimed we hadn't ordered the RV upgrade to our assistance package. We knew very well we had and managed to shame AARP into applying it retroactively at no charge with apologies.

More helpful guys showed up about 90 minutes later, the trailer spare was in better shape than the car's, and we coasted into Benson where we were planning to spend the night anyway. Pam's grandfather used to be sheriff there, and his two-cell cinder block drunk tank still sits abandoned at the edge of town.

Streamie now has two new tires, no air conditioner, elderly copper plumbing, some other issues I don't want to talk about right now, but we are still hoping for the best on our next trip.