Thursday, May 9, 2013

Like Something Out Of A Movie

In my last post I wrote about stressful realities. My husband Steve's mom is 91. She doesn't have a lot of time left, so last week we traveled to Florida to say goodbye.

We loaded my husband's Chevy Cavalier with clothes, more electronic gadgets than a family of three should own, and my personal pharmacy. I packed insulin, pump sets, back up syringes, back up Levimer insulin in case my pump failed, a Dexcom sensor, my meter, extra strips, extra alcohol wipes, and extra medication. I had extra extras. I was ready. I planned for every contingency. Except for what actually went wrong.

We left the Chicago area ahead of the evening rush on The Frank Borman Expressway (Interstate 80/94) and got out of town despite our GPS telling us to "stay left/stay left/stay left/take the exit right." Sure, we'll just zip past these trucks through five lanes and make our exit. No problem. If the GPS routed us on the Dan Ryan (Interstate 90/94) with 14 lanes of insanity, I'd have chucked the GPS out the window. The Borman was bad enough.

 Once we were in Indiana I settled back for a long trip. It's a thousand miles from our house to the nursing home where Steve's mom lives. In the back seat, Evelyn opened her snacks and got out her Kindle. Steve and I reflected on the last time we drove to visit Ruth in January 2012 for her 90th birthday. Snow in Illinois, ice storm in Indiana, rain in Kentucky, mountain fog in Tennessee, thunder and a downpour in Georgia. What a nightmare. At least this trip was going to be much easier.

And it was at first. We cruised south on I-65 through Indiana without a problem. Same with Kentucky. It was midnight when we got to Nashville, Tennessee. Steve and I started talking about finding a hotel. The car had other ideas.

A red light came on Steve's dashboard. Then the headlights dimmed.
low battery warning light

We pressed on, pretending nothing was happening. But, the headlights dimmed more. At 1:00 AM  on Interstate 75 in West Randomville Tennessee, Scooter the Cavalier had a low blood sugar reaction. Clearly something was wrong with the battery. Maybe we can pop in a new battery? But where will we find a battery at 1 AM in West Randomville Tennessee?


Thankful I didn't chuck my GPS out the window, I routed us to the nearest Wal-mart. Scooter limped into the parking lot. The three of us piled out of the car and went into Wal-mart thinking we would get a battery and pop it into the car. We found the right car battery. Steve asked a clerk for a cart so we could haul it outside.

Steve told the clerk that we're from Illinois, on our way to see his dying mother, and the headlights are going dim and the dashboard battery light is on.

The clerk scratched his head and said, "That doesn't sound like a battery problem. Sounds like ya'll's alternator is going out."


The clerk spoke in car language with Steve. All I know about cars is I put my entire wallet and the change from under my seat inside the gas tank and get the oil changed regularly. I wouldn't know an alternator from a serpentine belt. Evelyn and I exchanged worried glances as the two of them talked. The clerk told us there was an AutoZone about a mile away. They opened at 7:30 in the morning.

We left Wal-mart, got into Scooter and drove the one mile to AutoZone. Steve signaled a right turn, but the blinker didn't work anymore. We parked in front of the AutoZone and the headlights went dark. There we were, at two am, trapped in an AutoZone parking lot overnight. On our way to see Steve's dying mother, we were stuck in a town we never heard of, sleeping in our car... It was like something straight out of a movie.

Cramped in a small car, the three of us tried to get some sleep. Every time we fell asleep a freight train rolled by and blared its horn. We all cracked up laughing. It reminded us of that scene in My Cousin Vinny when the train kept waking Joe Pesci up in the middle of the night. I got a tablespoon full of sleep. Steve and Evelyn got even less.

Fortunately the staff at AutoZone helped us get the right alternator. Steve knows slightly more about cars than I do, but not enough to put in a new alternator. He tried his best, but a man from AutoZone took pity on us. Three people from Illinois, on their way to visit their dying mom/grandma, with a busted car, sounds like a load of bull. But it was true. He didn't charge us a penny to fix the car. We were all so grateful for his help.

Once the car was fixed, we got back on I-75. Steve joked that Scooter had some glucose and felt much better. We all did. Apart from white knuckle driving in Atlanta during the evening rush, we made it the rest of the way without any problems.

We were all able to see Ruth. Steve spent several hours with her. Saying goodbye was hard on all three of us, but I am glad we went. Scooter is glad too. With his new alternator he's good as new. Sad as the reason for the trip, staying overnight in an AutoZone parking lot in West Randomville Tennessee is something the Smith family will never forget.

The funny thing is, I planned for this trip. I had back up syringes and an insulin pen if my pump failed. I had plenty of sets and insulin. I had glucose tablets. I had everything planned. 

"Man makes plans... and God laughs."
-- Michael Chabon


  1. Glad to hear you got there safely. And let's face it, it wouldn't be a proper trip if something hadn't gone a little wrong. ;)

    Good thing you and your family were able to laugh about it. :)

  2. My goodness, what a mess! What an adventure! (What a nice guy at the AutoZone!)

    Glad it all worked out in the end. And who knows, maybe the distraction helped keep your emotions in check during the journey...

  3. Oh man! What a wild adventure! An alternator is not for the faint of heart! What a kind person that AZ employee was.



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