We purchased this van used, when it became clear that we were upsizing our kingdom from three to five dwarfs. The Prince was in ministry, and so even if it seemed a bit large for a family of seven, we knew we would put it to good use with the church kids and activities. Little did I know this would become an extension of me. My sports car, my go to for hauling, for camping, for kids shuttling... who would have ever thought I would get emotionally attached to a 15 passenger van?
I remember the night I drove my new to me vehicle off the Ford lot on Rt 22 in Harrisburg. The day had faded into the twilight and as I glanced in the rear view mirror, there were rows and rows of empty seats, and in the front row, right behind me one crazy troll haired toddler, strapped in a car seat, staring back at me with a big smile on her face, because she got to ride with momma in the "wan"! I also remember saying in passing to the Lord that night, "This seems crazy, but if it is your desire to fill this up, we are willing."
What we did not know was the plan that the Lord had for our family and that van. Countless team sport transfers, mission trip hauling, trailer pulling, camper pulling, mounds of groceries, pets, family vacations, and field trips to name a few of the exciting events the van has endured.
Speaking of field trips, this leads me to the last 9 hard days for this old girl... I had the van signed up to go on a 200 mile road trip, with a school group last weekend. When the "check engine" light came on the Tuesday before I determined to take it to the shop. If it had been just staying local when the light came on, I would have most likely just ignored it, but in knowing it was going to be transporting other peoples kids so far, I wanted that peace of mind. So, on that visit to the shop, she got a new throttle body motor. However, transportation to the orienteering meet that Saturday was a success!
I fast forward six days.. I am excited when any of the dwarfs want to spend time with me, much less be seen in public with me, and Sleepy still wants me to go on field trips with her! As long as they ask, I go... So I head out in the van to meet her duel enrollment history class, for a walking tour of downtown Sarasota. Sleepy and I were super excited about this event, and had been talking about it for weeks!! I left the house Thursday morning, 45 mins before I needed to arrive at the designated location. I would rather be early and wait on them then, have them waiting on me! I put the location in my GPS and head out... about a mile from home, I think about turning on the radio.
Now I know that seems silly to most to think about turning on the radio, but you see, the last 5 years of the vans life she has developed some funny quirks. Like you can hop in and turn the ignition on without the keys being in the ignition, when you hit a bump the heat turns on, even when the air is on. Or when you step on the gas to accelerate, the air turns off. If you have your head lights on and stop the car, no longer does the sounding ding sound, twice in recent months I have forgotten to turn them off to return to a dead battery. Most recently, if the radio is on, and you open the door, after you turn off the vehicle, it does not shut off. So there have been occasions where 30 mins or an hour after returning home, when walking past the van in the driveway you can hear the radio playing...
So, I am thinking about the radio because I know I have to remember to turn it off when I reach the field trip location or risk a dead battery when I need to come back home. I determined I would remember, so I turned on the radio. Another mile and the radio started to act funny... sort of got a bit scratchy, wavering in and out, and I am not sure if it is the station or the actual radio. I flip the dial, and it seems fine for half a mile, and then it shuts off completely. I attempt to turn it back on, but it would not work. None of this gives me pause, and I remember thinking, "Well at least I won't have to remember to turn it off when I get there!"
About three miles down the road, I see all the gauges bottom out. No RPM's, no speed, no gas, all levels at zero, even though I am driving. Sort of like she stopped breathing. So as I approach a red light I think, "lets just see what happens." Again, not as alarmed as I probably should be considering the odd issues my van has regularly. I stop at the light on red, and go on green and all things are working, however still no readings for speed or gas have reappeared. At this point I am thinking that I have enough time in the schedule, that I should go ahead and circle back to home and get Dopey's car, when I stop at the next light, and the van makes a few popping noises and flickers out completely.
Now for the record I am on a road that at this point is five lanes. It is a congested area at all times of the day, and I am in the center lane, as I was going to be making a left turn in one mile, and there were two turning lanes to my left at this light. As soon as I know the van is not moving under her own steam, I place my flashers on. I proceed to methodically look for my calling card for a tow, and attempt to reach the Prince on his cell phone at work. The first two cycles of the light change are fine... and on the second cycle, I see Sleepy's field trip bus pass me by. Well at least the teacher knows I am not lying about having car trouble! I am so glad that dwarf is not easily embarrassed!!
I am now starting to panic as the Prince, when I reach him, is asking me if I can get the van in neutral (which I can't) and other questions that I also can't answer. Additionally, the roadside assistance number is amazingly not user friendly if you are in a crisis and now the drivers are starting to get mean. Really mean ! Honking at me and flipping me off. Zooming past in rage. Like I stopped this beast to have a sandwich or finish a good book on a whim in the middle five lanes of traffic!!
As I am engrossed in all this, and am trying to make a plan... I completely miss the fact that an officer has approached the van from behind, and as he knocks on my window, I am startled to the point where I think I a m going to wet myself. He asks me to roll down the window... not possible... he indicates that he is going to open my door, I think to myself, not if I can get it open first!
He says to me upon opening the door, "Are there others in here?" " No", I said, " Just me in this sports car." "What is going on?" was his next question. I explain that the vehicle just shut down. It won't do anything or go anywhere. I also indicated that I had not gotten anywhere yet with the roadside assistance people, and frankly I was at a loss as to how to get the van out of the roadway. He called in the situation, and then asked me if I thought he could push the van. I said, that I could not get it to neutral, so after a few minutes of him man handling the steering column we were able to get it in neutral. He told me not to take my foot off the break, and that he was going to go put on his vest and then come back and push the van back so that we could work it into a parking lot off to the right of the road across two lanes of traffic. Then he stopped and looked at me and asked, " Ma'am, are you alright?" Oh, no... I can't stop the water works. "No I am not alright, I am supposed to be on a field trip, and my daughters bus already went by, I don't have time for this..." blather, blubber, a little snot and few tears, and then 30 seconds later, water works off, and he and I are solidifying the plan to get the van off the road! I so did not expect that just a kind inquiry into my well being would cause such a melt down, and while it was brief, it happened. So much for being a mom who can handle it all.
The officer returned, with his vest on, and started to push the front of my van backwards, towards the front of his cruiser so we could align with the entrance to the parking lot. As he began to gain some speed in the push, I at one point put on the breaks because I was fearful of him pushing my extra large vehicle into the front end of his vehicle. About this time back up has arrived to close the two lanes of traffic so that I could steer the vehicle into the lot. As a side note, I find it amazing how quickly the attitude of drivers change from angry about their delay, to helpful once they notice the police are involved and they HAVE to stop moving. About three others, joined the police is pushing my one ton vehicle off the road into a parking space.
I let the van sit for the day. Once out of harms way, my focus was back on the field trip. If I was quick about it, I could still get there and only be 10 minutes late. I was not about to miss this field trip. They clearly saw that I was not making up my car problems, so pretty quickly help arrived in the form of Dopey and an employee who was working at the house at that time, and I was able to take Dopey's car and he went back home with his co-worker. The class waited the ten minutes for me to arrive, and Sleepy and I enjoyed a great field trip together!
After the field trip, I got back on the phone with the not surprisingly, still painfully slow roadside assistance team as they processed my need for a tow. Of course as with all things in life, nothing is simple. It was more for the tow, because she is a one ton vehicle. It took longer for the tow to arrive. While I watched the driver hook her up to the truck, I realized we are just a breakdown away from this vehicle not coming back to us one of these times. In reality sooner, rather than later.
For this go round, I am grateful that the mechanics could fix her. I am glad that the small motor replaced the week before, which blew because of the alternator, because it was under warranty, was replaced for free. I am glad that out of the three options for alternators, my replacement was not the most expensive. I am glad fuses are inexpensive. I am grateful that the resources were in our account for another repair in a week's time. I am happy that I was safe. That no one rear ended my van while I was stopped. That the angry drivers as they zipped by me honking and making gestures did not injure themselves or anyone else on the crazy busy stretch of road. Thrilled that I made it to the field trip with Sleepy!
Moreover, I am grateful for the fact that I rely on the Lord to order my day, mishaps and all! You can't make this stuff up!