Sometimes you just need to get away, even if it's just for a night. The real fun comes when even your escape refuses to let you free from the stress you were trying to avoid.
I'll explain. As a caution, this is a long post, though I think you'll find it amusing enough. Looking back on it, I certainly do....
A while back, I saw that Brian Keene was going to be at ConNooga in Chattanooga, a pretty easy 2 hour drive for me. I looked at my day job schedule and finances, and found that it was possible for me to go, as long as I went on Sunday, the less expensive of the con's three days, and (at the time) the one day I had off from the day job. Two hours there, spend some time hanging out and such, and then two hours back. A fairly easy day trip.
This time, though, I didn't want to go alone or with a friend who already somewhat understands this crazy world of writing and publishing, I wanted my wife to come with me. She accepts that I'm one of those weird creative folks, and supports my chosen insanity--I mean career path, but she hasn't had a lot of exposure to others like me. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to bring her into the broader part of this aspect of my life. As it was the perfect chance for the two of us to spend some time alone together without kids or stress or the like, she agreed.
Okay, it took a little more convincing since she's not good with people she doesn't know, but convince her I did.
After making sure she was off the Saturday before (yesterday, as I write this), she asked me what I thought about driving down on Saturday night after I got off from my day job at 3:30 and getting a room for the night. It would give us more time, and we could relax more and not have to rush. After finding a room fairly cheap, I said hell yeah and booked it.
I've met Brian before, once at a signing (also in Chattanooga) and again at Scares That Care last year. Neither were very conductive environments for actual conversation with someone who's been doing this writing thing much longer than I have and who could give me some pointers to keep from losing my mind at it. My wife also pointed out that she would feel weird about hanging out around his table at the con itself, and suggested I see if we might could meet up Saturday night, since we would be getting in earlier. I reached out the day before we left, and things worked out so we would meet at the bar for a few drinks. Awesome. The stars were aligning.
The fun started on Saturday. My wife's vehicle has been out of commission for the last two weeks while I juggle finances and diagnosis of the problem, so we would be taking my car. The problem was that one of my tires had a leak in it, and would probably need to be replaced. Even worse, it was pulling hard to the right, so I figured an alignment was in the cards, too. So, while I was at the day job, my wife goes to get the tire replaced, and we would both just hope that was the ultimate culprit and we could hold off on the alignment for a while.
Only the problem wasn't just the one tire. It was BOTH front tires. Storms were scheduled to hit while we were on the road, which meant it would not be an ideal situation to change a tire on the side of the interstate, so we went ahead and replaced them both. Miracle of miracles, though, it fixed the pulling issue as well. Forty bucks for a used tire beat the hell out of eighty or more for an alignment, so I figured we were coming out ahead. Crisis averted.
That one, at least.
We headed out a little later than anticipated, but not terribly so. She'd already made sure we had gas and the like, so off we went.
If you've ever driven from just outside Nashville to Chattanooga on I-24, then you know about the fun stretch where you cross Monteagle Mountain. If not, here's a hint: it is so memorable, especially to truckers, that it's been immortalized in Smokey and the Bandit during the opening song where Jerry Reed sings about Bandit navigating Monteagle grade. It's roughly six degrees coming down, and there are runaway truck lanes every mile or so. Needless to say, you want decent weather when you cross it.
We didn't have that. We had pouring rain across the entire mountain. In the evening, so it was already dark out.
It was at this point that I realized my windshield wipers were pretty much just smearing the rain around. I grabbed the wheel with both hands, slowed WAAAAY down, and laser-focused my eyes on the road ahead of me. Finally, after what felt like forever but was really only about twenty minutes, the road leveled out, the rain faded to a light mist and then stopped, and we were back up to normal interstate speeds. And hey, we made it through, so after two potential road crises, surely we were clear for a relaxing weekend now, right?
Since we'd lost so much time, we went straight to the hotel bar where we were supposed to meet Brian, figuring we'd check into our hotel on the other side of the city afterward. The reservation didn't specify a check-in time, only the normal "after x PM", so things were still on track.
We made it to the hotel bar, and spent a pleasant couple of hours with Brian, Eddie Coulter, Gavin Dillinger (who I discovered lives right up the road from me), and Shana from Serial Box. I kept my promise to Wile E. Young and got him a picture of Brian he could meme, and after deciding we were all tired of shouting over the loudest acoustic musician I've ever head, we said good night.
My wife and I head off to our hotel on the other side of town, get checked in, and head up to the room. It was here we discovered how much pictures on a website can lie. The room, with a single Queen bed, was exceptionally small. Roughly half the size of any other hotel room I've ever been in. Oh well, it's just for one night, it'll be fine. I kick my shoes off while my wife discovers that in order to get the room at the temperature you wanted it, you had to find the sweet spot on the AC controls. It worked off and on as expected the rest of the night, at least. I go over to put my phone on the side table, and discover that the AC drain runs right underneath the carpet. A very cold, wet foot was not what I expected, as you might imagine.
We then discover that the lighting is not typical of other hotel rooms. The main room had a long fluorescent light across the head of the bed, and there were no lamps on the side tables. We look around and discover another fixture near the television. I clicked it on, and both of us were momentarily blinded by at least a hundred watt bulb instead of the forty or sixty watt we would have expected. That light went back off, and stayed off.
Around this time, I realize that the rent has come due on the beer I'd had earlier, so off I went to pay it, only to discover something fairly disturbing. The sink and toilet were on the same side of the bathroom, not that unusual, with the mirror extending from one wall, all the way across to the tub. Including directly in front of the toilet. And low enough to provide a view of myself I've never sought out, nor really desired to have. I decided that whoever installed that mirror had to be a narcissist and assumed everyone else was, too. I stared at the tub, did what I had to do, and got the hell out of there.
Aside from that, it was a relatively uneventful night. The hotel breakfast was actually pretty decent as far as hotel breakfasts go, so we ate, packed up the car, got gas, and started off for the actual convention, so I could get a couple of things signed before doing some touristy things in Chattanooga and starting the trip back home again. We did make a quick side-trip to Wal-Mart so I could get new wiper blades, as it was already misting rain and I didn't want a repeat of the night before. After that, it should be clear sailing.
At which point the car decided our fun wasn't over yet.
I'm cruising down the interstate to the other side of town when suddenly my check engine light pops on and I lose power. I get off the interstate as quickly as I can, and pull into a gas station parking lot to figure out what fresh hell this was. I had a code reader in the car since I'd been working on my wife's truck, so I hooked it up and waited nervously for the result.
I don't remember the code number, but the description was something about a rocker arm stuck in the off position. My stomach dropped. I looked it up and felt a little better because on my car, that code usually has to do with oil pressure, generally when the oil level gets too low, the filter gets clogged, or a sensor goes bad. Nothing to do with the actual rocker arm, which would not be an easy side-of-the-road fix. I check the oil, it is a bit low, so I take a chance that the gas station has the correct kind for my car. They did. I put it in, reset the engine codes, and off we went again.
Only to have the same thing happen.
We decided our best option was to try and limp the car back closer to home in case we had to call someone to come get us, so we turned back onto I-24 toward Nashville and started looking for an oil change place that's actually open on a Sunday, just in case it was the filter or dirty oil. Google says there's one in Manchester. It's a bit of a haul, but we'll try for it.
Montealgle Mountain was just as much fun to cross going back, but for an entirely different reason. Ever tried driving up an eight degree grade with no power? I don't recommend it, unless you like to make yourself tense for no good reason.
We make it to Manchester, following the GPS instructions, and find ourselves in front of a run-down house in the middle of nowhere. Not a Valvoline shop, in other words. I pull out my phone, check for a Valvoline, get a completely different address, and the information that it is currently closed permanently. Shit. So we head for another trip to that all-purpose consumerist paradise, Wal-Mart.
They tell us it's a two hour wait for an oil change. We say thank you very much and decide to shoot for one in Murfreesboro, even closer to home. After all, we've made it this far.
We make it, and miracle of miracles, there's absolutely no wait. We pull in, I tell the guy I need an oil and filter change, he gets my information, and off we go. When I asked if there was anything we could do to get the price a little lower, considering this was an unexpected expense, he even knocked $23 off, so whoever you were, THANK YOU for that!
Fifteen minutes later, we're back on the road, and I actually seem to have power back in the car. We were close enough to home that we didn't need to hit the interstate, so we stayed on the secondary roads and had no further issues. I cleared the codes again when we got home, and I suppose we'll see when my wife takes the car to work tomorrow whether or not the problem's actually fixed, but I think we may have gotten off lucky with that one.
But there was one final kick to come. I'd heard of a new taco place from some people I work with at the day job, and decided that since it was lunch time, and we hadn't yet concluded our weekend getaway, we should try it out and see for ourselves. I could taste the tacos. Until I pulled up and found that they were closed on Sundays.
Me: "You've got to be freaking kidding me!"
My wife: (laughing and giggling) "That's hilarious! Take me home."
So I did.
I guess this is what I get for trying to relax. Okay, so aside from the travel time, which always sucks, it wasn't really that bad. I got the chance to introduce my wife to some really cool folks, I had a wonderful and educational time talking to Brian, and best of all, my wife and I finally got some time for just the two of us. I would've happily shoved the car off a cliff, but everything else was nice.
Except, the worst part of it all? I'm still craving tacos.
At least THAT problem is easy to fix.