Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Planes, trains and automobiles

I have had an extremely interesting couple of months with regards to transportation… and isn’t that just an ancient Chinese curse!

At the end of May my job was declared redundant and in one day I lost my income, my phone and my car. Quite the shock after 15 years, let me tell you.

Anyway, losing the car has led to a cavalcade of adventures… from catching a bus in Melbourne for the first time since moving here almost ten years ago to buying my first ever car. Buying the car was quite exciting but probably not my most considered purchase… hey, don’t get me wrong, I did do some homework, but I tend to fall for older (think 1950s), bigger (think Chevy Belair) quite impractical cars… so buying a 1995 Saab was, for the most part, quite sensible… for me.


My Dad told me during the week that he was being presented with a 30 year service medal from the NSW Rural Fire Service (a volunteer organisation that used to be known as the Bushfire Brigade) and my younger brother Michael was up for his 15th year medal. These heroic people give up a lot of their time and put huge effort into training. They fight bushfires, attend car accidents, help with traffic control, raise funds for the brigade as well as for charities – particularly kids’ charities. I think that they are all amazing, wonderful people for what they do and so to hear that Dad and Michael were both being honoured on Saturday meant that I just had to attend, hairdressing appointment be damned!

So, I packed up Saabrina (I’m not normally the car-naming type, but this name just fits) and headed off from Melbourne at around 2:30pm on Friday for the 9 hour drive.

All was going great. The car was handling well, traffic wasn’t too heavy and I had already listened to about nine Hamish & Andy podcasts of their UK trip, when I decided to stop for food and petrol at Yass at about 9pm(ish). I meant to stop and eat my KFC burger but I just wanted to get going again so that I wouldn’t arrive to long after midnight… so eating in the car it was and off we went.

About 40 minutes later I had just passed the Goulburn exit when I noticed the “Check Engine” light come on… noooo…. that is NOT something you want to see on the Hume. I switched cruise control off and the car started to slow. If I put my foot down there was a little surge but not much before we started slowing again. Now, I’m not sure how far it is to the second Goulburn exit – I was just extremely thankful that there IS a second exit  - but it felt like a very long way. Finally, finally the exit swoops into view and we are off the freeway, merging with the old Hume Highway… for which you have to slow from 110 km/hr down to 80… and once doing that slower speed we just continued to slow and slow and slow and no amount of accelerator pedal was increasing that speed.

Hoping for no road-pizza’d wombats or kangaroos, I had to pull off onto the shoulder of the road as by now there was a little bit of an incline and I was now doing a top speed of around 5km/hr. Lucky for me we did reach the top of the hill and it was a coast down into town from there. To cut this long story short, I had luckily (again with the luck) purchased RACV roadside assistance the day after I bought the car so the NRMA covered us in NSW. A lot of waiting around in a petrol station carpark, a phone call to Dad and the guy eventually showed up to say there isn’t anything he can do without some kind of computer to plug in so the CAR can tell him what is wrong. I’m sure I’m being way too harsh but it seems to me that unless your problem is a flat tyre or that you’ve run out of petrol, there really isn’t a lot they can do with modern cars. Anyway, I did say short version, so I  will skip the frustration and crying-fest in the hotel and just say that I had to spend the night in Goulburn and get a tow in the morning to the service station.

Of course I had a slender, unrealistic hope that the tow would be quick, we’d be there by 8:30am when they opened and it would be a quick 30 minute fix and I could be at Mum and Dad’s only 30 minutes late. It never hurts to be hopeful but reality soon set in and I ended up at the service station until 12:30pm, missing Dad’s ceremony by a couple of hours.

Now I could look at this whole saga and say terrible luck, but in reality I had some EXCELLENT luck…

  • Saabrina broke down within hobbling distance of one of the largest towns on the route. Another 15 minutes and I’d have literally been in the middle of nowhere, sitting in my car in the cold night on the shoulder of a freeway full of speeding trucks. Not much fun there. Not to mention all the dingos, dropbears and Tasmanian Tigers just hovering in the nearby bush… ;0)
  • I had roadside assistance from the NRMA. The guy couldn’t do much to help me, but he did advise me not to try and drive the car any further without having it checked at a garage. I was going to try, believe me, but as I pulled into the carpark of the hotel the “check engine” light came on again and I knew the game was up. He also gave me the card of a good service station to go to in the morning.
  • If things had gone differently or I had tried to continue driving I actually could have ended up as flaming wreckage on the side of the freeway. The guy that fixed the car said that it appears that the fuel filter had never been changed in the life of the car and that the fuel pump was trying so hard to get the petrol through that the car actually burst its fuel line. If that fuel had hit the exhaust system… well… like I said, I was lucky.
  • I ended up at a service station that I was really happy with. They didn’t treat me like an idiot, kept me appraised of what was going on and left me with an overall positive impression. It could have easily been a different experience.
  • Whilst it wasn’t the cheapest visit to a garage (my Uncle Bluey told me a story today about how a garage near the Nullabor Plain changed his fuel filter for $10!!), I had visions of thousands of dollars flying out of my bank account so I was quite pleased.

So yes… I missed the actual reason for my trip, but I’m still calling myself lucky.

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