Road Trip! – Links to the whole story

To simplify reading (maybe), here are the links to the entire story:

Mon Jul 21
Tue Jul 22
Wed Jul 23
Thu Jul 24 (part 1)
Thu Jul 24 (part 2)
Thu Jul 24 (part 3)
Thu Jul 24 (part 4)
Fri Jul 25 (part 1)
Fri Jul 25 (part 2)
Fri Jul 25 (part 3)
Fri Jul 25 (part 4)

Road Trip! (Conclusion)

After 20 hours (and 12 installments), we were finally back at my home.

We’d already discussed what we’d do when we got there.  H went to take a shower and put on her Ren Faire outfit.  She’d drive to the Connecticut Ren Faire in the costume so she’d be ready to perform on short notice.

While H was in the shower, I fed my cats, then got directions to the CT Ren Faire site.  I used Google Maps.  I also looked at the Mapquest directions for comparison, and the Google route was clearly better.  I felt a small sense of vindication, which I kept to myself.

The route would take H over the Tappan Zee bridge, which often gets jammed on Friday afternoons.  I checked the Tappen Zee Bridge web cameras.  At least for now, the traffic was moving.

H was ready.  We grabbed her stuff, including a tent I loaned her just in case she couldn’t open her partner’s trailer.  We went outside, threw her stuff in her car, made quick farewells, and she was off.  It was 4:30PM; the CT Ren Faire opened at 6, and she had to perform at 7:30.  According to Google, it would take 90 minutes for her to get to the Faire.  But it was Friday afternoon, and lots of people would be using those same roads to head home.

If there were any problems with the directions, H would not be able to contact me, since my cell phone wasn’t working.  I hoped she’d make it.

I could have gone back inside, but I wanted to get things “fixed” as soon as possible.

First, I drove to a local gas station to fill up.  After that, I went inside their convenience store to visit their small auto-parts section.  Right there were the kind of fuses I needed.  I bought two packages of assorted fuses, just in case I needed more in the future.  A couple of swaps with the fuse puller, and my iPod played again.  Hurray!  And it cost less than a dollar per fuse.

I drove to the mall to visit a Verizon store.  It was there I learned that, due to vagaries in my contract, I could trade up my cell phone right away, even though it was damaged.  If they’d had any Treos or Centros in stock, I would have gone for the deal.  But they didn’t, so I to settle for letting the insurance company replace what I had.

If the iPod Touch had a microphone, I would have a shiny new phone right now.  Again, no new toys for me.

The replacement required me to make a phone call to the insurance company.  I used a public phone in the mall.  After the usual bureaucracy (which wasn’t too bad, all things considered), they told me that they’d send me a replacement phone by overnight carrier.  Since “overnight” means “next business day,” I’d get the phone on Monday.  Oh, well.  I could live a weekend without a voice recorder.

With all that done, I decided to take in a movie: “The Dark Knight.”  Not bad, though a little overhyped in my opinion.

After two days in the same underwear, I stank a bit.  I tried to sit as far away as I could from anyone else in the theater.

Then, at last, I went home to sleep.

On Monday, the replacement phone was delivered as promised.  I got it activated with a few calls.  My first “real” call on the phone was to H, to find out what had happened to her after she left my place on Friday.

She’d arrived at the Ren Faire with plenty of time left to prepare.  It turned out that someone else at the site had a Coleman trailer, and she was able to use their key to open her partner’s trailer.  She was on-stage on time.  The show went on.

The Ren Faire staff never noticed she wasn’t there at the opening of the Faire.  They didn’t even hear her message on their answering machine until Sunday.

H apologized again for her behavior in New Jersey,  The word “hysterical” was used once more.

What could I say?  “It’s OK,” I said again.

It had all turned out right.  Thus assured, I sent my old, run-over cell phone back to the insurance company.  They’d provided a postage-paid envelope.  I’d only be out the $50 deductible.

It wasn’t until a week later that I realized I’d forgotten to remove the SD memory card before I mailed the old phone.  Oh, well.  I never used it much anyway.

Later, I did some more research on the web.  I’d been very, very lucky in my first towing experience.  There were lots of things I hadn’t considered: trailer sway; tongue weight; trailer brakes.  If it had been the turn-signal fuse that had blown, instead of the stereo fuse, we would have been in big trouble: on my car, if the turn-signal fuse blows, the car won’t shift into reverse or park.

And yes, it’s illegal to drive a trailer with no working lights or blinkers.

All in all, if the towing experience had to be a disaster, it was the nicest possible disaster we could have had.

H insists that for me to use the word “disaster” to describe the events of that particular road trip is pointless hyperbole.  (“Road trip wuss” is a more accurate quote.)  Even so, I don’t think I’m going to be towing anything again any time soon.

I discovered that a French Press can also be used to brew tea properly.  No, not the way Americans do it!  The correct way!  Anyway, I now use it too.

Three weeks after the road trip, the credit-card bill arrived.  The credit-card company was happy.  Very happy indeed.


I have had enough of efficient driving for the time being.  You’ll find me driving in the right-hand lane, at the speed limit or at the same speed as the rest of the traffic.  If you curse at me for driving slowly, I won’t react.  I’ve heard better.

H is currently performing at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.  I’ve changed some details to make it harder to identify her; for example, she doesn’t really have six toes on her right foot.  But if you visit the Faire, I think you’ll be able to figure out who she is.  Just look for the most talented performer there.

If you see her running to the bathrooms, don’t get in her way.

Do you remember H’s ex-partner, the one who abandoned her in Texas and made the road trip necessary in the first place?  At last report, he has not returned to Texas.  Therefore, assume he is still at-large.  Be careful about accepting rides from strangers.  You never know if it could be the douche nozzle.

“Douche nozzle?”  That’s H’s name for him.  I told you she could curse.

Road Trip! (Friday July 25, part 4)

The second enemy was the state of New Jersey.

By the time we got onto I-287 in New Jersey, H was under considerable stress.  I mentioned the major causes in my previous installment: She was going to be late getting to the Connecticut Ren Faire; she didn’t know how to get into her partner’s trailer; her bladder was sending messages of pain throughout her central nervous system.  On top of that, she was getting hungry.

She asked me about rest stops.  I hold her that there weren’t any rest stops on I-287.  She told me to keep looking anyway.

Only a couple of minutes later, I was proved wrong: There was a sign that read “Rest Stop.”  My memory was false!

But the power of New Jersey was strong.  Underneath the green road sign was a red addition: “Building Closed.”

H’s frustration was palpable.  It showed in the ever-increasing efficiency of her driving.  The state of New Jersey responded by placing ranks of vehicle in the left-hand lane of I-287, some of whom were traveling 5-10 miles below the speed limit.  It was clear that the drivers were in thrall to the evil will of New Jersey.

We passed by several exits with gas-station signs.  H was reluctant to get off at any of them.  None of those signs gave any clue as to how far those stations were from the exits, and she knew that New Jersey was capable of delaying the unwary traveler.

Finally, hunger won out.  We passed a sign that said there was a Quizno’s off the next exit.  Both her bladder and her stomach said that she had to take the risk.  We exited I-287.

The state of New Jersey enfolded us in its tentacular arms.

We got to the end of the exit ramp and saw nothing but woods.  There was a sign that Quizno’s was to the left, but no clues as to distance.  H turned left, and drove, and drove, and drove.  It was all residential blocks.

Finally we reached a more developed area… but there was no signs of any gas stations, Quizno’s, nor any other place where we could stop.

H had been cursing more-or-less continuously during this time.  She grew louder.

Finally we spotted a small gas station on the right, at a traffic light at which there was a right-turn-only lane.  Before H could get there, the state of New Jersey thrust a group of cars into that lane, preventing H from making the turn.

H became hysterical.

You’re thinking, “Isn’t that just like a man?  A woman is upset, for good reason, and a guy calls her ‘hysterical.'”  “Hysterical” isn’t my word.  That’s the word that H herself used, later on, when she apologized.

H screamed at the top of her well-trained lungs.  Her insults reverberated throughout the car.  The history of scatology suffered a great loss because I did not have a voice recorder at that moment.

To accomplish the feats that H attributed to the drivers of New Jersey, they would have required surgery to add new body orifices.  Some glandular alterations would also be required so they could emit new secretions heretofore inaccessible to biological systems.

Hieronymus Bosch could have used H as a consultant when he painted “The Garden of Earthly Delights.”

I was getting agitated myself.  I don’t respond well to loud sounds, whether they come from music, sirens, or aggravated people driving my car while I’m a passenger.

It was a hot day.  My car’s windows were rolled up and the air conditioner was running.  Everyone else’s windows were also rolled up and their air conditioners were running.  I still wondered if any of the other drivers could hear H.  I didn’t think any of them would do anything if they did, but not everyone takes kindly to a request that they be anally raped with a red-hot poker.

We continued along the street as H clarified the situation: Not only would the drivers of New Jersey required these new orifices and secretion, but so would their ancestors, and probably their descendants.

All thoughts of radiant fruits of passion had fled my mind.  I just wanted this to be over.

Some people have an ability: They can give an order in a strong, firm voice and it will be obeyed.  Such people are natural-born leaders.  They are the kind of people who can be heroes in a crisis.

I do not have this skill.  When I try to say something in a firm voice, people are likely to turn on me and say, “What the hell do you know about it?”

In this case, I decided to risk it.  In as firm a voice as I could manage under the circumstances, I said, “Turn right here.  Let’s make a U-turn.”

I think hysteria had so weakened H’s will that I managed to penetrate its natural resistance.  H turned right.  She made a U-turn.

I told her to head back.  We’d try to turn into that gas station going the other way.

Before we got there, we spotted a small shopping mall that had been previously hidden by the malice of the state of New Jersey.  The Quizno’s was there.  We turned into the parking lot and found a space.

H didn’t bother to stop the engine.  She tugged at the door, trying to get out.  She screamed, “Why does your car automatically lock the doors?”  Actually, that’s not what she said.  She found a noun, selected a verb, and turned it into an adjective.  She did this a couple of times.  It wasn’t really worthy of her skill.

She found the door lock, unlocked the door, and ran out.  Once again, I turned off the engine from the passenger seat.

My car doesn’t automatically lock its doors.  I had locked the doors.  In my car’s owners manual, it says that the crash-protection features of the car only work properly when the doors are locked.  With H driving so efficiently, I thought it a good idea to make sure we’d be protected.

I got out of the car, stretched my legs, and walked into the Quizno’s.  H had been to the rest room and ordered a sandwich.  She was positively mellow.  She apologized; it was at this point that the word “hysterical” was used.

What can you do?  “It’s OK,” I said.

She got her sandwich and we returned to my car.  I would drive the rest of the way.

Next: Road Trip! (Conclusion)

Road Trip! (Friday July 25, part 3)

We encountered our the first of the two enemies as soon as we left I-76 in Pennsylvania.  It was Mapquest.

H had obtained trip directions from Mapquest before we started on our road trip.  I’ve never been fond of Mapquest; I use Google maps instead.  But, I thought to myself, H is an experienced traveler.  If she uses Mapquest, there must be a reason.

The route that Mapquest had us take from the Pennsylvania Ren Faire site back to my home town involved leaving I-76 to get on a local route, US-222, to I-78, to I-287.  I had my doubts about this route.  I would have taken I-76 to the New Jersey Turnpike.  It would take longer, but it would keep us on highways all the way, so H’s efficient driving would do us the most good.  Also, we’d never be too far from a rest stop.

I decided not to bring this up.  I’d made enough poor judgment calls on this trip.  I didn’t want to be like the Chevy Chase character in the “Vacation” movies, who never learned from his mistakes and kept getting everyone into trouble.  H trusted Mapquest, so I went along.

This was a mistake.

The Mapquest directions proved to be confusing when confronted with the actual roads.  It was hard to know what was a “left spur” versus a “left fork”, and there was a long stretch when we weren’t sure which road we were on.

Part of the road turned out to be “very local,” in the sense that there were frequent traffic lights.  There were portions when the traffic was just plain slow.

H was teetering on the edge.  Every delay made it more and more likely that she would not be present at the opening of the Connecticut Ren Faire that evening.  Finally, she called and left a message on the answering machine of the Ren Faire office: she wouldn’t be there at the 6PM opening, but she’d be there for her first performance at 7:30PM.

The need to call irritated her.  She began to curse at the traffic.  Every time she (or I; she let me drive on the local roads where efficiency didn’t matter) had to step on the brake pedal, she treated it as another personal offense against her.

Now, before I continue to mock H (and I will!) there are some serious things I have to acknowledge in her defense:

– She was drinking coffee to keep alert on the road.  The consequence of this is that her bladder was sending “I’ve got to pee” signals almost constantly.  We stopped as often as she felt she could, but every stop meant another delay.  She didn’t want to stop, so she was in continuous pain.

– “The show must go on” was burning in her blood.  Not only was it a force of habit and of professional pride, but there was a practical side: the entertainment directors of Ren Faires are not known for accepting excuses. Although it was the final weekend of the Connecticut Ren Faire, it would not be unheard of for her pay for the entire Faire to be docked for missing a performance.  It was even possible that the word would get out and that she’d find it difficult to get Ren-Faire employment in the future.

– Even when she got to the CT Faire site, she wasn’t clear on how she’d get into the trailer.  She needed those stage props to do her show.  She’d tried calling fellow performers at the Faire, but couldn’t get in touch with anyone.

– The one-day 12-hour road trip had turned into a two-day 20-hour adventure. She didn’t know how much I’d paid for the trailer hitch and gas and food, but she had some idea.  She’d paid for some of the gas refills and for the hotel room, but I (with my false sense of machismo) slid my credit card through whenever I could.  She was feeling guilty about how much I was giving her, in time and money and energy.  She knew that she could never repay me for all I did.

I tried to assure that it was OK.  I was having fun, in a vague sort of way that makes credit-card companies happy (though I omitted the latter clause when I said that to her).  I acknowledged that she couldn’t pay me back, but I told her that she could pay it forward: someday someone she knew would be in trouble, and she’d help them out.

If you’re thinking that she could pay me back in some way that involved radiant fruits of passion, shame on you!

Underlying all of this:

– H was seriously hurt when her former partner abandoned in Texas.  She trusted him, and he abused that trust.  Like many people who’ve had experiences like this, she felt that it was her fault somehow.

Her friends, including me, offered her the facts: Nothing she ever did justified stealing from her or abandoning her 1500 miles from home with no way to get back.  A little investigation revealed that her former partner had a pattern of stealing from his partners and abandoning them.

But those were matters of mere fact.  They had nothing to do with how she felt.

In the months during her personal, professional, and financial recovery, her feeling of self-blame had died down.  Now, with the multiple pressures of guilt, obligation, time, and an overactive bladder, that feeling surfaced again.

I sympathized with her.  However, that sympathy was sorely tested when we encountered our final enemy on the trip.

Next: Friday, July 25 (part 4)

Road Trip! (Friday July 25, part 2)

We finally arrived at the site of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. H hoped we could just drop off the trailer and go, but it proved to be more complicated than that.

For one thing, she had to find out exactly where to leave her trailer.  She’d been told to leave it in “site J” so she drove the car directly there.  It was a tiny little space, barely big enough for the trailer.  She went to the Ren Faire office to confirm, only to get the answer, “No, not THAT site J.  That’s for parking the cars next to the stables.  You want site J in the campgrounds.”

So we had to go hunting for site J in the campgrounds.  She found it; it was a nice tree-lined area with space for a campfire.  Well, nice for camping, but not so nice for backing up a trailer.  I got out of the car and directed H: “Turn the wheel all the way to the right.  Now to the left.  To the right.  To the left.  Go forward as far as you can without hitting the tree.  Now reverse.  Turn the wheel all the way to the left.  No, the other left.”

I was at my most imperious.  It’s a wonder that H didn’t strangle me on the spot.

There were other delays as well.  There was paperwork waiting for her at the Ren Faire office.  She had to deal with that.

She was also in an environment where almost everyone knew her, or she knew everyone.  There’s were lots of “Hello, how are you, how have you been, we have to get together.”  It was good for her; she needed that sense of community.  But it was bad for time.

As I was waiting for her to get through the official and social bureaucracy, it occurred to me that we could not have possibly done this at night.  Even if the trailer’s lights and blinkers had worked and we’d driven all the way, we could never have gotten it to the correct site in the dark, without the Ren Faire staff to tell us where to go.  In the end, despite our best intentions, it would have been a two-day trip no matter how early we left on Thursday.  Oh, well.

At last the trailer was off my car.  I could see out my rear-view mirrors again.  Hurray!

I took over driving duties as we left the site, but I knew it would be temporary.  H knew the area, and directed me to the nearest Starbucks on I-76.  She would take over at that point for sake of “efficiency.”

Do you remember that H had to be at the Connecticut Ren Faire by 6PM that evening?  H hadn’t forgotten.  It was beginning to weigh on her.  By the time we’d gotten out of the PA Faire site, it was already 12:30.  At best we’d get to my place in New York at around 4; then she’d have to deal with rush-hour traffic from New York to Connecticut.  She also had to allow for enough time to break into her partner’s trailer to get out her stage props, and she had no idea how long that would take.

“The show must go on.”  She didn’t say it, but she could feel it.  It burned like three cups of Starbucks coffee surging into her bladder.  She had to get there.

We got to the rest area on I-76.  H got her Starbucks.  We were ready.  H drove us off in a burst of efficiency.

With H concentrating on efficiency (and safety, officer!) I was getting a little bored.  The stereo still didn’t work, so we couldn’t listen to an iPod.  With nothing else to do, I began to think.

Maybe the electrical system of my car wasn’t fried.  Maybe it was just a fuse.  I pull out the car owner’s manual, which I keep in my glove compartment.  I go over the section on fuses.  Hmm.  The fuse that’s connected to the power on the stereo is also connected to the interior overhead lights.  I hadn’t thought about the interior lights until that moment; we’d been driving in the daylight.  I try to turn them on, and they don’t work.

Aha!  When I connected the trailer to my car’s wiring, I hadn’t fried the electrical system.  I’d just burned out a fuse.  I sighed with relief.  That was easy; I could fix that myself.

I continued to read.  According to the manual, the fuses were easy to find.  It didn’t require any special tools to get at them; there was nothing to unscrew.  You needed a fuse-puller, but there was one inside the fuse box.  And, wonder of wonders, spare fuses were included in the box!  I told H the good news, and said I could fix the stereo when we hit the next rest stop.

H was less enthusiastic about my brilliance than I was.  She had other things on her mind.

While I had the manual out, I decided to read the section on towing, just in case there was anything I missed.

Yes, there was.

“Towing mirrors.”  Of course!  That’s why I couldn’t see when the trailer was hooked up.  I’d seen towing mirrors on trucks and whatnot all the time.  Why didn’t it occur to me that I’d need them too?  Argh!

Then I read: “Connection of trailer lights to your vehicle’s electrical system requires modifications to the vehicle’s lighting circuit to increase its capacity and accomodate wiring changes.  To ensure the trailer lights are connect properly, consult your dealer.”

Argh!  Argh!  Argh!  That’s what I missed!  I had the dealer install the wiring harness, but I never asked them to check the wiring itself.  It couldn’t handle the extra load of the trailer’s lights.  That’s why I burned out a fuse.

The web sites said to read the owner’s manual.  I hadn’t.  I felt so stupid.

Was there anything else I missed?  I went through the rest of the towing section.  The only other thing that I was supposed to have inflated my rear tires with an additional 10 PSI.  Well, no disasters had occurred due to that omission.  I guess I was lucky that time.

I also read, “To back up your vehicle with a trailer attached, place your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel and turn it in the direction you want to go.”  I decided against pointing this out to H.  A wise decision on my part; otherwise I might not be alive to write this.

At the next rest stop, I checked the fuse box under the hood.  There were the fuses.  I checked the fuse that connected to the stereo.  Yes, it was burned out.  It was a 20-amp fuse, so I looked for the spare.  There was a spare 30-amp fuse and a spare 15-amp fuse, but there was an empty slot where the spare 20-amp fuse should be.

I sighed.

I thought about putting the spare 30-amp fuse in the 20-amp socket.  My limited knowledge of electrical systems suggested that it would be fine, at least for the rest of this trip; after all, under normal circumstance I hadn’t burned out the 20-amp fuse.  But I decided against it.  My ignorance and lack of clear thinking had already gotten us into trouble on this road trip.  Let’s not court another incident.

H and I went into the shop at the rest stop, in the hope that they’d have a small auto parts section that would stock the kind of fuses we needed.  No, they didn’t.

We couldn’t waste any more time.  It was time to make the final push to get us home.

Little did we know that there were two enemies ahead of us, waiting to pounce.

Next: Road Trip (Friday July 25, part 3)

Road Trip! (Friday July 25, part 1)

The alarm woke us up at 6AM, and we were dressed and out the door by 6:15AM.  My t-shirt was mostly dry, enough so I could wear it without being uncomfortable.  Neither of us had slept well, but H applied her “show must go on” instincts and got herself moving.  However, there was no convenient coffee for her (hotel coffee is “muddy water,” remember?) so I’d be the one driving until we passed a Starbucks.

H went to the hotel desk to pay for the room; it cost less than the price of the gas for the trip (and would have even at pre-Iraq-surge prices, for a wonder). As she did that, something struck me: I never checked the tires on the trailer.

That aging “craptastic” trailer had been sitting in an open field for three months.  There was no reason to expect that the tires would still be inflated. I inspected them, and they looked fine.  Still, the whole idea made me nervous.  I had already made enough mistakes to show that I out of my depth.  I would be happier when that trailer was off my car.

That led to another thought: The car stereo went out when I connected the trailer’s wiring to my car’s wiring harness.  The trailer’s lights weren’t working anyway, so why not disconnect the harness?  Maybe the stereo would start working again.

No such luck.

By now you’ve figured out what happened to my stereo.  Give me a chance.  I’ll get to it.

H came back.  I started up the car, backed it up, and discovered jack-knifing.

This concept is trivial to anyone who’s towed anything, but in case you are as ignorant as I was: When I pulled the trailer forward it went forward; when I braked (gradually) the trailer stopped; when I turned right or left, the trailer moved with me.

But when I backed up, even with the wheels straight, the trailer would veer off to the left or right.  Back up enough and the trailer would be at right-angles to the car.  I knew that if I continued to back up beyond that, something nasty would probably happen.

We were fortunate that the hotel parking was so empty.  I was able to make a big, wide U-turn to get the car out.  We got back on the highway again.

Our Mapquest route took us back into I-95 up to the I-495 loop around Washington DC again.  This time, instead of going all the way around the city, we’d go about 1/3rd of the way around and get off on I-270, then onto route 15, heading across Maryland to Pennsylvania.

It was while we were on I-495 that H said that she had to go the bathroom again.  Fortunately, since she didn’t start off the day with Starbucks coffee, there was no sense of painful urgency about it.

While on this stretch of the trip, H made a discovery: “Look, that guy is turning right.”  I looked and saw a motorcyclist with his left arm raised up.  Since H hadn’t known the hand signals before, she’d never known what it meant when cyclists did that.  Now she did.

I felt a completely unwarranted and undeserved sense of pride.  I had taught H something!  I really was a teacher.

Yeah, right.

We were on the road for about 2 hours before we stopped.  It was on route 15, in the midst of open, flat country; there was no problem seeing the service station on the side of the road.  There was an RV dealership next door, and it was going to open in ten minutes; we still had some vague dream that H could get a Coleman trailer key there.

The service station had a 7-11.  There was no hope of Starbucks coffee, of course, but H found a substitute; I think it was some kind of coffee-flavored milk or something.  She felt she could drive.  She got behind the wheel.

Then H discovered jack-knifing.

That’s not fair.  Actually, she was the one who told me about it in the first place, back in the hotel parking lot.  But she wasn’t any more experienced at backing up a trailer than I was.  We didn’t think about this when we pulled into the station, but the design of the station was such that we couldn’t pull away from the pump by driving forward; we had to drive backward to get back to the road.

I got out of the car and started directing her as she was backing up.  H was not in a good mood; the caffeine had not yet been absorbed by her system yet.  She started cursing as she wrestled with the wheel.  Her window was open so she could listen to my directions.  Everyone in the area could hear her.

There were a bunch of motorcyclists at the station, who’d stopped there for some gas and their morning coffee.  Such was H’s artistry that she attracted their attention.  

She also attracted the attention of the driver of a pick-up truck, who was getting fuel at the same gas-pump island at which we were.  He asked, “Can I offer you some advice?”  “Sure,” I said.  I knew how ignorant I was of trailers and towing.  I don’t think H appreciated my enthusiastic agreement.  

He told her, “Put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel.  As you’re backing up, turn it in the direction you want to go.”  It seemed like sensible advice to me, but H didn’t really want to hear it.  She continues to curse at the trailer as it refused to turn in the right direction.

Finally the truck-driver asked, “Do you want me to just back it up for you?” Again, I agreed.  With reasonable grace, H consented and let him do it.

It was just as well.  Almost as soon as he got behind the wheel of my car and started backing up, a few other pick-up trucks and motorcycles arrived to block the way.  He smoothly negotiated around them while driving backwards, and had my  car facing the way out.  If H had still been behind the wheel, I don’t know what we would have done.

I thanked the man.  I don’t imagine that he’s reading this, but if he is: thanks again.

Though the RV dealership was now open, H decided not to risk any further delays.  We continued to the site of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.

Next: Road Trip! (Friday July 25, part 2)

Road Trip! (Thusday July 24, part 4)

If you’re on the road long enough, sooner or later you’ll reach your destination.  We finally arrived at the site of the Virginia Renaissance Faire.  The Faire had ended a few weeks prior to our arrival, but the site was still accessible.  It’s located at a winery.  We passed rows of grape vines, and there were a couple of farmers doing vine-growing stuff.

Can you tell that I’m a white-butt city boy?  I always thought that wine grew on trees.  No sign of the cork mines, though.

H drove up to her trailer, which was sitting at the edge of an empty field.  After all this effort, I expected to see some great big mobile home with a jacuzzi, but it was just an old pop-up trailer.  Just as well; my car couldn’t have towed anything over 2000 pounds anyway.

It was easier to hook the trailer to my hitch than I’d figured.  It was pretty much what I saw in an article on Wikipedia.  H’s trailer had a coupling that accepted 1-7/8″ trailer balls.  Again, this was good news; it was another sign that my car could handle the towing weight.

Her trailer already had safety chains on it, which she had not known.  Oh well, at least I had a spare set of chains should it become necessary.

I put the trailer hitch bar into the trailer hitch, and locked it it in place with the trailer hitch pin.  I put the trailer ball into the trailer bar, and tightened it in place with the wrench I’d bought.  With H’s help, I got my car into position, hooked up the her trailer coupling to my trailer ball, and affixed the safety chains to the trailer hitch.  I had everything, and I knew what to do.

All that research had paid off!  Self-confidence is wonderful.  If only it would last.

Finally, I connected the wiring harness from my car to the trailer’s wiring.  Before we started up, I wanted to run a basic safety check.  I asked H to stand behind the trailer to test that the trailer’s signal lights blinked when I set my car’s turn signals.  She reported that they didn’t.  The trailer’s back and side lights had come on when my car’s had, but the trailer’s blinkers didn’t blink.

H remembered that the trailer’s blinkers had worked when it was towed in the past.  We chalked it up to corrosion of wiring as it sat in the field for three months.  After all, in H’s words, “It was a pretty craptastic trailer to begin with.”

I told H that, without working blinkers, we’d have to use arm signals.  H had no idea what I was talking about.  I explained to her the procedure: arm up = right turn, arm out = left turn, arm down = stop.  I teased her, “What’s the matter?  Didn’t you ever read your driver’s manual?”

Those words were to come back to haunt me.  H wasn’t the only one who hadn’t read a manual.

The next step was to see if the hitch connection held when I tried to actually tow the trailer.  H stood off to one side as I drove my car from the edge of the field, up a slight hill, and onto the dirt road leading out of the Faire site.

There were no particular problems with towing the trailer, but when H trudged up the hill and got into the car, she reported that the trailer’s lights had gone off as I was going up the hill.  I got out and checked.  I fiddled with the car’s lights.  The trailer’s lights remained off.

This was bad.  It was already 6:30PM, and the the site of the Pennsylvania Ren Faire was at least four hours away.  There was no way we could make it there before nightfall.  Driving at night with a trailer with no working lights would certainly get us stopped.  For all I knew, it’s illegal to tow a trailer without lights or blinkers.

We decided to get moving and discuss plans along the way.  I hooked my iPod to my car’s stereo in preparation for the next leg of the trip.  I started the car and started playing the iPod.

I heard nothing over the car’s speakers.

For a moment, I thought the new iPod had broken down.  A little inspection revealed that the iPod was fine, but the lights on the stereo were dark.  Hooking the trailer’s wiring to my car had done something to the car’s electrical system.

iPod.  Wiring harness.  Trailer hitch.  Trailer bar.  Trailer pin.  Trailer ball, two of them.  Trailer ball wrench.  Safety chains.  Cell phone.  And now the electrical system of my car.

Something in the universe thought I was made of money.

I remained calm.  There was nothing to be gained by getting upset.  The best thing to do was “get a move on” and figure out the rest along the way.

I think that I displayed a remarkable level of maturity, considering the circumstances.  I think I set a good example of rational adult behavior at that moment, especially since I couldn’t use my teddy bar… excuse me, my iPod.  Would that H had learned from that example!

We’ll get to that later.

I drove slowly along the dirt road that led off the site.  I had never driven a car while towing a trailer before, and it took a little getting used to.

I glanced at the rear-view mirror in order to get one last look at the grape vines… and saw the trailer.  I glanced at the left-hand mirror, and saw the trailer.  I glanced at the right-hand mirror, and saw the trailer.  I had no rear view at all.

I reported this to H, but she had no ideas.  I recognized that, again, I was probably doing something wrong and illegal.  I couldn’t figure out what to do, apart from continuing on.

Stop laughing.  I know the answer is obvious, but I just couldn’t see it then.  I was tired, OK?

We got on the main road.  There was no problem with the motion of the car or the trailer, but I didn’t want to drive too fast; apart from being uncomfortable about the trailer, on that stretch of road there were no speed-limit signs, and under the circumstances I certainly didn’t want to get pulled over.  I had no idea what was behind me, and I didn’t want to have to make any abrupt stops.  At the occasional turn, I became aware that were cars stacked up following me, but there wasn’t much I could do.  I tried to be co-operative about letting them pass me when the road markers gave them the chance.

H and I talked it over.  Even if we dared to travel to the PA Ren Faire site after the sun set, we’d be trying to tow and maneuver the trailer to her campsite in the dark.  It was pointless to try.  We’d get back onto I-95, heading north this time, and stop at the first motel we saw. We’d get a fresh start early the next morning.

Merging onto the highway was a little nerve-wracking.  I didn’t want to accelerate too fast either, so I had to wait until there was a good long gap between cars before speeding up the entrance ramp.  But finally we got on I-95.  We were only on it for about ten miles, getting off at the first exit with hotel signs.

There was a Super 8 right off the exit with a big, mostly-empty parking lot meant for trailer trucks.  Good; it meant that I’d have plenty of room to maneuver the trailer around if I had to.  We checked into the hotel, and decompressed for a while during a leisurely dinner at a nearby Pancho Villa’s.

I called up work on H’s cell phone and left a message that I wouldn’t be there the next day.  I knew I had the vacation day to spare, and fortunately there were no crucial projects that couldn’t wait for me.  I knew my cats would be unhappy, but they’d be fine; they had enough water and they usually didn’t finish the dry food I left out for them anyway.

It was a nice hotel, but it was still an uncomfortable night.  Neither of us had thought to bring an overnight bag or change of clothes.  I showered and made some vague attempt at washing my t-shirt.  H was reluctant to duplicate my attempt at laundry, since she wasn’t sure it would be dry by morning.

We went to bed early, with an alarm set to wake us up at 6AM the next day.

Sorry, folks.  No radiant fruits of passion tonight either.

Next: Road Trip! (Friday July 25, part 1)

Road Trip! (Thursday July 24, part 3)

While still in Maryland, H began to feel the consequences of the Starbucks coffee she’d gotten in New Jersey.  Her driving became ever more efficient as she we looked for the next rest stop.  Not only was her bladder filling up, but the gas tank was getting low; it was time to think about adjusting fluid levels in their respective containers.

There wasn’t a rest stop, not on that stretch of I-95.  We finally had to risk getting off at an exit marked with a gas-station sign.  Fortunately, this was Maryland and not New Jersey.  The gas station was right off the exit.

H was feeling the pressure, and I told her, “Just park the car outside the rest-room area and go inside.  I’ll pull up the car the rest of the way to the pump.”  She parked the car and rushed out; she didn’t even stop the engine.  I turned it off from the passenger seat, then got out of the car.

It was at that point that I noticed that my cell phone was not on my belt.  I normally keep it in a leather pouch that clips onto my belt, and the pouch wasn’t there.  I looked around and under the passenger seat, but I didn’t see it.

I sighed.  I figured that most likely it had fallen off when I got into the car at the last rest stop.  Just in case, I could ask H to call the number when she got back from the rest room.  Maybe it was still inside the car, even though I hadn’t seen it.

Did you notice where I didn’t look?

I got into the driver’s seat, started the car, and headed for the pump.  As I turned the car, I glanced behind me and saw my cell-phone pouch lying in the road where the car had been.  As I pulled up to the pump and got out of the car, H came up and offered to pay for the gas.  Full of machismo, I quickly slid my credit card into the pump as I asked her to please fetch my cell phone from where I’d dropped it.

She came back with a sorrowful look on her face.  I understood why when I took the phone out of the pouch: the glass face was smashed.  I had run over my own cell phone.

I knew why she was sad.  She knew about the loss of my iPod, and had a vague idea of how it cost me to get the trailer hitch installed.  She thought I was out the cost of the phone.

Also, H relies on her cell phone, and she thought I felt the same way.  For H, the cell phone was her primary networking tool.  She uses it to keep in touch with prospective employers and to arrange gigs.  Even for short trips, she plugs a headset into her phone and uses it hands-free.  (Really, no jokes about “efficiency” this time.)  On long trips, she’ll call her friends and chat to while away the hours.  If my iPod is my teddy bear, then H has two: her cell phone and her iPod.

In my case, her empathy was mis-placed.  I don’t often use my cell phone.  I got my first cell phone in October 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks, because so many people’s lives had been saved by cell phones.  Since then, I’d paid thousands of dollars to cell phone companies, even though I used their cheapest plans, and hardly ever used it.  Only two people I know call me on my cell phone, and one of them is H.

I told H not to worry: I paid the monthly insurance fee to my carrier.  After a $50 deductible, they would replace the phone.  All we had to do was look for some large mall as we continued on the trip; there was sure to be a Verizon store there.  I thought they’d replace the phone on the spot.

Now there were two things to look for as we cruised down the road: an RV/trailer dealership, just in case they had a key for a Coleman trailer, and a shopping mall.  By a twist of fate, both eluded us.  Where is rampant consumerism when you need it?

As I said, I didn’t miss the phone.  What I missed was the voice memo feature on the phone.  I’m used to keeping track of all my expenses, even the minor ones.  This dates back to a time, around 20 years ago, when I was chronically short on money and getting into deeper debt.  I started keeping records of everything and typing it into my computer, as a prelude to making a budget.  To my surprise, just keeping track was good enough; my bank balance quickly got into the black and stayed there ever since.  All it took was an awareness of what my limits were.

To keep track of everything, I keep all my receipts until I get the numbers into my computer.  But there are lots of small things for which there are no receipts; for example, a quick meal at a rest stop.  For that, I’m used to dictating the price into my voice recorder: “Ten dollars and thirty cents for lunch; that’s one zero three zero.”

OK, that last part sounds stupid.  The problem is that voice recorders have gotten worse over the years.  The very best I ever owned was my first, a gadget made by a company called Voice Powered Technology.  Don’t bother googling them; they’re out of business.  They made a great device with pretty accurate voice recognition.  I could say, “Timer. Three. Hours” into it, and it would beep three hours later, when I had to take my medication.  It was great.

It also made me look really silly.  My friends took great pains to point this out.  They teased me for years with “Don’t forget: Timer. Three. Hours.” even after I stopped using that particular gadget.  My enemies never mocked me for using a voice recorder; sometimes I wonder if I should make more enemies.

I guess everyone who used the VPT gadget got teased as much as I did.  It never caught on.  In the years that followed, I’ve used other devices, and each one had poorer recording quality than before.  Part of it was my choice: I didn’t want to carry around too many gadgets.  Gadget manufacturers trade off voice recoding quality for size and low memory use, a multi-purpose device will have poorer voice-recorder quality than a dedicated unit.  In terms of multi-purpose electronic gadgetry, I’ll carry two small boxes, or one large one.  Right now, the large one is my phone.

To make up for the poor recording quality, I’ve developed the habit of saying numbers twice.  So you’ll hear me spelling out the price of everything I record.  I’ll recognize what I said when I play it back, one way or the other.

I suppose my friends could tease me about that, but they don’t.  They’ve grown older too, and their memories are beginning to fade like mine.  Either they’ve come to recognize the value of my habit of dictating into a voice recorder, or they can’t remember that I do it.  It doesn’t matter to me; I win both ways.

But I missed my voice recorder for the rest of the trip.

I joked with H, “I lost my iPod and I ran over my phone.  This is not my week for small electronics.”

Little did I know what was to come…

Next: Road Trip!  Thursday July 24, part 4.

Road Trip! (Thusday July 24, part 2)

H and I departed on the first leg of the trip.  We sang physics songs:

“A hundred atomic bombs on the wall,
A hundred atomic bombs!
If one of those bombs should happen to fall–“

That’s the end of the song.  I didn’t know any more physics songs, so we engaged in saner pursuits afterwards.  We listened to the end of an audiobook on my iPod: “Anansi Boys” by Neil Gaiman.  Then we switched to her iPod and listened to some of her music: the Pixies, They Might Be Giants, Arlo Guthrie.  I finally heard his explanation for “The Motorcycle Song.”  Now I know why he doesn’t want a pickle!

We traded off on the driving.  For a while, when it was my turn to drive, H practiced a bit on the guitar while sitting in the passenger seat.  It was very pleasant…

You’re bored, aren’t you?  You don’t want to hear about the nice, cheery parts.  You want tragedy.  All right.

Let’s talk about micturition.

Remember those three cups of strong cups of Starbucks coffee that H drank before we left?  As you might guess, before long we had to stop so she could go to the bathroom.  We didn’t want to stop too often, and she insisted that we only stop at those rest areas at which there was a Starbucks; it was the only “highway coffee” that she’d drink.  Then before long…

Do you sense a pattern forming?

When I have a full bladder, it can be painful.  But then my body adjusts somehow, and it settles to a dull ache which fades away.  From that point on my sphincter seems to clamp down, and I don’t feel anything.  I sometimes have to remind myself to go to the bathroom by remembering the fate of Tycho Brahe, the great Danish astronomer.  According to legend, he refused to excuse himself from a fancy banquet to relieve himself; his bladder was supposed to have become so stretched that it developed an infection from which he died.

Perhaps H bears Tycho’s karmic burden.  When she needs to go, she needs to go badly.  The pain does not diminish.  It increases until she’s ready to scream.

And scream she does.  She will scream at every car that’s in the way.

H can curse.  Now, I’m sure you think you can curse, just because you can put a verb after a noun and form an adjective.  Take my word on this: no one can curse like H.  She can invent new words on the spot that make you aware of anatomic possibilities that even Inquisitional torturers would regard as cruel and inhumane.  I’d quote her, but not only would I run the risk of being banned from this site, I could not capture the inflection and conviction with which H blasphemes. 

H can go through scatology and come out the other side.  It’s so artistic that even though you’ve heard her utter every four-letter word that can be pronounced in the English language, you’re not entirely certain that you’ve been insulted.

In other words, H has got quite a mouth.

I should also say a word about driving.  I regard myself as a relatively safe and sane driver.  I won’t go so far as to say that I’ve never done anything stupid while behind a wheel, but I try to learn from my mistakes and not put others at risk.  I drive at the speed of the other moving vehicles, tend to go slower rather than faster, and am most often found in the right-hand lane if I feel that the average traffic speed is above my ability to drive.

To use H’s words: I drive like a girl.

Now, H drives… oops.  I should choose my words carefully.  After all, I don’t know who’s reading this.  Perhaps this is being read by one of the dedicated officers of the law, whose thorough enforcement of traffic regulations ensures the safety and well-being of us all.  Huzzah to you, keepers of the peace!  Your ceaseless vigilance of our highway speed deserves greater appreciation than it receives.  Hip, hip, hurray!  Hip, hip, hurray!  Hip, hip, hurray!

All right, that’s laying it on a bit thick.  You may be under-appreciated, but you’re not stupid.  I just don’t want to get H into trouble.

Let’s say that H drives more efficiently than I do.

I shouldn’t make fun of her driving.  After all, as a traveling performer, she’s had to drive though a half-dozen states in a single day, often by herself.  Sometimes the only way to handle this without going insane (or worse, missing a performance) is to drive… efficiently.

There’s one state in particular that must be mentioned.  It’s a state that is the most unfriendly to drivers with full bladders and little patience.

If you stop at a rest stop, you know there’s a restroom there.  In most states, if you get off at an exit at which there’s a gas station or restaurant sign, you’ll see the place within visual distance of that exit.

Not so in New Jersey.  Outside of the rest stops, the bathrooms may be miles away from the highway exits, and without adequate signage to direct you to them.

In fact, the New Jersey traffic signs are the worst in the nation, according to someone who has driven in several states, sometimes a half-dozen states in a single day, often by herself, cursing loudly at every driver who’s slowing her down in her attempt to empty her overly-full bladder.  If you exit a highway to pursue a gas station in New Jersey, you may be hunting for a place that is well-hidden or quite distant from the exit in an unknown direction.  If you attempt to turn around to get back to the highway, there may be no clear way to do so.  If you manage to head back the way you came, there may be no road signs to get you back on the highway, or signs that cheerfully lead you back on the highway, but in the wrong direction.

The reason for the existence of New Jersey is to irritate the hell out of H.  At least, that’s according to her.  When I’m sitting in the passenger seat with her as she drives efficiently, I dare not disagree.  Not out loud, at least.

Apart from New Jersey, there is one other stretch of road that tried H’s bladder and my serenity.  Our basic route to the Virginia Ren Faire grounds from Nyack, New York was to take I-95 all the way down.  Those of you familiar with that highway know that it passes through Washington, D.C.  There’s “loop highway”, I-495, that encircles the city so you don’t have to drive through it if you’re not heading into the capitol.

Morning, noon, and night, that stretch of highway gets jammed in spots (according to someone who has driven through there many times, on her way through several states, sometimes a half-dozen in a single day).  Mapquest may tell you that you’ll spend a half-hour on I-495, but it’s a lie.  You’ll be on there for at least two hours.

It can seem longer if you’re with H, and she’s stopped for a cup of Starbucks coffee at the last rest stop in New Jersey.

Actually, this stretch of the trip wasn’t as bad as I’ve made it sound.  I’ll admit, I’ve exaggerated a bit for comic effect.

There will be no exaggerations when I get to Friday.  However, we haven’t arrived at the destination yet, much less the adventures the next day.

Next: Road Trip, Thursday July 24 (part 3).

Road Trip! (Thusday July 24, part 1)

We had agreed to wake up at about 7AM on Thursday to get an early start on the day.  As she was falling asleep, H amended that to 7:30.  I could tell she was tired.

I woke up at about 7AM, but I didn’t have the heart to wake her.  I did my usual morning chores: washed dishes, fed the cats, checked my e-mail, and so forth.

It was getting to be about 8, and H still was still asleep.  She had told me that the best way to wake her up was to put a steaming hot cup of coffee in the room.  So I made coffee with the French press.  It was the first time I ever brewed coffee in my life, but it wasn’t difficult.  I just read the directions that came with the press.

Of course, it took time to boil the water.  H doesn’t like it when microwave ovens are used on the food she eats or the beverages she drinks; she feels that they don’t heat up things as well.  As a physicist (and a moderately decent microwave cook), I think that’s nonsense, but I respected her wishes.

As I said, I made the coffee.  I brought a steaming, hot cup into the room, and put it on the bookshelf near where H slept.  She didn’t stir.

Well, I couldn’t wait forever.  I started to make breakfast (eggs beaten with a little soy milk, Old Bay, and a couple of teaspoons of salsa, cooked as an omelet with cheddar cheese; toast with margarine on the side).  That finally woke her up.  I teased her a little about missing breakfast, but I’d made enough for her in anticipation.

You’re probably thinking that all of this is taking a while.  It is.  It’s 9 or so, and we still haven’t showered or dressed.

There’s another task that H had to do: Locate a Coleman trailer dealership somewhere along the way between my home and the site of the Virginia Renaissance Faire.  She wasn’t having much luck.  My web-fu is better than hers, so I offered to do the searching while she took a shower.

By the time she was out of the shower, I had both good news and bad news: The point of finding a Coleman trailer dealer was to get a new key for her partner’s trailer.  The good news was that all Coleman trailer keys were the same; any Coleman trailer key would open any Coleman trailer.

The bad news was that trailer dealerships do not give out such keys.  Not even Coleman does so.  The advice I had from the web was either to get a locksmith to replace the lock with a brand-new tumbler, or to find someone else with a Coleman trailer and duplicate their key at any hardware store.

Neither was an option just then.  As far as a locksmith was concerned, she didn’t have the money.  (As shall be seen, she wouldn’t have had the time either.)  As for the second option… there was a couple at the Connecticut Ren Faire who had a trailer, but H couldn’t remember whether or not it was a Coleman.

Her alternative solution was to break into the trailer.  It wouldn’t be fun, but she felt she could let down one wall from the outside, crawl around, and drag out her stage props.  It would not be very dignified, but it would get the job done.

It was time for my shower.  Apparently I make good coffee; when I got out of the shower, I found that H had done the breakfast dishes and was finishing off her third cup.

Please note that third cup.  It foretells much of what is to come.

Since it was getting so late, and given a 12-hour trip, it seemed to me that we would not be back until 2AM or so.  I suggest to H that she park in my parking space in my apartment complex parking lot.  That way she wouldn’t have to worry about alternate side of the street parking rules if we were out too late.

By the time we finish searching the web, getting dressed, moving cars around, and other miscellanea, it’s about 10:30.  We finally leave.  I tell my cats that I’ll be back quite late tonight.

It’s a promise that I would not keep.

Next: Thursday July 24, part 2