Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Blowout, 3 Tow Trucks, and Grease Monkey Fairies

Ryan from AAA probably didn't expect a long conversation when he called Friday at midnight to ask if we were completely satisfied with the service we had received that evening. He surely must have been expecting something along the lines of:

    Ryan: "Are you completely satisfied with your AAA experience?"

    Me: "Yes."

    Ryan: "Great. Thanks. Goodbye."

To be fair, Ryan might be a great guy. Probably a good family man, or a clean-cut college kid, with a good moral compass fixed deep inside him. And his only involvement with our situation the other night was to perform a simple follow up survey. In no way did poor Ryan deserve the verbal thumping he was about to receive, but things don't always go the way they should.


At 9:00am Friday morning, we loaded up our Honda Odyssey and left the sweltering clamminess of Long Island for the slightly less clammy sweltering of North Carolina. Our vacation was over and it was time to head home. The trip went well until we got south of Washington, DC, and joined all the traffic heading down I-95 to the Virginia beaches. We lost almost two hours in stand-still stop-and-go before breaking free of it in Richmond. The rest of the way should have been smooth sailing.

Then, about 10 miles east of Raleigh, as I was reaching 80 mph in the passing lane, a boom like a cannon blast shook the van and it felt like we'd hit a major pothole. Our speed dropped rapidly and steering got a little dodgy. Within seconds we were at a standstill on the left shoulder with a blown rear driver-side tire. That was 7:35pm Friday night.


The first indication of our impending drama was, initially, merely laughable.

When My Lovely Wife called AAA to report our blown tire, the dispatcher taking the call was unreasonably fixated on whether or not we had already traveled through, or were in, or were anywhere in the vicinity of, Spring Hope. Having never heard of Spring Hope, we instead focused on the facts we did know, which were that we had broken down on 64 bypass heading west and could see exit 427 through our windshield.

Unimpressed by our specifics, the dispatcher continued to ask about Spring Hope. Why? I don't know. Maybe Spring Hope has a really nice old-fashioned soda fountain somewhere along its main drag the dispatcher thought our kids would enjoy while we waited for service, or maybe the town has grease monkey fairies that pop out of cocoons in the roadside shrubberies to assist AAA Plus members with blown tires.

Whatever the reason, the dispatcher's inability to plot our location on the map was cause for concern. If there is any organization in this best of all possible worlds I expect should be able to pinpoint my location when I tell them what road I'm on and what exit I'm next to, it's the Automobile Association of America. A five-year-old with an iPod could've Googled our location based on the details we offered, but apparently this AAA dispatcher didn't have internet access, a functioning computer, a printed map, or any measure of innate common sense.

After five minutes on the phone, all we were able to establish was she didn't know where we were, we didn't know where Spring Hope was, and our hope of speedy service was flushing noisily down the drain.


Not to drag out an otherwise lengthy tale, but let's speak briefly about Honda's infamous locking lug nut.

It's a special lug nut that requires a key. The idea behind the locking lug nut is it deters thieves interested in stealing generic tires off unsexy vehicles like the Honda Odyssey. Honda gives you the key when you buy the vehicle, so in a case like ours we can unlock the locking lug nut, remove the remaining standard lug nuts, and remove and replace the damaged tire.

But what happens when that key breaks and simply spins without unlocking anything?

That's right, the tire becomes irremovable, irreplaceable, and Honda's brilliant anti-theft device becomes inconveniently irritating. What should have been a twenty-minute stop to swap out the blown tire for the donut in the trunk became a tow job, but not just any old regular tow job. No, sir.

Because the tire in question was a rear tire, traditional towing was no longer an option and we required a flat bed truck to carry our van home.


In addition to now requiring one of the larger vehicles in the towing service's fleet, the fact there were five of us to be transported home along with our van complicated matters. We quickly learned from the driver of the first tow truck that showed up about AAA's policy of transportating the vehicle, the driver, and maybe one other person. Anyone else traveling with us would need to take a shuttle service or taxi. I'm not exactly certain how much an 82-mile taxi ride from Knightdale to Pinehurst might cost, but I'm willing to guess it ain't cheap, so I asked to speak with the supervisor of Spring Hope's number one fan to express my dissatisfaction.

To the supervisor's credit, she spent much of the next two-and-a-half hours trying to work out a resolution to our problem. To her discredit, she left us stranded for two-and-a-half hours on the left shoulder of a major highway with no confidence she knew what she was doing, a tow truck driver just as baffled as we were, and three kids who needed to go to the bathroom.

We had developed a deep and profound relationship with the supervisor by the time we received word of AAA's final solution to our situation . Over the course of at least six conversations we had laughed, cried, struggled through conflict, and argued passionately.


Short after 10:00pm, we were told a flatbed truck with a cab large enough to carry all five of us had been sent for. In the meantime, a smaller flatbed was coming to move us off the highway and bring us to the relative safety of the Knightdale Walmart parking lot. Split between the two tow trucks, we rode to Walmart and waited for the big flatbed to arrive.

We pulled out of Knightdale with our van and entire family spot on 11:00pm. Along the way, Ryan from AAA called to ask if we were satisfied with the service we had received. As you might imagine, I had quite a few recommendations on how they could have handled our case better.

After getting dropped off at our service station of choice, and thanks to Senior Awesome's parents who met us there, we made it home with all of our belongings at half past twelve -- a mere fifteen-and-a-half hours after leaving New York. We were exhausted, angry, grimy, and ready to fall into bed. All we wanted was a good night's sleep, but AAA must have had other ideas because Ryan called us again at 1:30am to do a follow up survey.

Apparently AAA missed its calling. It would have made a lovely wake-up service.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

1 comment:

  1. I could chuckle, since it didn't happen to me. One of the Donalds (Donald Graves? Donald Murray?) says that writers live life twice.

    Did you enjoy reliving that experience? Was it a way to vent and evacuate, or did you get angry all over again?