Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hello, I am blessed.

Okay, so the retreat was great, yadda yadda yadda.

I know you want to hear all about it but, frankly, "great" doesn't make much of a story. The rain forest was lovely and the pouring rain made the hot springs that much more enjoyable. Really. And then then the rain let up enough for us to hike back out to the bus so we weren't dripping wet and freezing all the way home.

On our other trip, the weather was iffy but the clouds lifted so we could see the stunning volcanic crater. It threatened rain while we hiked the waterfall trail but the rain held off until we were boarding the shuttle back up to the parking lot. Again, lovely.

A couple of the ladies felt a bit of a tremor one night - enough to make a good story but not enough to freak anybody out about earthquakes.

We had an entire week of lovely company and enjoyable conversation and talking shop and telling stories and I haven't had that much fun since the last reatreat. Maybe not even then.

In short, it was great. Hence, not much to tell.

But today. Today makes a good story. I have spent most of my day being thankful for everything that happened, simply because none of it started 24 or 48 or 72 hours earlier.

We'll begin with the 6:00 am phone call from Yolanda to report that Robin had been vomiting since midnight. I told Yolanda and both kids that I'd be there to pick them up around 10:30. I knew I would miss Terry's baby shower in the afternoon, which is disappointing, but what would I have done if it had happened in the middle of the retreat? I know from experience that there's no comforting a sick kid over the phone, so I'm thinking it would have involved commuting and you just don't want to go there.

Babe, I wish you weren't sick at all but since you are, thank you for waiting until the last day.

Plus? Bonus points for the fact that, whatever it is, she'll surely be over it by the time Alex gets here on Saturday. And too? Julia doesn't seem to have it, so maybe I won't get it. Yup, that'd be good.

So I got off the phone and we had another tropical breakfast that couldn't be beat, and everyone finished packing. Baggage was loaded without incident into the cars, group photos were taken and we drove to the airport.

Did I mention the trouble I've been having with my car? The nagging trouble where it stalls and stuff? I've been back to the shop more times than I can count and each time it improves some, but it's never really completely right. (I'm beginning to think it just has a crush on the mechanic.)

For those of you just tuning in, we had a new carburetor in January, a new master cylinder in February and a tiny little half-overhaul in March. Clearly, engine trouble in April should come as no surprise.

The car was in the shop briefly on the Monday before the retreat because it had done something disturbing over Easter week. I had to convince the mechanic that something was in fact wrong with it (he wanted to tell me I was just trying to drive in too high a gear), but he finally agreed to do some tests and make some adjustments. He gave it back to me later that afternoon and charged me nothing. Fine.

It seemed to drive okay for the next couple of days (stalling in the morning notwithstanding). We weren't planning to use it much during the retreat--mainly for the airport runs and for one trip to a nearby restaurant--so I was pretty confident. Well, except for finding a nail in the tire when I stopped for gas on the way to pick the ladies up at the airport. But I got that fixed easily enough (for three bucks, including a new valve.)

I really didn't have car trouble during the retreat. A stall or two, but nothing I couldn't handle (and certainly nothing I haven't seen before).

Until we were on our way to the airport and it started acting much as it had before. But! Now with smoke! And acrid smells! When it actually died, we were just turning off the exit ramp. Directly across the street from the airport. Boy howdy, am I blessed. Seriously. I almost don't care how bad it is, simply because it waited until after the retreat.

(Almost. Note that I do say "almost.")

I did get it started again, but we only made it a block - down to the little turnaround you have to go through in order to actually enter the airport parking areas. When it died there it stayed dead, but I was able to get mostly out of the flow of traffic, so that was good.

Also good: our awesome tour guide, Lloyd, happened by and stopped to see if we were okay. We didn't really need anything from him, but running into him made the whole thing more fun.

The little turnaround there is across from the taxi stand for a bunch of cabs that aren't technically part of the ground transportation system, but which are a taxi fleet in their own right.

Boy, do taxi drivers love a broke-down car. And a broke-down car with a girl driver? Well that's just icing on the cake. We were surrounded before we could get out of the vehicle. They pushed the car the rest of the way out of the flow of traffic, got in under the hood and offered a plethora of opinions.

I'm not even sure if Bonnie and Donna, who were riding with me, walked the block over to the airport or if they caught a ride with Lloyd or Rita. That is actually my biggest (personal) regret for the day: I lost track of them for a couple of minutes and that's just not right. I did at least manage to lock up the car and run (literally!) up to the airport to say goodbye just before they all went into the building, where I would not have been able to follow.

Returning to the car, I found that Rita had seen what was going on and drove back around after dropping the others off. She got Terry (her daughter) on the phone, who got the insurance company on the other line. They told her and she told me that they don't pay to tow cars that are over 15 years old. Interesting little factoid, that.

I listened to some more of the taxi drivers' opinions and called my own mechanic, who concurred with much of what they were saying, to whit: the car had overheated. If it would restart after it cooled down and got some water & oil, then I should drive it (gently) to the shop. If it wouldn't restart, then I should get it towed (duhhh).

Can we just pause here and go back to how awesome it is that this did NOT happen until we got right up to the airport? Okay, just so we're clear on that.

I walked over to a nearby gas station to buy some oil while the engine continued to cool down and the taxi drivers got their ya-yas watching it do so.

We had an Alpha Male by the time I got back, and he directed one of the others to add the oil and me to start the car. The car did eventually start, so they added water until it stalled again. Then they kept adding water until they noticed it was pouring out of a split hose. Well, that gave them a purpose in life, let me tell you. Alpha climbed right up under the hood (both feet off the ground and one of them up off the bumper), his Multi-Purpose Tool and assorted wrenches at the ready. He had the hose off before you could say what are you doing to my car? and the pack agreed on where a new hose could be had.

They appreciated my "If only there was a taxi somewhere about the place," and Alpha and I headed off to the House of Hoses (yes, really) (but in Spanish) in his cab.

They measured the dead hose with calipers (calipers!) and cut off a piece of new one to the same size (for 75 cents) and back we went.

Alpha stripped off his shirt and installed the hose and reinstated various other pieces of the car that had been removed. Water was again sloshed about the engine and into the appropriate holes. The car, however, was singularly unimpressed and opted not to start. One of the taxi guys was assigned to stop traffic while the others push-started the car by going a few feet the wrong way around the little roundabout and then up a convenient access road off to the other side.

They had asked if I knew how to push-start a car and I said that I did, but that I would rather have someone with more experience do it, so one of them took the wheel.

Unfortuantely, the car still wouldn't start, so Alpha went over to get his cab so they could jump start it. Meanwhile, the one in the driver's seat managed to get it going with, of all things, the key. Bunches of water spurted out of the muffler, but it didn't stall, so he brought it back around to where we were. Water was leaking from the engine too, but this soon stopped and it was determined that it was the result of spillage and not ongoing leakage.

I was advised to keep an eagle eye on the temperature gauge, and to keep it cooler by taking the highway rather than the back way and therefore not have to idle at red lights or languish behind slow buses.

I gave Alpha 5000 colones ($10) for the $4 cab ride and told him to keep the change.

The temperature gauge remained low while the car idled and I got advice, but the needle began to climb slowly and steadily once I started driving. I had been cautioned to stop immediately if it got up into the "hot" zone, but after a mile or two, it began to drop as slowly as it had risen. I got off the highway and it seemed to hold steady in the exact center of the hot/cold range as I drove through the residential streets.

However, as I was making a turn I felt the brake pedal suddenly go hard, indicating the loss of the power brakes, which is usually my first sign that the car has stalled. I pulled over and as soon as I stopped I could see that the engine was smoking again. I opened the hood and called the mechanic.

He said what I thought he might: it was time to stop messing with it and get a tow truck before the engine ended up completely fried. I asked them to recommend a towing company and they called the truck for me. It arrived before too long and turned out to be the big flatbed kind, which was nice - it felt very secure to have the entire vehicle riding up on a nice stable surface, rather than being pulled along behind the truck.

The cab drivers at the airport had estimated that towing from there to Heredia would have cost about $40. I don't know if that was true, but from where I broke down the second time, it cost $18, which I felt was quite reasonable. He even let me pay in dollars, which was all I had on me by then.

It was ten past noon and the mechanic - like most places - closes for lunch, so I got into the car and pulled out my delicates and perishables: laptop, digital camera, leftover tuna salad, pepperoni and mozarella, and a large serving dish still half-filled with mango cobbler. These I carried down to Yolanda's house and put, as appropriate, on the kitchen counter or in the fridge.

Robin was sitting outside the house on Josés lap. She hadn't been able to keep anything down, including Gatorade. She was looking pretty wrung-out and also very very hot. The poor child was wearing long sleeves and long pants when everyone else was too hot in shorts. I got her changed, had some lunch, gathered the girls' school clothes and lunch boxes, got the perishables back out of Yolanda's fridge, and asked José to call me a cab.

Our first stop was to get the rest of my stuff from the car (sewing machine, rolling desk chair, two lamps, two irons, clothes, fabric...) Then we stopped by the drug store for real rehydration serum (more likely to stay down than the sports drinks), then to the mini mart for milk and soda crackers, then home (balancing the mango cobbler all the way).

The cab driver helped me unload the stuff. Then he checked the meter, which read 3700 colones ($7.40) and offered to reduce it to 2900 ($5.80). I gave him 3000 and called it even. It was 2:00 pm.

Robin spent the remainder of the day watching videos and disliking the rehydration serum.

Julia watched one of the videos, played, had a bath and didn't like the mango cobbler (the ungrateful wretch). She had complained of a headache early this morning, but is clearly not sick at all, so she'll go to school tomorrow. If I can figure out how to get her there.

I had two automated messages from the phone company, threatening to cut off my phone service for not paying a bill I never received. I paid that online and decided that a phone company that sends out automated warnings almost makes up for a post office that can't manage to deliver a phone bill.

I returned a call from my major translation client and answered her question, which was a simple one. I rarely speak to her personally--she's the president of the company--so I took the opportunity to let her know that I hope to be pulling back from translation a bit as I spend more time on quilting-related projects, and to suggest that they begin looking around for other translators. She said they have actually tried out some other translators over the years, but have never found anyone whose work rivalled mine [insert warm fuzzy here] but that she appreciated the heads-up. One more step toward the work I really want to do.

So. Everything seems to be under control. The cat only threw up one hairball on the couch while I was gone. Robin hasn't thrown up at all since I picked her up at noon. The car is in the hands of the people who know the most about it, and I've caught up on the most important urgent, business-related E-mails of the week. I'm almost positive that the tiny insect I saw near Robin's head when I was brushing her hair as she lay on my pillow was not a louse because, really, that would just be too much.

The retreat was almost entirely unaffected by all of this drama and you got a much juicier story than if I had spent three pages raving about how great a time we all had. Photos will be forthcoming and they will tell the story better than I would have anyway.

Thank you and good night.


lisa April 27, 2006 11:07 AM  

Okay, nice story and all. But seeing as you haven't returned my e-mail, it would give me a warm fuzzy if you'd change "I've caught up on the most important E-mails of the week" to "I've caught up on the most urgent E-mails of the week!" :)

Jennifer April 27, 2006 11:22 AM  

Oh my, yes. But see, you wrote to me before the retreat even started, so that is a whole other class of getting caught up.

Sandy April 27, 2006 12:55 PM  

Welcome home, Jen. I've missed you.

lisa April 27, 2006 2:31 PM  

Ah yes, much better. In red, even!

mom April 28, 2006 11:58 AM  

So I keep thinking of this Alpha Male as younger and cuter than the others, perhaps showing off for the lass . . . or is that just a stereotype kicking up?

mom April 28, 2006 11:58 AM  

So I keep thinking of this Alpha Male as younger and cuter than the others, perhaps showing off for the lass . . . or is that just a stereotype kicking up?

mom April 28, 2006 11:59 AM  

I only said it once.

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