Travel travails in the Heart of America: Jerry Nelson
Travel inevitably changes your perspective.
For instance, minor inconveniences can seem like major catastrophes when you’re hundreds of miles from home. At least that’s how it felt when my wife and I recently journeyed to visit family in Kansas City, Kansas.
We prudently prepared for this long voyage. We serviced our car and even bought a set of new tires. None of this would prove to make a whit of difference.
The trouble began on our second day in the Heart of America. I had bent over to pick something up when I felt a strange “click” from my glasses. Moments later, one of the nose pads tumbled from my spectacles.
At home, this would be but a minor inconvenience. I would simply go to our local glasses place and our glasses lady would quickly fix my specs.
Not so when you are in an unfamiliar city far from the farmstead. I Googled “glasses repair” on my smartphone and selected the nearest optometrist shop. Would they be open on a holiday weekend? And what are the odds that they would have a nose pad that would fit my glasses?
My smartphone sent my wife and me through a labyrinthine warren of thrumming superhighways and bustling city streets. We got lost only once when we turned into the wrong parking lot, but soon found the optometrist place.
I showed the proprietress my glasses and she said breezily, “Oh, you just need a new nose pad!” She was able to fix my glasses in mere minutes.
In a stressful situation such as this, there are no sweeter words than, “Oh, you just need…” This phrase would later prove elusive.
A run-in with rodents of unusual smarts
The number of squirrels per acre in the Kansas City metro area could be measured in the metric tons. There are so many of the furry little rodents that they have formed gangs.
Our car was parked in a residential neighborhood where squirrel mobsters rule the streets, totally unimpeded by local law enforcement. One day, I saw a squirrel hanging around by our vehicle. He was wearing an expression that seemed to say, “Nice car you got here. It’d be a shame if its wires got chewed.”
I told the pesky little pest to get lost. Big mistake.
The next day my wife and I drove to a local supermarket. We noticed that our car’s air conditioning wasn’t working, which is troubling enough when the outside air temperature is 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Much more concerning was that the check engine light was on.
In my experience, the check engine light can mean that the car is saying anything from, “Oops, I just burped!” to “I’m about to cough up a piston!”
What would be a minor annoyance at home felt like a major disaster in the big city.
I called the nearest dealership and was informed that it would be three days before they could even begin to think about the process of maybe looking at our car. We were to leave in two days, so I called the next nearest dealership and was told that they could perform a diagnosis in the morning. Yes!
At the service department, a guy named Max said that they would get at our car as soon as possible. Minutes after leaving the dealership, I received an automated text that affirmed that our car was in good hands along with a link to a website that would chronicle repair progress and a video feed of our car. I love modern technology!
That was the last I heard from Max. The website never showed any progress, nor any video of our car being repaired.
I called Max several times the next day and got his voicemail. I finally phoned the service department’s general number, talked to an actual human, and was informed that Max had taken the day off. Thanks a lot, Max!
But I also learned that our car had been repaired. The problem was – yep! – that some wires had been chewed.
As I paid the breathtakingly steep repair bill, it occurred to me that the squirrels are in cahoots with the auto dealerships. This would fit perfectly into the model of big city organized crime.
Our trial by automotive travails wasn’t yet over. As we motored homeward, the car suddenly declared that one of its tires had low air pressure. Our anxiety in overdrive, we whipped into a gas station and refilled the affected tire. Its pressure has held steady ever since, probably because we’ve left the squirrel mob’s territory.
My glasses and our car are now working perfectly. But someone should report those furry little mobsters to federal authorities. Because it would be a shame if they got away with this.
If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.