Monday, November 30, 2009

James and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I want to sleep in. I do. But as the autumn sunrise brightens the room, the anticipation of adventure stirs my soul. It’s more angst than anything, really. There is still much to do before we can leave. I’ve yet to take a family vacation for which we were anywhere near prepared when the day of departure arrived. The reservations have been made, the time frame for hitting the road has been discussed, but my wife and I carry in our heads two different versions of a last minute "to do" list and we are far from ready. We dig out the ice chest and load up bags with snacks and paper products for picnic lunches. We throw our clothes into a suitcase and remind the boys to pack their toothbrushes. I’ve made eight road trip mix CDs—a little travelling music. We load the mountain bikes on the back of the SUV, make sure the house is secure, and we’re off. Two hours later than I would have liked, but we are on the road all the same.

Our destination is only a little over an hour away, but Thanksgiving traffic may stretch the trip a bit. As we near the halfway point, I get a phone call from my mother. She and my father are camping for the holiday in the Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma. She has called to wish us a happy Thanksgiving, but the conversation, as it often will, encompasses a much broader range of topics. Just before we say our goodbyes, I notice the light indicating the pressure in my right rear tire has dropped below an acceptable level. A few exits go by and I pull off the freeway to add a bit more air. I plug in our small emergency compressor and proceed around to the rear of the vehicle only to discover a near flat tire. I can actually hear the hissing as the air escapes. I feel around the tread. My hand is met by a forceful stream flowing from where the inner sidewall meets the tread line.

The SUV is heavy laden with “necessary” provisions for our adventure. The bikes and bike rack prohibit the opening of the back door (from whence the spare is lowered and where the jack is stored). The spare, if I could get to it, is not full sized and would be inadequate for the journey (Joshua Tree National Park with an itinerary to include some back country travel). And, though our tires are under warranty with a major auto chain, it’s Thanksgiving Day and no one will be open.

Now, I understand that in the grand scheme of life, this is by no means tragic. However, in moments like these, when the excitement of actually getting away—the urgency I feel deep inside to escape to adventure is so palpable I can almost hear the movie score in my head, I have to tell you, I wasn’t taking it so well.

There is a Walmart half a block away (isn’t there always). Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a fan. All right, that is a gross understatement. If it were 30 degrees below zero and a trip to Walmart meant the difference between a long, warm, happy life and slowly freezing to death, alone in the bitter cold, I'm still not sure I'd give Sam Walton the satisfaction.

Digression aside, I pull around to the auto center to see that they are chaining up the service bay entrances. It is almost noon and it looks as though they are closing the automotive department for the day. I enter the store and walk the aisles looking for God only knows what when I spot a can of aerosol flat repair for SUVs. I know what you are thinking. “DON’T DO IT! IT’S A TRAP!” But, “safe for tire sensors” is printed right on the side of the can and I’m desperate. If this can of flat repair will just get me to the hotel, I can unload the vehicle, change the tire, and formulate a more permanent solution from there. If it doesn’t work, I’m right back where I started, right? WRONG!

I follow the instructions precisely. Flat repair fluid comes gushing out of the hole in my tire and is now running down the parking lot. Subsequent steps call for driving a couple of miles to let the fluid evenly distribute and for the pressure to build, after which, once the leak is sealed, if the tire is still not fully inflated, more air can be added. I drive around a parking lot for about 10 minutes. When I stop, no more hissing. It worked! Even so, the tire is still 12-15 lbs low on pressure. I try to inflate it. The compressor nearly explodes. It seems as if no air can get through the valve stem.

I drive back to the retailer (whose name I dare not type three times in one post). Three mechanics are standing around in front of the auto center. As suspected, they have closed for the day. I approach the trio. They stop and look at me like I’ve just interrupted a nuclear disarmament summit.

Mechanic: “Do you need something?”

Me: “I have a question… well, more of a story really.” (I proceed to tell them what has transpired)

Mechanic: “You shouldn’t have done that.”

Me: “You think?”

Mechanic: “You probably messed up your sensor. They cost $50 to replace.”

Me: “But it says right on the side of the can that it is safe for tire pressure sensors.”

Mechanic: “Yeah, I don’t know why it says that. The repair fluid is designed to plug holes. It doesn’t know an air pressure sensor or the valve stem from any other hole. It just plugs everything.”

Me: “All right. On to ‘plan B’ then. Thanks.”

They all three give me the look. You know the one. It was like I'd just asked Pavarotti if he knew how to sing “Glow Little, Glow Worm.” Then, fully satisfied that they have exercised due disdain, they return to their conversation as if the annoying interlude had never taken place. Don’t get me wrong. This is completely expected. It happens to me nearly every time I take my car in for any kind of repair. I have come to believe most auto mechanics, physicians, college professors, a large portion of France, and Barbara Boxer are all cut from the same cloth.

I understand what it means to be annoyed by people who just don’t get it. But, who am I to judge elective stupidity? What I don’t know about a lot of things is… well, a lot. There exists a universal bank of information that socially productive individuals should probably know. The impact of a consumer marketed flat repair product on the inner workings of tire sensors is not in this standard repertoire. Even so, teach me what I need to know and don’t assume I’m incapable of comprehending or patronize me for having somehow missed this day in "life-school." In eighth grade, when given the choice of electives, I chose Spanish over shop. Sue me. [the writer gently steps down from his soap box]

So, now stressed to the point of internal frenzy, I remove the bikes, unload the cargo hold, and proceed to change the tire. We unpack our picnic lunch (which has now become road trip fare) and return home. For the second time we unload the vehicle and for the third time load (now into our small sedan) our supplies. Nearly five hours after we first left our home, we arrived at our destination. It was 45 minutes before sunset when we entered the park.

And that is how our wonderful Thanksgiving vacation began. Really. We had a great time. Funny how the highs and lows of life can come at you in such rapid fire. Funny how quickly and easily an otherwise reasonable grown-up can revert to what is tantamount to a toddler meltdown (at least on the inside). Funny how, just like the toddler, with a little time, something to eat, and a place to get out and run, all of the angst can just melt away.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Know Me

Regardless of how much easier it might seem for you…

I am not the sum of nor am I defined by what I’ve done.
I am not confined to the implications you assign to what I’ve said.
I am not concerned with my appearance—how you see me.
I am not responsible for maintaining your good feelings.
I am not limited to your experience with me.
I am not conscripted to only the things I’ve promised.
I am not beholden to you.
I am not inconsistent.
I am not predictable.
I am not controllable.
I AM God.
“...everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” - Paul