augusta free press news

When nitty-gritty sands of time get in your sandwich

Column by Jim Bishop

Greetings from Harrisonburg!

I thought this would be my annual beach report, live and direct from the Outer Banks, N.C. But, as Scottish poet Robert (Sun)Burns rightly observed, “The best-laid plans of mice and men gang often go awry” (Gang aft agley).

Instead, I’m hunkered down in the bedroom of our Belmont abode, thinking about my family and where I could be and might be doing at this moment. The soothing sound of rolling surf has been replaced by lazy feline Avery’s loud purring while curled up next to me on the bed.

Avery has also provided my primary companionship this week, including the privilege of cleaning out his/her/its litter box several times, a fun chore that I’ve somehow managed to avoid until now. Wife Anna was spending the week with her sister and about nine old high-school friends from the Lancaster, Pa., area at an Ocean City, N.J., condo.

I had planned to spend the major portion of this same week with daughter Sara and son-in-law Jason and their twins, Grant and Megan, at a beach house in Kittyhawk, N.C. I’d packed every possible nook and cranny of the Miata with belongings, food, camera and laptop computer and pointed my chariot southeast on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon.

About mid-point in that rural stretch of I-64 between Charlottesville and Richmond, the car started to shimmy like Kate. I quickly slowed down and stopped on the narrow shoulder. It was what I feared – a flat tire.

I’ve never had a flat in the four-and-a-half years of driving the Miata, but here I was, unpacking the overloaded trunk, only to discover that the lug wrench needed to put on the spare tire was missing. It apparently never had one.

An exit was just ahead, so I repacked the trunk and started walking, hoping to find a gas station nearby. A couple stopped and offered me a lift, which I gratefully accepted. Problem was, the lone filling station only pumped gas and was about to close.

The couple, who were local, returned me to my stalled car on I-64. I then used my cell phone – yes, the detested cell phone that I’d brought along – to call the state police. An officer would come to my assistance, the dispatcher told me. Another 45 minutes elapsed before he arrived.

Meanwhile, the couple jotted their names and phone number on a card and told me that if I wasn’t able to resolve my problem, to call them and they’d come pick me up and I’d deal with my disabled vehicle the next morning. A second passerby then stopped and offered to help while I continued to wait for an officer to arrive.

The trooper had a lug wrench that worked, so I put on the “donut” spare, which was low on air. I crept down the interstate at about 35 mph, other vehicles whizzing by, and took an exit where I hoped to find a station with a mechanic on duty. No such luck.

I ended up at a convenience store where I was given a name and phone number for a 24-hour emergency road service, which was a good distance away. I called, and another hour elapsed until the repair truck arrived. The man looked at the deflated tire and said it was ruined. Alas, the replacement tire he brought wasn’t the same size, but he told me “it’ll get you where you need to go,” especially since I had a rear-drive vehicle. I used my debit card to withdraw the total amount in cash from an ATM machine in the convenience to cover the service call.

I was ready to hit the road again, but it was already late with nearly four hours to go to my original destination, driving on mismatched front tires. I also felt sick, likely because of the stress combined with prolonged exposure to the hot sun, and decided to limp back to Harrisonburg, which I did. I called family members enroute to explain my decision, and they were understanding.

If there’s an upside to this experience, it’s that everyone who became part of the saga was genial and helpful, from the state trooper who provided the lug wrench to the second man who stopped to offer assistance and exclaimed to me, “Helping your fellow man in a tough spot is what life’s all about.” Amen, brother.

Even though I spent much of Monday dealing with my tire problem – I had to purchase two more tires for a matched set – I suddenly found myself entering into an unexpected “staycation.” In essence, I faced the question of how to unwrap a “gift” of five days at home instead of with family members at the beach.

Initially, I felt a bit sorry for myself, but it was more a sense of disappointment in having planned to spend quality time with Sara and Jason and to help with their energetic 3-year-old twins.

It was amazing the way things unfolded over the course of the week. I really wasn’t able to sleep in, unless one considers rising around 7 a.m. sleeping in. But, I quickly settled into a pattern of leisurely savoring bacon and egg breakfasts, sipping that third cup of freshly-brewed coffee on the patio, reading the newspaper unhurriedly, playing my oldies music at the volume I like, reading personal and work e-mails at my convenience and sending catch-up communiqués to family and relatives.

Then, there were the serendipitous moments:

– Running into Harry Showalter, a friend from church whose spouse was also gone, and taking him for supper to a local restaurant; going swimming with grandsons Dylan and Jacob twice during the week; meeting daughter Jenny for lunch in Grottoes and meeting her work colleagues at the Alcoa plant, where she is comptroller;

-Meeting and talking with Harold and Don Reid of the Statler Brothers during a stop at the WMRA-WEMC radio studios (“We read your column every week and enjoy the ‘Warped Records Show’ on WSVA,” Don told me);

– Being able to attend the Shenandoah Valley Public Relations Council’s summer social after all and giving a tribute in person to PRC founder Fred Hilton, who retired in July after 36 years of service to JMU.

It wasn’t the vacation I’d set out to pursue, but in its aftermath, it proved more relaxing and energizing than expected as I plunge headlong into the workday whirl.

And, I guess, what you’re reading is my vacation greeting, postmarked “Harrisonburg, Va.” Glad you are here.