Little DogFrom a letter to my brother, Feb 1999 – The Adventures of Big Dog & Little Dog.

After the wedding on July 25th, Tonya and I didn’t have a honeymoon. We had planned on at least spending the weekend in the mountains up in Asheville. But her car was running hot (remember that I bitched about that?). We didn’t know if we could make it to Asheville or not. So we wound up spending the night in the Comfort Inn in Kings Mountain. That was kind of funny. We were so exhausted that all we did was sleep. Romantic, huh? But I guess it shows what realists we are. We needed sleep more than we needed hanky panky, and we had the rest of our lives for the latter.

After the wedding, we stayed with my mom for a few months. We had been sleeping on the mattress and box strings from my bed, out in the storage building behind my mom’s house. I know that sounds incredibly bad, especially to a city boy like yourself (grin), and I guess in some ways it’ll make funny stories someday. But we had a drop cord threaded out there, with a lamp and a nightstand. And we had my kerosene heater for when the nights got cold, and a fan for when it was warm. It was a storage building, and we were surrounded by stuff, but it wasn’t so bad. We had slept out there the winter before, and hadn’t died. (grin)

I was working at a warehouse, but fucked it up. I had hurt my ankle a few weeks before the wedding when I lost an argument with my forklift. It was a long time healing. But by the time the wedding came around, I was able to walk fairly solidly, although I still had to be careful. When I was finally able to resume my full duties at work, I discovered that I had been replaced. Someone else was on my forklift doing my job. And my employers didn’t seem to know what to do with me. So they made me a checker, which meant that I went around and checked completed orders after they were pulled. I hated it. For one thing, it was hot as hell in there when you rambled around on a forklift. But when you had to stand in one place and count boxes all day, it was like standing in a sauna. On top of that, quite frankly, being a checker was a hell of a lot more responsibility, but I was making the same amount of money as I was making on a forklift. And the latter job is largely a no-brainer. So I hated my job.

One day on the way to work, thinking about things had changed with a job that I had liked before hurting my foot, I took a left and went to the temporary agency who actually paid my paycheck. I told them that things had changed since I hurt my foot, and I was not happy there. I felt like I was a spare part, and that if it hadn’t been an on-the-job accident that had messed up my ankle, they would have fired me long ago. It seemed like they were trying to get me to quit. So I asked Creative Staffing to reassign me. And they agreed that it would be no problem. But they never did find me another job.

Sometime in early August, my aunt Loretta stumbled across an ad for a house for rent. $350 a month. Just outside of Kings Mountain. So we went to take a look at it. It was a tiny place. But it was back in the woods, on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t so bad. And the yard was nice. Just six feet or so behind our house, it was total forest. Naturally that appealed to a couple of Pagans like us, so we took it. We paid a deposit and the first month’s rent with the money we received from you and from her parents, and we moved in around August 12th.

Like I said, it was a tiny place. We didn’t have room for most of my stuff. But we settled in quite nicely. The key word here is “quaint.” It had no air conditioning, and no screens on the windows. So to stay cool we had to make peace with the bugs and mosquitos. And we were regularly invaded by grand- daddy-longlegs spiders. But there was a certain charm to the place. It was off the beaten track. And it’s easy to be at peace in a place where you’re all surrounded by woodland. It wasn’t exaclty out in the styx or anything, but that’s what made it nice. It was close enough to town that going to the store wasn’t a problem. But it was far enough out that we felt kind of isolated. We loved the location, if not the house. But we wouldn’t stay there long.

Early in October they called Tonya into work early one Friday. They told her that the company had been bought out, and that all operations were moving to the parent company’s main headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina. So she could either find other work, or move to Greenville. Tonya went down and looked the place over, and it wasn’t so bad. They even offered to pay for moving expenses. Since I wasn’t working yet, moving didn’t seem to be much of a problem. So we agreed to move to Greenville.

Naturally, this put an end to my job hunting in North Carolina. There wasn’t much use in getting a job I wouldn’t keep but a few weeks. So instead I spent my time packing things, while we felt out leads for houses. It just so happened that a lady whom Tonya worked with knew some people with some houses in Ware Shoals, which is about 35 miles south of Greenville. We both thought that was a long ways out, but thought we’d see the house, anyway. So we arranged to look at it.

Man. We loved the house. Big yard. Big house. Big trees. And Ware Shoals was such a pretty little place. We decided to take it. And we decided to move down within a week or two, which would be at the end of October. God. That was our first mistake. But we really didn’t have a choice. Can you imagine moving on Halloween weekend? There were no trucks anywhere. Seemed everyone else had the same idea. We had begun to think that we wouldn’t find anything, and we really needed to move as quickly as possible. We were running behind in our rent in preparation for the move. And if we stayed any longer, we’d have to pay it.

Luckily, Tonya’s mom stepped in. She reserved a U-Haul truck for us using her credit card. That’s the only way we could get one.

Okay. First adventure. The U-Haul story:

We arrived in Charlotte to pick up our truck. We were about an hour late from the time we were supposed to pick it up. But it didn’t matter. They didn’t have a truck for us, anyway. They had reserved a truck for us that hadn’t been turned in yet. So we had no choice but to wait. We sat out in front of the U-Haul place for over an hour, waiting on this truck to be returned. But it never was. Finally we asked them if they could give us another, larger truck. They had a few larger trucks sitting around. And while it’d be more expensive, we didn’t have a choice. It was already past noon, and we had planned to leave that night. But there we were in Charlotte, waiting.

They agree to give us a 24’ truck for the same price as the 17’ truck we had reserved. Lucky for us, too, as it turned out that we needed the extra space.

Anyway, we got the truck, car trailer in tow, and headed back to Kings Mountain. I don’t need to tell you what a mess moving is. I’m sure you’re all too familiar with the torment involved. But what we discovered was that we had bitten off far more than we could chew. We had stuff at our house, and I had a bunch of stuff at my mom’s house. We quickly realized that there was simply no way we could leave on Oct. 30th, like we’d hoped. So we packed and loaded what we could that night, and then went at it again the next day. We were finally ready to roll late on Halloween night, and actually left around 12:30. I guess that would be Monday morning, on Nov. 1st.

The drive down was a trip. The truck (as all U-Haul trucks are, I think) was a clunker, and liked to ramble all over the road. To boot, I had my Thunderbird in tow on the car trailer. That was fun, let me tell you. Tonya followed in her Grand Am, with our cats riding in her lap (we took my tom, Hannibal, and her cat, Scotty, and left Moe with my mom). Except for feeling like I was driving a semi, the trip itself wasn’t so bad. Tonya believes that with the car in tow, the truck was just about the length of a semi. And I just about agree.

We got down to Ware Shoals around 4:30am Monday morning on the 1st. The truck was supposed by turned in by noon. No problem, right? I’d unload the car and then we’d get to unloading the truck. So I pulled the truck down to a mill parking lot down behind the house to unload the Thunderbird. And guess what? The damned thing wouldn’t crank.

We couldn’t unload the truck until we got my car unloaded. But it wouldn’t crank. So we couldn’t get it off. We didn’t know what the hell to do. I figured it was out of gas. The gas hand was below empty. But with that car, there still should have been enough gas to crank it and get it into the yard. So we left in Tonya’s car looking for a gas station. Now, Ware Shoals is a tiny town. It shuts down completely at night. So there was nowhere to get gas. But there was a gas station about seven miles up the road, so we headed there. We got some gas and came back, put it in the car, but the damned thing still wouldn’t crank.

We ended up doing the only thing we could. We waited until sun-up and went knocking on our new landlord’s door. I had hoped that he could jump off the car, and we could unload it, and get on with the task at hand. So around 9:00 he pulled his truck around and tried to jump my T-bird off. But it still wouldn’t crank. It wouldn’t turn over. It just wouldn’t crank. We eventually wound up, with the help of a fella who stopped by, pushing the car off the trailer. We left it in the parking lot of an abandoned clinic across the road from our house.

Okay. Problem one down. I unhooked the trailer and pulled the truck down to the house, and we proceeded to unload it. Man, that was rough. We arrived exhausted from two days of packing and loading, and now had to unload the truck. We set at it like the troopers we were, though. So finally, about 10:30am, we started unloading the truck. I won’t bore you with details there. Just suffice it to say that we kept at it, and kept at it, and kept at it. But when 12:00 was drawing near, we saw that there was no way we were going to return the truck at noon. So Tonya called the return place. We were supposed to return the truck in Greenwood, but there was a garage here in town that served as a U-Haul center. U-Haul said we could turn it in there, so Tonya called them to tell them we would be late. Luckily, the lady who handled U-Haul returns wouldn’t be in until 4:30pm. So we had bought some time.

Anyway, we returned to the chore of unloading the truck. We were already zombies. We had been awake since 8:00am the day before, and were about dead on our feet. But we kept at it. Eventually 4:00 was approaching, and we were still only about 2/3 finishing unloading the truck. We decided that the only way to get the truck unloaded and returned on time was to start sitting stuff off in the yard. And that’s what we did. Couch. Refridgerator. Recliners. The big stuff. Lots of boxes, too. And somehow we were finished by 4:30. Since the U- Haul place was only a block away, we would make it. We went back up and got the car trailer, and dropped the truck off, only fifteen minutes late. Well, 4 and 3/4 hours late, technically, but they didn’t notice.

Well, the lady who handled the U-Haul returns still wasn’t there. So we couldn’t get the $80 deposit her mom had secured the truck with. No big deal. We figured on taking the deposit and living off of it until Tonya got paid next, then paying her mom back. But it wouldn’t hurt us to wait until the next day.

We walked back to the house and resumed our hellish task. And believe me, by that time we felt like we were trapped in a purgatory from which there was no escape. Tonya was so exhausted she was getting sick, so she rested a bit while I kept bring stuff in. Somehow we managed to get just about everything in. I wound up having to take the door clean off of the frame to get the refridgerator into the house. And by the time we got to our sofa, Tonya’s arms were hurting her so bad that she couldn’t help carry it. So I got under it, with its legs over my shoulders, and trudged through the yard, dragging it behind me.

I know I’m going into pointless detail. Guess I’m just trying to point out how incredibly exhausted we were, and what a nightmare the move was.

Finally, around 7:00pm, we had everything in the house.

We collapsed in the bed around 7:30.

The next morning Tonya got up and went to work. And when I got up, I headed up to the U-Haul place to get our deposit refund. I went up the steps that lead to the road, and headed down the sidewalk toward Scott’s Automotive (the U- Haul place). The first thing I noticed was that my car was gone. My fucking car was just gone. It wasn’t in the parking lot across the street.

I was still too tired to be very upset. Our landlord, Gerald, had told me the car would be okay parked over there. But I knew it had been towed off. I knew no one would steal it. For one thing, it wouldn’t crank. And for another, who in their right mind would want a beat up old Thunderbird?

Anyway, I went on up to U-Haul place. The mechanic on duty told me that the U-Haul lady wasn’t there. She and her husband had went to Greenwood. But they would be back in about half and hour. So, while I was waiting I walked down to the police station to see if they had towed my car. Indeed, they had. I was livid, but too tired to be really angry. The lady there told me that they had assumed it was abandoned, since it had a dead tag on it. I asked her if they were in the habit of hauling off cars as soon as they came across them. After all, it hadn’t even sat there 24 hours, and there were no signs posted saying that parking there was forbidden. And as for the car, about all they could tell me was that it had been towed by Greg’s Auto. I’d need to get in touch with them to arrange having it brought back.

So I went back to the U-Haul place. The U-Haul Lady was still not there. So I used their phone to call Greg’s and see what I’d have to do to get my car back. I was told that there was an $85 towing fee, plus a storage fee of $12 a day as long as they had to keep it. At this point, I don’t think stunned was the right word for it. Outraged? Naw, I was too tired for that. I was angry, though. Not only had the cops hauled off my car with no good reason, but this son of a bitch was going to ream us out. $85 for a towing fee? That was outrageous!

Oh, well. I’d deal with that later. Maybe with the $20 I had in my pocket and the $80 we’d get back from our deposit on the U-Haul, we could work something out. But first I had to get our deposit back. So I sat down and waited for the now mysterious U-Haul lady to finally made an appearance. And, finally, she and her husband drove up.

We signed off on the paperwork, and then I was told that there would be no deposit refund. Since the deposit had been made with a credit card, they could only return the deposit to the credit card, no matter that the remainder of the bill had been paid in cash. I was stunned. Tonya and I had $20 to our name, and it was a full week before she got paid again. And my car was being held hostage by some backwater redneck, who wouldn’t even have the car if it hadn’t been for the cops not having anything better to do. The U-Haul lady and her husband had seen my car getting towed. They had passed as the wrecker was hooking it up the night before, sometime around 11:00. So my car had sat there for all of about 12 hours before it got towed.

But there was nothing that could be done right then. So I went home, hurt and angry, and maybe even a little scared. I didn’t know what we were going to do. We didn’t have any money. How the hell were we going to get my car back? Especially when every day it had to sit there tacked $12 more onto our bill?

I paced the house for a long time, angry. I couldn’t call Tonya, since we didn’t have a phone. And the only pay phone was 1/2 mile away. Not a major walk, but I was still exhausted and sore from our Halloween marathon. In the end, I finally needed to blow off some steam. I walked down to the police station again (which is a block from our house), just to find out why they had towed the car. The lady behind the desk seemed concerned by this time, I suppose wondering if I was going to go ape-shit or something. But she contacted the cop at home who had had my car towed off. He was nice enough, and explained to me that it hadn’t shown up in the records when he had ran the tag (because it hadn’t been running or legally registered in several years). He didn’t know who to contact about it, so he figured it was either stolen or abandoned. And in addition, a couple of old ladies who lived on that block had complained that they couldn’t see around my car there at the stop sign. So he had it towed.

I thanked him and hung up. I looked that lady behind the desk dead in the eye and said “Welcome to Ware Shoals, huh?”

When Tonya got home from work, her first question upon coming in the door was “Where the fuck is your car?” And I told her. I also told her about us not getting the deposit back. So, in short, we were in a world of shit. We decided that since her car had a full tank of gas, we would spend our last $20 by splitting it: half on food, and the other half held back for gas. We drove up to the Piggly Wiggly (a grocery store) to get some food, and Tonya called Greg’s again just to confirm what he had told me.

When we got back, I paced for a bit. And I finally decided to go ask our landlord about the city government. Did Ware Shoals have a mayor or a city manager? Stuff like that. In other words, who did I need to go talk to to raise total hell about my car getting towed off?

Gerald, our landlord, told me not to worry. He would check into it to see what he could do. The next morning he came and knocked on the door, and asked me if I was ready to go get my car. He figured since he told me that the car would be okay parked across the road, it was his fault that it had gotten towed. He had paid the $85 towing fee, and persuaded Greg to waive the storage fees. So we were to go pick up my car. Of course, when we got out to Greg’s, the car still wouldn’t crank. They tried jumping it off. They tried pouring started fluid down the carburator. They tried dropping in a new battery. Nothing worked. So finally Greg offered, as a favor to Gerald, to tow it back for free, saying that they were about the break for lunch, anyway, and would just drive the wrecker.

So by the time Tonya got home from work, the T-bird was sitting in the yard, and we were both eternally grateful to Gerald and his wife, Sherry. We had both forgotten that there were still people like that in the world.

After the great move, things sort of settled in. I spent most of November going to Greenville with her, putting in job applications. But since we didn’t have a telephone, it wasn’t very likely I was going to find anything. How would they call me? I gave them Tonya’s work number, but no one ever used it. Plus, I had my same old problem. All my references were gone. Every major place I’ve ever worked no longer exists. And now on top of that, I was a new resident of South Carolina. With a North Carolina drivers license, at that. :-/

Then on December 9th, while coming back from Greenville, a lady pulled out in front of us. We hit her. It wasn’t a terrible wreck. Tonya smashed her head on the windshield. But everyone involved walked away from the wreck, which is something to be thankful for. But now we had no car. The front end of Tonya’s Grand Am was fucked up, and it wasn’t drivable. So we had to leave it in the parking lot of a Home Depot until we could figure out what to do. Our insurance had been cancelled just before we left North Carolina, and we were to get more a week later. But we had the wreck before that, and had no insurance. So we were fucked. Luckily a friend of Tonya’s from work had stopped by, and he gave us a ride home. Otherwise, I don’t know what we would have done.

So we spent a few days not knowing what we were going to do. We didn’t have any money, and we didn’t have a car. Man, a cloud of doom hung over us. To make matters worse, our heating oil ran out. And one night we had to walk a five mile round trip to go get kerosene for my space heater. It was a bad time.

The wreck put us in a royal bind. We didn’t know what to do. Tonya couldn’t get to work. And since we didn’t have a phone, no one could get in touch with us. But a few tension filled days later, Tonya checked her voice mail from a pay phone, and a lady from Nationwide insurance had contacted her about the wreck. While Tonya had been charged with allowing a vehicle to be maintained without insurance (an automatic $250 fine in South Carolina), the wreck had been the other lady’s fault. So Nationwide was prepared to make arrangements with us. They got us a rental car for a week, and on the last day of that week they finally sent out an evaluator to Home Depot to check out her car. They totalled her car, saying it was beyond repair. They paid Tonya for the week she missed from work, and gave her $3,000 for her car.

We opened up an account with NationsBank, putting $2,000 in checking and $1,000 in savings. But since it was coming up on the Christmas weekend, they told us they would have to hold the money until after Christmas. So we had $3,000 in the bank, but couldn’t use any of it. :-/

During that week we had been looking at cars. We were making arrangements to buy a Dodge Neon when I spotted a 1995 Thunderbid. Much to my surprise, Tonya decided she wanted the Thunderbird. So we let the Neon go and tried for the Thunderbird. Since I was unemployed and had bad credit besides, we had to try for it in Tonya’s name. Her parents agreed to co-sign for the loan, and we got it.

In the meantime, since we only had the rental car for that one week, we decided to sink some money into my Thunderbird so that she would have a way to work, expecting that we would only need to drive it for a few weeks until we got a new car. That’s an adventure unto itself, and I’ll tell you about that before getting to this new Thunderbird.

The guys at Greg’s had suspected that my spark plugs were fouled, which is why my car wouldn’t start. So I knew I needed to replace the spark plugs. My alternator was also fried, so I needed to replace that, as well. I changed the spark plugs with no problem. And I studied my T-bird manual long enough to feel confident that I could change the alternator. So I took off the alternator belt and started unbolting the alternator. But it wouldn’t come off. The pivot bolt was fused to the alternator. The bolt and alternator would move a little, so the bolt wasn’t fused in the engine block. It was just stuck in the alternator. And since the alternator would only move so far, I couldn’t just screw it out by turning the whole alternator. I was fucked. I went up to Scott’s (the garage where we turned in the U-Haul) and asked them if they could do it. But they were in the middle of moving to a new location and couldn’t do it. But I had seen a place across from Piggly Wiggly called Sullivan’s Garage. I walked up there and asked them if they could get the alternator off for me, and they agreed. So I went back home, bolted down the old alternator, put back on the alternator belt, and prayed. But when I put some gas in the carburator, the old car cranked right up. I drove it up to Sullivan’s and left it, and by the next day she was ready. They had to cut off the old alternator with an power welder. But they got the new alternator on. We were ready to roll.

We had a car for the time being. Of course, it was highly illegal. Dead tag. Dead inspection sticker, etc. But we didn’t have a choice. It was all we had. We would just have to drive it until we could get it squared away. But at the very least, Tonya could get to work.

So I cranked the car that first Monday after returning the rental to take Tonya to work. The brakes were acting up, and I was worried about it, but it was running, and I thought the brakes would hold. We could get to Greenville. So we set out that morning. About two thirds of the way to that gas station I mentioned (the one that’s about seven miles from the house), there was steam coming from under the hood and the temperature gauge was going up. By the time we reached the gas station, it was running hot. I discovered that the upper radiator hose joint was leaking. I’d noticed that it was a little loose when putting in the spark plugs, but thought it’d be okay. I was wrong. I got some radiator sealant and some electrical tape, and rigged up the joint so that we could at least get somewhere. We were afraid to try for Greenville, so we turned for home. Good thing, too. By the time we got back to Ware Shoals, the brakes were barely working. It would slow the car, but at any stop sign or light, the car would slowly inch forward, with the brake pedal all the way to the floor.

We were lucky that Tonya had just gotten paid. We sent the car to a garage near the house. They had to replace the master cylinder, which is the reservoir that holds and pumps the brake fluid. Mine had quit working. They also soldered that radiator joint. When we got the car back, the brakes worked, but the radiator still leaked. Not as bad, though. We could drive it as long as we put water in it before leaving for Greenville, and water in it before heading home. But at least Tonya didn’t miss much work.

While we still had the rental car, I had ran around and tried to get things squared away to make the car legal, figuring on getting the tag switched over to South Carolina. I started by getting a South Carolina drivers license, and by getting insurance for my car, and then started working on the car itself. But what we quickly discovered was that I couldn’t get a South Carolina tag for the car. To switch it over I needed the title. But the title was being held by a finance company in Kings Mountain. In order to get it switched over, I would have to file a request with the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles for a new title. They would then contact the state of North Carolina with the request. The state of North Carolina would then contact Amity Finance and tell them to send in the title. Amity Finance would then send the title to the state of North Carolina, North Carolina would cancel it and notify South Carolina. South Carolina would issue a new title, which they would send back to North Carolina, and North Carolina would send the new title back to Amity Finance. By the time we turned in the rental, the car was still illegal. We didn’t have time to wait for getting the title changed over. Needless to say. We needed the car legal, and fast. Luckily, since it WAS still carrying a North Carolina registration, I could get a North Carolina tag for it, even though I now had a South Carolina drivers license, because our new insurance company was a nationwide agency (State Farm).

But illegal or not, and leaking radiator or not, we managed to make it up to North Carolina to spend Christmas with my mom. Lucky thing, too, since I got to see Pilar, and that was a wonderful Christmas gift. I just wish we had gotten to spend more time with her. But we didn’t dare stop down at Joanne’s on the way back home. I wasn’t so much worried about the radiator, but I was worried about having a dead tag. So since I was planning on coming back to North Carolina after Christmas to get a tag, I promised to drop in and see her.

And so a few days later I took Tonya to work one morning and then headed back to North Carolina, praying that the radiator would hold out and that I wouldn’t get stopped with a dead tag and no inspection sticker. I went to my mom’s house, where a friend of her’s had brought her car for me to drive to Shelby and the courthouse. I went and paid the property taxes on my car, got a tag, and then went back to Kings Mountain (the friend’s car was trying to run hot on me, too). Then I took my car and had it inspected. So we still had a radiator problem, but the car was now legal.

A week or so into January, 1999, Nationsbank finally cut loose our $3,000. We could go ahead and make that downpayment on that 1995 T-bird I mentioned some while back. The loan had gone through and was approved. So all we had to do was go sign the papers and drive the car home. We started calling around to see about insurance, and that’s when we ran into our next problem. See, Tonya already had points on her license for a wreck she was in a year before we got married. Our last wreck, where she got charged for allowing her car to operate with no insurance, added more points to it. And since the car was going to be in her name, the insurance had to be in her name, as well. We discovered that insurance for that car was going to be over $500 a month. To give you an idea of how much money that is down here, Tonya makes pretty good money, and brings home around $600 every two weeks. So essentially, if we got that ‘95 Thunderbird, one of us would be working just to pay for the car. $500 insurance, plus the car payment, which was going to be around $275. 80% of one of our salaries would be going just to pay for the new car.

Needless to say, we didn’t get the ‘95 T-bird.

We settled on the only other option we had. And that was to get my car straightened out. We would have to drive it until we could save up the money for a cheap little car which we could pay cash for (and which we could put in my name). So we took some money out of the bank and bought a new radiator for my car. I put it on myself (one of many firsts I’ve had to master because of that car) to save money. Of course, by this time the carburator was acting up. It had been acting up for awhile, but it was getting worse. I don’t know if you have ever heard of “loping,” but that’s what it was doing. That’s when an idling car sounds like someone is pressing the accelerator over and over. And in between gas surges, it tries to cut off. I turned up the idle speed so that it wouldn’t cut off, but it was still doing it. Basically, my carburator was shot. During this time I changed the spark plugs again, and found that the new ones, a little over a month old, were getting fouled. So there was a problem.

We had a court date on January 16 over the wreck, and dished out the $250 fine. Since Tonya had never gotten her South Carolina drivers license, they couldn’t do much to her. But part of her sentence is that when she ever gets her South Carolina drivers license, it’s automatically suspended for three months. So if she goes and gets her license changed over, they’ll immediately take it away from her for three months. Gotta love South Carolina.

Anyway, we were planning on putting on a new carburator. The next day I was scheduled to take the car back to Sullivan’s so that he could check out the carburator and tell me if he could fix the one we had or if we should just get a new one. We left the court that Thursday and I took her back to work. I noticed as I let her out that the car was acting strange and was trying to cut off. But I thought it would be ok. My job hunting was on hold until we could get the car straightened out, but I had an interview that following Monday. Anyway, I dropped off Tonya and went to my usual spot in the parking lot of a Bi-Lo to read a book until she got off work. Later that day, around 5:10, I decided to go up to a McDonald’s to use the bathroom, and then I was going to go pick up Tonya from work.

When I cranked the car, it ran like shit. It ran so rough that it felt like the motor was going to fall out. I mean majorly rough. Something was wrong. It wasn’t loping as much as it sounded like something had come loose and was rattling around inside the engine. Needless to say, we couldn’t drive it back to Ware Shoals. So we got a rental car from the Budget Car Rentals who we were going to buy that Neon from. We left my Thunderbird in Greenville and came home. The next day I took Tonya to work and then arranged for a wrecker to come pick up my car to tow it back to Ware Shoals. To give you an idea of how outragerous that towing fee was when the cops had my car towed, that cost $85. This other wrecker service only charged us $75 to tow it 35 miles from Greenville to Ware Shoals.

Anyway, Les, the mechanic at Sullivan’s, looked the car over the following Saturday and decided that the carburator was beyond repair. Our only option was to put on a new one. And since that was something he couldn’t get for us, I’d have to arrange it. So we ordered a new carburator that day. It came in the following Wednesday, I took it to Les, and we finally got my car back on Friday. The bill for the rental car was $400. The bill for the new carburator and installation was $300. Go figure. (grin)

Well, we figured we were ready to roll after that. Little did we know.

Wednesday of last week, January 27th, I was again biding my time in Greenville, reading a book and waiting for Tonya to get off work, planning to resume the great job hunt on February 1st. I again went to McDonald’s to use the bathroom before picking up Tonya from work. The car was running fine. The new carburator was doing well. Things were looking up. I came out of McDonald’s, got in the car, cranked it up, same old same old, and put it in reverse. I backed out of my parking space. But when I went to put the car in drive, nothing happened. The shifter moved, but nothing happened. The shifter just moved freely, like it wasn’t connected. Les had warned me that the transmission would go out before the engine would, that the engine was in great shape, but the transmission needed work. Well, there it was.

I did the only thing I could do. I swung the car around and backed into another space. I don’t remember feeling anything. It was just another in a long string of mishaps, like yet another mine going off in the middle of a war. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t sad. I was just tired. And this was one more thing. I called Tonya, hating to tell her that something else had gone wrong, but didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t exactly hide it from her. She didn’t take it very well, and I can’t say that I blame her. How much more could happen to us? She was very upset, and crying over the phone. And I stood there, staring at the car in complete resignation. To me it was just one more thing. I know I should have been upset. At least as upset as Tonya was. But like I said. It was just another explosion in the midst of a hundred others.

I called Aamco transmissions and arranged to have them pick up the car. I initially asked the fella I talked to about how much a new transmission would cost. He said depending on the transmission, it could be between $550 and $1,200. But he assured me that it could be something minor and I shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

So I left the key under the mat. Tonya came and picked me up by the graces of one of her co-workers who had driven her over. And thanks to the graces of another co-worker, we had a ride home that night. We didn’t try to get another rental car. We knew we were into something major here and that we needed to save our money. Luckily her company let her work from home for a few days. One of the benefits of working in web development. While they would prefer for her to be at work, she could do the same work from home. At least on a temporary basis.

I talked to the gentleman from Aamco the next day. He told me that the problem had been a grommet in the linkage between the transmission and throttle. That was a minor problem. But he pointed out that the transmission itself was in bad shape and needed work, and asked me to let them pull it to find out what kind of shape it was in. I didn’t know what else to do, so I told him to go ahead. I talked to him again the day after, and he told me it was shot. The rings were bad. This was bad. That was bad. It needed a complete overhaul. And the price for this would be $949. I about choked. Geez. We didn’t have that kind of money. Well, maybe we had it, but just barely. And we weren’t sure of that.

So I started looking for alternatives. I had already talked to some people from Advance Auto Parts about getting a new transmission. Aamco told me what kind of transmission I had, and it turned out that we could get a new one for $575, but with the core charge (which means the amount they’d give us back if I turned in my old transmission), it dropped down to $325. We could swing that. I contacted less at Sullivan’s and he said he could put it in for $150. $475 for a new transmission. Of course, we now owed Aamco $300 for their work, towing fee, and pulling the transmission. Plus we’d have to have the car towed back to Ware Shoals. And then we’d need a rental car. So we were going to be hurting either way.

Then Aamco surprised me. Steve Curry, the gentlemen I had talked to many times over several tense days, called me back. He knew that I was looking for alternatives. And he made a proposal. They could fix the transmission for $787, and if I let them, he would waive the $300 we already owed them. This was unexpected, but was greatly welcomed. And so we decided to let them go ahead and fix it. It’d save us getting the car towed, plus several days of rental cars fees, ordering a transmission, then having to pick it up and take it to Les.

That was a few days ago. They finished the car on Tuesday, but we stalled them. We weren’t sure we had enough money. We paid our rent on the 1st, and still had $1,000 in savings, but we would have to rent a car to get back to Greenville. But we squeeked by. Since we stalled until today, Thursday, we’re sitting better. Tonya gets paid tomorrow, and this paycheck will be direct deposited into our checking account. Since we’ve handled all this electronically on a Visa check card, we’ve already paid Aamco. Technically we don’t have the money in the bank at the moment to cover the rental car, but we figure if we turn the car in after 2:00pm tomorrow (which is NationsBank’s daily processing cutoff), her check will be deposited by the time we turn the car in. Of course, we might still have the money in our account to cover it, but we might not. So I guess this constitutes a gamble of sorts. Still, we don’t have a choice. And if something goes wrong somewhere, we can always sort it out later. At least the car is fixed.

The transmission is the last major thing that needed to be fixed on the car. That’s good, since this latest little mine has finished off the last of the $3,000 we had in the bank. We’re again poor as church mice. But at least from here on we can reasonably expect the Thunderbird to run well. All that’s really left to be fixed is that it needs new shocks, and there’s a linkage in the steering wheel that’s loose. Nothing major, and nothing that could keep the car from running should anything go wrong. I can’t see that anything else could go wrong. We have a car with a new battery, a new radiator, a new alternator, a new carburator, and a newly overhauled transmission. All the major groups have been covered.

I know this sounds like famous last words, but I think we’ve finally licked our mechanical problems. Now if we can just manage to keep the house from burning down. And on the plus side, we both have our W2 forms from our employers. It won’t be much, but we’re poor enough to get a few breaks from the Government. So we should soon have a small nest egg to put back into the bank, or to spend on the many other things which we need to take care of (like Tonya’s wisdom teeth).

All in all, while we still feel like we’re in the middle of a minefield, at least for the moment the explosions have abated. So maybe we’re looking forward to at least a short time when we won’t be so shell-shocked and battered about.

Now if we can just keep fate from learning that we’ve found at least a little breathing room, we’ll do okay. hehe

All I really know is that it’s unusually warm here for a February, and feels a lot like spring. The other day I fixed a rattling door on the T-bird, and took the car for a spin to see if it still rattled. I had the windows down. It was nice. Warm without being hot. Cool breeze. And I was tooling around in my Thunderbird. Something I haven’t been able to do for years. It almost felt normal, and that’s a sensation I hardly remembered. But it brought a certain peace to my soul, and I returned home smiling.

I hope to resume the great job hunt next Monday. I’m a little nervous about it. It seems like every time I set up interviews, something blows up in our faces. But at least I’m facing it with a positive attitude now. That’s a change of pace. And hopefully it’ll make the difference.