Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fear and Loathing in Marion IL

I was on the way back to Springfield, IL from Clarksville, TN. I was attending the funeral of a cousin there. It should have been an uneventful trip, with the exception of the exceptional storm that was approaching.

Somewhere between Paducah, KY and Vienna, IL (and that is pronounced "V-eye-anna" for the uninitiated, and I don't want to hear any mocking from folks in San Jose, or Athens...or New Berlin), my car decided to slip out of gear. It just said, "How do you like NEUTRAL for ALL gears?" My car has never spoken before, so this was really weird.

I pulled over to the side of the road, performed a highly technical maneuver straight from the owner's manual, in which a tool is used to pry off a plastic covering on the shift console, and a hidden button is pushed. I know.

I started back out on the highway, and made it about two miles before it happened again. So I repeated the process. This time I got one mile. And then, things really started to get interesting.

Eventually, I was traveling approximately 200 yards (on the shoulder with hazard flashers on) at about 10 mph before having to stop, shut the car down, and perform the magic trick with the button on the shift console.

Oh, I almost forgot: the exceptional storm had now arrived. Rain drops the size and impact of water balloons were pelting the car. Now, the car is not really wanting to go any more. It just said, "Why don't we just stop right here and enjoy the massive thunderstorm and lightning and hail?" My car had never really enjoyed bad storms before, so I was becoming concerned.

This is where cell phones are worth their weight in---well actually, my cell phone is pretty light, so it might actually cost more than its weight in gold, so let's just leave it at "they're really handy to have in situations like this." I called my wife, who quickly and nimbly scoured the web for 24-hour towing services in Marion, IL, the closest town of enough size to have a Toyota dealer. It was about 12 miles away now, after my shoulder-crawl for a few miles. She called one, gave my location, and we were set.

Meanwhile, I used the GPS to find a hotel in Marion. At this point it was clear that I would be spending the night somewhere besides our home in Springfield. I found one, called it, and they assured me they had a room. I'm so happy.

By now, the rain had settled to a drizzle, and my car would no longer go forward or backward (don't ask me why I found it important to test its backward mobility). Also, it was no longer talking, so things were settling down. Then the tow truck arrived.

When "Steve" stepped down from the truck, I will admit that I was a little taken aback. He looked like one of the weird family members from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. His left eye was all milky-white. I was pretty sure at this point that "Steve" was in pieces in this guy's basement and this guy was just wearing his shirt.

Steve seemed like a pretty friendly guy, for a chainsaw murderer, and he was very talkative. In no time, he had the car up on the complicated tow truck tower thingy (technical term). He asked if I was staying in town and I told him I had already found a hotel. When I told him which hotel, he said "No you ain't!" Okay, I thought, here we go...this is where he says "You can stay with me and Mrs. Chainsaw Murderer, we have plenty of room for you on one of the hooks hanging in the basement!"

"Why not there?" I asked, masking my fear with a very manly, barely trembling, low voice.

"It's dirty." Steve said matter-of-factly. "If I leave you there, you will track me down and---" Now, at this point, Steve's language became very colorful. Since Steve would say many colorful things, I will use "mmmm" in place of what he actually said. It's easier than typing all those curse word symbols like they use in cartoon comics. "...You will track me down and cut mmmm, and mmmm, mmmm."

"Okay, well, where else?"

"Super 8...It's pretty nice." Steve said, his milky white eye glistening in the quickly fading dusk.

So, I jumped in the truck, and we headed for Marion and the highly-recommended Super 8 hotel.

During the trip, Steve talked of the mmmm car dealers and the mmmm weather and the mmmm-mmmm people running the mmmm-mmmm government and how a mmmm businessman like himself could barely stay in mmmm business let alone get ahead. Mmmm-mmmm. It was enlightening. Mostly I worried whether or not the milky-white eye affected his depth perception when driving.

Sure enough, the Super 8 had a room. However, I have to say at this point that I did not find it to be all that "Super." Nor do I know what the "8" has to do with anything, unless it has to do with the minimum number of smokers that should be lit up at any given moment in the lobby. Clearly, the "Smoke-Free Illinois" law did not extend to the Super 8 in Marion, Illinois.

I couldn't help but wonder how bad the "dirty" hotel must be if this one was Steve's idea of "clean." But, I was able to settle into my room, which was less smoky-smelling than the lobby and hallways, and fired up my laptop to research the transmission issue with the car. I was even able to make an online appointment with the Toyota dealership for the first available slot the next morning.

My thought was that I would be able to get the car going enough the next morning to nurse it the two miles to the Toyota service shop. Since I knew it would be a start and stop situation, a hundred yards at a time, I wanted to start early before traffic built up. So, I planned to be up and out of the hotel by 5:30.

Finally, half-expecting Milky-Eyed Steve to come bursting through the door with a raging chainsaw held above his head, I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, I awoke at 4:45. I did not smell chainsaw oil, and my appendages all seemed to still be appended, so I jumped in the shower to start the new adventure. By 5:15, I was out the door and in the car.

The car would not budge. No cajoling, no magic button maneuver, nothing would make it move from its parking space, right where Steve had adeptly placed it with the tow truck. After trying for 10 more minutes, I resigned to the fact that I would have to call Steve again.

Fortunately, I had left the door to my room open, and I was able to return to the relatively smoke-free confines of the hotel room. I called Steve and he assured me he would be mmmm around in time to make the mmmm appointment at the mmmm-mmmm shop, mmmm-mmmm.

At this point, Marion, Illinois is not my favorite place in Illinois.

I caught up on email, called my wife, and walked to the McDonald's next door for breakfast and the largest coffee they could sell me, as soon as they were finished catching up on the latest gossip from their co-worker in their native language, which was not English.

Steve arrived with a different truck, but the same shirt as the night before, loaded up the car and deposited me safely at the Toyota dealership.

So now, I sit here in the plush waiting area of the dealership, anxiously anticipating the news from the technicians as to how long, how much, and how many more nights I will be in Marion, Illinois. And with Steve's words ringing in my head ("Mmmm, mmmm-mmmm, mmmm and mmmm, this mmmm-mmmm, mmm-mmm-mmmmmm..."), I tell you my story. Not because I think you will find it interesting or amusing, but because if I don't tell it--if I don't write down my thoughts of my time in Marion, Illinois, I'm afraid I will channel that energy in a bad direction.

And then, I'll end up wearing a shirt with someone else's name on it, telling unsuspecting travelers which hotels are the dirty ones, and I'll never get out of Marion and back home.