It all starts with a top off as I’m leaving Tucson. The gas is sure to be more expensive on the Rim, so into Circle K I drive. As I’m putting the nozzle back, I spot gas gushing out beneath the car. Oh, Oh. Dare I get into the car to move it? I do and park in front of the store.
I immediately call AAA. The agent schedules a tow truck and advises me to call 911 to get the fire department on the scene. Five minutes later, a Mountain Vista Fire District truck drives into the parking lot along with a police car. Four firemen mop up the gas and stay until it stops leaking. The police officer glances at my licence and takes off. A broken filler hose is the culprit.
Forty-five minutes later, Ron from Eddie’s Towing pulls up. He looks underneath the car, rocks it a little and gas comes pouring out. “I can’t put it on the truck like this,” he says. “Usually the firemen plug the hole. I suppose they can’t do that on plastic.”
“What should we do?” I ask. “We could try to find a mobile operation,” he replies. I plug into the internet, fill out a form, and get a “we’ll get back to you within 24 hours” reply. So much for that.
“Call the firemen back,” says Ron. Okay. In the meantime, Mike, a second Eddie’s Towing driver, pulls up. Immediately followed by the firetruck. Guys being guys, they stand around and exchange ideas. Mike drops to the ground and slides half way under the car. Moments later, he says: “We can cut the hole out of the hose, hook the rest up to the tank and fashion a cap from a water bottle.” Which Ron does.
Ron hoists Esmeralda — my 1995 Ford Escort station wagon — onto the Jerr-Dan and off we go. “May as well take you to an auto shop that’s in the direction you’re headed to.” Smart thinker.
We pull up to Master Tek a few miles down the road. A lot of cars in the lot, including Esmeralda’s sister — dressed in pink! Ron leaves as soon as he puts the car down. I’m on my own. The guys in this shop are quick. They need the number to order the part and so hoist Esmeralda up to get it off the hose. The part will be delivered by 3:30 pm. It’s 2 pm now. I settle in, check emails and Facebook, read, and play spider solitaire.
The part comes in 10 minutes early. The owner’s daughter whisks it into the shop. Thirty minutes later I’m on my way. It only cost $70.
You learn a lot sitting in a waiting room. The guys and gal — the owner’s daughter is the only woman there — are attentive, courteous, and tell it like it is. If I lived in Tucson, Master Tek would be my shop.
I check Google — the drive to Pinetop will take me three and a half hours. I point the car north. When I hit the mountains, I can barely get to 50. The gear keeps slipping back. I drive on slowly hoping Esmeralda can make it to Globe. A few minutes later, my gears are gone. I roll over onto the shoulder.
The cop car I spotted going in the other direction a few minutes earlier pulls up behind me as I dig out my AAA card. Did I mention I upped my membership from basic to Premier the day before I left? Smart move! She asks what’s wrong, gives me my exact location and the name of a garage — even writes them down when she sees me fumbling to find a paper and pen!
It’s past 6 pm by this time. The cloud cover is much appreciated as I pull out my camp chair for the wait. Barely fifteen minutes later, Buck — a J&S Towing driver — pulls up. While he’s taking down the information for AAA, his parents drive by and mom offers Buck her ice cream cone.
Buck loads up Esmeralda. “Where to?” I tell him the name of the garage the cop gave me. Buck mentions he’s attached to a shop and offers to take the car there. The officer had said most garages were good, so why not?
Gila Valley Auto Center
The shop is a run down shack with a few cars parked in front. A big billboard announces Gila Valley Auto Center (GVAC). A trailer park is on the right. Two beat-up old chairs sit in front of the bathrooms. I’m too tired to think clearly. Buck drives me to a motel close to the shop.
I wake up early. I have to be a fool to trust this garage, I think. I’ll walk down there, call AAA at 7:30 am and have the car towed back to the Tucson shop.
In pulls Nik in a Jerry-dan. With his sunglasses on, he looks like a young Bruce Willis. I like him. Still, I call Master Tek. Brad picks up the phone and I explain the situation. He tells me they are closing shop on the 3rd only to reopen on Monday the 8th. A traditional five-day week-end for them. He walks me through and tells me it might not be so bad. And to keep calling him if I need more advice.
By this time Buck has pulled in, the mechanic has not. He calls Josh — he’s at the post office and will be there shortly.
Turns out the owner of Gila Valley Auto Center — Justin Fountain — has just bought J&S Towing. On the condition that the three drivers be included in the deal. Hence Nik, Buck and Pete. Josh and his brother-in-law Rickie were already employees.
The shop is actually under remodel — new paint, new phone lines, walls pushed out, windows cleaned. Retiling the next day. It will look great by next week.
Josh hoists the car up and rolls under to start his inspection. I like how he and Buck talk about the car and its problems. Fixing the transmission seal may or may not work. He’ll put in transmission fluid, take it for a spin, and see what’s what.
All the guys are great. I’m sure glad I cancelled the AAA towing service to Tucson.
An hour later, Checkers delivers the fluid and Josh takes off. He comes back with not so good news — the gear still slips badly. There’s only a 50-50 chance a new seal will solve the problem.
“What’s the cost of a new transmission?” “$1300 plus labor if I do it, $2000 if you take the car to an expert in Phoenix, says Josh. “When was the transmission done,” he asks?” “Just a few weeks ago,” I reply. “Call your guy in Prescott. It should still be under warranty.” Oh happy days!
Back to Prescott
I call Donn and he says to bring Esmeralda back. As a Premier member I’m entitled to a 200-mile tow among other benefits. Nik clears it with AAA, Buck loads Esmeralda onto the flatbed, I hop into the cab, and off we go to Prescott via Payson to avoid Phoenix heat and traffic. Thank you Premier AAA.
The distance clocks in at 196 miles! We drop the car off at the mechanic’s. I say goodbye to Buck, and head back to Ponderosa Park. Hoping and praying I can take off again in a few days.