Late Night in Mizzou Territory

I’m sitting outside at a Christmas-lighted bar in the backyard of college students, drinking Belgian-style beer and listening to my iTunes. It’s nearly 1am, although the time change still hasn’t registered with me so I’m thinking it’s 2. Tomorrow I’ll be back in St. Marys but it’s been an interesting trip so far.

I left around 8am on Friday, taking the back road Route 28 to avoid rush hour traffic. It took me an hour to get to Frederick, where I gassed up and plugged in my laptop to the cigarette lighter for some tunes. After about an hour and a half, the computer shut down. I assumed I hadn’t plugged it in properly and the battery ran out, so I put it in the other power outlet. It lasted for maybe 10 minutes before shutting down again, this time without recovery. I figured I’d blew a fuse or something, so I hit the radio button to see what was on. Nothing. As in the radio didn’t even work. Then I noticed the clock display was blank. Great, I really did blow a fuse!

I made a pit stop near Morgantown, West Virginia but I didn’t really know where to look and figured I’d deal with the silence for awhile. As soon as I got back on the road, the check engine light came on. I nervously drove to the next exit, which was Mount Morris, Pennsylvania, and stopped at a station to check under the hood. I’m not sure what I was expecting to discern, what with not knowing much about what lurks under that thing, but I checked and typically saw nothing particularly alarming. I found a fuse box and looked at all the tiny oddly shaped fuses but having no idea what to do with them, I put the box cover back on and went inside to see if there was a mechanic who could take a look.

The woman behind the counter directed me to Roush’s Garage in the town, just past the underpass and around a couple corners. I found it and walked into a dank building with extremely low peeling, vaulted ceilings and a faint scent of cat urine. I saw an enclosure in the corner that had a window. I peered through to see a balding, white-haired man surrounded by papers and assorted automotive parts. I went in the back door and shared with him my quandary. He directed me to call out for a guy named Justin who was hard of hearing. As soon as I did that the guy in front of me responded and went to take a look.

He pulled out a funky little computer and hooked it up to my car. It told him nothing about the fuse condition, but apparently there was a record of a disengaged timing belt sometime in the car’s history. After poking around under the hood searching for the fuse box, he said he couldn’t located it. They didn’t specialize in Toyotas so he wasn’t sure. He escorted me in his pick-up to the Mazda and Honda dealerships near the highway, but they couldn’t help me. What I did learn was that the car was probably safe to drive and the check engine light wasn’t of immediate concern.

On my way north, I was on the lookout for a Toyota dealership and just missed one in Washington, PA. Rather than take the time to turn around, I kept going hoping to find one further west in Wheeling or Zanesville. I didn’t. I stopped for gas in Hebron, Ohio and as soon as I left the station, the check engine light came back on. I renewed my mission to find a dealership as I approached Columbus. Immediately after passing the exit I should have taken, I saw it on the left side of the road. Rather than risk not seeing another one, I took the next exit and attempted to find the dealership. My detour took about 35 minutes but I eventually found it after driving through downtown Reynoldsburg through rush hour traffic.

The dealership was very busy and the first few people I talked to didn’t get my hopes up of even having someone to check my car, but I was in luck and a guy asked what was wrong. I gave him some of the mysterious and odd details, and he found someone to check it. It turns out that not only were the fuse issues and check engine light unrelated, I had not blown a fuse. Apparently it just wiggled loose after I hit a bump or something. And the light was indicative of too much air getting into my engine–something I will have to have checked when I get to Kansas.

After stopping for gas and a couple slices of pizza at a tiny Marathon gas station/convenience store outside of Martinsville, Indiana, I finally arrived at Bloomington around 9pm. My friend Aaron had told me that this weekend was a special party weekend there, but I hadn’t imagined seeing so many parties going on. Nearly every house on every block near where I parked was having a party. Lots of plastic cups, crooked kegs in the yard, backwards-hat-wearing guys and dolled up girls mingling and getting their drinks on. I found a parking space about 2 blocks away and walked the sidewalks with my laptop case and backpack, feeling like the only sober person in town.

After the 12-hour road trip I really didn’t feel much like partying, but Aaron offered me one of his homebrewed beers and we chatted on the porch enjoying the amazingly perfect weather. It was cool to catch up again as we waxed nostalgic about Peace Corps days and I thought of my college days. Aaron’s daughter Mimi was staying over but she was already asleep. By midnight I was as well.

Dora the Explorer woke me up around 8, but I had a good night’s sleep and felt ready to drive again, sans car trouble. I hung out much of the morning there, but knowing that anywhere I went in Bloomington would be busy I decided to make it a point to come back through on my way home. I drove through the town, which was filled with cute shops, bars and picturesque architecture as well as throngs of college students, parents and alumni.

I took a back road northwest to the interstate and re-entered near Terre Haute. I began looking for places to eat but really didn’t find anything until I ventured to another back road paralleling the highway. I had breakfast for lunch at a silver-facaded diner across from the Greenville, Illinois courthouse. At this point, my check engine light had come on again but the dealer in Columbus had told me it would probably be OK to drive halfway across the country so I’ve been ignoring it.

Pulling into Columbia, Missouri at about 5:30, I found Kelly’s house after a couple attempts, having taken the wrong initial exit. Within minutes, I was chilling in the backyard with her roommates Richard and Angela. Eventually more people came and we descended upon the town for dinner and drinks. Since the weather was so nice, the wait was too long at the Flat Branch Brewery so we went to Shakespeare’s Pizza and pretty much parked there all night. The group also kept growing to the point that I think there must have been 20 people around three tables there. Kelly, Angela and I went back to the house, stopping at the liquor store for a 6-pack to finish off the evening. It was probably just after midnight then. So, although I didn’t try any local breweries yet, I’ve had a pretty good time. Hopefully the car will make it the last stretch home!

Note: this content was originally posted on my old Blogger site “The Nystagmus Zone, Volume 3.”

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