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Saturday, July 25, 2015

The $800 Alternator

2008 Hyundai Sonata
Last weekend darling daughter took the Hyundai and drove to Seattle for a friend's wedding. She took a girlfriend with her so we weren't worried. As they were leaving their hotel in Bellevue (home of Microsoft), the car lost power and all the lights on the dash started flashing, so naturally enough she called home. Mom got her the number of a towing service. The tow truck, with a woman driver, appeared directly and took the car to a repair shop. The girls called Uber and got a ride to the wedding. They missed the ceremony, but they got there in plenty of time for the reception.
    Sunday they caught the Bolt Bus to Portland, and girlfriend's boyfriend gave them a ride home. That was a pleasant surprise. I fully expected that we were going to have to drive to Seattle to rescue her, but no need. I guess my little girl is all grown up. Mostly, anyway.
    Monday I call the automobile repair shop (dutiful daughter brought me a business card). Yes, they have the car, and if I agree to a diagnostic charge of $150, they will take a look at it. $150 might be seem a bit steep, but since I was able to deal with this from 200 miles away and I didn't so much as have to open the hood, it sounds like a deal. It didn't hurt that Jason, the man on the phone, sounded organized, competent and knew which side his manners were buttered on.
    Tuesday I get the diagnosis. The alternator is kaput. They can replace it. The total bill will be $700 and change, which includes the charge for the tow. Once again the bill seems a bit steep, but this is the first time that this car has needed a repair. Besides, it's in Seattle, what am I gonna do? Drive up there and work on the car in their parking lot? Just the thought of driving to Seattle squashes that notion. We won't mention that the repair shop would probably not look kindly on my working on my car in their parking lot, nor will we  mention that it's a friggin' front wheel drive car with a V-6 engine, which means removal and replacement of the alternator will probably require the skills of Houdini. So, yes, go ahead on, fix the car and I will pay the bill.

    Now I need to start formulating how I am going to retrieve the car. One of the girls could drive to Seattle with me and drop me off, but that seems like a big waste of effort. Besides, they have plans, and driving to Seattle is not in them. That leaves public transportation. Flying would be like $200 and I still need ground transport on both ends. Amtrak has a business class seat for $80-odd, or I could take the Bolt Bus for $30. We're already into this debacle for a small fortune, let's see if we can minimise the damage. Bolt Bus it is.
    Wednesday I have things to do, Thursday I'm too frazzled to handle an expedition, so Friday it is. There is a bus at 8:30 in the morning, but because I have stalled and delayed, that one is sold out. The next bus is at 11:30. That's better, lets me take my time getting ready.

Bolt Bus
    At 9:30am daring daughter gives me a ride to the local Max Station. I arrive at the Bolt Bus stop in downtown Portland at 10:30am. There are already a dozen people lining the wall of the faceless building on Salmon between 5th and 6th. I stop in at Jimmy John's, buy an ice tea and read my book for half an hour, then I go back and join the group on the corner waiting for the bus. Buses come and go, but most of them are city buses and none of them are Bolt Buses until we get one about 10 minutes after 11, but it doesn't stop. Hey, bus! Where you going?
    This drags me out from around the corner and now I see a line of people stretching all the way down the block. Starting to get a little antsy. Where's the friggin' bus? And then it shows up. It stops right by the A-frame sign sitting on the sidewalk and does that little kneeling trick where it lowers the front step down to curb level. A man dressed in gray appears in my field of vision (where'd he come from?), walks up to the bus, the door opens and he talks to the driver.
    Okay, time to start loading. The man in gray opens the doors to the luggage compartment. There is something wrong with the first door, it doesn't want to stay open. He fiddles with it. The driver has come out on the sidewalk. He makes an announcement, but he isn't loud enough to be heard, so everyone converges on him. All the A ticket holders get on first, then the B's, and lastly the C's. That's me, tail end Charlie. I get on the bus and I see that there are plenty of seats available near the front, which surprised me. They are all aisle seats and the adjacent window seats are occupied by women. There is a black woman in the seat right behind the driver, I could have sat there but I am befuddled. It takes me a couple of seconds to choose. I find one a couple of rows back next to petite, middle aged white woman. Should be safe enough. I sit down.
   The bus has Wifi and the woman next to me made full use of it. The driver made several announcements during the trip and surprisingly he was very clear. Every other time I've been on a bus, the driver has sounded like a graduate from the mumble bumble school of enunciation, i.e. totally incomprehensible.
    I do believe the bus is roomier than a Boeing Dreamliner. Perhaps because I was only on it for four hours instead of a 9, but I was able to easily get stuff out of my backpack that was sitting on floor. I tried to catch some Z's. The seats recline, but when they recline my head tilts back at an uncomfortable angle. With the seat upright I could rest my head against the headrest comfortably. I slept a couple of times. Both times I woke myself up with a snore. Nobody beat me.
    I chatted with my seatmate briefly. She was going to visit her boyfriend. They are both divorced, both were married for about 15 years, and they have 7 children between them. They were going to visit his father and I joked that it must be getting serious.
    You'd think that Washington, being a biggish state, with a big, important city like Seattle, would have a bunch of roads, but it doesn't. Our route took us up Interstate-5 which runs through Olympia and Tacoma. Between these two cities I-5 is hemmed in on the south side by JBLM (Joint Base McCord-Lewis, a giant military base) and Puget Sound on the north side. It is effectively the only road so everyone uses it, which means it is totally jammed all the time.
    In Seattle, the bus dropped us at city-bus-central in downtown. My plan says take the 554 Issaquah express to Bellevue. I look around and see a sign for Bellevue that points down the stairs. There are two sets of stairs, one on either side of a central pit full of buses and trains. You don't want to go down the wrong stairs. I find the bus to Bellevue, but it's the 550, not the 554. The 550 driver tells me I need to go back upstairs. I do and I eventually find the sign for the 554, about 50 feet along the sidewalk from where I started.
    Buses come and buses go and here's a bus extending a wheelchair lift that was concealed under the front steps. It deposited a tiny misshapen woman wrapped in a puffy green parka. She managed the joystick on her chair well enough and was soon rolling down the sidewalk.
    Now I hear someone hollering off in the distance. It sounds like "no". I look around but see no sign of trouble, but the hollering continues a couple of times a minute. Eventually the perpetrator comes into view. He stops and looks at a sign on a post and hollers "no". He wanders along and stops at a scraggling looking bush and hollers "yes". Okay, we've got some variety now. This continues on. Nobody pays him any mind, and he doesn't appear to be bothering anybody, other than with his hollering. It takes him a long time to get out of earshot. Or maybe the bus rescued us.
    The Seattle Transit System web site said the fare would be $5, the sign at the stop says $2.50. I offer the driver a $5 and a $1 to take me to Bellevue. Eastgate?, he asks, when I agree, he asks for a dollar, which I dutifully feed to the machine.

    It's a bendy bus and it's full, so I'm standing. When the bus goes around the corner something weird happens to my feet and I realize I am standing right on the joint in the middle of the bus so when the bus bends, my heel and toes go in opposite directions.
    The bus immediately gets on I-90 eastbound and my stop is the second one. I am the third one off the bus. Turns out half the people on the bus are also getting off here. 'Here' is at the top of an exit ramp where it meets an overpass. The bus crosses the intersection and heads back onto the freeway. We wait for the light to change and then start the march to the parking garage and transit center on the north side of the freeway. Everyone except me takes the catwalk to the garage and the stairs four stories down to ground level. I keep going up the hill and then down and around and in 30 minutes I am at A & M Auto Repairthere's my car, and there's Jason. Big sigh of relief.
    Not relishing getting into the rush hour traffic heading south on I-5, I ask Jason if there is another route and he tells me about highway 18, about 20 minutes east of here. I've accomplished my mission, I'm not on a schedule, let's go for a drive, so I head east.
    The Cascade mountains start immediately. Traffic is heavy, but flowing steadily. I see signs for some towns I've never heard of, but nothing about highway 18. Not to worry, it appears at the appointed time along with a line of cars stopped in the right hand lane, and we are still a mile from the exit. Well, I'm not doing that. As I drive by the exit I can see highway 18. It heads south in a straight line and it is packed with cars all the way to the horizon. I might have to drive to Spokane, but at least I'll be alive, not dying in some god forsaken arterial clog.
    I press on east. Now we are really getting into the mountains. They have really gone to a great deal of trouble to put this road through here. There is one place where the westbound lanes are separated from me by a good quarter mile. They go along the base of near vertical cliff face that has shed big pile of rubble that covers the bottom part. The eastbound highway is built on pillars that are planted in this rubble. It looks like the most unstable kind of construction, I mean standing concrete pillars on rubble you found lying at the base of a cliff? I supposed they know what they are doing, and besides, each of the those pieces of gravel probably weighs five tons. They aren't going anywhere.

Keechelus Lake, Snoqualmie Pass area.  I-90 in the foreground.
    The road heads up to Snoqualmie Pass, a name I remember from my childhood in Seattle. We used to go up there all the time, at least in my ten year old mind, which means we probably went at least twice. The interstate wasn't there then, so it was no doubt an arduous trek.
I stop in Easton for a cold drink. They have a map on the wall, but it only shows the immediate area, and nothing that looks like an escape route.
    I push on. As I approach Ellensburg I notice a sign for the highway patrol. Now, typically, I did not plan my return trip, much less an alternate route. I don't have a map or a cell phone. If one of the girls was with me I would have a smart phone and a someone to operate it, but I don't, and given that maps are almost impossible to come by these days I think I'll just ask the guys who know, hence the highway patrol. Besides, they are right here. I pull into the lot and as I am walking up to the door, a highway patrol car pulls up and the driver roles down his window. He gets out and tells me this office is unattended, but he has the key and lets us in. He rummages around and finds a map. It's old. One of the creases splits when he unfolds it, but it's all there and it's just what I need. Looks like I'm going to Yakima. There simply aren't any roads that run north-south through the Cascades.
    After Ellensburg the traffic dries up and so does the ground. I saw giant stacks of giant hay bales in Ellensberg, but after that the ground turns brown. No more mountains but big foothills. The road south from Yakima goes through Indian territory and is pretty flat. A few miles south of Goldendale we go ever the edge and start our descent into the Columbia River Gorge. Driving on I-84 along the river, the hills on either side look big. Driving down that hill you realized how big it is. It's BIG.
     I am following a pickup truck with a flashing yellow light towards the Sam Hill Memorial Bridge. When he gets to the bridge, he stops and starts to unlimber his lane closing crew and equipment.  What can I say? My timing is spot on. The bridge was redecked a few years ago, but now it looks like they are working on the steel superstructure. It's all encased in scaffolds and draped with tarps. Sandblasting and painting perhaps?
     After that it was just a couple more hours to Portland and home. The trip took me 13 hours. I drove 350 miles and spent almost $900. No expense for food 'cause diligent daughter packed me some snacks.
      Drivers in Oregon give me the impression of older and slower and maybe not so quick witted. Washington drivers seem to be more crazed and aggressive. Of course, it's only the odd ones that stick out, and being outbound from Seattle on a Friday night and inbound to Portland may have skewed my experience.

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