Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Moment of Fright, but no Danger that ended in a Family Reunion

After more than 3 years of physical separation, we were united with our elder S in US last night. He flew in with his uncle (my Bro) from Malaysia, a flight journey that took about 25 hours of air time, i.e., excluding transit time. The route took him via Singapore, Tokyo, Minneapolis, and finally, Orlando, on NW Air.

Earlier in the day, my bizarre string of events continued to unfold. First, I had a flat tire, the front driver side. It must be a slow leak over the night, though I did feel a bit heavy on the steering when I was parking last evening after I got home from work, but did not pay any attention to it as the minivan was just serviced a day earlier, with wheel alignment and tire pressure check and all.

So I called Triple A, of which I’m a member. I have previously availed of their tire changing service several times, free. This did not seem to warrant anything differently. I guessed it could be a busy Saturday morning, or maybe fewer Triple A road assistants were working. It took them about one and a half hours to reach me. That the developer has deemed it fit to change the address of our complex did not help matter too. For one thing, Mapquest could not find the new address, but the US Postal Service obviously has no problem delivering our mails.

Anyway, getting tired of waiting and also entertaining the half chance that they might not turn up after all and that we had a schedule to catch (to fetch my S and Bro arriving later part of the evening in Orlando), I proceeded to do the tire change myself, armed with some similar experience gained in Malaysia and also after witnessing the same thing done by the Triple A here. Back in Malaysia, the spare tire in my car was kept in the trunk, easily accessible. For the minivan, it’s stored below the engine chassis, and is accessible through a relatively elaborate, at least to the mechanically challenged, process by unscrewing a nut in the car compartment, which then releases the cable strap that keeps the tire in place, and gradually lowers the tire to the ground.

But first I have to find the tools (the jack, the long spanner, the jack handle, etc.), which are kept in a hidden side pocket in the cargo compartment. And yes, I have not touched, nor bothered to look for them in the past three years. So it took me a little while to release them from the grip/clamp, taking pain to memorize their positions, orientations, etc., so that I could put them back the right way, i.e., snugly.

Then it’s into the car compartment (middle row) under the floor mat to unfasten the screw that locks the spare tire in place, underneath the engine chassis as aforementioned. Just when the spare tire was being lowered, I got a call from the Triple A road assistant asking for direction (how come I’m not surprised?).

So my first tire change in US was stopped short there and then. And I have a little cut on my hand to show for that. The guy arrived 15 min later and completed the tire change in less than 10 min, using the power tool to unscrew the bolts, nary a sweat.

But that was not all. Driving with one spare tire (and one more thing, back in Malaysia the spare tire is the same size as the other tires, and the same rim size and width. Here the spare wheel looks darned thin, obviously that’s meant to be a spare, and not a replacement), I reached Sears Auto Center, the tire outlet nearest my home (about 1 mile away), related the problem (the serviceman went round the minivan, pointing out to me that some of the tires have suffered the consequences of wheel misalignment, even showing me pictures of the resulting uneven wear and tear, but I stayed true to my sole purpose: just repair the damaged tire), gave my particulars when asked, and settled into NEXT, the novel by Michael Crichton that I brought along, in the waiting room. Soon I was lost in the intrigue involving gene patenting, DNA testing, and academic dishonesty weaved by Crichton. One hour passed, just like that, and I got impatient. After all, the guy promised me an hour, a good hour, those are his words.

So I stood up, and scanned the work space which is separated from the waiting room by a glass window. Strange, I could not find my minivan from my vantage point that covers the entire work space, unobstructed. I next sauntered out of the waiting room, and saw my minivan parked on the outside. Going around it, I noticed that the flat tire has been put back where it belonged, properly inflated. So what’s happening? How long has it been sitting there, waiting for his owner to come and claim it? Questions and questions.

I walked to the front office, waited in line and approached the attendant (with some displeasure at being kept waiting), and popped the million-dollar question: Is my car done? The attendant bent down to a compartment below and pulled out a plastic bag soon after. He retrieved a form from it and told me, yes, your car is ready (and no, I did not ask him when that was) and there is no charge.

Just when I was thinking, yay, they must have realized the inordinate delay that I had suffered and was about to give me a free work order, you know, like some eateries who promise that the food order is on the house if it is not delivered within a certain time frame, the guy said nonchalantly, because we could not find the leak after the water tank test. This is the usual test when a tire suspected to be leaking is placed under water after inflating and one just looks for the tell-tale air bubbles that rise to the surface. The conclusion: no air bubbles, no leak. So did somebody let go of the air intentionally?

This is not good. I would rather it be due to some mechanical causes. Sensing my apprehension, the shop assistant ventured that sometimes dirt particles could collect around the valve, preventing it from being closed completely after air inflation through a spring mechanism. So the slow leak. And he advised me to keep monitoring and to come back if the same problem recurs.

Half believing his seemingly rational explanation (the mal-intent found in the alternative explanation is too much to stomach), I drove home to tell wify about the good news. Yes, they did not charge me for the work not done. And yes, there are honest operators here too, thus restoring my faith on human integrity.

No, that’s not the end of the twist. The best, and should I say, the scariest, was yet to come. We left for Orlando around 5.30pm, via Interstate 4. There was some weekend traffic, perhaps because of the Mother’s day weekend, but we were able to cruise along, with wify settling into a mild slumber on the passenger seat next to me.

Then lo and behold, a thing (it looked like a dark container or something) just jumped out from the back of a pickup truck in front on the middle lane (I was on the outer lane on a 6-lane dual carriageway), my preferred position when overtaking.

I tried to swerve around the fallen obstacle, which was then bouncing in front on my lane, but failed. So while keeping my foot on the brake pedal, but not in full press so as to lose control of the minivan, I tried to run over the thing, hoping for the best.

Thomp, Clomp, Sizzzzzz.......

Instead, the thing got stuck under the front bumper and was dragged along the whole time I was trying to steer the slowing minivan to the emergency lane, noticing that a SUV was approaching my rear at considerable speed through my rearview mirror, and actually cutting into the emergency lane (perhaps seeing, from his perspective, that I was struggling to stop the car on the outer lane). I managed to stop the car about, oh, may be a hundred meters or so from where the first encounter occurred, and after what seemed like an interminably long time, in the emergency lane. The SUV must have reverted back to the outer lane and passed me by when I was trying to catch my breadth. I may have stopped breathing during that few seconds of hell.

However, I soon recovered my senses. First, I put on the hazard lights, and then opened my trunk cover to indicate approaching vehicles that my car was immobilized. Then I went to the front to survey the damage. It’s a black plastic container that had been partly broken by the “ordeal”, but otherwise staying pinned under the front bumper, between the two front wheels. I called out to my S to help me extricate the intruding object while I lifted the front bumper, maybe by several inches. Unusual times call for unusual display of strength, the adrenaline push doing its job no doubt.

The unwelcome object thus removed and disposed of down the slope next to the emergency lane so that it would not be in the way of traffic, we continued our way, at first cautiously to check whether there was any other damage to the car handling, feeling blessed that we have emerged from the duration-limited but definitely high shock value adventure none the worse. I shudder to think if it were a metal container, my front wheel bursting in contact, and sparks flying, igniting a conflagration …

And the pick-up truck did not even stop, probably its driver did not even realize the mayhem he has caused, which is unlikely as we drivers are always watchful of scenes behind through the rearview mirror. [My Bro just raised another possibility after I related the mishap to him this morning: the container could have been filled with liquid that could promote hydro-planing, a phenomenon whereby a moving vehicle is sliding along on a wetted road, without any steering control, or worse, filled with petrol or some highly inflammable liquid. How a human mind can just think of the worst of worst.]

The rest of the journey ended without any more untoward incident. Instead, the mood was expectant, playful, and excited as seen from the following series of photos taken at the Concourse A of the Orlando International Airport with some famous imaginary characters. Well, it's Orlando right, where DisneyWorld and the World of Make Believe hold sway?

The Spidey connection: Mom's Medusa touch

The goofy Dad, belied by his facial expression that borders more on seriousness,
than, well, goofiness.

The Lilo kid in our D. And obviously
our younger S was not game for the photoshoot with fictional characters.

But on our returning journey, when turning into Fowler from the Interstate 75, I temporarily lost my sense of direction and ended up going around for 10 min before I found the way to our home. Things have a way of interfering with one’s perspective when driving at night.

The night ended with us catching up with our S and my Bro after all these years. And I slept soundly through the night, knowing that Mother’s Day would beckon in the morning, which it did, and that will be the subject of another blog.

Mom reunited with her elder S, equally missed by his two siblings.
Soon the remining sibling will fly in from Portland, OR on coming Thurday.
Our first family reunion in close to four years.


Kitty Girl said...

Wow, four years huh??? Dang.

Anyhow, glad to know everyone is safe! I wonder what's up with all the mishaps? Hm.

Koh looks really skinny! It is now up to Mom (and good old greasy American food) to fatten him up!! I will be there next week! No, this week! Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Say Lee said...

I think Koh will demur since he said he has just the right BMI (body mass index). All of us are overweight.

It's now up to you to lure him into more food ingestion with your time-tested cooking that we have read so much about.

Eric said...

Hey, I am glad that Koh (Wei Joo) is back to US,at least he can now enjoy some home cook dishes. Any problem in the preparation, I believe he is a vegetarian?

Say Lee said...

Bee Khoon is quite adept at preparing vegetarian dishes when called for. So I think we should be OK.

Also, there is a Sweet Potato chain here that serves mainly salad dishes which has been frequented by Shifus.

We are thinking of keeping him longer here and are working on it.

Eric said...

All the best and send our regards to him.