SUGAR LAND--OK, I only thought that I would be making the Dallas/Austin/Houston trip yesterday. Real life seems to have gotten in the way.
(I'll finish this story during the holiday sometime, as I'm really tired at the moment. The story will explain why.)
LATER: OK, I'm well-rested and can now tell the tale...
Things were going smoothly enough at first. In fact, I was noticing how the car was running much better when I put a slightly different brand of gas in there at the beginning of the trip (I had gone for the cheap stuff a week ago, but I filled up with something rated "top tier"--no need to advertise here--soon after I left the house. I reminded myself to go for the better gas all the time with this older car.
But just south of Waco, things started running roughly. I had noticed on the way to Thanksgiving that the car would start to heat up a bit when I climbed up a big hill, and the same thing happened at this point in the trip. But unlike a month ago, when the temperature would return to normal, it just kept rising...and rising...and rising. When it started to hit the red line on the "H" side of the temperature gauge, I pulled off to the side of the freeway.
I didn't stay there too long, however; it didn't seem like a safe place to be. (Whoa--that truck almost grazed me!) So I made it to the next exit ramp and pulled off on a side road off the service road when the gauge hit "H" again. Five more times I did this, inching little by little to the first gas station I saw, there in the not-so-booming not-so-metropolis of Eddy, Texas (it's right next to Bruceville, if that helps. Heh.)
Looking back, I was at least fortunate to be able to stop where I did; if the need arises to stop in the middle of nowhere, at least this middle of nowhere had 1) a restaurant in which to eat lunch and 2) people behind the counter who called me a mechanic that did road calls. It certainly could have been worse.
When the mechanic eventually got there, he was able to make a diagnosis: The catalytic converter had gone out. There was so little exhaust coming out of the car that he was able to stick his hand over the pipe and not get burned in any way. When the car worked hard, as it did on this trip, nothing was able to be emitted from the tailpipe, so the car got, well, exhausted and started to heat up.
That mechanic didn't do exhaust stuff, so I had a diagnosis in search of a cure. The inevitable call to AAA followed, and they were able to locate me a mechanic who not only did exhaust work, but was open on Sunday to take the car (even if his parts suppliers were taking the entire four-day weekend). I was close enough to his shop that, with a few hours of rest, the car was able to limp there without incident.
But I was still stuck in Eddy, with the rest of the Austin and Houston trips still to go. Renting a car is a challenge on Sundays unless you're at an airport, and I had no way to get the 25-30 minutes to the one in Waco to meet with the open rental counter. Out of the kindness of his heart, the mechanic let me borrow his Internet to reserve a car in nearby Temple for the next morning. And in an even kinder gesture, he let me borrow his old parts truck to drive to Temple and find a hotel to tide me over until then.
Needless to say, I was bored, bored, bored that night. If only this were the year I'd brought the laptop! I napped, I watched football, I read a lot (at one time moving the reading part over to the Starbucks next door, just to be around people for a second).
In the morning, I got the rental car (I'm tooling around in a podlike Chevy Aveo at the moment) and continued on to Austin and then Sugar Land--a most tiring Christmas Eve, but at least I got here in time to play in church and enjoy the holiday with Mom and Dad. (Speaking of pods, I did get myself an early Christmas present while in Austin--a car adapter for my iPod. I would've gone crazy on all these trips with just a radio, that's for sure.) My car will be done on Thursday or Friday, so I still have to figure out the logistics of that, but I'm leaning towards going back to Dallas and dropping off all my stuff before I change vehicles again.
I hope your holiday travels were much, much more routine than mine!