Friday, November 03, 2006

With a Couple of Pence Worth of Tape

I had a rotten day, today. On my way to work, this morning, my car conked out...on the Motorway. I tried calling the restaurant, but the only number I have is the direct line for the manager. Because he's on holiday, his number goes into voicemail. I then called the temp agency that placed me there. My mobile service provider kindly informed me that my calling credit was running low. Great! My regular "handler" is on paternity leave (still? How long is he going to be out? His wife did all the work, for Pete's sake!), so the woman who owns the agency is covering his clients. She said they would get a replacement for me. That's not exactly the help I was hoping for. After a few minutes, I called back and spoke to James, the youngest in the office, who handles the industrial desk. I suggested that instead of sending a replacement, they contact the other fellow working at the site, who goes in later than me, and ask him to pick me up on his way. He drives right past where I was stuck.
Of course, this was too sophisticated a plan for James to handle, so he put the boss back on. She is the Queen of Unsympathetic. Reluctantly, she tried calling Cujo. The guy working at the site, with me. She came back on the line and said his mobile didn't answer and he was probably there already. Cujo never gets in before 8:30AM and often not till 8:45. It was only a few minutes past 8, so no way was he there yet. She dismissed the idea, saying they had already sent someone to replace me, not realizing that young James had already told me that the replacement hadn't come by the office, yet, for directions. Since she wasn't interested in saving me a day's pay, I hit on the other big issue. "Could one of you come and pick me up? I'm stuck on the side of the M3," I said. I was a mere 10 minutes drive from their office.
"Not now, we're real busy here. Is there someone you want us to call for you? Some friends or family?" The Queen of Unsympathetic was in full effect, this morning.
"What family? I don't have any family in this country." Duh! Way to know your employees, lady. I would think the accent would be kind of a giveaway...I am not from here.
"How am I supposed to know that?" She focused on being defensive, rather than helping. Typical. She asked me if I was a member of amy of the auto recovery plans. I should have said, "on the wages you pay me? You must be joking." Instead, I just said no. She said she would call back, later and hung up, leaving me shivering in the cold. on the side of the Motorway. If I could have gotten through to someone at the restaurant, they could have sent someone to pick me up, as I was only 10 minutes drive away.
I sat there, listening to the radio and thinking. Man, it was cold. A couple of times, I went outside to pee in the bushes. I considered my prospects. Nando would be at work. I don't have M1's mobile number. I looked back along the motorway. I supposed that I could walk back to the junction where I got on. Maybe later, when it gets warmer. I saw a bridge with traffic on it, going over the motorway. A bus was slowly going over it. If I could walk to there, then climb up the embankment, to that roadway, maybe I could catch a bus to somewhere and make my way home. I contemplated the potential cost of having my car towed off the motorway. Where would I get the money for that? I have been gambling that I would get a descent paying acting gig, or get on a gameshow and win some money, so I could have my car serviced. I guess my luck ran out. I have gone three years without recovery coverage, saving the premiums, and never needed it...until now. To top it all off, I started suffering from a nosebleed.
Suddenly, I noticed some sort of marked vehicle crawling up the emergency shoulder, behind me. It was either the police, or the Highways Agency. By now, I had been sitting there almost two hours. A man in a uniform got out and walked slowly up to my passenger side. Highways Agency. I rolled down the window. He asked me how I was doing. "Oh fine, " I thought, "I just decided to have a picnic on the side of the road, in freezing temperatures. How you doin'?" Instead, I said, "not good. My car has stopped running." He asked me if I had recovery coverage. Why does it feel so unpleasant everytime someone asks me that? I must have looked a sight, with bloody, paper napkins bunched up on my center console. He asked me if I wanted them to call someone? "What are my options?" I asked.
The Higways guy indicated that the first priority was getting my car off the Motorway. He said they could arrange a tow and I would have to pay for that, or I could join one of the recovery programs and they would come assist me. I didn't realize I could join and get assistance the same day. He said the cost of joining would be about the same as the cost of a tow, but at least I would have a year's membership for my money. I elected to join a motor club. He was now joined by his partner, who informed me that the first guy was new, still being trained. I had to go through my whole story again, for the senior man. The senior dude sent the first guy bak to their 4X4 to get their mobile for me to use, saving my dwindling calling credit.
When he retured, the first Highway man gave me the number for the Royal Automobile Club (RAC). That's the one I used to be in when I was married. The Black Queen had a membership and added me to it, when I married her, and we split the cost. That ended when my marriage ended. After going through it all, on the phone, I ended up paying £106 for a year membership. They said they would send someone to me within thirty minutes. The Highway guys left and said they would stop back later, to see if I was still there. When I lived in America, I had been a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA). The AAA will give you fuel if you have run out, jump start the car, help you change a flat, but if the car is broken down, they will just tow you to the nearest repair place. Automobile clubs in Britain are different. Here, they will actually try to fix your car on the side of the road, if possible. Their trucks come with full tools and a trained mechanic. Towing is only a last resort. It's one of the few things that is done better in Britain, than in America.
As promised, the RAC van showed up in less than 30 minutes. I explained the symptoms to the RAC man andreleasedd the bonnet (hood in American), as requested. The engine had lost power, then finally stalled. It would turn over and start, but immediately conk out. I expected the diagnosis to be dire and lamented over how I was going to afford the repairs. RAC man found that the induction hose had broken. He concluded that was enough to cause the problem, because it affected some sensor. I sat in the car, trying to stay as warm as possible, while he rummaged around in his truck. He removed the hose, then came back, having taped it back together with black, electrical tape. After he reinstalled the patched hose, he signaled me to try the engine. It started and ran fine. He cautioned me that the tape wouldn't hold forever and that I should get the hose replaced as soon as possible. A car that cost around £50,000 new, held together by a few Pence worth of tape.
I am really grateful to the Highways Agency guys. Without their assistance, I might still be stuck there.


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