Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

May 20, 2005 Long limbo.

I returned from Vienna over a month ago, but it feels as if Iíve been in limbo ever since. One mechanical problem after another. First an oil leak, which had me driving back and forth to New Jersey for repairs, and delaying my plans to head west by two weeks. I did make it as far as Pittsburgh, at least, where I returned to visit Walt, whom Iíd met a year earlier when I passed through western Pennsylvania. Heís moved into his warehouse, and has begun working on the apartment heís constructing at one end. Itís going to be splendid when itís done, Iíll have to keep passing through Pittsburgh to check out how itís

going. But before I even got there my exhaust pipes cracked, and I had to have them replaced Ė they had been heavily patched by the previous owner, and it was time for a more serious response. Then an unexpected coolant leak in a rest stop in Indiana, which a kind stranger repaired for me in the parking lot. But at the same time my van began running rich, spewing black soot and consuming way too much gasoline. Iíd just gotten that sorted out and was thinking perhaps I could relax, when I hit total melt-down. A coolant hose rotted out on the highway, the engine overheated before I realized it, and I needed a new engine.

At several points I wondered if this was just the end of the line, my days of living on the road were to end. To put so much time and money into repairs, and then have the engine go is discouraging, at least. Perhaps thatís how my travels will end Ė at some point it will suddenly become impossible for me to continue on the road and Iíll be forced t find a quick alternative. So far I have had no interest in settling down, though. At times I wonder about all this travel, and I have one project in mind that is not consistent with being on the road. But I donít want to be anywhere in particular, for all that I evaluate every place I see from the perspective of whether it might be a place to settle. If I suddenly had to stop moving, of course I would, but I have no idea what my life would become if that happened.

Having my travel experiences defined by mechanical problems is pretty silly, but it certainly leads to meeting people I wouldnít have known otherwise. The coolant leak at the rest stop is a case in point. I had pulled in to get a map. Walking out to my van I saw the tell-tale green puddle, and slithered under the van to see where it was coming from. A tidy stream of coolant was coming out of a nick in the hose running back from the front heater, right next to the clamp holding it in place. Maybe a rock on the road had flown up and chipped the hose? It was six on Sunday evening, not a good time to get towed anywhere. With a sigh, I went back inside to ask the rest stop employee if he thought anyone would mind if I stayed the night, even though signs warned against camping there. He said no one would mind, and offered to take a look at my leak.

Well, three hours later he had fixed it. An hour into the project, when he was on his back under my van trying to get the hose off, we introduced ourselves Ė his name was John. Turned out he had trained in automotive mechanics, as well as machining and a number of other things. Heíd had an accident a few years earlier, fallen off a ladder and fell twenty eight feet onto the rafters of a church. He smashed his arm pretty badly, and he no longer had the dexterity to do mechanical work, so heíd had to take the job in the rest stop. He told me about his 20-year-old son, who had just left home with his girlfriend. He was excited and sorry at the same time, and hoped his son would be able to find a job in Missouri, where the girlfriend wanted to live to be nearer her mother. He told me, too, about how he had gone to heaven as a small child, in an illness that nearly took his life. He told me about being pulled up to heaven, but then being told by Jesus that it wasnít his time yet, and he had to go back to life. He was disappointed, felt it would be wonderful to stay in heaven instead of returning to earth. That changed his life, he told me. Heíd had all kinds of trouble, though, he assured me. Or as he said repeatedly, ďyou donít know the half of it.Ē

I offered John some money in return for his efforts, but he turned me down. So I left a nice letter about him in the rest stop suggestion box, for his boss to get. As I was saying good bye with my newly-fixed hose, we got to talking some more. He offered me a religious tract, which I took and even said I would read it. (Sorry, John, I haven't read it yet.) Half an hour later I finally started out, only to have the oil pressure warning buzzer come when Iíd barely crossed the parking lot. Quick stop, unpack the back of the van again, open up the engine Ė I had a disconnected wire. I thought Iíd connected it, but when I began to drive the buzzer came on again.

So back I went into the rest stop to find John, who thought I was miles down the road by then. And out he came again, to do a better repair job on the wires than I had. When he was done, I had just about had it. So instead of heading out, I settled down on the bench in the rest stop, and we talked until his replacement came on duty at 11:00 pm. He was quite dismayed when I suggested that he wouldnít convert me to his views on religion. He knew he had encounted Jesus back in his youth, and he knew that an angel was watching over him to prevent greater injury when heíd fallen off the ladder. He didnít see how I could interpret his experience differently, and I didnít want to push the issue. I didnít think an angel led me to meet him, or led him to fix my coolant hose and my wiring. I think Iíve been lucky, and thatís why I met this kind and generous man. But he wouldnít have agreed about that.

Continue to the next entry. Return home.

Unless otherwise indicated all text and photos on this site ©Joy E. Hecht.