Leaving the free refuge of the Pensecola Walmart parking lot, we set out to try the Tramper at something new. Riding a ferry in the Gulf from Fort Morgan to Fort Gaines below Mobile Alabama seemed like a fun coastal adventure. A last-minute phone call nodded a no-go. They weren’t accepting any trailers or RV’s today. Drat! Rolling along after packing up makes us think of “second-breakfast” sometimes, so when we saw the Coffee Cup Diner despite not having made it out of Pensacola yet, we parked out back. I motioned to Jane as we cross the parking lot that we may be meeting our waitresses out back here while they seemed to be taking their smoke breaks.
Inside we found just our kind of place. A broiling flame raged at the stove where the short-order cooks blazed through their lists of orders. A simple menu praised the grits and on the wall was a sign: No Grits No Glory. Jane went into the restroom to wash up, and as I sat down a new experience unfolded. All around me smart phones started screeching and beeping. They blasted a Tornado Warning! Of course we don’t have a smart phone so there I was peeking over people’s shoulders, gleaning what I could and waiting for Jane. One phone owner bragged about his last tornado while I tried to sort out my own reactions.
I still have more Tramper destinations. There are still places to go, things to do. Maybe the tramper attracted this thing as trailers so often do? I have walked along the actual path of tornado destruction before and seen news descriptions. Knowledge sometimes tells you exactly what to do; other times it tells you there’s nothing you can do.
By now Jane is out at our table. We debate briefly whether to drive and hope we pick exactly the right time and direction, or stay put. We stay and order coffee, grits and a biscuit. There is a Bruce Cockburn song we love that goes: “If this were the last night of the world, what would I do that was different unless it were champagne with you?” Today it was grits and good coffee; the waitress got a pretty good tip too!
Jane texted Debbie who used an iPad in Baltimore to check weather. The warning was being lifted. We heard the next day several unconfirmed twisters had touched down from Birmingham to Pensacola. We didn’t see any.
The road later offered its own surprises. Heavy traffic near Mobile and an accident in the light misty rain at a highway split. The kind where our crawling column of traffic arrived just before the ambulance, only one cop had pulled up and the poor harried car was facing the wrong way showing its defaced, unrecognizable grill-less front end. Boy do we count our blessings and lack of rush.
Later we rolled into a drenching, driving rain in Alabama. The crowned road wasn’t enough to shed the torrent and I found myself glad to be rolling slowly with good tires all around and separate brakes on the trailer.
No more than half an hour later we coasted into a small town, Robertsdale, where we took note of the usual strip of stores, Advance Auto, Dollar General, Nail, and pawn shops. By the second light I smelled transmission fluid. Five seconds later Jane asks, “whats that smell?”
Then the smoke! Trying to block panic, I methodically look around for the right place to touch down. I feel like a bush pilot, surveying the busy lots around where I would be in someone’s way or they in mine. I pick a church on the right just in time to notice the transmission is shifting “differently“. Shut it down, open the hood and EVERYTHING is soaked with boiling hot, red transmission fluid. I can’t see a thing, can’t touch a thing, and can’t tell where all that red is coming from. But there’s a steamy puddle growing on the ground already…
Yup, hood up as the universal sign “don’t tow me” and I advise Jane we will be entertaining ourselves for an hour while this thing cools. I went and bought 4 quarts of Dexron, a roll of paper towels, box of rubber gloves, a bag of kitty litter and investigated the worst case price of a new radiator. ~$240, and available within a few hours, I explain to Jane and the clerk that I probably won’t need it; it’s probably a transmission line going to the cooler up in the grill. We also went to CVS for a little light shopping while the car continued to cool.
Of all the >100 mile off the beaten path places, all the night hours of driving, the rainy portions, and even the traffic jam this morning…our little 4Runner picked a town with 3 auto parts stores and “no grocer” to break down in. Well, I have a paper suit just in case of these sorts of things. (known as a bunny suit in the hospital world)
Where is my super-suit? Jane “what”? Where-Is-My-Super-Suit? (You’d have to have watched The Incredibles recently to get that reference). So, I donned the paper suit, used half a roll of paper towels to dry everything, cleaned the front tires and found the culprit. Whether I failed to tie the hoses down as well as I thought or the mechanic in New York accidentally knocked things loose doesn’t matter.
The transmission line had risen above a critical height and been rubbed through by the fan. Half an hour later and we were rolling safely again. We determined to make it ALL THE WAY TO NEW ORLEANS. Arriving the back way to St Bernard State Park at about 7:30 was of no concern to the ranger and we settled in for a quiet night in the Tramper.