Part II: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave" - The Eagles
We arrive back at our original METRO stop, with our car safely out in the garage. Now, earlier I mentioned DC's METRO has this peculiar parking exit system where you have to have a "SmartTrip" card which a) Requires you to purchase the card for $10.00, and b) allows you to add value to it every time you use it. Which is great for commuters, I suppose, but lousy for tourists. Because although it only costs $3.75 to actually park, you have to pay $10.00 to buy the card, and effectively use it only once.
But we thought we had it beat.
On our initial trip in, we spoke for a few minutes to another family of tourists - from Montana! of all places - that had a little girl Tink's age. We traded a few notes on what we planned to do that day, and went our separate ways. As Great Providence would have it, when we were back at the little kiosks ranting and raving at the great injustice of having to spend $10.00 on a $3.75 parking tab, who should show up but the dad again, of the Montanans. He generously offered to let us share, or actually purchase, half of the their SmartTrips card - a card which, theoretically, mind you, after being used once should still have $6.25 left on it. Which means it should be able to be used twice for getting out of the garage. So we tried it. They went through first, used the card, then Mr. Montana ran back and gave the card to us. Did it work?
Bzzzzzz. INSUFFICIENT BALANCE.
Damn. Try again..
Bzzzzzz. INSUFFICIENT BALANCE.
Once more, with feeling.
Bzzzzzz. INSUFFICIENT BALANCE.
Ok, this sucks.
SO...apparently once you buy the card, you're screwed from using it more than once unless you specifically put more balance on it. Or wave a big stick with gourds tied to it which simultaneously singing the Congo-ese Magic Chant. Or something. Regardless, Mr. Montana cheerfully came over to see what was wrong, and gave us back our money. Actually, he gave us back a little more than what we gave him, which I thought was very nice of him. We waved goodbye to he, Mrs. Montana and all the little Montanta as they drove back to...I'm guessing possibly Billings.
But that left us stuck. So I went back to the gate station and tried to add more credit to the (now worthess) SmartTrips card so we could get the crap outta Dodge and back home. There was no way that I could see to actually put credit on the card, so I ended up shelling out $10.00 myself to get a new one.
So we're finally out of the garage and mobile again. But we're hungry, and due to the fact that the drive in on I-95 from Richmond has about as rich a set of food options as Death Valley, we found a nearby Ruby Tuesday and had a nice dinner.
On to home!
We pull out of Ruby Tuesday, headed for I-95 - a 2+ hour trip ahead of us. Now, our Windstar has one of those "Tire Imbalance" indicators that lights up when it detects one of the tires is not quite inflated to the same amount as the others.
We pull off at a convenient gas station and get out to check. Ok, they all look all right...wait, what's that thing sticking out of the our right rear tire? And why is there this hissing sound coming from around it?
Double Uh Oh.
Yes, looks like we picked a nail. Or rather a large undustrial sized bolt of some kind. Maybe we just ran over it in the restaurant parking lot, but since we saw another person changing their own tire let's just say I have my suspicions...
So, what do you do when you need to change a tire 500 miles from home, at 8:30 at night, when you conveniently never remembered to buy a jack for the van...
Yes, AAA is our friend. After my little incident in my car last year (which I'll link to later, when I find the post. Yes, I'm sure you're just dying to read it) we signed up with AAA. And one of the perks of being a member is you can get emergency road service whereever you are in the US. And parts of Hawaii, and possibly Guam.
So Laura calls them up, and they assure us that someone will be there as soon as possible. "How soon?" she asks. "No later that 10:00..." comes the answer, to our jaw-dropping astonishment. "But we have two small kids in the car, and have a 2 hour drive in front of us...."
To no avail. Virginia may be for Lovers, but it ain't for Helpers.
So we sit. And wait. The kids pop in "Ice Age", Laura reads a book and I gaze at the intersection watching for the tow truck.
Nothing. Some folks have pulled in beside us at the Air Pumps, and are either negotiating on purchasing a car from the other or are planning a drug deal. Or are possibly planning our kidnapping and horrendous demise.
Nada. Another interested participant has joined the party and wide-scale haggling seems to occur. I am convinced they are actually plotting to overthrow the government. Of Guam.
Zero. "Ice Age" ends and they kids drift off to sleep. Laura passes where I was in the book.
Laura calls AAA back for a status report. We are assured only another 15 minutes. I believe I see some wolves outside...
The wolves leave, because they've been chased off by bears. Bears with guns. Laser guns. Oh wait, I nodded off.... still no tow truck.
We're hopping mad, now. Another call to AAA. ANOTHER 20 Q%^$%#%@% MINUTES!??!?!? My wife gives them, as Mammy Yokum might affectionately say, the "what fo what fo!!". They oh-so-kindly assure her that all their wreckers are assisting other disabled tourists, but will get to us as soon as they can. Yes, all those other disabled tourists with overheated engines, apparently, at 10:30 at night. She tells the operator that we're going to file a complaint and hangs up.
The actual tow truck operator calls us directly, and says he knows the area and will be there in 5-10 minutes. Apparently she touched a nerve. Which she has been known to do to me from time to time, but that's another story...
Q'aplA! Mr. Tow Truck Guy arrives, and is very friendly and helpful. He changes the tire, checks all the pressure and we are on our way. Too bad the whole Virginia AAA system couldn't be like Mr. Tow Truck Guy, who couldn't have been kinder.
The trip back to the condo in Williamsburg was, thankfully, uneventful. Somewhere halfway through, Tink woke up and was complaining about being cold. We hadn't intended to be out so late and had no blankets to speak of. Nothing in the car, really, except...
I took off my t-shirt and gave it to her, which she immediately cuddled up in. I mused as I sat there, shirtless with the seat belt across my chest, that if we (with our Tennessee license plate) got stopped by the cops I would be fulfilling every Tennessee stereotype the trooper had ever heard.
Laura wisely refrained from being as generous with her shirt, which I thought quite prudent. It was one thing to be thought a hillbilly, another to be dragged off to jail for it.
THURSDAY, JUNE 9
We arrive home. Tink wakes up momentarily and asks, "What am I wearing???" To bed, to bed. A full day at Busch Gardens tomorrow.
God help us all.