It seems everybody has a story like this. Robin and Richard once broke down at a show in Arizona. Bill's van stopped on the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a special feeling of helplessness, breaking down at an out-of-town show.
I'm on my third time now, in two different vehicles:
1. My first van, an over-worked Dodge Caravan, died during set-up at the Bend Summer Festival. One of our neighbors worked on his motorcycle, and was able to fiddle with the carburetor enough for me to drive it, choking and wheezing, off the street and into vendor parking, but it didn't run again that weekend. I had it towed to a garage to rebuild the carburetor, rented a U-Haul to get my pots and booth home. Later that week, I took the Greyhound back to Central Oregon to pay the shop and drive back down the mountain.
2. My second--current--van is a Chevy Astro cargo van, much better suited for a load of pottery than the Caravan, but it's not infallible. Driving back alone from a show in Coupeville--Denise had stayed home with a sick kitty--it broke down in 100° heat alongside I-5 just south of Albany. As with Bend, it had not been a good show--third year in a row of declining sales. The breakdown clinched it: we weren't going back there again. My roadside insurance only paid towing to the nearest town; I paid the extra to take it all the way back to my shop in Eugene, where they diagnosed a broken fuel pump, fixed by the next day.
3. The third time was just a week ago. We were in Washington again, at Edmonds. Because the show site is so constricted, they only let a few vehicles on the grounds at a time, coordinating volunteers with clipboards by walkie-talkie. They take some of the pressure off at load-in by dividing us up into time-blocks; north-facing booths like ours set up from noon to 2 pm. At take-down, though, everyone wants out at once. They confirm that your booth is packed before they give you at dash-board permit and let you get in queue.
The queue runs forever. Two blocks up the hill to Alder on Eighth street, then down Alder for as many as four more. So you wait. Trusting your parking brakes. Start up, move forward a couple of car-lengths, shut down again. And repeat.
On the fourth or fifth repeat, my van wouldn't start. No click, no grind. Also no lights, flashers, dome light.
Mike the painter from across the aisle was right behind me, so pulled up and tried to give me a jump. (As a midwestern boy, I always have jumper cables.) No luck. People were pulling around me to continue their packing up--I wasn't exactly at the curb, but was not quite out in the traffic lane either. I spent an ungodly amount of time on hold with Emergency Road Services, waiting for an actual person (cell service was too poor to connect online), and was told I'd have a 90-minute wait for a tow truck, who would take me down to the fair so I could load up. And then I'd have to start the process over again to get another tow to a garage. If I'd have only made it two more car lengths, to the top of the hill, I could have coasted in neutral down to the park and loaded up. (And no, I wasn't gonna ask for volunteers to push me. It's a steep hill, and anyways, they'd already gone ahead by then.)
I phoned Denise to come up the hill to watch the van while I went down to fold up our tent and start hauling boxes of pottery out to the curb against the eventual appearance of the tow truck, thinking if we could load up fast enough, they might be persuaded to wait for us. On about the sixth load, my friend Shelly, from Club Mud, drove up to start packing her car, and asked how I was doing.
I kinda lost it, told her the whole story. Upon receiving my tearful earful, she immediately drove over to my space, started loading shelves and hardware to ferry up to Denise, then came back to get pottery. Kim and Eddie, the paper-quilling artists in the booth behind me also pitched in, though couldn't haul as much, as they'd already loaded their work. Between the bunch of us, we managed to get everything out of the park and up to the van, where I was just finishing loading it in when the tow truck finally arrived.
And refused to tow us.
They'd send out a light duty hook truck, expecting an empty van. Fully loaded, we'd need a flatbed.
I got on hold again. Walked back down the hill to use the porta-pots--in pitch darkness--came back to find Denise talking to a concerned neighbor and a friendly Edmonds policeman. Finally got a service operator, who put me in a three-way conversation with a tow driver, trying to estimate how much a van full of pottery would weigh. I was thumbing through the owner's manual in the dark cab, trying to find the empty weight, and decided to get out of the van to stand under the street light...
...And the dome light came on.
I slammed the key in the ignition, twisted, and started right up. Thanked the operator, apologized to the driver, and headed for the motel, where we arrived just before midnight. And so to bed.
The next morning, we packed up, loaded clothes and bears, checked out of the hotel. And couldn't start again.
I'd noticed a battery store three-quarters of a mile down the street, so called to ask if they could deliver and install a new battery for us. Normally, they could, but a couple of people had called in sick (I'm thinking hangovers) so they were short-staffed.
Which is how I wound up getting my morning exercise rolling a hand-truck down Broadway in Everett, getting a replacement battery, which I had to install with a pair of pliers and a crescent wrench. Barked my knuckles something fierce.
And still couldn't get it to start.
It turns out it's lots easier to get a tow on a Monday morning during business hours than it is late Sunday night. We rented our hotel room back for the day, and I rode with the tow driver to the nearest garage. They promised a check of the electrical system, said they'd do their best to get us back on the road again, and drove me back to the hotel.
Slow-forward five hours.
The garage calls. They've found the problem: the screws holding cables to battery are stripped, so not making proper contact. With an hour's labor and two small parts, we're ready to go as soon as the Uber can bring me back to pick it up. (They're short-handed too.)
I get back to the hotel at quarter to six, noticing in passing that the shifter seems oddly stiff, and that the under-dash panel hasn't been properly reattached, but I'm so relieved to be moving that I don't think any more about it. We reload our stuff, check out again, and walk across the street for supper at the Chinese place while the horrible Seattle rush-hour traffic clears. We finally leave for home at 7 pm, catch clear traffic all the way down the interstate, and come in the doors here at just about 1 am.
But I'm not done yet. While driving, we discover that not only is the shifter stiff, it won't go into low gear (1 and 2) at all. And when it gets dark enough to use the headlights, the instrument panel light doesn't come on until about ten minutes after we start up.
So it's back to my shop in Eugene on Tuesday, where they eventually find, Thursday afternoon (short-handedness seems to be a theme here) that, in addition to not putting the dash panel together again, the shop in Everett didn't seat the battery properly back in its tray after replacing the terminals, just left it askew and tightened the clamp. This left a corner of the battery pushing against the shift column which... you get the idea. My shop only charged another hour, though it probably took them longer to retrace the previous crew's missteps. I took down a half-dozen coffee mugs as a thank-you present, then drove home to reload the van again for our show in Roseburg.