Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Headed home for Thanksgiving - a cautionary tale

The long haul home.  What a drag.

Headed to the family stompin' grounds for a joyous Thanksgiving gathering, but it's been a tough slog.  Halfway home I got a flat tire on a screamin' interstate.  Started to change the tire and it started to rain -- a cold bitter rain, with the temperature barely above freezing.

My jack wouldn't work on the soft ground off the interstate shoulder and there was no way I was going to move the ol' van onto the concrete shoulder closer to the highway and do the work just inches from the drug-hazed text-messaging teeny-boppers, the 80mph semi-tractor-trailer drivers wired on meth, and the masses of jaded morning-rush-hour troglodytes.

So I called trusty old AAA for emergency road-side assistance.  Been a member with them for years.

Their response: "Sir, you are a non-entity - lower than the lowest scum."  Well, perhaps I exaggerate just slightly.

They had returned my renewal check a month ago.  They informed me that I was no longer a member of AAA because I had changed residence from their Mid-Atlantic club to their NC club and the two clubs are separate entities and had apparently failed to communicate.

Wow!  I'm proud to say that I kept my temper, even though I was white-hot with rage.  The grunts that work the phones aren't my enemy - the inept AAA bureaucracy is.  I told them I had not received a returned check, nor had I heard a 'peep' from the NC club.  So I had no idea that my membership had been terminated.

After an hour on the phone I reinstated my membership, paying an extra $40 because I requested emergency service the same day I 'joined' AAA. 

Can you hear my teeth grinding?

The fact that I had been a AAA member for years and years was irrelevant.  The fact that I had dutifully sent my renewal check on time was irrelevant.  I had no standing with AAA because I had failed to play by their rules.

They apologized for the inconvenience and said the service truck would be there by 7AM.

It arrived at 8.

Finally, after four hours on the shoulder of the screamin' interstate I was on the move again.

Did an officer-of-the-law stop to check on my welfare during those four hours that I sat there alone and desperate and grinding my teeth on the interstate shoulder with my emergency flashers blinking?  Nope.  But ten minutes down the road there was one of our finest gleefully ticketing a speeder.

Three and a half hours later I finally got home and picked up mail at my PO Box. Among the reams of junk mail I found two notices about a certified letter that had been sent from AAA to this old address, despite the fact that they knew my new address.  The Post office informed me that I had failed to pick up this certified letter in time, so they were forced to return it to the sender.  No doubt it was my dutifully offered and utterly rejected check.

I'm sure there is some beautiful tragic symmetry and poetic irony in this story, but at the moment it completely escapes me.

(Full disclosure: The photo is, of course, from a different road trip.  It was taken in the Atacama Desert of Chile. Maybe I'll relate that story another time.)


  1. Remember your words, Pete....from your review of Jennifer's book and her view of Duncannon????...about negative outlooks being more a reflection of who the "outlooker" is than being a realistic view of the negativity target? (paraphrased...but I loved the sentiment). Seriously amigo...reading this one made me laugh....and sympathetic. I am 63. After 4+ decades as a Navy Officer followed by a career as a USFWS conservation law enforcement (game warden) officer, I am entering my 4th childhood and will attempt an AT "flip-flop" thru hike. Whether a result of a growing mistrust of government, people in general, everything and everybody(?!!?) I want to finish the trail with a better outlook so that my "4th childhood" is a happier, more trusting AND fulfilling adventure. I found your site when researching "slack packing" the Smokies. Why? My parents live near Gatlinburg, so I would have "road support"...and with the visitation that GSMNP receives, I know that my law enforcement antenna will constantly bristle at every campsite. I love your website, my friend....and your philosophy. I only hope to adopt similar in whatever time God (or whoever) gives me for the time I have left before I'm off to explore the stars. Gary

    1. Love your reply, Gary. Best of luck on the AT.