Ever had one of those times when you don’t know how we survived without cell phones and GPS systems? When the open road really mean that you were on your own and that if your car broke down, dad had to walk to the nearest “service station?” Remember those days? Me either… those days are long past. Now we have 24-hour roadside assistance, emergency call boxes and companies that will come “pick you up” if you have a problem…well, almost.
That’s where the story of the Mother’s Day Odyssey begins…actually no, it begins on Friday. The wife and I were headed over to Sandusky, Ohio (from Pittsburgh) for a little weekend away…celebrating the Spring this way has become a tradition in our family. Reservations were made in the dead of Winter during one of the coldest weeks on record; little did we know that the weekend we chose to visit Kalahari Indoor Water Park would be the warmest Spring weather we’d seen in decades. We’d just bought a used SUV and I wanted to drive it to “stretch it out,”… see what it would do on the road. Being the sensible one, my wife said we should take our 2011 Honda Odyssey…because it is the “reliable” car. We should have known…
Go get a pie there if you are in the area…if not…drive, totally worth it. After a wonderful Mother’s Day late-lunch, we sent the kids to the potty, loaded the van and were on our way…for about 20 minutes. That’s when the “check engine” light came on…within the construction area…with nowhere to pull over. Kerri checked the manual, flashing code said it is an “emissions system failure.” Couple miles down the road we were finally able to pull over and shut the car off. I checked the gas cap, did the cursory walk around the car…not sure what I was looking for but I felt better about it… Flashing lights didn’t come back on when we restarted so I thought we’d be ready to hit the road…get it checked-out when we get home. Not so fast…
I hit the accelerator and … well, everything went to crap. The engine shuddered like it was on a fault line, dashboard lit up like a Christmas Tree…and there we were. We broke down…on the side of I-80, the Ohio Turnpike.
Time to call the ANPAC roadside assistance number. That’s why we have that right? We called and attempted to describe our location. I told the lady we were just outside of Middleburg Heights, east of Sandusky…mile marker 155 east bound…
ANPAC person: “Ok, I found a service provider in Freemont, Ohio.”
I pull start looking at the map on my iPhone…THAT’S ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STATE
Me: “Ok, let’s try this…I’M IN CLEVELAND”
ANPAC person: “Oh, ok, do you know where in Cleveland you’d like to have the car towed”
Me: “No, are you kidding? I don’t know any service providers here”
Looking at my iPhone, I Googled “Honda Dealerships near me”
Me: “Ok, I found a Honda Dealership in Middleburg Heights, can they tow me there?”
ANPAC person: “Yes, that looks like it is within your 10-mile limit”
Me: “Great, please send the tow truck”
ANPAC person: “Ok, you’ll be receiving a call from the towing company”
30 minutes later… I call ANPAC back
Me: “Hey, we still haven’t gotten a call from the towing company”
ANPAC person: “Yes, they are still trying to find a provider”
10 minutes later… phone rings; It’s ANPAC…
“We found a provider in Middleburg Heights, they will be calling you shortly.”
Me: “Thank you”
See, what I now know is that I’m going to have a tow truck come take the van to the dealership, but there’s not room for a family of four in a tow truck. I have no way to get to a rental car office…Ooh!…brilliant idea…I’ll call Enterprise. They will come pick you up…
After going through their menu I finally get Enterprise’s 24-hour roadside assistance on the line. Mind you, NOBODY is open on Sunday afternoon. Especially on Mother’s day. I get Enterprise and the lady on the line was very nice, made a reservation and everything, then attempted to transfer me to the Enterprise counter at the airport…because…Sunday. They are open…and this is where the real fun begins.
The phone rings multiple times and I finally get “Roosevelt.”
Me: “Roosevelt, hey buddy, I’m hoping you can help me out, I was just on the phone with your roadside assistance folks and have a new reservation…just need somebody to come pick us up.”
Roosevelt: “Ok, I have to transfer you to one of my bosses…hold on”
Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring… no answer…
Call back: “Enterprise, this is Roosevelt”
Me: “Hey Roosevelt, I just spoke to you a minute ago, nobody answered”
Roosevelt: “Ok, I’ll try again…
Roosevelt: “…hold on”
Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring… no answer…
Call back: “Enterprise, this is Roosevelt”
Me: “Hey Roosevelt, it’s me again…look, um nobody is answering that phone over there…
Roosevelt: “Want me to try it again?”
Me: “No…Hey, Roosevelt, what’s your role there?”
Roosevelt: “Oh, I’m just a trainee…Just answering the phone, man”
Me: “Ok, well here’s what I want you to do, put me on hold and walk out to where your bosses are and ask them to pick up the phone”
Roosevelt: “Ok…I’ll do that…Hold on”
“Enterprise Rent-a-Car, this is Nick”
Me: “Hey Nick, my name is Ryan, I’m stuck on the side of the interstate here right around the corner from you and I need a pick up”
Nick: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that”
Me: “What? What do you mean you can’t do that?”
Nick: “Yeah man, we’re really short-staffed here and we don’t do the pickups here at the Airport”
Me: “Your corporate slogan is ‘We’ll pick you up”
Nick: “I know, the Airport is the exception”
Me: “Nick, I’m not sure you’re understanding the situation here. My car has broken down on the side of the interstate, I have a wife and two kids here with me and a tow truck on the way. I can’t put a family of four in that tow truck, so three of us are going to be standing on the side of the road here in a few minutes if we can’t find someone to help us out… are you going to help us out?”
Nick: “I’m sorry, man, but I just don’t have the extra staff”
Me: “Well don’t you have a trainee, intern, someone with a drivers license? SOMEBODY who can hop into a car? We are literally 5 minutes away from you”
Nick: “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do..but if you can get a ride and to the counter, I’ll be happy to help you out”
Me: “no, thanks”
What I really wanted to say was “Nick, you REALLY don’t want me to show up at your counter…”
If I could have done that really cool throat-choke Jedi maneuver Darth Vader used in Star Wars…I totally would have used that over the phone...
Now what do I do? I’m looking at the “Emergency *-9-9-0” sign…the wife finally calls…It’s an emergency. Not a minute later, the tow truck shows up… and the Ohio State Police are on their way.
I want to state for the record here that I don’t believe this to have been an emergency situation. Had we been able to reach one of our Cleveland-based friends, or had the company who advertises that they will pick you up…had actually lived-up to that claim this wouldn’t have been such an ordeal.
Fortunately we were dispatched a great tow truck driver (John) who stayed patiently with us until the Trooper arrived. She was very nice and great with the kids. She followed the tow truck with the family to Sunnyside Honda, but had to leave us there. She can’t venture too far off the Turnpike…and that we understood. John took me to the Airport rental counters (on his own, didn’t have to do that) to get the car.
We ended up renting an “economy” car from Thrify…a Chevrolet Spark. Cute little overgrown go-kart that it was…We stuffed our family in that puppy and drove home. I swear, a Smart Car would have thought we were tiny. We got passed by a Prius and the wife asked “when did they start making those so big?”
You want to know how to succeed in life?
Here’s how to succeed in life: when you have an opportunity to make a difference…you make a difference. Damn the rules, you make a difference in someone’s life.
John made a difference for us. I called his boss at Rich’s Towing on Monday morning to praise his efforts. Trooper Cagey made a difference for us…yeah, I know she was just doing her job…but her effort and demeanor were amazing. Jennifer at the Thrifty counter made a difference for us.
Enterprise…Nick…whoever you are. You did not. You failed. You had a chance to make a difference and you utterly and completely failed. I can never wish evil on anyone…so I hope you never, ever find yourself in the situation I found myself in on Sunday afternoon. As a husband and a father, you feel helpless, exposed and weak. You can’t protect or provide, and that is failure. Failure for me…and ultimately failure for you.