Travis the Mechanic and Midnight in New Mexico
This post is a part of a short story series. Click here to read from the beginning.
“Are you going to be able to enjoy this vacation?” someone asked me, knowing it would end with leaving my daughter thousands of miles away.
“I sure hope so,” I answered since we, after the year we’d had, really needed this vacation to be a vacation.
The next morning we got up and started packing Harold, Hannah’s car, not just with luggage for the trip, but with moving boxes. Setting the GPS to our first destination and pulling out of the driveway was nothing short of surreal.
We were headed to California!
About three hours later, we arrived at our first scheduled stop, The Riverwalk in San Antonio. We parked in a nearby garage and walked across the street to the canal. We followed the meandering waterway in search of a good spot to each lunch. We didn’t realize so many of the restaurants didn’t open until later in the day. Eventually, we found a place to eat.
After lunch and a short stroll, we were on our way again, this time to Carlsbad, New Mexico. I’d reserved a cute little apartment to spend the night, and made plans for us to tour Carlsbad Caverns the next morning.
After what seemed like endless hours of driving through the Texas hill country, the terrain eventually changed, and we found ourselves winding through the west Texas mountains. Harold was handling the mountains and the August heat beautifully, until he wasn’t.
Climbing those mountains in the hot, midafternoon sun proved to be too much, and unbeknownst to us, Harold began overheating. It wasn’t until we stopped for a restroom break that we realized something was wrong.
We drove to a nearby Subway for dinner where we also started calling around town for a mechanic. We eventually spoke with Travis who told us, “It’s going to be hard to find someone on a Saturday at this time of day. Everyone’s closed up for the night.” Having a whole town shut down at five in the afternoon isn’t something we’re accustomed to as city folks.
Even so, he took the time to listen on the other end of the line as Matt described what was wrong with the car. I guess Travis took pity on us considering the town was basically shut down, because after telling us he was a diesel mechanic, not a car mechanic, and had already closed for the day, he said he’d see what he could do.
Small town roads and GPS directions don’t always match up, so after passing our turn-off several times and arguing over the directions, we finally rolled into the kind mechanic’s driveway. He left his son to tend to the grill and walked over to greet us. Turns out his shop and home were one and the same, and we’d arrived at dinner time.
Matt explained what happened once more as Travis asked to look under the hood. He believed there was either a leak, or the coolant got too hot and caused the radiator cap to blow off. He sent us to the hardware store for coolant, wished us well, and encouraged us to find a mechanic when we got to New Mexico.
When we offered to pay Travis, he rejected our money saying,
“If I can’t help somebody out every now and then, I ain’t no good.”
Dang it if that attitude isn’t a big part of why I love Texas. Anyway, we accepted his generosity and headed to the hardware store.
We walked into the store, which looked like a gift shop, convenience store, and Walmart rolled into one, with not much time to spare before closing. The employees were very helpful and showed us where to find what we needed. Once we got back to the car, Matt proceeded to pour the fluid into the radiator just as Travis had instructed.
Hannah, although concerned about her car, was pretty good-natured about it and took the opportunity to tease her Dad. While Matt normally could take a joke, he was in no mood to be the brunt of the joke. Tension quickly filled the air, so I “invited” Hannah to leave her Dad alone and wait in the car with me. As we sat there together, I pondered the events of the day and wondered how this particular story was going to end.
Were we going to have to stay the night here and cough up money we didn’t have for car repairs?
Were we going to lose our Airbnb reservation?
Could the car make it to California?
Two hours after our unexpected detour, we were back on the road to Carlsbad, just in time to witness a gorgeous west Texas sunset. At that moment, nothing else mattered, not even the fact that we’d decided to forego air conditioning and roll down the windows so Harold wouldn’t overheat again.
As day faded into night, the temperatures cooled down enough to make the car ride more tolerable. I eventually drifted off to sleep while Matt and Hannah talked away the time.
It was midnight or so before we reached our Airbnb, and unfortunately we spent several minutes driving around the parking lot before finding the apartment we’d reserved, again trying Matt’s patience.
Things were a bit tense as we unloaded our bags and climbed the steps to the second story. After a quick walk-through of our home for the night, then briefly flipping channels on the television in a failed attempt to unwind, we called it a day and went to bed.
I laid down, burdened by the tension and negative interactions with Matt. It was as if my consciousness was finally aware of what my soul already knew; things weren’t as they should be.
I tucked this newfound awareness away for future contemplation and evaluation for another day, and fell asleep hoping tomorrow would be better.