Flag Day dawned sunny and warm, even in Pacifica by the ocean. My friend Andrea arrived at 10 and we left to pick up my new RV. The money was in my wallet, the radio was playing and we were chatting as old friends do.
We arrived, handed over the money, the owner signed the DMV papers, he cautioned me about the tailpipes needing some work (around $125), and adjusted the ignition. The ring around the keyhole was loose and sometimes the key wouldn't turn. He took the jumper cables, attached one of the two other batteries to the starter battery, and the engine started. He said it hadn't been started for a while. The electric step wasn't working so the step was down.
I eased away from the curb and we were off. The RV was fairly easy to handle at 27 feet (26' 9") and I even made a U-turn to get to the gas station. When I stopped at the light, the driver of the school bus next to me pointed to the step. I yelled that it was frozen. She nodded and waved.
I pulled into the gas station and waited for the customer to finish so I could park by the pump near the fill cap. The gas cap was almost impossible to turn but I finally removed it. Andrea gave the attendant $300 because I wanted to fill the tank and also because no one really knew what the tank capacity is. The pump stopped and a little overflowed at 53 gallons, so I'm guessing it's a 60-gallon tank at least. $175 later (ouch), the tank was full and we began our journey home.
We were traveling down the freeway connected by walkie-talkies. The RV was warm from the 90-degree heat but I had the window open and was enjoying the ride. Occasionally, I caught a whiff of gas but I thought it was because of the spillage from the overflow.
The RV started to slow. I stepped on the accelerator and it caught briefly, sped up to 55, then slowed again. Something was starving the engine. The choke? I smelled gas and Andrea was farther behind me. We pulled off the freeway at the next offramp and I found a gas station with a smog check certification bay. I pulled in and waited to talk to the gentleman. I didn't turn the engine off. Did I mention it was now over 90 degrees and very warm in the RV? The man told me he was not allowed to look at the RV or make any kind of diagnosis. All he was permitted to do was smog checks. He directed me to another gas station across the freeway.
Andrea told me there was white smoke coming out of the tailpipe and the smell of gas was strong enough to force her to drop back. We drove off to find the other gas station. No luck. I went back on the freeway and hoped it was a temporary problem.
Three more exits and it happened again. Now I was feeling very unsafe and since I was in the middle of Sunnyvale, I was not aware of any gas stations. I was surrounded by high tech businesses and hotels. We drove through the area and I asked Andrea to stop at one of the businesses to ask about a gas station. She was directed to a place we couldn't find.
So I drove into the parking lot of a hotel right off the freeway and next to the exit. I called the previous owner and told him what happened. He said, "Give me a few minutes, I'll bring my tools and I'll make it right."
Andrea walked her dog, then brought some water and we sat in the RV and waited. We had traveled about 10 miles and it was now 2:45. The previous owner arrived and said, "Start it up and I'll follow you."
I replied, "I'm not driving this one more foot until I know it's safe. How about if you drive it, I follow in your car and Andrea follows me?"
He said, "Do you know how to drive a stick?"
"Of course," I replied.
He handed me the keys to a brand-new Corvette and we were off.
One exit, two exits and he slowed to a stop on the approach to the offramp. Andrea was behind him and I was behind her, all parked on the side of the freeway next to the offramp. Did I mention that it was still in the 90s and now we were stopped in a place that was more dangerous?
I found the key to the storage compartments and he started working on the engine. We waited. And waited. At 3:30, I finally went to Andrea and said, "Look. This is dangerous and it's stupid to sit here." She agreed.
I went to the RV, told the man we needed to get off the freeway and pull into a safe place. We started our engines, went off the freeway and turned into the Google parking lot. I gave the man his car keys and he said, "This is not right and don't say it's OK because it's not. I'm going to make it right and fix this. If I get it done soon, I'll deliver it to you tonight. If not, I'll deliver it to you tomorrow morning, OK?"
I agreed, I got into the car with Andrea and we drove away. Then I lost it and the tears came. This was not how it was supposed to be and he was right: it was not OK. He had my money and I had nothing. I was supposed to be cleaning the new RV and moving my stuff over with Andrea's help, not hot and sweaty and frustrated and in desperate need of a bathroom.
After we stopped for a pit stop, a few gallons of water and dinner, Andrea dropped me off and I was alone with my thoughts. Now what?