(Oh, sure, I'm exaggerating a little. But hindsight mellows trauma and the mind of a writer maximizes it, so you get what you get...)
It started with an ear-ache and a slice of fortune. Eldest girl had one, and luckily the doctor was already expecting her and her twin brother for their annual check-up. Sarah drove them in, a five o'clock appointment, while I stretched out on the couch for a solid hour of writing time. Then the phone rang, Sarah concealing panic but not very well.
"There's smoke coming out of the hood. What should I do?"
I suggested a three-pronged approach: 1. pull over; 2. disembark herself and the kids; and 3. call 911.
I knew she'd have done 1. and 2. anyway, but like a lot of people she's hesitant to call 911 because she doesn't want to tie up emergency services, to stop the cops/firemen/paramedics from getting to a real emergency. Me, I don't have those concerns. I know precisely the crap that people call 911 for, and so I assured her that a car fire would make the chaps in the big red engine whoop with delight.
She did so, and I hopped into my car to dash out there and bring them all safely home. Nothing is that easy, of course, because the "We'll be there in sixty to ninety minutes" tow-truck company didn't show. We waited in an empty parking lot for two hours as night settled around us. Waited with three hungry kids, one of whom had an ear-infection. Not the most fun evening that the Pryors have had.
Jump to a week later. It's Saturday morning, the car's fixed and we all load up for Henry's first soccer tournament, heading to San Antonio. Two games on Saturday, two on Sunday. I'm more excited than he is, because while I play soccer I'm not anywhere near as talented as he is. Or intense (not the goalie, the one with the death-ray stare):
So, we set off. Thirty miles later, West of Dripping Springs, I notice the temperature gauge. It's poking the "H" and, even though I'm no mechanic, I know that "H" doesn't stand for "Hey, if the arrow's pointing at me, all's well." I pull over and open the hood. (How much of a mechanic am I? It took me ten minutes to figure out how). Coolant reservoir empty, gurgling noises from the guts of the beast. Not good.
Sarah calls the dealership, who redirects her to a towing company. A friend gives up her Saturday morning to come get us, and we text Henry's team to let them know he'll miss the first game. Bollocks.
Double bollocks, because we hear later that his team was leading up until the last three minutes, then ran out of steam. Henry never runs out of steam, and I'm convinced his presence would have made a difference. Don't believe me, here's his evaluation (yeah, I'm bragging on him. He's my son.):
Anyway, get home from Dripping Springs (thanks Allison!) and pile into my car, then drive in the opposite direction (east) to the dealership and get a loaner. I'm now driving a minivan, which I swore I'd never do. Dear Sarah tries to make me feel better: "Ooh, wow, it has more pick-up than I'd thought" ... "It's great for the kids, they'll be less annoying with all that room" ... "Yes, I still love you." I put on a hat and false mustache and steer us back to San Antonio (west). I try not to drive off the road, but I feel like I'm cutting butter with a dead fish. Awful vehicle.
But we make Henry's game. It's at 8pm, it's minus fifty, and my feet lose feeling about five minutes before kick-off. But he scores the opening goal, so I just know things are turning around!
Then the other team scores six goals, and I start praying for the final whistle so Henry and I can head to the hotel and hot baths. Sarah salvages the evening by buying a bottle of scotch, a chocolate eclair, and wearing a French maid's outfit. (Two of those are true.)
The next morning the whole family piles into the minivan, false mustaches and hats in place, and we head out of San Antonio to Game Three. Two hundred yards into the journey I pull over, thanks to some weird noises from the back right side of the van. I see this:
Awesome. I have thirty minutes to change the tire, nail on the spare, and get Henry to his game.
I spend twenty minutes locating the spare, ten minutes figuring out how to detach it from under the van. Hope is lost, Game Three is missed.
Plus it's cold. Soooo cold.
Here's what happened next:
Yeah, pretty much, Henry changed the tire. Did I mention I'm proud of him? So we get the spare on, and locate a Wal-Mart that has a motor-car place thingy, where they fix punctures. The guy tells me it'll cost ten bucks and take 45 minutes.
Ten bucks! I just know things are turning around now!!
We linger in Wal-Mart, call the team and tell them we'll meet them for lunch, and also make it to Game Four. Back on track!
An hour later, the mechanic pages me.
"Can't fix it."
"You said you could. Ten bucks, remember?"
"Can't. The hole is in the sidewall. I could fix it, technically speaking, but Wal-Mart policies forbid me from fixing this type of puncture, in that location."
Now, I've grown my hair out recently, and so I start pulling some of it out. I take nine deep breaths and ask, "So what are my options?"
"Two, really. You can drive around and maybe find someone who'll fix it. But it's Sunday, and I wouldn't know where to send you."
"Option number two?"
"Buy a new tire."
"But it's a rental car. I don't want to buy Enterprise a new tire, I really don't."
"Huh. Have you called them?"
"Closed. And the 1-800 directs us to call the local offices. Which are closed on Sundays."
It did. So we paid $160 for a new tire. You're welcome, Enterprise.
On our new tire, we do actually make it to Game Four, though. In time to warm up and everything. In fact, the sun starts to shine, to cut through the cold, and the day turns pleasant. Maybe, just maybe... The whistle goes for the kick-off, and in two minutes Henry's team is down two goals. The score gets worse. Henry doesn't score.
One of the other dads offers to follow us home, make sure we get there. I'm not sure if he's kidding or genuinely concerned.
But we make it home fine, no speeding tickets, accidents, or alien abductions.
On Sunday evening, I sit in my chair in the living room and I think to myself, well, several things. How lucky we are to have two cars. How fortunate we are to be able to pay $160 for a new tire (you're welcome, Enterprise) just like that. How cool it is my son is a good soccer player, and that as a family we can get a hotel room to watch him play in a tournament. Part of a tournament. How great it is that in a weekend when everything goes wrong, we're all home safe, unhurt, and able to laugh about it.
So, that criminally bad luck that stole into our weekend and tried to screw it all up: nice try. You failed. This is our living room that night: