Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Our Independence Day adventure

On Saturday morning we packed the kids, the picnic gear and the dog into the van and headed out to Washington-on-the-Brazos for a little Texas Independence Day celebration (then it would be off to the rodeo for the BBQ cookoff).

Everything was going (fairly) swimmingly as we cruised out Highway 6 towards Navasota. My little one need to take a bathroom break and there were a cluster of gas stations at the exit. Along the way I noticed a little pinging when I gave the van some gas and the temperature gauge seemed a little warmer than usual (not that you'd notice, unless you keep an eye on those things).

As we exited the highway, however, the temperature gauge shot through the roof. Uh-oh. Not a good sign. As the girls went inside to go to the restroom I popped the hood and could smell the coolant. Mr. Tractor-Trailer driver walked over the said he thought it was the transmission. Nope, I didn't think so.

Things got weird when I touched the radiator cap and it was cool. That was not a good thing, I thought to myself. I went inside and bought an overprice jug of coolant and poured it into the radiator. It filled up to the top and then the radiator burped and the coolant went rushing out -- onto the parking lot. I figured it was the lower hose.

Unfortunately (though it later turned out to be very fortunate), I didn't have my tools, my gloves or any dirty clothes. I found an auto parts store about a mile-and-a-half up the road and began walking in that direction. I figured I'd buy the hose, a couple of clamps, a cheap screwdriver and pair of pliers. But then, as I crossed under the overpass I spotted the Team Chrysler dealer. Now I have never been one to get giddy at the sight of a Chrysler dealership - mainly because they just have a bunch of Chrysler products on the lot - but now I had an idea.

I went back to the service department and asked if they had any hoses. The manager assured me they didn't and even checked to make certain there was nothing of use in the warehouse. Then he called a couple of auto parts stores and located a hose for me. Then I had one of those very rare moments of clarity. I asked him what it would cost for them to put the hose on. He quoted me a price that was a bit high (oh, nothing like dealership prices) but I had no desire to mess with it. Then he told me the shop closed at 1pm (it was a bit after 11am at the time.

So I hiked back to the van and we drove it into town to the auto parts store, picked up the hose and headed back to the dealership (apparently no one has anyone to deliver or pick up parts on the weekends out there). Now, while I was talking to the parts manager earlier I spotted a place on the edge of the parking lot where there weren't any trucks parked. On the other side of a low guardrail was the back grassy area of a catering place. Picnic time!

Out came the chairs. Out came the cooler. Out came my baby Weber and my tools. And so there I cooked our Independence Day meal - hot dogs and brats - in the parking lot of the dealership.

Then came the bad news. I could tell it wasn't good because the service manager looked kind of serious. The good news was the problem wasn't the lower radiator hose. The bad news was (wait for it), the radiator was shot. He quoted me another price that was up there (if the mechanics got a bigger share of the hourly labor charge I'd be a little happier about it) but - what was I going to do? I couldn't drive back to Houston.

And this is why I'm glad I decided not to change the hose myself - because had I done so we would have been stuck up a river once I realized the problem was the radiator and not the hose.

But what about the shop closing at 1pm (it was now about 12:30pm)? He told me the mechanic would stick around to finish the job. I told him to go for it. I will say this - the guys at the dealership didn't have to do any of this. It's not like I would ever be going out there to buy a car. So I want to say thanks to everyone I dealt with at Team Chrysler in Navasota. Y'all were lifesavers.

Now we had two hours to kill - in Navasota. On the way to the auto parts store we saw a historical house. We gathered our things up and dumped out the coals and headed up the road toward the Horlock Center. The house is a thing of beauty on the outside - but it was closed. We walked around the side and I took the dog and sat down on a bench underneath a tree. My wife and girls walked along the veranda until someone opened up a door.

It turned out that the Horlock Center is home to three artists-in-residence who will be living and working in the house for six months using the house as a gallery to sell their artwork. We toured the inside in shifts (because the dog couldn't go inside). The artwork was interesting. Then one of the artists told us about a country music festival going on at City Hall (about a mile up the road).

Then off we were (stopping at a playground along the way so the girls could run around). It turned out that the country music festival was the Texas Birthday Bash. We hung around there for an hour or so before heading back to the dealership to pick up the van.

We never made it to Washington-on-the-Brazos that day. We met our friends at the cook-off about 90 minutes after we had planned. But we had quite the adventure through small town Texas while celebrating the Lone Star State's 178th birthday.

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