My job almost always sounds exponentially more glamorous than it tends to play out in reality. I don’t mean to voice a complaint, but when I’m sprinting through the airport à la Home Alone dragging an overweight duffel and ski bag behind me with heavy plastic boots swinging back and forth on my shoulders, I’m rarely as excited about the trip as I would be if I was traveling to Colorado sans work obligations.
This particular morning started earlier than most at 4:45am in Norwich, Vermont, where I had recently relocated but had yet to unpack my life before I had to pack for a ten-day recruiting trip to the USASA National Championships at Copper Mountain, Colorado. So I woke up in the dark, showered, threw together a carry-on, tossed some bags in the back of my Subaru, dialed in the GPS, turned on the radar detector, and headed down the interstate to Boston for a 9:20am flight.
Extra special terrorist pat-down, no delays, layover in Chicago, flight #2, and I landed in Denver in the early afternoon. I negotiated the aforementioned luggage onto the shuttle bus and was delivered to the counter of a nationally recognized rental car company. I had a reservation for a small SUV. After all, I was heading into the mountains, and people who live in the mountains leave their snow tires on until May for a reason.
The rental company had no remaining small SUVs in their fleet, so I was offered a free upgrade from the fuel-efficient and ideally sized Toyota Rav4 to an unnecessarily cumbersome Chevy Traverse. But it was shiny and new with only 16K miles on it, so I felt pretty baller in it at first.
In retrospect, friends would point out that the name of the vehicle alone should have raised my threat level from green to orange.
My trip was timed in precise conjunction with an emergency closure of Interstate 70, the primary route from Denver to Copper, due to rock blasting. While this may have thwarted the plans of less skilled travelers, I proceeded on an alternate route that should have added a scant hour and a half to my overall journey. As I cruised on I-70 through Denver and headed Southwest toward Fairplay, an adorably rugged fellow in a pick-up truck next to me offered a gratuitous head nod; I smiled back. He waved. I felt like a millions dollars. I was making decent time on HWY 9 North even up the switchbacks between Alma and Blue River as I traveled in a line of cars at a steady 40mph. (Note the severe squiggles in the map–that’s where we are in the story)
[Much like the nearby town on this map, we are approaching the Climax of this tale of woe]
As suddenly as the word ‘suddenly’ implies, this Chevy Traverse went from 40mph in drive to a blunt, jerking stop. The sound of grinding metal permeated the air along with a cloud of thick, white smoke that funneled out from under the hood and the tailpipe simultaneously. A miracle alone enabled me to quickly redirect the majority of the vehicle to the road’s slim shoulder that was primarily occupied by a gargantuan snow bank.
My first thought was, “This car is on fire!” My second thought was, “And all these assholes behind me are driving right by.” The parable of The Good Samaritan notwithstanding, I had to wait for several cars to pass before it was even safe to open the driver’s side door. As I emerged from the vehicle, I realized that it was not on fire, but it might as well have been. Every fluid that enables a car to run was puddled behind the vehicle and various engine parts including connecting rods, bolts, and pieces of the block were scattered in the road.
A passing DOT worker stopped to offer assistance and nearly died of laughter surveying the engine’s debris. He phoned for backup, and twenty minutes later a deputy from the bustling metropolis of Alma, Colorado arrived, 30oz. coffee in-hand, to perform the civic duty of directing traffic around the metal heap in the road. Roadside Assistance followed one hour later, but by then I had already called for ride from a coworker who thankfully accepted the rescue mission as little more than an inconvenient distraction.
The next day, when I hitched a ride to the nearest facility to replace my rental car, the only 4WD vehicle available in their stock was, go figure, a Chevy Suburban. The discount applied for my aggravation made amends, but I still went over on my fuel budget. So much for free upgrades.