A few weeks ago, I took a vacation without a plan. Much of my life is planned, executed and analyzed. Going into something without a plan was indeed a vacation by itself. I took a week away from work, entrusted a co-worker with listening and caring for our users in addition to her current role (thanks, Katie) and set off to unplug.
I found myself on Monday morning lost. Not in a geographic way, but in a way that I really didn’t know what I would do next. My life is usually filled with frequent prioritization, escalation, conflict resolution and plenty of intellectual and kinesthetic stimulation. In this moment of unpreparedness, I spent Monday watching Netflix, doing laundry and just taking solace in the fact that I could do anything I wanted — including nothing.
One goal I had for the week was to replace my clutch and related hydraulics in my car. I aimed for earlier in the week, but the shops I called simply weren’t prepared for same-day work. So I settled on one reputable shop and planned for Friday to get it all done. I knew I wanted to get it done because my clutch was slipping and was in need of repair. It had so many quirks, that even experienced drivers struggled landing it into gear smoothly much to my chagrin.
Anyhow, so I figured it was time to take a trip to San Diego and ultimately the beach. In between Saturday and Tuesday, I checked prices and amenities of hotels in the northern San Diego area and plotted my estimate expenses for a brief two-day trip. Before I left, I booked my beach-area hotel on Kayak, which was located about a quarter-mile away from the beach. My plan was to chill the entire time on the beach. Booking time took all of about 10 minutes to research and complete. At this point, it was official. I turned off my air conditioner, took out the trash, packed a bag for a couple days, hit Fry’s to grab PopChips, sodas and ice for the drive. Then I fueled up, dumped in a bottle of Techron in the tank and headed down Interstate 8.
Five hours later (or less), I arrived in San Diego. Thrilled with my goal of arriving in one piece, feet touching beach sand I was met with the feeling of freedom. Unsure of my next move, except that it would work out. The feeling was reminiscent of when I moved into my first place away from my parents. That kind of care-free, do-what-I-want kind of freedom. I hit the hotel, dropped my stuff off, smelled the salty-kelp scent and felt at peace. It was the complete opposite of the hellish temperatures of Phoenix. It was quite cool outside. The cool, moist air sent shivers up my arms and down my spine.
As the nighttime hit, I was about to fuel up. Then my vacation took a turn for the worse. Or so it seemed.
After turning into a strip mall on a near 8% incline, I was in trouble. I couldn’t disengage the clutch to shift into gear. Expecting these symptoms, I tried fruitlessly to get it into gear so I can make it up the hill. I even tried starting it in gear, but my starter didn’t like supporting the torque of the entire car on it, which was a slow whine. I initially contacted the police to give me a simple push from their push-bumper. No luck. The operator was shocked I’d call with this request saying they stopped doing pushes ten years ago. I caved and ordered a tow truck to pull me up one-tenth of a mile to level ground. There was no way I could push a 3800lb car on an this incline without getting into trouble. $55 and 45 minutes later, the tow truck pulled away, but he was very friendly and talkative and we even chatted about F-Bodies for a bit.
“Stranded in San Diego” could easily describe this situation. Left my own devices [pun intended], my Samsung Galaxy Nexus powered by the Verizon LTE network, I reviewed all the hotel sites, did some quick comparison shopping and multitasking around with Google Chrome. I was impressed by the ease with today’s technology to book reservations from the seat of my car. I quickly booked myself one room at the Econolodge for a mere $79, when the market rate was around $110 a night. Score. I got a ride to drop my stuff off in the hotel. The next moning, I was hot on the case to get quotes for automotive repairs, asked for referrals from the LS1 forums for SoCal-area shops and simply was making a plan. I was initially floored with the quotes I received — some upwards of $2500. Yikes. No one wants to hear this when they talk to a service advisor. And for that moment, it was me.
So, what did I do? I’d be lying if I didn’t think about my car at least some of the time. Hell, I whipped out my iPad and downloaded and read my transmission’s manual (T56, 6-speed, PDF) just to educate myself on it. Anyhow, I adequately distracted myself by spending time on the beach, walking around, reading books and even hanging out with a friend enjoying authentic Fish Tacos. I had fun despite not cruising Pacific Coast Highway. I was still delightfully disconnected from the world from email and social media – which was nice. I simply took care of me.
I settled on PepBoys for a few reasons: Price, nationwide warranty, parts availability and the fact they are a solid franchise. There are certain times you want the security and backing of a large corporation and this was one of those times. Small, independent shops are usually hungrier for their next dollar and that will influence their service in an unfavorable way. I took it in and asked for a diagnostic to see what I’m dealing with. The service manager was honest, straightforward and even empathetic. Several hours later, they had my drivetrain pulled down and inspected everything. (It was like my baby was in surgery; it was a bittersweet moment for me.) Seeing my flywheel with at least a dozen hotspots wasn’t a good sign and my clutch was very worn. Several high-RPM drag races combined with the fact I learned to shift on it and the hydraulics were shot… I was surprised I even made it to San Diego.
We proceeded forward with the work while remaining cautiously optimistic that my input shaft was still good and my transmission was in good health.
[The job was extensive. New clutch, flywheel, master cylinder, rear main seal, freeze plugs and reinstall. Seven pages of invoices. Oy!]
At this point, I went back to the beach that evening, made a campfire, had some s’mores and relaxed before heading back to the hotel.
The next day, I headed back to the shop. I trekked six miles with a 1000-foot incline from one beach to the shop. I didn’t realize this when I Google-mapped it. I’d by lying if I said it was easy, but asking me to do walk for six miles in Phoenix would be met with laughter. I actually did it without much cursing. Though I was drenched with sweat, I did it. Then I took a sitting nap in the waiting room — and awoke to mutual laughter when the service manager came in and saw me. He briefed me on the progress and anticipated my car would be done by the end of the day. Sweet.
Then, like any other dude without a ride, I hit the bar and after a few drinks I was tipsy. Then I got a call from PepBoys with good news that the car was all put together and good to go. They even qualified its readiness and said, “Even our Camaro enthusiast took it out for a spin and loves it.” Okay, that was relieving, but a tad intriguing. Don’t worry, they didn’t smoke up the tires too much. 😉
When PepBoys finished, I nervously drove my car around a few miles. It was like driving a new car. I landed shifts quicker and more reliably. The pedal distance was nice and short while being snappy. I was happy. Then I let loose driving home, enjoying my quick shifting as I get accustomed to it. One thing they missed was they re-installed my catback with a mild exhaust leak. It’s not a big deal, I’ll live with it until next time I take it to a lift.
Today, now a few weeks later, despite having a blemish on my vacation; it turned out very well. And I was able to accomplish my one objective, albeit in a roundabout way. That made me happy.
The point of this experience is this:
- Looking at things through a positive light will influences a better outcome.
- It’s easy to focus on the negative; look at the positive. I was on vacation. (And yeah, I bitched for a bit, but didn’t dwell on it.)
- Count your blessings; there are much worse situations that can happen. (Like being stranded in In-Ko-Pah?!)
- Not having a specific plan rendered a better outcome for the unexpected. I wasn’t let down; just went with the flow and made well-reasoned choices.
How do you handle things when the unexpected happens? Do you freak out? Do you stay calm? What’s your strategy?