Here we are, in June 2003. (Well, I was behind the camera.)
We were driving from San Diego back to Denver. Part of our journey involved camping, so we had all our camping gear in three car top carriers. The car was stuffed to the gills.
I was cruising on a back road in Arizona, enjoying some of the scenery at higher-than-legal speeds. It was hot - over 100 degrees. The air conditioning was on full blast but barely keeping us cool. Suddenly, the cabin filled with smoke. Vaporized coolant fluid, to be exact. My eyes sped to the temp gauge. It was pegged in the red area. I immediately shut off the engine. It was too late; the cylinders had melted into the block.
The nearest town was Quartzite, population 3,000 (maybe). Unfortunately, since I had chosen to take a back road, there were no vehicles passing by every minute. Praise God - our cel phone worked! I called our insurance company to ask for a tow. (Thankfully I had paid the extra on the policy for that privilege.) Maybe an hour later, a tow truck passed by. The driver didn't seem to figure out that a car with its hood open might be the one he was to tow. 20 minutes later, he came back.
In the meantime, we felt like Abraham's wife Hagar - out in the desert, ready to die. We tried to find shade, but the biggest bushes offered little in the way of comfort.
I ran across the road for a private moment (to get rid of some of that water I had been chugging), and that's when a crazy driver stopped to ask if he could "help" Heather. Fortunately he was able to understand her firm "No!"
Back to the tow truck. He hauled us to Quartzite. We booked ourselves into the Quality Inn (or something like that) - a very generic hotel with no pool, and 3 channels of cable TV.
Quartzite does not have seven Volvo dealers. None, in fact. Repair? The engine melt-down meant it was totaled. Selling it for parts? The only dealer in Quartzite dealt in 60s American cars. He didn't care about a 1990 Swedish relic. Towing it to Phoenix to sell it to a used Volvo guy would have cost too much. And finding and negotiating with such a dealer would have meant days of hassle. Mr. 60s Americana bought it for $75. At least we didn't have to pay him to dispose of it for us.
The adding-insult-to-injury aspects to the lost car were that I had put some new nice tires not three months before. And the very day before, I had gone across San Diego to purchase a new seatbelt ($100).
Quartzite had no rental cars to get our family back to Denver. Their U-Haul outlet was out of everything. The regional bus service to Phoenix only did runs anywhere every Tuesday & Thursday. It was Wednesday. Hitch-hiking was the only option. But who would pick up a single man by the side of the highway? Not me!
Baking on the edge of the Interstate entrance ramp for two or three hours was no fun. (That's the "no room at the inn" part of this story.) Heather hiked over with the kids to see how I was doing. Then a trucker stopped - he was willing to give all of us a ride to Phoenix! I rode solo with him, hearing his tales of trucking - and the injustices of the system. (He had plowed into a suicide driver, who came the wrong way onto the highway at high speed. He was ruled not at fault in the death, but it was a major hassle to get back on the road after that ordeal.)
Phoenix - minivan rental. Back to Quartzite. On to Denver. Then we sucked up our pride and bought a minivan. "Saving" thousands of dollars by having a better fuel-economy vehicle turned out to be the worst waste of money in my entire life. We could have rented a Lexus for what we spent for our time with that old Volvo.
So you made it through my longest blog post ever.