Above Photo: Stewart & Stevenson in Longview, Texas

Tooling my way south down Highway 59 in northeast Texas, practically spitting distance to Shreveport to the east, an alarm began sounding, well, alarmingly. The engine temperature gauge was pegged at 250-plus degrees. Ack! I pulled over as quickly as possible, imagining the expense of a blown engine if I didn’t switch off the ignition, tout suite.

The narrow strip of shoulder was not safe. My driver’s side mirror was practically in the outside lane of travel. Tractor-trailers changed lanes as a courtesy as they passed, but Nellie still shook from side to side.

I thought of blocking the lane closest to me with cones and triangles and flares, then looked forward and to my left. A short distance ahead, on the opposite side of the highway, was a gas station that could use a good scrubbing, its uninspired name proclaimed above the door with peel-and-stick black letters covered in road soot: “Quik Stop #2.”

I didn’t know if the engine would even start again. It was not yet cooled down, but I was going only a short distance, and the passing traffic was relentless. I breathed a sigh of relief when a turn of the key produced a familiar rumble at the rear the coach, and I moved quickly. I pulled into the gas station parking lot as close to the curb as possible.

A woman in a red polo shirt was emptying the garbage. I asked, “Do you work here?“ She replied in the affirmative. I stated, “My rig just broke down. I’m going to do my best to find someone to repair it, but it’s Sunday afternoon, and I might be here for the night.” She responded, “You’re out of the way of the gas pumps. You can stay as long as you like as far as I’m concerned. We close at nine.” I laughed, “It’s going to be a little bit harder to find someone, as I don’t have a cell phone right now.” She nodded knowingly, suggestive of an assumption that my ex stole it or my service was disconnected due to nonpayment, or some such other high drama reason. Not … quite.

Technical Difficulties

Three days earlier, still in Detroit, I arose from my morning bathroom blowout and promptly dropped the iPhone in the unflushed toilet. (Don’t judge! I spend a lot of time in there!) Did I fish it out? You bet I did. I then used buckets of soapy water to wash it (and me), then doused the whole thing (and me) with a good pump or billion of hand sanitizer.

Surprisingly, for the rest of the day, the phone seemed fine. But, by that evening, it was hanging up on people, and the keyboard got spongy. I threw it in a baggie of rice and went to bed.

The next morning I was excited to see if the rice worked. Shoot – I didn’t charge it while it was in the baggie. When I tried to insert the charger, it wouldn’t fit! Yep, you guessed it – a kernel of rice was lodged in the port. It was then I made two fatal blunders. One, I got the tweezers. Two, I didn’t get the dime store readers. That evening found me at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store in the Dearborn Mall.

The Genius Bartender (?) asked me what seemed to be the problem. I stated innocuously, “I dropped the phone in water yesterday, and it hasn’t been acting right since.” She looked at me with a raised eyebrow, “For the health and safety of our employees, did you drop the phone in a toilet?” Drat! I mumbled a yes.

“Yeah, so here’s the thing. We’re not going to touch that iPhone with a ten-foot pole. Did you buy an extended warranty?” I told her I did, but begged her to look in the charging port at least. She gloved up and trained a magnifying glass. “The charging port has been obliterated.”

I had no choice but to call my carrier and order another phone, but it would be at least two business days before it arrived. I didn’t want to wait around in Detroit that long, so I had it forwarded to the next address where I would be staying en route to Seattle. As I pulled out of Detroit I thought, “I wonder what would happen if I broke down without my phone?”

I think I should stop with the wondering business.

Meanwhile, Back In Marshall, Texas …

I still had the iPad, and Skype. Thank goodness for the strong 4G LTE signal! I Googled RV repair places and mobile technicians and called them via the app, but I would’ve had more luck rousing the dead than I was having in Texas, on a Sunday afternoon, with football on television.

About an hour passed, and there was a knock at the door. It was the woman in the red polo shirt, with a greasy white bag in her hand. She extended it to me, “I thought you could use this.”

It was a corndog. A sublime, exquisite collection of pressed, cornmeal dressed, and deep-fried pig parts on a stick. But that wasn’t all. “It’s jalapeño cheese.”

Glory, hallelujah. I thanked her profusely and gobbled it up. It was, in fact, just what I needed.

The Problem Revealed, And An Excursion Courtesy Of AAA

An earnest young man finally arrived about an hour later to take a look. He crawled under the rear of the rig and immediately diagnosed the problem: The fan belt was gone.

When I bought Nellie the Newmar from Tom and Wendy in Summer 2015, Tom sagely advised, “Buy an additional set of belts and hoses; when, not if, they fail, it will happen someplace where there are plenty of people qualified to fix it, but no one will have the part in stock.” Did I listen?

It was 4:45 p.m. when the young man squealed out of the lot to the only open auto parts store in town, hoping to buy a fan belt before close of business at 5:00. He returned with a belt, saying, “I’m going to have to get to the bottom of your closet.”

I almost burst into tears! With all that was happening, I couldn’t cope with emptying the closet too. He explained that he didn’t need to get IN to the closet, just underneath it. Together we figured out how to remove the heat-resistant flooring between the bed and the closet. Voila, the engine!

Bless his heart, try as he might, the young man could not get the fan belt to go on the wheel. He tried from under the coach and in the coach. He was already filthy from head to toe when he arrived, but laying his body across the engine between the closet and the bed made him even more so. He was like my own personal little Pig Pen from the Peanuts comic strip, leaving black fingerprints and dirt everywhere he went. I followed along behind him with the Swiffer and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

There would be no roadside repair. I phoned AAA RV for the dreaded tow. You may recall that I had to be towed out of the mud at a winery in Kentucky, but this was going to be Nellie’s first, honest to goodness, long-distance tow.

It was equal parts fascinating and terrifying to watch the tow truck driver work. I followed along behind in Toad to Longview, Texas, to a diesel engine repair facility. As we waited first for a fan belt and then for a tensioner, I lived in an RV on the frontage road to Interstate 20, under a billboard for a local attorney: “Hurt your back? Call Mack!” Not quite the definition of “Down and Out” given Nellie’s accommodations, but hopefully it’s as close as I’ll ever get.

Five days, four nights, and $900 later, I was on the road again. The first call I made when I picked up my new iPhone was to order belts and hoses.