Thursday, July 2, 2009

Stuck in Four Corners With You

In a move reminiscent of the time Mike bought new tires only to have them last less then 200 miles, he once again has proved his unfortunate luck with cars.

While visiting the Four Corners National Monument along the Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah borders, Mike once again found himself in a similar predicament. After taking photos at the monument, getting a supremely overpriced Navajo taco and coke, and buying a postcard and a sticker for our car topper, Mike jumped in the car to start it up and wait for Melissa while she went to the bathroom. Instead of being greeted by the hum of a perfectly tuned motor, Mike was greeted by what sounded like the engine trying to tear itself from it's engine brackets and crash to the ground. Not exactly music to the driver's ears...especially after having just had it tuned the week before, and serviced THAT morning!

All was not lost. While the car was being tuned the previous week, Mike also had the strength of mind to become a premium AAA member. With this membership, all he had to do was call AAA and they would call a towing company to tow him and his unhappy car to a repair shop--within a 100 mile radius. Not too bad--except his cell phone didn't have any service. Can you hear me now? NOPE.

Fortunately, a pair of biker grandparents had a phone that had service, that they were willing to lend us. Thanks AT&T. However, while AT&T doesn't need to do much work in this region, the AAA phone service needs a lot. One of the first questions they ask you is if you're in a safe location--great, we were. We were in the parking lot of the national monument. The next question they as is where you are--how much more specific can you get than "The Four Corners National Monument where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico meet."? Then follows the maze of questions to figure out more precisely where you are. Questions such as "What state are you in", and "What city are you in". When a person is at a place where he could be in one to four of any four states, out in the middle of a dessert, it becomes extremely difficult to answer questions like these. Especially when he's already told the operator as specifically as possible without giving them actual coordinates, where he is.

Apparently, when AAA was called, Mike was automatically connected to the Arizona dispatch. After some conversation with this person, he decided that Mike's best option would be to go to Cortez, CO, something that Mike had said from the beginning, and transferred him to an operator in Oregon. Yes, OREGON. This operator quickly realized the previous operators mistake and transferred him to New Mexico, who then transferred him to Colorado. Unfortunately, the Colorado operating system isn't in the same region as New Mexico and Arizona, so Mike was put on hold for close to 15 minutes while his call was transferred to the Colorado operator--all the while using a large biker's phone and minutes. Finally, it was decided by Mike and the Colorado operator that it would be best for a Tow truck from Durango, CO to come and tow his vehicle back to a Subaru dealership in Durango--the town that the Harrington's had just left that morning. However, the phone lost service while the operator was trying to establish how long it would take for the tow truck to get to our vehicle. Thankfully, the biker grandparents weren't outwardly angry, and when they were offered the gift of tea, nonchalantly turned it down and casually told the Harringtons to "Pay it Forward."

All of this was completed around 6:30, and it was thought that the tow truck would be there around 8:30. Being as the monument closed at 8, it meant that the vehicle had to be moved outside the soon to be locked gate. This included, but was not limited to, pushing the sick car close to a half mile down a slightly inclined road. With the help of some Indiana teens with large calf's, which are now larger, the task was quickly completed, and we were left to wait for the tow truck.

Waiting wasn't so bad. We had the opportunity to meet people from Japan, Norway, Finland, North Carolina and Minnesota - all of whom had wanted to view the monument but came after the 8:00 closing time. As they realized we were stuck; all offered rides, phone use, water, food, etc. - people aren't so bad it seems. As 9:00 rolled around we began to worry about the whereabouts of our promised tow truck, thus, Mike ran across the road and up a mound of rocks to make a second call to AAA. Again, they were thoroughly confused as to our whereabouts and struggled to understand that all we needed to know was whether or not a tow truck had been sent for us. Unable to communicate with Colorado which is not only another state but also another AAA region, the New Mexico branch decided to send us a tow truck from Farmington. It was at this moment that Mike saw from the hill what appeared to be a tow truck, the first tow truck that we had called for at 6:30. Unfortunately, this realization came in just shy of having service to cancel the New Mexico truck.

The unhappy car was rigged up and we hoped in the truck with a man named Curt. Mike related our story of tow truck disaster to the kind driver and he coolly made the call to AAA to cancel our tow truck. As frustrating as the evening was, AAA is a wise investment. We made it into Durango around 12:30 am, pulled up to the Super 8 hotel, practically begged for a discount and received a 15% discount for a queen bed in a smoking room, leaving us at $90. Rule #6 was sacrificed. Fortunately, we have received free internet, breakfast, fancy tea (for a hotel), Breath Right strips, Pantene for Red Hair, and Emergen-C samples.

To conclude, some DO's and DON'Ts of breaking down:

DO make the most of the situation and re-organize the car.
DO take amazing photos of the sunset.
DO mingle with the late comers and offer to take their pictures.
DO have AAA, so you're guaranteed free towing.
DO offer tea as a gift to all who offer their help.

DON'T use the statement "Wherever you are, you're in a city" when talking to some one who's stuck in the desert.
DON'T break down at Four Corners or on any border of states for that matter.
DON'T expect cheap hotel rates during the summer in Durango.


Anonymous said...

Eeeesh! Sounds frustrating! I'm sorry rule #6 was sacrificed...but all is not lost. One might say that the potential cost of towing WITHOUT AAA offset, thereby making up for, the cost of the unfortunately expensive room! Adventure and intrigue comes in many forms, and who better to take advantage of the less-than-pleasurable side of said-adventure than the Harringtons?!

Janie said...

I work for AAA and am so sorry about your experience. Can you e-mail us at and let us help? Thanks.

Annalise Parady said...

Wow! I'm glad, as erin said, that it was the Harringtons stuck in such a situation, as you were clearly able to make the most of it and now have an excellent story to share with your next couchsurfing hosts. :)


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