The Long and Winding Road that leads to a White House stay.
Ever feel like you’re living in a movie of the week?
We had received the absolutely stunning news that my request for Sir Paul McCartney’s autograph on Habitat’s Beatles-themed piano had been approved. While we had missed the chance to make this happen in nearby New Orleans, we were excited for the opportunity to complete the mission via a road trip to Louisville, Kentucky.
So on Monday, Oct. 27, shortly after 8 a.m., East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity President and CEO Debbie Crouch and I hopped into a van, following Habitat’s ReStore Manager Eric Jones who was driving the Habitat Truck. With piano in tow, we headed north for what was supposed to be a 10 hour drive to our Louisville hotel. This would ensure that we had plenty of time to have everything in place once logistics for the next day were finalized.
A fuel stop en route, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, would throw a wrench, both figuratively and literally, into those plans. With that began a series of events that led to an adventure unlike anything we could have imagined.
Shortly after that fuel stop, the truck engine began sputtering and cutting off, making for a series of stops and starts along the interstate, leading to what became an inevitable detour in Eutaw, Alabama, in search of a mechanic. After a bit of a drive, we found the heart of the town and a GMC dealership, but learned they were unable to help us as the truck engine probably required specialty parts they could not obtain. We were redirected to nearby Tuscaloosa, to Bobby Park Truck & Equipment, Inc.
Though it was a relatively short jaunt, it seemed to take forever, what with the continuing mechanical problems all along the way. As we pulled into Bobby Park, we had high hopes that a quick fix would have us on the road in no time.
We were greeted by the proprietor, Mr. Bobby Park himself. He knew not what gem was secured inside the Habitat truck, as we were not able to disclose our secret mission. He knew only that we were stranded en route to Kentucky and went out of his way to assist us. A quick diagnostic confirmed that it was indeed the bad diesel that had clogged the fuel filter, and he fast-tracked the repair, having a part delivered and replaced. About an hour or so later, we were back on our way to Kentucky. What great service.
Our joy was short lived when shortly after our departure, the truck began to choke and stall once again, necessitating a pullover and pause, then a restart.
This would continue for far too many hours in what would have many questioning whether our sanity had been overruled by our perseverance. After a few calls and texts, to Debbie’s husband, Gary, and another mechanically inclined friend, both of whom provided “telephone diagnostics,” we stopped to purchase a fuel additive that we had been instructed should help clear remaining water from the fuel. We were cautioned that we may still experience difficulties as remnants of the bad diesel continued to burn off along the way. It seemed to help, for a while at least. So our journey continued.
I received an email from our Sir Paul contacts, advising us of the logistics, with a scheduled arrival of 2 p.m. on Tuesday, to allow for unloading and set up and a signing around 6 p.m. At this point, we were thankful that we had departed a day early, to allow plenty of time to make the trip.
Meanwhile, back in Slidell, artist Lori Gomez and Slidell Magazine Publisher and Editor Kendra Maness (who had literally stopped the presses to hold the November edition for this story,) departed shortly after 6 p.m., also headed to Louisville. The duo had planned to drive straight through the night and find a hotel upon arrival.
Shortly after 8 p.m., well 12 hours into our journey, we received a text from Lori and Kendra, asking our location, and advising us they were just 27 miles outside of Tuscaloosa. Though they had departed nearly 10 hours after we had, they were only a few miles behind us.
We shared the tales of our Long and Winding road, and at this point, all we could do was laugh or cry. We chose to find humor in the situation, which made it far more bearable. For every challenge and pause, we found a Beatles song to lift our spirits.
“Debbie said just don’t beep and wave as you pass us,” I texted to Lori.
(Beep, beep, beep, beep, yeah!)
“Well, y’all didn’t have to wait for us!,” she replied.
“Very freakin’ funny,” I retorted.
“We’re laughing with you,” she said. “But we’re really sorry you all have had so much trouble.”
“It’s really been a somewhat amusing adventure,” I replied. “You just can’t make this stuff up.”
And so we continued the attempt to make it to our destination. After more sputters and crawling along the way at a snail’s pace, I texted again.
“Oh,” I said, “I forgot to tell you, we got pulled over by a cop…His name was Sgt. Pepper.”
Her response, in all caps: “SHUT UP!”
“Actually, that’s pretty funny,” she said, still thinking I was serious.
“Yeah, it was,” I replied.
“The good news is, we were invited to join his Lonely Hearts Club Band. We have our first gig on Friday…oh, and we got a Ticket to Ride.”
Dead silence. Perhaps she was unamused.
At 12:30 a.m., we received another text advising us the two had stopped to fuel up, 161 miles from Louisville.
They had passed us up. Though they left over nine hours after we did, they passed us up. Unreal.
At this point, we realized they probably had driven right by when we had detoured to a truck stop to pick up more fuel additive.
We got back on the road and continued our journey.
That text was followed shortly after by yet another text.
“Hi, right next to you.”
And there they were, in the car alongside us, nearly 17 hours after we began our 10 hour drive, and still a good three hours from our destination.
At this point, sanity took the wheel and we decided it was time to find a hotel and get a few hours of rest, then seek additional mechanical assistance in the morning.
Alas, around 2 a.m., in White House, Tennessee, we pulled into the Holiday Inn Express and secured the only three hotel rooms remaining.
The front desk clerk, Christie, was the epitome of southern hospitality, pleasant, cordial and compassionate after hearing of our plight. Again, not knowing what precious cargo we had on board, she told Kendra she has a friend who is a mechanic who may be willing to come take a look at the truck.
And so at 2 a.m., a White House mechanic made a hotel call to attempt to fix the problem. (You just can’t make this stuff up!)
He confirmed that the recently replaced fuel filter was severely clogged yet again, which we had been forewarned may happen depending on the severity of fuel contaminants. He cleaned and replaced the filter. Could this be the last of our problems?
Meanwhile, I was upstairs in the hotel room that I would be sharing with Debbie, working on the Sir Paul story and layout for Slidell Magazine. Though the room was located on the third floor, I could hear folks downstairs, clearly having a jovial time. I assumed our room was facing the pool area and there was a party going on.
I remember thinking to myself, “Bunch of folks, cutting up. Poor Debbie is so tired. She’s not going to be happy when she makes it back up to the room and can’t sleep.”
A few minutes later when Debbie arrived, I learned that the raucous bunch that I had heard was our own gang, sharing a few beers and laughs with Landon the White House mechanic and Christie the clerk, with the latter of the two abstaining from the beverages because she was on duty.
As it turned out, while she was working out the mechanic details with Christie, Kendra felt a need to help make the bad situation a little more bearable.
“We’re from Louisiana,” Kendra told Christie. “Must. Have. Alcohol.”
“Oh, White House doesn’t sell alcohol after 10 p.m.,” said Christie.
As Kendra’s last glimmer of hope started to fade, Christie added, “But the 24-hour Walmart across the street sells beer.”
In that moment, she became Kendra’s new best friend.
As the long day came to an end, each of our gang headed back to their hotel rooms to catch a few hours of sleep. By 7 a.m. we were ready to hit the road, confident that this latest repair had fixed the problem, once and for all.
And so ended Day One of our journey, with yet another Beatles song.
It’s been a Hard Day’s Night.
More to come…