The year was 1994. It was a muggy March in Columbus, Mississippi. Students were scattering as fast as the cockroaches on campus sidewalks. Bags were packed, cars were full and dorms were empty.
Spring Break, people.
My first college spring break. There I was. Big, curly hair,Timberlands, faded Gap jeans, chokers in an obnoxious number of colors, and a couple of poet’s blouses. (Remember that awful, pirate ruffle shirt from Seinfeld? It was like that…Only turquoise. And silk.)
Before you ask, the answer is yes. Yesss. I was a vision in denim and ruffles. And, yes. I am that old.
It was spring break in Mississippi and I had plans. Big plans.
By some miracle, two nineteen year old girls had managed to convince their parents that driving to spring break in New Orleans was a great idea. Rrrroad trip!
My wild, redheaded co-conspirator rode shotgun as we made our way south to The Big Easy. I kept my eyes on the road and hands on the wheel while she commanded the radio.
Carpool Karaoke can’t touch the vibe we were putting out. Our rendition of every Boyz II Men song was only rivaled by our epic version of “Hero.” (Passersby were no doubt impressed at how close-ish we came to hitting Mariah Carey high notes.)
My new-to-me, shiny black sedan had been in my possession a few short months. So what if it was a bit of a granny wagon? She was getting the job done.
The car made it through without a hitch. My trusty steed carried us all the way to NOLA with nary a hiccup or squeak.
We hit the French Quarter and inhaled a few beignets at Cafe Du Monde. We made our way to the popular clubs and became one with The Village People over no less than 35 dances to YMCA.
We walked. And we walked… everywhere. There is so much to see and do in a city loaded with culture and history.
I managed to master a multitude of one way streets as we took my little grocery getter all over the city. Our trip was perfect.
Until it wasn’t.
We were heading home… just cruising along with zero problems. There were no warning lights. We had a full tank of gas and new tires full of air. The oil was freshly changed. And, of course, the radio cranked.
As I began driving over a bridge, with no warning, the gas pedal quit working. What the–
Not only the gas pedal, but the steering was no longer working. Gulp. Panic set in. Hard.
Holy crap. We’re gonna die. I’m on a freaking highway with a broken gas pedal and no steering. My parents are going to ground me for eternity!
I fumbled for the hazard lights and prayed they were working. I knew I had to get off the road. So, I began cranking the steering wheel as if my life depended on it. After playing real-life Frogger, I made it to the side of the road.
And whaddaya know? I had pulled over only to discover it would take an act of God to engage the brakes. Awesome. Most craptastic drive ever.
Now what? We couldn’t grab our cell phones. We couldn’t even dial up OnStar(™). Our choices were to wait for somebody to stop and take pity on us… and hope our story would not end up as a next Lifetime movie… or we get out and walk.
So, we left the car on the side of the road and walked. Fortunately, Pep Boys was within walking distance.
Parents were called. A tow truck was called. A rental car was acquired. And several hours later, we were finally back on the road.
I was clueless. I had no idea what to do when a car just quits. I assumed insurance would cover it. That’s what it’s for, right? Your car breaks and they cover it.
And, yet… that’s not right. I wasn’t in a wreck. So, insurance didn’t cover anything. The onboard computer malfunctioned. It literally shut down my entire car.
My parents were faced with a huge bill. So, about $1,700 later, I got my car back. For a few weeks, all was bliss in my grocery getter. At 19, ignorance is bliss.
At 19, you expect your car to work. You don’t always realize the signs that your very essential alternator is on the fritz… until you turn the key, and rather than the familiar humm and roar, you hear. Click.
Click. Click. Click click click.
What the heck? Not again. This stupid thing was just fixed. Can I use jumper cables? I don’t have jumper cables… Who do I know in college that can use jumper cables?
Once again, my car was in need of repair. And, once again, it would not fall under the category of “covered repairs” according to my car insurance.
Did I mention I was 658 miles from home? Yep. Needless to say, my parents were a wee bit worried. They couldn’t hop in their car and come to my rescue.
When you’re nearly 11 hours away from home going to school, you need a car. A reliable car. Or a reliable plan. I had neither.
Today, I am just a few years away from having my own 19 year old daughter. Just the thought of my baby going away to college puts a lump in my throat. If she follows a similar path to mine, she could be 11 long hours from me.
I can only imagine how my mom must have felt being on the other end of my desperate phone calls… Her baby girl was stranded hours away in a strange city with a broken down vehicle.
Uhh. No. No way. That is not okay with me. I want a plan.
My daughter will have a cell phone, a car charger for said cell phone, a portable battery charger, a list of ASE certified mechanics, oil change places, blankets, extra water, a flashlight, snacks, socks, undies… and a little trailer to haul all of those emergency supplies.
It was rational until I brought up the undies, right?
But, seriously. I’d settle for some reassurances that she’d have a plan in place with a list of mechanics covered by solid vehicle repair coverage.
I learned the hard way. Nobody cares about your awesome Gap game when you’re stranded on the highway. I wish I’d had a plan. Plans matter.
JFK said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”
Plans matter. They matter in life. They matter in car emergencies. Take it from me, and make a contingency plan.