Mission accomplished, but the trip was not pleasant

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

We loaded up the car for the long trip. Home was about three and a half hours away. The trunk area was packed as usual to the tilt, the back seat occupied by two dogs.

A third dog was riding in Sharon’s lap on the front passenger seat. It was a beautiful day, just the right temperature and sunny. We were looking forward to enjoying the magnificent scenery as we made our way home.

Fifteen minutes into the trip the new Jeep’s dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree. Where the speedometer used to be flashed a warning that the transmission needed immediate attention. Two brake lights started flashing, the engine light came on, and the cruise control stopped working.

This is supposed to happen to one of my old cars, like the 1995 van, but not to a brand new one. Maybe not the van because there aren’t that many warning lights on that one. It just stops working, starts leaking, or overheats when things go wrong. All these fancy warning lights were developed way after the van was built.

What now? Do we turn back and get it checked out somewhere in the area, or keep going? Could the transmission be burning up? It’s under warranty, but what a hassle that would be.

The car seemed to be working fine, except for the cruise control. There is no way the transmission could be going out this early. The dogs were settling in for the trip. They are pros by now, having made it several times.

“Let’s go on,” I said. “It’s probably a sensor.”

I called the local dealership at home and discussed with them what was happening, and they agreed that it probably was a sensor. “Bring it in when you get back.” said the tech. “Just keep an eye on those lights.”

It wasn’t a pleasant trip anymore. My stomach was in knots. Every little bump that I didn’t anticipate got my attention. There goes the transmission, falling out on the roadway, I was thinking. But it wasn’t, of course. It was working just fine.

Three more hours to go. Now I knew how the Apollo 13 astronauts felt when an explosion in one of the oxygen tanks crippled the spacecraft during flight, and the crew was forced to orbit the Moon and return to the Earth without landing.

Their problem was a little more complicated and dangerous than mine. I just had to get home. They did also, but it took days, and the chance of them surviving was not all that great.

But they made it back on this day 48 years ago, April 17, 1970. The astronauts survived, and in 1995 Image Entertainment made a very successful movie of the incident. They spent $52 million on it and grossed $355 million. That’s a decent profit.

All this was going through my mind. Well, not the numbers and dates. I had to look those up. But the way the three astronauts must have felt being in the middle of nowhere in outer space in a broken space capsule, trying to make it back home.

Breaking down on I-10 with three dogs would be no picnic. I was watching that instrument panel like a hawk. The dogs didn’t care. To them it was just a routine trip. Little did they know that we could be stranded in the middle of nowhere in a crippled vehicle.

Two more hours. I got used to the situation. The lights stayed on, but nothing had changed. I was wishing I could have the cruise control back. But that’s O.K. I just drove manually. Are we spoiled, or what?

Last hour. My stomach was less nervous. We now had a pretty good chance of making it.

We re-entered Brazoria County, and for the last leg of the trip. I started feeling pretty good about making it.

Splashdown. We pulled into the driveway. Mission accomplished.

I’d make a horrible astronaut.