The group of us squeeze together to fit our family of two big men (my 15 year old step-son is man sized), kinda-average me and my daughter, and my short-for-now-until-he-sprouts 12 year old son, into the frame of the phone at the end of my husband’s arm… while ALSO capturing the height of the canyon mountains and the depth of the cliff we are standing on… when suddenly the phone dips, we hear a “whaaaa” and Michael starts stumbling on the rocks and falling backwards towards the cliff.
So. Funny. Pops.
(If you watch the video… because he wasn’t photographing us, he was secretly videoing… you hear my daughter’s voice at the end “Oh my god… I hate you… so much”)
And so, a morning campfire with roasted bagels, an epic capture of a spider (that in fact turned out to be already dead and slowly being eaten by tiny bugs Max discovered on its butt hole), a few souvenirs and trinkets purchased at the “Trading Post,” and several “your memories” iMovies worth of picture’s later, we are soon winding and climbing our way out of the canyon and back to route 66.
This is going to be an “easy” day. “What is it Papa/Mama, just 5 hours today?” comes out of the mouths of the kids about a dozen times as we sprint out of Texas (totally missing the Cadillac Ranch by just a few miles… insert sad face emoji) and into New Mexico.
The dry desert heat is in the high 90s as we jiggle along the highway, the bumpiness of the road feeling slightly odd, but hardly worth a second thought after thousands of winding miles in our 31 foot jalopy.
Bumpity, Bump, Bump, Bumpity, Bump, Bump, Bump, Bumpity, Bump, Bump
Michael maneuvers the RV immediately over to the side of the highway and stops. “What WAS that?”
To which we all answer, “The artwork fell.”
“Yes, that’s it. The metal wall art just fell off it’s hook from all the shaking, and it was just really loud when it hit the floor.”
“That wasn’t just artwork.” He is the only one who felt it. “Annie, please go outside and check the tires.”
Now…I tell you this next story, which is as embarrassing to me as it was scary for everyone else, to prove that while I’m definitely the girl you want in any sort of clerical, customer service or emotional crisis… when it comes to automobiles, roads and troubles with either, I am a complete airhead. You will soon see why I am lucky to have lived this long and avoided tragedy.
We are on the side of the road, but just barely. I am in a stunned state of panic. We are so close (2 hours) to Albuquerque. This is our easy day. It. Can’t. Be. The. Tires.
I exit through the main camper door, and quickly look at the front passenger tire, fine. The rear passenger tires, fine. Then rounding the back of the vehicle I start out into the road to get a view of the rear driver’s side tires. I have no stinkin’ clue that I’m in the road however, because, airhead that I am, I am not paying attention to the road. Specifically I am not paying not paying attention to the 18 wheeler that is headed towards me at 75 mph (out here the speed limit is 85). As I bend down to look at the tire, all I am aware of is the horror of the sight underneath our traveling home. I don’t see or hear Micheal screaming my name, him banging on the side of the camper with all his might, tears streaming down his face, panicking to get the window rolled down. I don’t see the 18 wheeler swerve out into the far lane, where if a car had been there, the ending of my life would have been the lesser evil.
I just see a wheel… and no tire.
A few things are set in motion by the discovery of the non-existent tire: Everyone exits the vehicle to pee (the daggered plants that hitch a ride on our socks back into the RV, a new desert experience for all of us, dogs included), Michael pulls the RV father off the road (where it rests at a not-so-comfortable tilt), Michael then sets off walking back down the road to find the remnants of the tire (see included picture), and I begin navigating through my iPhone where I’ve filed the info on our newly purchased premium RV roadside assistance…
While initially this may seem to be simply an automobile crisis… the lack of a spare tire on the vehicle and the location of the crisis, cause this to quickly become a clerical, and then a customer service crisis. As I mentioned before, for those types of issues… I’m your gal.
Our location is precisely 35.141303, -103.819649. We pick this up via google maps because “on the side of the highway,” “somewhere in New Mexico,” or “in the middle of the desert” are all we can come up with on our own.
Now… step through the looking glass into my social media feed where I have begun a mini-campaign to take down Good Sam roadside assistance (or get money back from them… whichever comes first):
Posted on Twitter on Tuesday, September 7th:
Good Sam left my husband and I, our 3 children and 2 dogs stranded on the side of I-40, in the desert, on a Saturday in August. After 2 hours of waiting, sweating in 109 degree heat, and afraid to use the generator in case things went from bad to worse... I found our own roadside assistance after just 5 minutes on google and 3 phone calls. I know now that Good Sam would have never gotten us the help we needed. After one hour of waiting for them to get back to me, I was told no one in Tucumcari, NM would offer us roadside assistance. Then Good Sam said they were trying to find a place to tow us, but that never happened either. All I got were 3 texts 8 minutes apart that said "we are still working to secure service... you should hear from us shortly" and then I heard nothing. On top of that they said they would only cover me for a tow of 7 miles, and we were 12 miles away from the nearest town. They also told me they only covered the cost of labor, not parts. The roadside assistance they weren't able to provide was already going to cost me $600 or more! Resigned, I called and cancelled our reservation at the RV park in Albuquerque for that evening. All of us were hot and sad, and the kids were getting scared. I was slowly realizing we would probably be spending the night on the side of the road. The Good Sam rep had actually laughed at my situation on the phone (he chuckled and said, "oh man, you're in the desert) which was the WORST response a stressed and worried mother could receive! I should have given up on them then... but I'd been told Good Sam was "better than AAA..." so I waited. After a half hour more of hearing nothing, I decided I couldn't wait around any longer, and I started googling on my own. After just 1 google search and 3 phone calls, I found a company willing to tow us OR offer us roadside assistance (we chose the latter!) Thank you to the helpful people of Tucumcari! I immediately called back to the RV park in Albuquerque and re-instated our reservation... we were going to make it there after all! When the roadside assistance showed up, we all yelled "THANK YOU SCOTT!!!!!!" and sat patiently while he changed our two ruined tires. Then my husband said to the kids, thanks to your mom... were going to Albuquerque! I was a hero, my kids leapt up and started hugging me... and they are all teenagers! Good Sam roadside assistance is not worth your money, because when you need them most, you are at the bottom of their priorities. Don't waste your money. If you take an RV trip, you probably won't need roadside assistance, and if you do, you're better off just dealing with it yourself. I promise.
(Update: While the tweet got their attention immediately, I have yet to receive the customer service phone call they promised me… I guess they are too busy still trying to find a company to tow us)
(Final Update: I received a full refund for the yearly roadside assistance subscription, $79.74, exactly 3 weeks later. Three weeks later they resolved my dispute and sent me a check for $200 to cover the travel portion of the tire replacement, but nothing to cover the labor, parts or tax… which absolves Good Sam of my direct complaints, but still leaves me to believe that in the age of cell phones and google, roadside assistance is not worth your money)
What I left out of the story on social media, is the harrowing experience of getting a driver side tire (actually tires, they go flat in twos) changed on the side of the highway where you are already parked unevenly. Fearing for our safety, the fix-it man tells us to stay in the vehicle while he works, and just “don’t move around too much.” And so we sit, sweating, hoping, and frozen in time while our savior Scott jacks up the driver side of the RV higher, higher, higher… until it feels as if one shift of weight, one breath even, will send us toppling over sideways. I am sitting on the passenger side of the cabin, leaning forward, willing this thing to stay balanced. Michael is in the driver seat, the kids are at the windows along the driver side. We are all looking at each other. No one is saying a word.
As Scott slides himself under the RV to get the vehicle jacked up even higher, it slips off and we feel a horrific jolt. Michael slowly raises his eyes to the large side view mirror. He sees Scott slide his body around to get a better angle. This guy is unstoppable. We watch as he gets the first rim and then the second off the axel. Then he employs fire, chemicals and brute strength to get the rest of the rubber, which has melted into the wheels, entirely off, piece by piece. All of us are watching the side mirror now as he goes back to his truck parked behind us and gets the 2 brand new tires. We see spray soap, a crow bar and a man with a seeming lack of concern for neither the 99º heat nor the tractor trailers racing by just a few feet away from his head.
Quickly, the new tires are on the rims, and soon after that, the rims are on the RV. I look up as my step son yells at my son, “What are you doing??!!!” My son is doing a little dance in his seat.
I consider murder for the first and only time this trip.
(He has to pee).
“IAN! SIT STILL!” I don’t care if he gets the worst cramp of his entire life, I don’t care if he pees in my water bottle, I don’t care if he pees in his pants. I tell him all of this at what feels like a 45º angle. I reiterate the point in a full speech about self control later that evening.
We finally feel the vehicle being lowered down.
I breathe for the first time in 20 minutes.
We pay out of pocket for the roadside assistance (which I still intend to get reimbursed for by our failure of a roadside assistance plan) and Michael announces to the children that thanks to Mama, we’re gonna make it to Albuquerque. I relish their hugs as all three jump up, full of excitement and relief.
What a story we have to tell now. It’s almost unbelievable. My husband and I embrace. Crisis averted. It’s 6 o-clock (mountain time), the sun is beginning to set ahead of us and our mobile home is mobile again.
emails from the writer…
Join my community. You’ll get reflections on writing and my process and be first to know when I’ve published something new.