[If you are just tuning in, you may want to start at the beginning: Toto, are we in Kansas? Part One]
Back by popular demand — well, sort of. Doug asked me to finish the whole story about our adventures through Kansas; so here goes.
“It was a dark and [dreary] night…”
…when we left the Interstate in search of lodging. I tried calling ahead to find out rates and room availability but it was close to midnight and most of the reservation clerks wouldn’t give me a straight answer for some reason. That, compounded by the very loud road noise (a phenomenon produced by oversized tires on asphalt which makes it difficult to hear fragmented, wireless voices let alone decipher foreign-sounding accents), forced me to give up and trust in the fates to find us a decent hotel.
Normally we choose lodging based on a hotel’s proximity to the Interstate; but we were so tired from our long ordeal through the Kansas breadbasket, we needed to find a place fast. We headed for a Courtyard Marriot, which was about 10 miles south of I-70, off I-135, until I noticed the really nice-looking Best Western sitting somewhat adjacent to the Courtyard on the corner of Schilling Road.
By now Doug’s patience had worn thin, so when I suggested we pop in to see about rates and quality, he wasn’t too pleased. I think he would have gladly curled up under a tree somewhere, or sprawl across a park bench at that point.
Lucky for us, Doug yielded to my intuition (accompanied by a long-suffering sigh), for we ended up at a posh Best Western Plus with an amazingly nice, and knowledgeable, night manager who greeted us with such a warm welcome, we instantly felt like old friends.
Her cheerful banter renewed our depleted energy and we discovered that corporate Best Western decided to expand its market base by introducing the Plus line of hotels. The idea was to capture business from the higher-rated hotel bracket, like Holiday Inn. Furthermore, we were standing in the newly refurbished, just opened, Salina location.
As I was signing up for the Best Western Rewards Club, Doug briefly told her about the Honey Badger’s performance issues and how frustrating it was that we couldn’t reach over 50 mph on the Interstate. Low and behold, our new best friend just happened to have a close relative who worked for the local Toyota dealer right around the corner. She told us that his dealership in particular was highly recommended for their excellent performance and gave us the Service Department phone number. We tucked away the information, said our thanks, and bid her a good night.
We had such a restful night’s sleep, in a luxuriously furnished room with all the amenities, that we awoke refreshed and eager to hit the road. After spending three adventurous – albeit exhausting – weeks driving across some of America’s greatest wonders, I wanted “Home”. I couldn’t wait to sleep in my own bed, pluck ripe tomatoes from my vegetable garden, and enjoy the privilege of not driving anywhere for as long as I liked. I suspected that once home, Doug would have to pull a rabbit out of his hat before talking me into another ride in Honey Badger – well, for a week or two at least.
It took us no time to pack up the Honey Badger, check out, and get back on I-70 east. But as the miles unfolded; Doug’s frustration grew. Traffic whizzed past us, only after crawling up Honey Badger’s rear bumper, as if that could make us go any faster. Doug pleaded and urged Honey Badger to pick up her pace, to no avail. He just couldn’t understand what her problem was. The mechanic in Moab, UT found and replaced a faulty spark plug; her fluids had been checked and re-checked. In fact, every advanced performance item Doug could think of had been duly installed. And still she chugged – balking at even the slightest hill where she would slow to a creeping 30 mph on a 70 mph road – Doug was ready to rip his hair out.
About an hour and a half later, Doug announced, “That’s it. I can’t take another minute.” He was going to stop at the very next Toyota Dealer he could find, or put a bullet into Honey Badger and end her misery. Either way, he was done.
I replied, “WHAT?!! But we had a Dealer, one that came very highly recommended, and where we had a great hotel room to wait for a prognosis. Uhn-uh, I suggest we go back to Salina.”
Doug argued that it was one and half hours in the wrong direction.
I looked at my watch and bemoaned the fact that it wasn’t even check-out time yet. We could have been lounging in the epitome of comfort while Honey got doctored. “Ok, but what are the chances that a dealer will get us in for an emergency fix? Let’s pull over and call the Service Department in Salina. If they can schedule us in, it would be worth back-tracking.”
This was teamwork at its best; because that’s exactly what we did.
Our new friend must have phoned ahead with the possibility of our call, because the Service Department was willing to take us in immediately. And then further accommodated our needs after Doug told her it would take him two hours to drive back to Salina, drop me at the Best Western Plus, and oh yeah, by the way, could someone there give him a return-ride back to the hotel too? No problem.
With smiles on our faces, we gladly turned around and headed back to Salina. Although before long I started to worry. It was only 10am and check-in on a new room wasn’t until 3pm. I wondered if it was possible to “un-do” a check-out. I crossed my fingers and hoped that if we arrived before noon, perhaps we could get our old room back.
Kansas, once again, smiled upon us.
The new day clerk informed me that the maids were currently cleaning the room, but if I didn’t mind waiting a few moments she would gladly “undo” my early checkout so that we could have the room immediately and for one more night.
Doug promptly unloaded our pertinent luggage and high-tailed it over to the Toyota Dealership, while I ‘took the baton’ and wheeled our bags to the gloriously, comfy room for a lazy afternoon watching my favorite 1940’s film serials on network TV and laundry duty. Before long, Doug returned with news that the Service Department folks were awesome and felt confident they would be able to complete repairs by that evening. The mechanics suspected that Honey Badger had a broken timing belt, which sounded pretty minor to me until Doug explained it was a labor intensive fix.
We gave each other a grim but resigned shrug; Doug patted his credit card – cha’ ching – and headed downstairs to fritter away the day enjoying his cigar on the patio Best Western built, specifically for that purpose.
Unlike other smoking-designated areas, Best Western had designed a formal patio with decorative stone beneath towering trees that provided ample shade and cooling breezes despite the 100 degree heat. Comfortable seating and convenient ash trays were scattered throughout, bordered by landscaped bushes and flower beds.
Doug was happy as could be, sitting in a cloud of fragrant smoke, chatting with fellow travelers, one of whom was in town for the wheat harvest, a combine driver that left his hi-tech job every harvest season to help out in the family business.
Thus left to our own pleasurable devices, the day passed quickly.
By 4pm Doug got the call that Honey Badger was all fixed and someone would pick him up from the hotel shortly. Yippee – just in time for dinner. The hotel didn’t have a restaurant on premises, so we were doubly happy that we didn’t have to navigate Salina via taxi. With Doug gone to retrieve the Honey Badger, I freshened up for dinner “out”.
At the mechanics’ recommendation, we dined at Logan’s Roadhouse and enjoyed a fabulous meal of Rib-eye steak for Doug and St. Louis style baby back ribs for me. Over dinner, Doug explained what happened.
The whole 3 weeks of agonizing, sluggish behavior on the part of the Honey Badger? It wasn’t her timing belt after all. You know what it was? Her spark plugs! Apparently Toyota 4-runners absolutely detest high-performance spark plugs, of which Doug replaced her standard OEM plugs before starting our trip — only the best for our Honey Badger — on which she choked and coughed across the next several hundred miles. Oooops – poor Honey Badger.
Even more surprisingly was the cost. We had expected a hefty repair bill, but since it was such an easy fix, we received a very, reasonable one. We counted our lucky stars that night; feeling thankful for the terrific folks who helped us on our way.
Early the next morning, we cast our eyes once again on the horizon toward home, burning bright with a renewed sense of promise as we carried Salina’s brief friendships close in our hearts. Honey Badger had so much pep and vigor; she was like a spring-time colt, easily cantering at a smooth 70+ mph, laughing as she passed someone slower than herself for the first time in weeks.
We chatted in good humor and smiled the whole way out of Kansas, awed by the experience of meeting so many strangers who magically, before our very eyes, transformed themselves into friends and allies.
It wasn’t until we reached Buckeye Lake, Ohio, that Doug was forced to cut Honey Badger’s air conditioning belt. We drove the rest of our way home in sweltering humidity, across the lush greenness of the mid-Atlantic, with the windows down. And silly me, I thought the road noise was loud before…
But that, my friends, is truly another story :o)