Thursday, December 01, 2011

the journey to Toledo and back

I realized that in the fuss of catching up after we made it home I had failed to post the journal entry regarding what happened in Toledo. This is by no means complete, for I'm sure you don't want to read a book and some things that happened we will keep to ourselves. Read here then the joys and sadness we found when we went back to where we are from.

11/2/11 Wednesday
Wednesday morning in Toledo Ohio. There is much to write and I haven’t because we are busy here and because I don’t want to publish on the internet the fact that no one is at home back in Texas. But I do need to keep a journal of what we do here. This morning Cherie and I are going to meet Suzie, the daughter of Eileen, my former secretary who died three years ago under suspicious circumstances. We do our best to keep up with Suzie and others of Eileen’s family and help when we can. Right now Suzie’s husband/boyfriend is in prison but should be released in a month. He was sent to prison for punching the father of Suzie’s son’s girlfriend and possibly breaking his jaw. Stupid stuff to go to prison for and because Calvin has an extensive criminal history there was no mercy from the court.

So many of the people I know, or knew, back in Toledo are trapped in lifestyles of their choosing. Perhaps it would be wrong to say they chose the lives they live for most of them were raised in that type of life, that world of drugs, crime, and a different set of moral principle, which is foreign to many of us.
11/13/11 Sunday
We are finally home. Arrived at about 5 yesterday afternoon. What a trip this has been, a trip filled with sadness and joy, good things and bad. This promises to be a long post so I will start at the beginning. This journey became possible when I sold the big diesel service truck we had purchased about 3 years ago at auction in Michigan. I paid $3,000 for the truck then, bought it in order to bring the John Deere tractor we also bought at auction back to Texas. We sold the truck for $6900, much less than the nine thousand dollar listed value but there were bills to pay. Besides the truck was pretty rusty and they are not used to rust here in Texas.

We had been trying to sell the truck for over a year with little success but I leave much of that in the hands of the Lord and trust His timing for such things. The timing was right. Cherie had been increasingly homesick, caring for and missing her family that lived so far away. I have been needing to fix my truck as the transmission had finally gone so we were down to one vehicle and knew I could get a used transmission for a cheap price up in Ohio. Besides that the truck was more than worn out, with windows that no longer rolled up and down and the air conditioner had not worked for over a year. It has nearly a quarter million miles on it, the motor still runs well, but it’s about done and needed to be replaced. What I knew was that I could find deals at auctions up in the Midwest so now that we had some cash after paying bills this seemed like an ideal time to get a new used truck.

Cherie was checking prices of airline tickets and ran into a deal where we both could fly to Columbus, where her sister lives, for only $370.00. When she told me about that price my response was “You’d better book them now”. She did and the next day that price was gone so it was a good thing. The timing on the tickets would play things close in regard to our attending the 4 day Kairos prison ministry event in Fort Stockton but I figured we could be back with time to spare. That part didn’t work out as planned, nor did several other aspects of the trip but all in all we were blessed.

So we made plans, called relatives, made reservations, and booked a rental car for the week we planned on being there. With any such ventures there are concerns, fears, and trepidations to be allayed and dealt with. We let the sheriff know we would be gone so they could keep an eye on the house. One of the concerns was our pets. It is so sad that we had no one local we could rely on, or even ask, to check on things. What a disgrace and shame it is that we attended a church for a year and yet there is no one there we dared to ask for such a favor. The hallmark of our faith, the core principle of Christianity is Love, love for God and love for each other, yet we found rejection instead. Gossip and judgment instead of acceptance and building each other up in the faith, pitching in to help one another. How Jesus must be hanging His head as He watches those who proudly do such things, confident in their self-righteousness as they do the opposite of what He desires.

With money tight and always budget conscious we decided to board Rascal and Trixie in a kennel and put out a load of food for the outside dogs, Buddy and Duke. We also put out a ton of food for the cats and kept the water dripping in a little plastic pitcher left in the bathroom sink. It all should be enough for the eight days we figured we would be gone. Unfortunately that turned out to be fifteen days, but at least it wasn’t a disaster. It just brings out the sadness regarding the coldness and distance we found so close to home. May God have mercy on them for they seem to be totally unaware of their hypocrisy. I have to wonder, do some of these people really believe in God? Because if you REALLY believed you would know He knows your inner thoughts and what you say behind closed doors. But I realize that the god many believe in is the one they have in a little box, one that lets them do what they want with no fear of repercussions. This is nothing new, people have been molding god to the image they want for all of time, refusing to be clay in the Masters hand, pliable and able to be molded into what He desires.

The flight to Ohio took four flights and ten hours to get to Columbus. Such is the price of cheap tickets. We flew light, having no desire to check our bags so it was just enough to carry our bags with us. First flight was Midland to Dallas and that one was running late by about a half hour. Arriving at Dallas we rushed to get to the next plane on the list. It too was late so we weren’t in bad shape. Next stop was Houston. There was a young man on board the Midland to Dallas flight who was from San Diego. He had come to Midland to work in the oil fields, as so many are doing during these tough financial times. Poor kid had never flown and was filled with fear, noticeable to me despite his attempts to hide it. “First time flying?” I asked, desiring to give him some reassurance. He said “yes” so I explained that statistically flying was safer than driving a car and said I had flown many times. Not sure that helped so I told him, after noticing him holding the cross he wore around his neck, that God would take care of us.

Houston was a bit traumatic. Plane was late landing, had to wait for a spot to park, and we got off fifteen minutes after our connecting flight was supposed to have left. It’s panic time. We run to the first bank of screens showing what flights where were and when they were supposed to leave, and our plane is not showing up anywhere. I rush to a Southwest flight desk and ask the lady “Where is our flight?”. She tells me to get to the back of the line just as I hear “Robert and Cherie Westbrook, please report to gate 40 for your flight”. “Where’s gate 40?” I ask the lady behind the counter, who really doesn’t care and ignores me. Someone else points so Cherie and I run that direction, pulling our bags behind us, thankful they are on wheels.

We make it to gate 40, huffing and puffing because neither one of us is in great shape. There is no one there, the door is closed and locked, and I see a plane with the walkway still attached sitting out on the tarmac. Now I’m in URGENT mode so I stroll out to the middle of the concourse and YELL “Can anyone help us? That’s our plane and the door is locked!”. There is a stunned silence as no one moves, seemingly shocked that anyone would yell in an airport. One lady across the way moves forward and says “Once the door is locked that’s it.” I strode quickly to her counter, because at least she recognized our existence, and just as we got there we heard our names once again on the intercom. This time they tell us to go to a different gate, and that our flight is waiting for us. More huffing and puffing as we scramble to get there. We are officially the last people to board the plane. Evidently someone had announced the wrong gate before.

The stewardess asked a young man to move to a different seat so that Cherie and I could sit together. That was thoughtful of her. Gratefully we sat down and prepared to take off. It took a bit for me to settle down, and some time for Cherie too but we did and realized that they had held up the flight in order for us to get there. Now we are off to St Louise, where we will catch our last flight, that will take us to Columbus. In Columbus Cherie’s youngest sister will pick us up and we get to spend the night at their house.

There was a sweet little old lady in the window seat where Cherie and I were seated. She talked with Cherie for much of the flight, sharing about what was going on in her life. When we were arriving at Columbus I asked if I could pray for her and a relative who has brain cancer, and she gratefully said “yes”. There are times when I feel a need to pray for people and situations and this was one of them. She gave Cherie a book she had just read, dug it out of a bag filled with books.

We were so happy to finally make it to Ohio, and grateful to find Connie, Cherie’s sister, waiting for us when we got off the plane. It was hugs and greetings time and then a trip through the maze that Columbus airport has turned into, in order to find Connie’s car. Connie got us to her home as quick as she could. We were greeted by her husband and son, who has grown dramatically since the last time we saw him. There was the visiting that comes with long absences of course but I was beat and retired early, letting Connie and Cherie catch up as they cooked stuff.

The next day we all left for Toledo, for it had been decided that this was a good time for all the family to get together and have a thanksgiving dinner early. A room was rented at an area hotel so that there was room for everyone. After checking into our hotel room we went to where the dinner was to be held. There was greetings, hugs, tears, and all the other things that go with long absences between family members. Food and people were hustled in, hasty arrangements for how it was to be distributed, and then we sat down to eat. There was lots of catching up to do of course. Much of the families knowledge of our life came from this blog and occasional phone conversations so there were lots of holes to fill in.

It was a good time and we are grateful we were able to get there. We were both glad to make it back to our hotel room, where we settled down and began to plan the busy days ahead of us. Part of those plans involve me finding and visiting old friends and those whom I try to help the best I can. I tried to visit the parents of my old Vietnam veteran friend, Bernie, who died of cancer last year. Unfortunately they had moved into an assisted living center in Michigan and I was unable to find the address before we had to head back to Texas.

Other friends I found, and with them saw again the depression and loss that comes with drugs and a life without God. It broke my heart to watch the 16 year old daughter of one proudly announce she was pregnant as she smoked pot. I felt helpless to help as this is the world she grew up in. Her grandmother, father and pretty much entire family all were and are habitual drug users or alcoholics. It made me grateful I had left that world behind and those things no longer had a hold on my life, but at the same time there is great sadness knowing these lives are so lost. And a sense of responsibility, knowing that I hold a key that can set them free. My other friend has pretty much lost his life, to the painful injuries he sustained from several events, and to the drugs that help his pain but also became an addiction. For him it is a trap with no easy answers. On top of that are multiple traumatic brain injuries, undiagnosed but obvious to me because of personal experience and consequential studies I’ve done. Again I feel powerless to help, a frustrating thing. There are so many lives we see, lives trapped by the consequences of decisions made long ago and locked into a path that leads to pain and despair. But there is nothing we can say, for if we say anything it would be perceived as an attack or put down. So all we can do is pray and hope, all the while knowing that without change there are hard consequences ahead for them. Bleak futures reaped from bad seeds sown long ago. There is hope and life available through faith in Jesus, but so many won’t accept that.

I went to the first auction in Michigan, and was disappointed at what I saw. Prices were much higher than I had seen in auctions 3 years ago, but I wasn’t worried, there were other auctions to come. I learned from my nephew and sister in law that one of the online auctions I had enrolled in was not ethical at all, with all kinds of hidden fees and tricks being used, so I threw that out the window.

After we had been there a week there was still no truck to be bought and time was getting short. We had planned to be on the road Monday in order to get back to Texas in time for the Kairos prison ministry so pressure was on. The last big auction was in Illinois, almost at the Wisconsin border. Nate and I hopped in his big car carrier, the kind that has a deck that rolls back and angles to the ground so you can pull a vehicle up with the winch, and made the seven and a half hour drive to the auction.

Here I was confident I could find one, and maybe even two, trucks. If the prices were right I would get one for personal use and another to bring back to Texas and sell. With something like 300 vehicles in the auction I figured it would be no problem. They had them lined up with newer years first and older models at the end of the line. The first trucks were smaller Ford rangers. I wanted a full size pick up so didn’t bid despite the prices being attractive. I figured that as the auction proceeded to older more beat up trucks the prices would come down, but I was in for a surprise. I guess a lot of others at the auction had the same idea for as the auction progressed the prices kept getting higher and higher. In hindsight there were many good deals I could have gotten but was hanging on for a steal that didn’t happen. In the end we got nothing and had a long drive back empty handed. It was a long drive because we had left at two in the morning to make it there, so were definitely tired. I am grateful to my nephew for his sacrifice to help us out.

Now we are under the gun. We had bought one way tickets so had no way home except by driving the truck we came to buy, and there was no truck. The whole time we were there Cherie would hit Craigslist online and I had called about many of the trucks we found there. One of the better looking ones was also an older one. It was a 1994 Chevy 2500 diesel with only 190,000 miles on it. He had it listed at $3400 dollars but when I called he dropped the price to $1600 because they had bills to pay. This truck was 130 miles away in Indiana but for that price I told him I would make the drive. We did and it was a nice truck, other than the rust that plagues everything up north, where the salt the roads heavily to fight snow and ice. It had belonged to his grandfather and the interior was in great shape.

Sold. We now have a way home and I now have a truck that runs. I had hoped to get a rebuilt or used transmission for my other truck, so that we could sell it, but that didn’t work out. The friend of Nate, who rebuilds transmissions for a living, said he could ship one to us, but I don’t think I would bet the farm on that. He’s a great guy who has improved his life in many ways since we saw him last, but in the busy day to day struggle of life in Toledo best intentions often get placed aside. If it happens we will be blessed, and pleasantly surprised, but I suspect that the red truck will stay up on jack stands for a while, waiting for the parts or me to have the finances needed to fix it.

It’s time to say goodbye and hit the road. There were some last minute repairs on the new/used truck that had to be made. I detected a knocking sound that we determined to be the vacuum pump. Should that go it would cause the serpentine belt that drives everything to go too so had to be replaced. There were other things I wanted to check, like brakes, but no time and money getting short so didn’t.

Getting out of Toledo always seems hard. Last minute problems abound, people to say goodbye to have to be found, but we finally made it out. It was late but I was determined to hit the road and at least get out of Toledo. We had extended out hotel stay three times already and were checked out. We didn’t make it out of Ohio, got as far as just the other side of Dayton, but were glad to get that far.

Things were uneventful till we got to Missouri. I was pressing as far as I could each day, driving until tiredness got bad and then pulling into a hotel. We would sleep fitfully in uncomfortable beds till 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning and hit the road again. Had almost made it to Joplin Missouri, where we were going to stop for the night, when it happened. BAM!!! I heard and felt an impact. It was maybe nine at night, long dark, and lots of traffic on the road. I’m wide awake now for sure. Pulling to the side of the road I get out carefully in the heavy traffic to look and see what happened. Didn’t really see anything and all the tires looked good so, worried about the traffic and safety I got back in the truck and headed for the first exit, where I could more carefully examine the truck.

I had just noticed a sign that said if there was an emergency to dial a two digit number and then the pound sign so as soon as I found a place to park I did so. Cherie had seen a flash of white just before the impact but I had seen nothing at all so I wasn’t sure what to report, just that we had hit something, and it was big. We had lost count of the dead deer we saw on the road long before this so I knew that was a possibility. The operator got our location and said a trooper would be dispatched.

I got out and looked at the truck. We had bought a set of tools for the trip home but didn’t think to get a flashlight. Sure would have been nice now. There was some damage to the driver’s side lights, with the turn signal light fixture just hanging by the wires. But the real damage was the whole drivers side of the truck. That was caved in from behind the door to just before the rear wheel. My nice new/used truck wasn’t as pretty as it was, but it really wasn’t pretty to start with due to the big rust holes in the body.

As we waited for the trooper we heard sirens and saw fire trucks and ambulances heading down the other side of the highway, back the way we came. Soon the state trooper showed up. He wasn’t happy we had driven to the next exit, said it was leaving the scene of an accident. The truck had no plates on it at all because Indiana law states one has the right to drive without plates for thirty days after the purchase of a vehicle and when we went to Ohio’s bureau of motor vehicles to get temporary transfer tags they refused because the truck was bought out of state. This raised the troopers eyebrows but he understood and had run into the mess caused by so many states having different laws. We didn’t have proof of insurance because when Cherie called our insurance agent their computer was down, so we had insurance coverage but were unable to get a copy printed fifteen hundred miles away. The officer was nice about that. Technically he said he was supposed to write a citation for that but wouldn’t. I expressed our gratitude. He got our information and had to go because there were wrecks at the mile marker we had our problem at. Later he called and told us it was a deer, probably the same one we hit, that had caused the other accidents. Evidently our impact didn’t kill it and it wandered dazed to the other side of the interstate, where other vehicles finished it off.

All in all we were blessed. “How is that a blessing?” you might ask. We were inches away from hitting that deer head on and it could easily have come through our windshield, so I will look at it that way. It could have been much worse, and others did get hurt along with suffering much worse damage, so I choose to believe that God protected us and look at the good side of it.

We stopped at the first decent looking cheap hotel we saw and gratefully crashed. Woke up long before the sun and got going again. When it got daylight I pulled over to see the damage to the truck for the first time in the light. It actually didn’t look as bad in the light as it did at night, but still was a pretty big dent. Fortunately we could open the door to the fuel tank and had room to screw open the cap.

So we filled up with diesel and checked the fuel mileage again. There has been a disappointing steady reduction in how many miles the new/used truck gets. The day we bought it that truck got 21 miles per gallon of fuel. We filled up every 300 miles and each time it was less till the last tank, which was only 14 miles per gallon. I hope to figure out why and also hope the solution isn’t expensive.

1 comment:

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