Saturday, October 10, 2009

Auto Tool Kit: AAA and a Cell Phone

One of the first things I learned as a caregiver was that I had to take on new responsibilities. Jim was always the mechanic in the family, and until he developed dementia, I had never changed the oil or listened for strange noises cars make from time to time.

We usually drove old clunkers and never left home without Jim’s tool kit. One time our van broke down on a country road, and Jim fixed it with a piece of wire he snipped from a sagging fence. He had us up and running in no time. On another trip in the dead of winter our heater began to blow cold air and Jim fixed it with a piece of cardboard. Whatever happened, he analyzed the problem and had an immediate solution.

Jim began to lose his mechanical skills, and we purchased AAA roadside assistance. I missed Jim’s expert attention to our vehicles, but with AAA and a cell phone, I figured we had the tools to get by. Besides, the card was good for discounts on hotel rooms, air fares, and even at Hard Rock CafĂ©.

Eric, our oldest son, worked at a dealership and reminded me when I needed an oil change or tires rotated. When I had mechanical problems, my first call was to Eric, not AAA.

One time Eric was on vacation and my youngest son, Rob, met me at the nursing home to take Jim out to lunch. We had already loaded Jim into the van before we noticed a tire was flat.

Rob crawled under the van and struggled to release the itty-bitty spare from its holder. After changing the tire, he climbed back into the van covered with sweat and dirt.

I said, “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been with me.” Then after I thought for a minute, I added, “I guess I would have called Triple-A.”

“I just changed a tire in hundred degree weather and you have Triple-A?” Rob asked.

“Yeah, but I’ve never used it except for discounts,” I said. Since 1997 the card had not once been used it for its primary purpose.

My Oldsmobile Alero is getting a little age on it, but overall, it has been a reliable car. That’s why I was caught off guard Thursday night. It had been raining all day and in the back of my mind I was worried that my roads might be flooded. Still, I went to dinner at Country Kitchen with other members of our Alzheimer’s Support Group. After dinner, we popped open our umbrellas and headed for our cars. I was ready to go home where it was warm and dry.

I put my key in the ignition and turned it. Instead of the purr of my motor, I heard dead silence.

“My car won’t start,” I told David, a member of our group who was parked next to me. He looked under the hood and said the battery connections were good.

I looked at my watch and knew it was too late to call Eric. He gets up so early for work that he would be in bed by now.

“Do you have any kind of road hazard?” David asked. Funny, I hadn’t thought about that.

David shined a flashlight on my AAA card so I could dial the number. Within ten minutes, my car was started and back on the road.

Of course, the car wouldn’t start the next morning. I phoned a friend who came over and jump started the car for me.

Now that I have a new battery my car starts when I turn the key. That’s the way I like it. But if all else fails, I have my tool kit—a cell phone and AAA. Better yet, I have friends’ numbers programmed into my cell phone.

I can’t break the habit of calling family or friends for advice about all things mechanical, or to give me an occasional jump start. It’s still nice to know I have three Aces in the hole to use for discounts or in case my friends become wise to me and don’t answer their phones.
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