A fair number of problems on the road. The oil-pressure gauge started convulsing wildly while driving on I-12 not that far from Baton Rouge, and I pulled into a gas station and added four quarts of oil before I got a reading on the dipstick. The oil started dripping out everywhere. I went to a mechanic who said that the repair would involve removing the engine (and since it was a four-wheel-drive car, also the transfer case), which would cost several hundred dollars to start, but since the engine was an old Northern engine – i.e. rusted shut by years of snow and salt – he felt confident the engine would start to disintegrate once taken apart. What’s more, it being a Thursday, he predicted that he would have to wait the whole weekend to get parts if things started breaking.
So I decided to keep on going as I had gone, and finish my errands – buying shoes in Baton Rouge, and then up to Angola prison to pick up a chair. I arrived late at Angola, and they said they did not have the means at this time to transport the chair to the gate – I should come back tomorrow. I realized this would be impossible – I didn’t want to spend the cost of the chair on a hotel room, nor did I want to camp with an extremely unreliable vehicle.
So I decided that I should get to Birmingham and get the car fixed where I could stay with a friend. This ended up being a challenging drive. Every twenty miles or so, I would run out of oil, and in the end it took me 20 quarts of oil in order to make it to Tuscaloosa by 2 A.M., where I crashed for the night at a Motel 6 for $43.
Tuscaloosa was close enough to Birmingham so my friend could pick me up if need be. I went to a mechanic there, who played with a calculator for a little while and then said: “If I were in your position, I’d buy 60 quarts of oil and keep on doing what you done all the way to NEWyork. That way you’re out $200, but you’ll be home with all your stuff. I know these northern engines. They’ll be all rusted up. You got, what, 170,000 miles on this baby? It don’t make no sense to spend a thousand dollars to fix it up nohow.”
Four more quarts got me to Birmingham, where I’m resting up with a friend, Jay Hoenemeyer. Next stop should be Atlanta. This type of driving – knowing that you’re right on the cusp at all times of complete engine failure – is insane but suitably Neal Cassadyesque. The main thing I fear is the thing most to be feared – traffic. The engine is like a broken hourglass filled with oil. If it runs out completely, your engine locks up and you can’t move anymore. How to get through Atlanta, D.C., and New York with this kind of limitation is quite tricky.
All that said, I’m in great spirits. The weather is great, life is good, all that stuff. Buying the next vehicle will constitute a major economic problem, but we’ll see what happens.
The car finally got a name after all this: Stepan Trofimovich. I am now calling this trip “The Last Peregrination of Stepan Trofimovich.”