The Shortest Tournament Log Ever

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I hadn't planned on playing Albany because of the travel expense, but Jeremy Callaghan's post about a road trip from Chicago got me considering the trip. My concerns were twofold. One, I wasn't sure how much life my '97 Civic had. Enough to get me to the rendevouz point in Chicago, probably. But every thousand miles I put on it would bring the engine that much closer to the end of its life.

And two, I had to reconcile the travel with my Starbucks project, and if I left my car in Chicago to ride to Albany with Jeremy, I would not then be able to take a different route back to Houston in order to visit those new Starbucks.

June 25

I remembered that Orry Swift was hot to break 1800 and qualify for Division 1, so at club on Sunday I asked Judy to put him touch with me. After club I also e-mailed Mary Rhoades to see if she had fresh contact info for him.

June 27

I finally heard from Orry, and he seemed very interested in going. He needed to wait until Wednesday, however, to see if he could scrape up enough money for his share of the gas, entry fees, etc.

June 28

I waited until I about noon, and I finally called Orry and learned that he wasn't able to come up with the money. I abandoned my plans for the trip.

A while later I learned that Oxford had gotten me an interview for a contract out in California, and they reported that the manager would make a decision quickly. I felt confident about the skill set, and sure that, even if that job didn't pan out, that I'd have a job within a week or two. And if it was out in California, it might be months before I had a chance to travel back to the east coast. So why not make the trip now, and clear out the new Starbucks. I decided that I would make a final decision based on the outcome of the interview.

The interview went well, and I was sure that I would have an offer the next day. After a week in Houston seeking a new job, listing comics on eBay, and waiting for the Superman movie I was itching to get on the road. So I said, what the heck, let's roll the dice with the car and head to Albany.

I notified Annette and hurried to clean out my car and make it camp-ready. Finally, at 9:40, I was able to leave the house.

I had of course gotten home late after Superman Returns and then not been able to sleep in as late as I wanted. This meant that even before I cleared the greater Houston area I was already getting tired. I looked for a rest area along US-59, but there was none to be found. Finally, in Livingston, I spotted a Wal-Mart Supercenter, parking lot replete with eighteen-wheelers.

One amusing note about those trucks. Around 5:00 AM I heard honking, and I peeked out to see the security car driving alongside each truck and honking. The parking lot of that Wal-Mart wasn't the biggest I'd seen, and I guess they wanted to clear out the trucks before more customers started arriving.

June 29

Besides my car's condition, my greatest worry about hitting the road in July was the heat, and how I would sleep in it. On Wednesday night, however, I lucked out. Not only did the temperature drop enough that I was able to sleep easily, but I actually had to use a blanket. Two, actually. First the light one, then the heavy one, and finally both.

It was good that I didn't have to toss and turn in a pool of sweat for hours, as had happened before, because Thursday morning was cloud-free, and by 7:25 the sun was shining right in my face. I was groggy as I stumbled into the Wal-Mart to wash my face and grab some groceries. Thirteen minutes later I was heading northeast once more.

As I neared Lufkin, I felt something strange. For whatever reason I needed to depress the gas pedal quickly, but instead of feeling a burst of acceleration I just heard the engine revving. The car continued along, but not much faster. My first thought was that it was the timing belt! No!!! I didn't want to be stranded in Lufkin! But it wasn't the timing belt. Couldn't have been, since the car was still running.

I was able to accelerate slowly and get up to highway speeds. I might have been able to reach Albany. But continuing on the trip given how the clutch was feeling was a bad, bad, bad idea. Don't get me wrong--I'm all for trying out a bad idea every now and again, but getting myself stuck in the boonies to be towed into some nowhere town and ripped off by a local mechanic... that's the kind of bad idea I can live without.

So I changed direction in Lufkin and headed to a trusted mechanic in Dallas. Took longer than I had predicted, in part because the loop around Athens did not match my map and I, distracted by a phone call from a recruiter, missed the exit and circle around twice. But unlike in the recent film Cars, no one cheered.

The verdict was that the clutch needed to be replaced. The $700 price tag I was prepared for. What really bummed me out was that the shop couldn't get the job done that day. Noon the next was the best-case scenario. That meant I'd have to drive 24 straight hours in order to reach Albany by noon Saturday. Wasn't going to happen. 10 years earlier I might have tried such a drive, but at 34 I was already struggling to stay away during long night drives, and it just wasn't worth the risk. So for the first time that I could remember, I had to abort a trip to a tournament. I guess there's a first time for everything.

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