On a series of unfortunate events (or the second Vanna White debacle)

We awoke in NH on Sunday. The sun shone over the hemlocks that border the southern edge. Few clouds. Mackenzi and I lounged knowing that we had all day to get back to Coopersburg, PA. Our goal for the weekend: get to my childhood NH home on Saturday via rental car and return to PA on Sunday via the family van with a rowing machine in the back seat.

After showering, I began to clear off the van and prepare our mighty steed while Mackenzi packed up our belongings. The van, from here on out known as Vanna White, had been winterized with the battery unplugged so she would not discharge in the cold weather.

The air felt like the low teens and trying to manipulate my hands while clearing snow and ice off Vanna required a few trips inside to warm back up by the fireplace. I hooked the battery leads to the terminals and hopped into the driver’s seat to start up the engine and warm her up while we finished packing.

The first sign that things would not go as planned: a small clicking when I opened the door. A bit confused, I looked for the source: it seemed that the dashboard dials were all experiencing a low frequency tremor, from the speedometer to the gas gauge.

“Odd,” I thought aloud.

I inserted the keys and noticed that the odometer did not light as per usual. I turned the keys and found Vanna unresponsive. “Not again,” I groaned.


During the summer between first and second year, with Vanna packed to the brim, she let Mackenzi and I down. She’d start up fine, but with a press of the gas and a dozen or so feet, she stalled out. We had to scramble to unpack, rent a UHaul truck one-way, pack that truck, and then sprint down to Florida. We had to be there real soon and couldn’t wait to get her fixed up.

Since that wacky trip, she got a clean bill of health and even helped my brother move from Maine to Virginia for school this past summer. She had been working fine. Friends had recently run her for about an hour and then disconnected the battery. No reason to suspect another debacle.


We put our thinking caps on. The top of our differential: dead battery. This we could fix. Searched around the house for some jumper cables. Then, we remembered when we had the trouble with Vanna last year, we had to borrow cables from a neighbor. We did, however, find a plug-in battery charger.

After about half an hour of charging the battery and Vanna held enough juice to turn the engine and start on her own. Great news, because any other diagnosis on the differential would be well-beyond our scope of practice to address, whether a bum alternator or a short in the electrical wiring system.

A delayed start, but at least she started. If we left immediately, we’d arrive in PA around 7p. Later than we would’ve liked, but at least she started.

We hit the road, starting our six hour trek a bit after noon. A couple hundred yards from my house, we picked up speed and heard some knocking from the driver’s side rear tire, almost like a stone caught in the tread. I pulled off on a side road, less than a half mile from where we started. I got out to inspect the wheel, hoping to pull out an ornery stone.

I looked at the tire and frowned. I complete a lap of the other wheels, to compare and contrast. Finally, I opened the door and told Mackenzi, “It’s not great. Take a look.”

The tread of the tire had split, reminding me of a warm biscuit pulled slightly apart to reveal the layers underneath. Perhaps the cold weather had done a number on the tire. Luckily, only one tire had been damaged and we had a full spare tire, not a short-distance replacement. Luckily, we had not driven far and did not blow out the weakened rubber.

With a great sigh from the both of us, we turned back to the NH home to switch out the tire. Maybe a twenty minute delay, no problem. We can still get home at a reasonable hour.

Pulled into the driveway, parking Vanna on a level spot so that jacking her up wouldn’t be too hairy. Turned the key and the engine cut off. The lights, however, did not remain. A sinking feeling as I turned the key back, hoping to see the dashboard alight. Nothing. Not even the tremor from before.

The battery had not charged at all.

A sigh and a division of labor: Mackenzi would set about recharging the battery while I gathered the tools to jack Vanna up and remove her lug nuts. The tire provided us with some resistance, but nothing that we couldn’t overcome. We do both love the deadlift.

While we changed the tire out, the battery charged. For the last time, we hoped. Around one, we had all four wheels on the grounds and the engine going.

Back on the road, we planned as few stops as possible. We suspected that the short drive with the discovery of the bum wheel did not provide sufficient extra power to the ailing battery. Perhaps at our next bathroom stop, we’d find the battery back to strength with an hour or so of road under Vanna’s belt. We’d make sure to park near a power outlet, just in case our optimism was unfounded and that we could charge her up again. We’d continue with minimal breaks, to avoid these half-hour stops to plug-in.


And so, we arrived in Tewksbury, MA to bio break and to test the battery.

Vanna failed us.

We enlisted the help of a lovely woman in a large blue truck. I bought a set of jumper cables and hooked us up, hoping that the direct flow from a fully functioning battery would bring ours to life. Not so, unfortunately.

We charged off of her vehicle for almost half an hour without any luck, only occasionally finding the speedometer tremor. She left and wished us well, and we turned back to the plug-in charger. After another twenty cold minutes, we got Vanna back up and running.

We decided: the engine will remain on, no matter what. I planned to buy a gas can at the next stop to fill up at the pump, then I’d feed the still-running engine so that we could stay on the move. It’d be hairy, but we could make it home.

After all, we had to be in clinic the next morning. I started on inpatient pediatrics with an early morning and Mackenzi began outpatient surgery with PM&R. A full night of sleep seemed still possible; just arrive home around 8p and then immediately head to bed.

We aimed south on 495. The cabin lights, the ones that turn on when a door is left open, remained disconcertingly lit. We had stopped before returning to the highway, to close all the doors and try to find the one left ajar. No luck. So we decided to carry on and hope that the drain on the battery wouldn’t be too strong.

About thirty minutes down the road, Mackenzi noticed an odd flickering of the dashboard. Not the speedometer tremor. Now, the cabin lights and the dashboard seemed to briefly turn off, maybe a flash every few seconds.

Alarmed, she moved to the right hand lane and turned on the hazards. Vanna did not seem to like this at all, and began shutting down completely. First the electronics, then the engine. We barely made it to the end of the off-ramp in Bolton, MA.

Close to 4p, with the sun setting and the chill rising, we had some quick decisions to make. Mackenzi called a tow-truck, to bring the ailing Vanna to a garage and then we’d manage her recovery at a distance. I called a nearby UHaul to rent a truck for a one-way trip: all the normal rental car places were closed on Sunday, and this UHaul center closed at 5p. So, we raced time as the tow truck picked up Vanna and dropped her off, Mackenzi paying the heavily bearded trucker while I ran down the road to the UHaul.

A bit after 5p, we were fully loaded in the moving truck, oddly reminiscent of the first Vanna debacle, and ready to continue home. If we drove in one straight shot, we’d arrive around 10p. With stops, maybe midnight.

Thankfully, the remainder of the journey south was uneventful. We stopped at a Whole Foods near Hartford, CT to chow down and catch our breath. Some carolers endured the cold with a very enthusiastic saxophonist to greet us as we arrived. An older woman saw us kissing as we ate and stopped to say, “Ain’t love grand?” with a wink and a smile.

We arrived home a bit before midnight. We spent another hour decompressing from the bouncy UHaul ride, talking with Andre about the series of unfortunate events that delayed our return home.


I awoke on Monday morning at 445a, well before dawn, to prepare for my new rotation on the inpatient pediatric service. With a groan and a sigh, I decided to call out. The past 24hrs had been a big ball of stress and to attend to sick children would have only done myself and them a disservice.

The next two days will be long: short call tomorrow leaving me at the hospital from 6a to 9p, and evening lecture on Wednesday giving me another 15hr day. At least Thursday and Friday will be half days and then on Saturday I will fly down to Jacksonville with Mackenzi to spend a week with my family. Then, we’ll fly out west to spend a week with her folks.

Just grind a bit longer. Face the obstacle in front of me. Address the things that I can and leave the rest out of my mind.

Charge the battery.
Change the tire.
Rent the truck.
Get home.


Emotionally, I am drained but feeling well. Spiritually, I feel a gap from the wackiness of the past few days. Physically, I feel stiff and haven’t moved much the past week. Relationally, I feel connected to the people that worried and fretted over us as we made our slow way down to PA.

Emotional – 4/5
Spiritual – 2/5
Physical – 2/5
Relational – 4/5

Total – 12/20
3wk running total – 37/60


Long Form Sundays

On Death Podcast

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