Srajan writes about his and Pravina’s search for a new home, starting with a visit to north Florida, full of various surprises.
Leaving Hawaii behind, we had come to Florida wondering if it might provide a foothold in America with greater opportunities. Setting up a home&vehicle exchange as we had often done in the past was easily done. Hawaii is always alluring to people especially, as it turned out, during hot and stormy Florida summers.
Following a long flight from Hilo through Honolulu to Atlanta then Daytona Beach, we found our exchange vehicle in the parking lot, the key having been hidden in the wheel well. We had been told a Jeep would be waiting and soon discovered what a Jeep it was. The smell inside was quite strong, a mix of very old car and something else indefinable. Perhaps the farm we thought. Putrification. The carpets were stained and dirty as was the rear storage area. Nonetheless we climbed aboard and then I noticed the odometer reading of 178,581 miles.
Oh boy, I thought, this is going to be fun.
And it was. Jet-lagged, we entered the freeway traffic heading north on I-95 towards Palm Coast. The first thing to notice was that the steering wheel kept pulling hard to the right. I had to keep a firm grip on the wheel to keep it tracking straight ahead. The old Jeep did move us towards our destination although I was far from finding comfort or humor in it. Humor would appear later.
The irony was that we had exchanged a much newer vehicle on our end of the exchange with an odometer reading of 28,000. This dirty old jeep was an insult. However, being a devotee of the notion that everything that is given is a gift in some way and that “acceptance of what is” is the true path of a good Taoist, we navigated onward.
We made it to our exchange home, noticing as we approached all the ‘Trump for President’ signs stuck on a stick in the neighboring lawns. The home was comfy enough with a deck out onto a salt water canal. We then drove to pick up veggies and other supplies at a supermarket and settled in as we adjusted to a new body clock.
The following day we drove the coast road A1A to St. Augustine, an attractive college town (Flagler College) with enchanting tourist offerings, an old fort, and expensive restaurants. By noon though the heat was oppressive so we drove another hour north to Trader Joe’s, our favorite shopping venue whilst on the road. With a wave of exhaustion coming over us we navigated to a very busy freeway and joined the endless streams of huge trucks and speeding vehicles.
After having spent the last 12 years on a little island in the Pacific where 50 miles an hour was speeding, these huge hunks of metal careening down the tarmac were intimidating. Our Jeep kept wanting to go right and my hands were gripping the wheel tightly. A couple of times the Jeep shuddered at high speeds. By the time we arrived ‘home’ fully shuddered, we were ready to take a much needed nap.
As much as I wanted to accept the Jeep situation just as it was, I knew something needed to be done. Contacting by email our exchange partners Stacey and Pierre, now ensconced at our place in Hawaii, I explained our findings about the Jeep. Their response was that they would call their mechanic Henri and have him come take a look at the Jeep. They said the smell was probably because they had recently hauled mulch in the back. Too bad they said that their other car, a Jaguar, was now parked at a nearby airport. Why I thought did we get the Jeep and not the Jag? Or even have each of us rent cars?
Turns out that the mechanic couldn’t come for a few days so how about renting a car a couple of days until it is fixed was suggested? They would pay for two days car rental. Finally we agreed, drove 20 miles to an Enterprise car rental, only to find that they had no vehicles available. We would have to come back the next day which we agreed to do. It was then that I discovered that try as we may we couldn’t open the rear hatch of the Jeep. However, as it was empty we didn’t need to do that urgently, so we drove the coast road home not wanting to endure the freeway traffic.
Now I did say there would be humor in this story so if you are not giggling yet, get ready. I sent an email to Hawaii asking about the jammed rear door, and suggesting that Henri the mechanic could also look at that issue when he shows up to investigate the Jeep. Here’s the response we received from Stacey:
“Hi, the latch has stuck once in the past. Get into the back seat looking at the hatch door. Just to the right of center you’ll see an open little square that has insulation in it. That’s where the lever is that the remote controls. Stick the tip of the umbrella in there and move the lever down. Door should open. Bad design that one can’t open it outside with a key. Henri has a small shop near the airport, he may just want you to drop the car there tomorrow. I’ll call him early.”
Well, I had wondered what that umbrella was for!
You might think if you’ve read this far how trivial it all is. You would be correct. Just another swirling saga for mental engagement. But you do want to know how it turned out, don’t you?
Finally, I emailed a message saying I’d had enough. We wanted the Jeep fixed and/or a replacement vehicle so we could continue our adventure. Long story short (aren’t you glad), we rented a car and dropped the Jeep off at the designated mechanic, Henri. He test-drove it and said it needed an alignment and had some hub bearing issues. Reluctant to keep it on his lot he suggested we take it back to the owner’s home.
“Oh no,” we said in unison, “it is all yours now.”
We happily handed over the keys to the Jeep and drove off in our little Dodge Dart.
Odometer reading of 536 miles.
Now cruising in style we made the turn onto the street leading to our exchange home when I realized that I had left the house key on the Jeep key ring. Big oops! I mentioned this to Pravina who quickly rummaged around in her purse. There was a sudden yet palpable air of suspense in the Dart. Seconds later, with an exclaimed “Aha!” Pravina pulled out the spare key thereby saving the day (or at least a home break-in).
So is Florida our next stopping place on this caravanserai?
So far… get us outta here.
Home exchanging and vacationing is full of surprises. Some surprises are humorous as is the story just related. However, tragedy was to play a part in our time here as the nearby Orlando night club massacre left 49 people slaughtered and many more wounded. Soon after that a two year old toddler was taken by an alligator at a Disney Hotel lake. We, along with everyone else experienced that shock and sadness followed by questions of why and how could this happen? What is wrong with human beings? How can these events happen? Who is to blame?
Yet it was also a time to count one’s blessings and keep the little things in perspective.
Like a wounded Jeep and an inequitable vehicle exchange.
A week now had gone by. We had adjusted to the humidity and heat to some extent, the lack of topography, the frantic pace, and had enjoyed the beautiful long beaches, dolphins dancing in the waves along with us, and visited a beautiful yoga ashram inland.
A week after we dropped off the Jeep for repairs a message came from Hawaii that it was fixed. We could now use it again and since we had to return to a distant airport where we could leave the Jeep and catch the first of our flights, we decided to turn in the rental car and drive the Jeep again.
Upon picking it up Henri told us that it had also needed new brakes as the rotors were worn out. Good thing it was sent for repairs. Once again, we were glad we had decided to stop driving it. Feeling now safe we drove down the road and believe it or not the steering was perfect.
Another ten miles on however, a strong burning smell arose when simultaneously a large truck pulled dangerously alongside with the driver screaming for us to “pull over!” He yelled, “Your brakes are locked and burning!” – as we careened through a traffic light nearly clipping his truck and pulled off the road into the dirt. Cars were now whizzing by as we vacated the Jeep to the smell of burning rubber.
Now what to do? We searched through the glove box for a telephone number of Stacey and Pierre, who were probably sipping mai-tais in Hawaii. Finally amidst 15 years of repair receipts, tax returns, bank statements, and various other slips of paper, we found the registration and a phone number for the owners. Calling and leaving a message we waited in the heat. Finally a call came in from none other than Henri the mechanic. Obviously he had been contacted by the owners and he said nonchalantly that it was “merely the rotors.” Merely the rotors. They tend to burn on these older Jeeps, he said, but just at first; the brakes will get over it.
Yes, but would we?
However, we did wait some time for the brakes to cool and since Henry assured us that it was OK to drive we headed the last five miles back to home base without incident.
We awoke Monday morning and decided to do a test run to the Daytona airport, in part to time the trip since we had a very early morning departure in three day’s time. We also wanted to make sure the Jeep would make it and explore a bit around Daytona, renowned for it’s Nascar races at the Daytona International Speedway. We cruised along smoothly with the racing freeway traffic and made our exit onto West International Speedway Avenue which led us to the airport. It timed out at 45 minutes so we knew how long we had to give to reach the airport in time to park and check-in.
We then drove a few miles further towards the beach. It was then that we noticed the burning smell again and the Jeep wasn’t moving forward as it should. We slowed down to a crawl looking for a place to pull over. Remember now we are driving on the International Speedway Avenue and people drive fast here. Finally we made it to a side street and pulled in next to a motorcycle repair shop (how convenient). The Jeep was hardly moving and making not good noises. Having recently asked Stacey for her insurance information during one of our emails I first called Henri explaining our situation and then Stacey’s insurance company, Geico. After a long discussion the Geico representative said she would have to contact the actual owner of the vehicle, Stacey now in Hawaii. It was of course 5 AM in Hawaii and we would have to wait at least a few hours.
I decided not to wait. First, I called Enterprise car rental at the Daytona airport and arranged for a three-day rental car. I then explained the situation to the mechanic at the repair shop who kindly agreed to do a little test drive. He came back and said the brakes were sticking (we knew that) and thought it might be a caliper problem which confirmed what Henri had said earlier. When we asked if it was safe to drive, he said,”Wait a while for the brakes to cool and then drive very slowly (on the international speedway) and if you need to shift into neutral do so and don’t use your brakes any more than you have to. It is only two miles to the airport from here and you should be able to make it.”
And that’s what we did, dodging traffic slowly to change lanes, and arriving without incident. We then parked the Jeep in the airport’s long term parking, and after picking up a Toyota Corrola rental car with 5,672 miles on the odometer we drove back up the coast road to our home exchange for our final three days in Florida.
This last stage of the saga was the final straw and we composed a long message to Stacey explain how the Jeep had dominated our time here in Florida. She finally seemed to empathize, apologized, and agreed to pay for any car rental bills that we had incurred.
Later that evening we opened a bottle of French wine and saluted the end of the Jeep saga.
So that is our Florida summer vacation, some fun, some not fun. In a couple of days we’ll head out through the drooping beards of the moss-laden trees; we call them the old sadhus. We’ll remember the pelican’s ballet and the dolphin’s grace. We’ll not forget dancing from AC to AC and shade to shade with a heat index of 105 and the boiling clouds at the yoga center.
We’ll laugh as we remember how easy it was to turn a ‘TRUMP, make America great again’ sign into a ‘RUMI, make America great again’ sign.
(The full moon made me do it…)
We’ll drive the beach route past empty beaches and a waveless Atlantic.
Our trust in people was dampened but we reminded each other of Osho’s beautiful story of how a beggar could not steal his trust. (Osho and a Professional Beggar)
We’ll keep our trust like a tender rose tucked in the heart as we fly back to our Hawaii island home.
We had come to northeast Florida to see if it might be an area to move to since our Hawaii house was now for sale. It was clear very early that Florida is not for us. But it was a vehicle exchange that we will not soon forget!