Saturday, February 9, 2019

Leaving Las Vegas

The Nightmare Before—And After—Christmas
Chapter 6

The previous chapter is here.  And remember, you can find all the chapters by using the label "Stranded in Vegas."

This day, Saturday, December 29, 2018, has to be considered the worst day of my life. The only exceptions I would make would be for days when a dear family member passed away, those were worse.  But aside from an actual death, this day ranks as the worst.  And remember, a little over two years ago, I had a triple by-pass!

I got up early that Saturday and packed up the car.  As I explained earlier, I take a lot of stuff with me on these trips and by the time I left, I probably had even more stuff to take home than I started with.  It took awhile to pack up, but I was able to check out of the hotel a bit before 11am. And as I explained a few posts back, I also topped off the radiator reservoir with coolant.  I wanted to eat before leaving town, so I headed to one of my favorite Vegas fast food joints, a place called Teriyaki Madness. It's a chain (in fact, they now have locations in L.A.) and I go to one that's sorta on the way out of town (and for some reason, the food tastes better at this location than the others I've tried).

I ordered my usual—a teriyaki beef bowl and a large green salad.  A few minutes after I paid, while I was waiting for my order, the girl came over to me and told me they were out of salad and would I like something else instead.

Out of salad?

How does a restaurant run out of salad?  Before noon on a Saturday?  I said no thanks and got a refund on the salad.  Damn, I really like their salads and one of the reasons I go there is that, in case I don't feel like stopping off at a supermarket when I get back into town after the long drive, I've already had my daily salad requirement.  Recall that I once said that I like to have a salad every day as it's pretty much the only healthy food that I actually enjoy.

I just thought it was bad luck but I didn't realize that it was an omen as to how the rest of the day was going to go.

After eating my disappointing lunch, I headed to the I-15 for the drive home.

Now I better explain the route a little for those of you who have never driven to or from Southern California to Vegas.  Vegas is about 45 miles inland from the CA state line.  Because Californians who are driving into Vegas shouldn't have to wait that extra 45 miles to start gambling, there are actually three casino/hotels right on the state line. When I first started going to Vegas, they actually called the area where these casinos were "Stateline."  But it got too confusing with the "Stateline" that was on the border in the northern part of NV, where Lake Tahoe is.  I think Stateline up there is an actual city or town or something.  So they decided to start calling the state line that I drive through all the time "Primm."  The three hotels there are "Primm Valley Resort," (by far the nicest one), Whiskey Pete's and Buffalo Bill's.

When there's going to be a lot of traffic on the way back to CA, the traffic starts slowing up before you get Primm.  That's because at the state line, the number of lanes is reduced from three to two.  Also, more recently they put a fruit inspection station right near the border (on the CA side) and every car entering CA from NV has to stop.  I could do a 145-part rant about that, but don't get me started.

As I explained in my previous post, I wasn't expecting any kind of traffic this day, I thought I picked the perfect day to go home.  I mean if someone had stayed in Vegas Friday night, why the hell would they go back home to CA on the Saturday with NY's eve just two days away? 

I wasn't on the 15 very long before I started noticing something with the Lexus.  It was the engine temperature.  I saw the needle on the gauge moving up.  And then it moved back down.  It returned to the proper position.  But I don't recall seeing that happen like that before.  It didn't get to the point of being in the red but the instability was worrisome. 

As I was wondering what to do, all of  a sudden traffic came to a halt.  Not quite a total stop, but I was now driving five miles an hour at best.  Well, I noticed a few emergency vehicles up ahead (moving towards the state line along the left shoulder) but it also appeared that my supposition that there wouldn't be any traffic returning to CA this day was way off.

While I was still driving, I decided to call Woody and see if he had any sage advice.  But when I called, he didn't answer, all I could do was leave a message.  I was having great doubts about  my ability to make it home.  So I decided to be proactive.  I called the hotel I had just checked out of to see if there was any way they could give me my room back if I needed to turn around.  It was a long shot, I knew.

I called and told them my predicament.  As predicted, the girl said they were completely booked—overbooked in fact.  I pleaded my case.  She said that she needed to talk to her manager, but she wasn't there at the moment (must have been the assistant manager since the manager is a guy).  She said she'd be back soon and she would talk to her and either call me back or have the manager call me back.  I said thanks and hung up.

Note:  At no time during the rest of this trip did I ever hear back from the hotel. Not a peep. That's certainly annoying. However, had they called me back a few minutes later, I would have likely told them that I didn't need the room after all because of my subsequent discussion with Woody.

Woody had called me back while I was talking to the hotel and I had to call him back.  By the time we had connected, I noticed the needle on that temperature gauge was no longer ever going down and kept creeping higher and higher.  It was getting way to close to the red so I actually pulled over to the shoulder of the freeway and just sat there.  That's when I spoke to Woody.

Woody thought he knew exactly what the problem was. He surmised that I just hadn't done the trick of adding coolant then warming up the car to let it empty into the radiator and repeating this enough times for it to take effect.  Since the last time I had gotten the car back from TC the day before, I had added coolant three times.  "It's not enough I guess.  You may have to do it like 10-12 times."  Ugh.  When I had my issue over the summer I didn't have to do it that many times, but it was quite a few times.

Now on the I-15, once you cross over into California, you almost immediately start a really long, really steep climb up the mountain.  They add a traffic lane just for trucks that can't make the climb at the speed limit.  And you frequently see economy cars that can't drive the climb at the speed limit.  Another thing you find is cars pulled over to the side that have overheated trying to make the climb.  Woody was very familiar with the climb.  He said, "You're gonna need to make sure that radiator is full before you make that climb."  Well considering I couldn't even get to the damn border (and this drive was flat) at the moment, that sounded quite logical.

He suggested that I may have to stay in Primm overnight, keeping adding coolant and warming up the engine, and if I did that enough times I'd be able to finish my journey on Sunday.  That sounded like a lousy way to spend a day but it might just work.  The trouble is that even a crummy place like Primm would jack up their hotel rates for this weekend.  And that's assuming they even had rooms available. 

While we were talking, LM was checking online about rooms.  The good news was Whiskey Pete's had rooms available. The bad news was they were charging $150 for the night.  Now I have never paid anywhere near that much for a room in Vegas.  To pay that much for a room in a dump like Whiskey Pete's was unseemly.  But it appeared like it might be the only solution for me.

Of course, that was assuming I could even make it to Whiskey Pete's.  I was stuck on the side of the freeway, a good 10 miles from there, with traffic moving at about 5 miles an hour.  Of course I was currently moving zero miles an hour.  But Woody felt that if I waited for the engine to cool so I could add coolant, I could get there.  Maybe it would take a few stops/refill/starts, but I could make it.

He had another idea.  Rather than do all that, call the AAA and have them tow me to Whiskey Pete's.  Sounded like a good idea.  So I tried that.  Unfortunately, AAA told me that they could only tow me to either a repair shop or a residence. That was their policy.  I told them that Whiskey Pete's was going to be my residence for the night but they wouldn't buy it. 

I suppose I could have had them tow me back to Vegas, to TC's shop. But at this moment, I didn't think I needed the car to be repaired, I thought I just needed to keep adding coolant. Besides, I was well out of the 7-mile range they tow as part of the membership fee.  It would cost a pretty penny to get towed back to Vegas and then I'd be in Vegas without a room for the night.  And if a place in Primm was charging $150 a night, how the hell much would any place in Vegas be charging for the night?  I just needed to get to Whiskey Pete's.

So I just sat there on the side of the freeway, wondering how long I needed to wait to try to open the radiator cap and add more coolant.  Well I didn't just sit there. I had to do something else.  You see while I was waiting, I had developed the pressing urge relief myself.  Yes, my bladder was sending me nasty signals.  And obviously I couldn't reach a Men's Room seeing I was stuck on the side of the road.

Well, I didn't know how long it was gonna take me to get to Whiskey Pete's—or even if I could actually make it there at all.  Of course, off to the side of the 15 there was this vast nothingness.  Just a bunch of brush and tumble weeds.  And I realized I was going have to get out of my car and wander a few yards from the freeway and take a whiz out in the open air, just like the cavemen did.

The trouble with that was, I would have an audience.  I mean, traffic on the freeway was still stop-n-go.  There was just a shitload of cars right there.  A lot of the people in those cars would be able to see a guy wandering into the desert and doing what comes naturally.  I wasn't worried so much about exposing myself as I was just getting busted for public urination.  After all, I had seen a few emergency vehicles in the area.  What if a Highway Patrol car just happened by while I was peeing out in the open?

Well, as it happened, I actually had a possible solution.  I was carrying a "Travel Johnny" for just such emergencies.  I owe one of my blog readers, Cranky, for this life saving device.  Alert readers will recall a story about a trip to Vegas where I got caught in a massive traffic jam and really had to go and was just stuck on the freeway (see here). Cranky left a comment suggesting I travel with the Travel Johnny and even gave me a link for them on Amazon.  I did indeed order a box of them and have traveled with one ever since.  Fortunately I had never had the need to use one—until right now. 

I decided it was time to try one.  I opted for getting out of the car, walking off a few yards away from the highway and using it for relief.  I suppose I could have stayed sitting in my car to use it—that's really what it is designed for—but since I had never used one, I didn't want to risk using it improperly and um, well, staining the inside of my car.  Taking a little walk and using it would hopefully hide what I was doing from passersby.  Not sure if I would actually be able to beat the rap for public urination if caught but I figured I had lessened the chance of getting caught.

Anyway, it worked fine.  Those things can be used multiple times (until they completely fill up) so I took the thing back to my car and stuck it in a safe place in my trunk.  Of course, that made it inaccessible (at least while driving) if I needed it again on the trip but that wasn't concerning me at the moment.  Just getting the car moving again was more of a problem.

Anyway, thanks, Cranky, for the great suggestion.

I dunno how long I was there, on the side of the road, before I tried putting coolant in the car.  Half an hour maybe?  Longer?  But using a rag I was able to get the radiator cap off without burning myself.  Unfortunately, the coolant did bubble up and out of the reservoir when I pulled the cap off.  But it did take a fair amount of coolant.  I was ready to get back on the road, and hopefully make it to Whiskey Pete's. 

But sadly, it didn't take very long for the needle to start reaching the top half of the gauge.  And before I knew it, it was near the red and I had to pull off to the side of freeway yet again.  I think I might have been able to have made it (maybe) if the traffic wasn't so bad.  Certainly that 3-5 MPH pace was not good for a car that was having overheating issues. And so once again, I was just sitting in the car, waiting for the engine to cool down enough for me to add more coolant.

I sat and sat.  Then I looked in the rear view mirror and noticed a vehicle coming up to me with flashing lights (yellow lights, not red).  It pulled up right behind me and a guy got out of it and approached the car from the passenger side.  I could see that the truck he was driving said something like "Freeway Service Patrol."  I had no idea what that was, but the guy asked me what the problem was and I told him.

I said that I was waiting for the engine to cool off so I could add some more coolant.  I told him what Woody had told me about how this car needed to have coolant added a few times before it finally filled up.  He said, "Oh, you mean you have to 'burp' it?"  Woody had never used that term for it but it seemed to fit.  I told him I was just trying to get to Whiskey Pete's for the night.

I popped the hood and he looked around a little bit, then volunteered to add more coolant for me.  He got the coolant out of the trunk and added some, replaced the cap, gave me back the coolant and said, "Well, that should at least get you to Whiskey Pete's."

I thanked him and he took off.  And I started the car up and re-entered the highway.  Unfortunately, the guy was wrong.  That needle climbed and climbed and I could see that I was thisclose  to it getting into the red.  So yes, I had to stop and pull over for a third time.  And by this time I was really close to Whiskey Pete's.  I mean, I could see it from where I was.  I could have easily walked to it.  But I couldn't have driven to it without that needle hitting red.  So I stopped and sat. 

And eventually was able to add more coolant.   And yes, the coolant already in there bubbled out a bit.  I think it also had for the guy who helped me.  I assumed I was just not letting it cool off enough for the coolant to drain as much as it otherwise could have into the radiator and that's why I had to stop so often.  But I was trying to get off the damn freeway and into Whiskey Pete's parking lot.

Anyway, third time's the charm and I reached the exit for Whiskey Pete's.  Fortunately the place is right there, just off the exit, as by the time I got into the parking lot, that damn needle was really, really close to the red.  I didn't even try to find a spot close to the casino.  I parked a good distance away because of the needle getting too high.

And that's where I'm going to leave this chapter, having just pulled into the Whiskey Pete's parking lot.  More to come, of course.  In fact the next chapter can be found here.


  1. Wowzer, what a terrible day. I suppose it could have been could have been raining or snowing. But its too bad that the coolant system was not put under pressure to check for leaks. Car problems suck but your posts are entertaining so we readers are appreciative of your misfortune. (Sorry) Anxious to read more posts and wonder if there was any poker played during your personal hell. Keep on burping!!

  2. Sounds like your engine fan which cools the radiator was not running when you were slowing down.

    1. I suppose that might have been _A_ problem (but dunno) but it wasn't _the_ problem. Thanks for your input, CB.

  3. The whole thing about the radiator fluid makes me wonder why you bought the car in the first place. I don't know that I've ever heard of a problem like this when you had to fill it so many times as kind of a "normal" procedure.

    Can't wait foe the big conclusion(s).

    1. Well, I didn't know about this issue when I got the car. In fact, Woody had the car for at least 10 years before a mechanic told him about it. But that wouldn't have been a deal breaker. It's a great car and this issue really rarely comes up. And if you know about, its simple to deal with it.

      But--spoiler warning--it turned out that this little bug was NOT the reason for my problems this time.

      Wait til you hear what happens next. If I only I could find the time to write it up!

    2. Well no it sounds like you already said it, and you only replaced the gasket instead of the whole thermostat. That's my first point to troubleshoot in overheating issues.

    3. If it is a thermostat you can remove easily you are better off running WITHOUT a thermostat than running with a defective one. So... is this one of those venerable LS400s??? I've thought about buying one of those to see if I am lucky enough to get the last 100,000 miles out of it.

    4. Thanks, TD & Lester. FYI, it wasn't the thermostat. I actually had replaced the thermostat late last summer.

  4. Now that last response is a teaser.

    1. Hmmm...not sure which comment you are referring to, Dale.

  5. I am still waiting for the “ big win , new car” story .

    1. I almost don't have the heart to tell you.....