Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Week the Generator Died 3

Now it's Monday. Last night we were actually warm and comfortable. But we still need to get out and get the generator going and/or get the truck going. Quantum talks me into going to M's to call CK. Once we get an ETA on CK arriving with supplies, Quantum will go out to the road and meet him to drag the stuff back.

We put together a minimal list of what we need. Something that won't tax CK's energy or brain - it is CK after all!  A new battery. (Quant's a little ticked that instead of getting us a new one as he requested on Saturday, RY gave us one that he had around (allegedly charging) and seemingly not up to the job.) A box of wooden matches. (We need them to start the cook stove and the propane heater M lent us. We have about 3 matches left.) A plastic or metal snow skid. (Something like a kid's toy sled, to carry things. Quant saw them in the Dollar Store the other day, right up front and real cheap, but didn't think to buy one. Quantum realizes there's no way he can carry another battery across the local tundra without a sled.) A package of tube socks. (At this point all our socks are soaking wet.) If possible, a bale of hay. The yaks are nearly out, though we have a tiny bit of grain they're still eating. (We've had a deal with RY for quite some time, and have been buying hay from him in advance. At the moment he owes us about $200-500 worth of hay. Why Quant didn't get 5 or more bales when he was last in town is beyond me.)

Quant already has an idea that RY is miffed (the fact that RY didn't check up on us after the cop/ambulance fiasco is a small clue) and figures it'd be easier just dealing with CK. There's a local guy who does taxi service and Quant figures if CK can hire him for the ride it'll be easier than asking RY to drive him. "But if," Quantum says, as I'm heading out, "RY will drive him out, then he can probably grab the bale of hay."

I slog over to M's again. Naturally the phone wants to mess me around and I'm having trouble extracting CK's phone number from it. I finally get through to him and he says he'll call me back in 10 minutes to confirm when he can make it there.

Now lest you think I'm being overly presumptive with RY or CK, understand this: 1) Yes, I realize these are kind favors that you shouldn't ask anyone unless you're desperate. 2) Yes, by now we're desperate. 3) Despite the fact that CK and I don't get along worth a darn, CK and Quantum are basically like brothers. They lived together for more than a decade before Quant and I even met. For that matter, despite the fact that CK and I don't get along well when we live together, we still love each other. I've ferried his ass to Chemo for months on end, and spent long nights at his bedside back when he had leukemia. We're family even if we don't always like it. 4) Over the past few months RY has borrowed a crapload of money from Quantum. In fact I only found out how much it added up to this week. Certainly enough to allow Quant to feel that he could ask for a favor of this nature.

So I hang out with M for a while and wait for CK to call back. He doesn't call back. I call him again and he says, "RY and Sue just got home, I'll call you back." I get a sinking feeling in my stomach again. From the tone of his voice, something is wrong.

Now I should probably say something about Sue. I love her to death but she's challenging. She's in her 70's (I was astonished when I learned that RY her hubby is 6 months younger than my 48!) and rules the place with an iron fist. She's a super-heavy born again Christian (I don't have a problem with Christians - Quantum is even semi-Christian - but she's the wacky fundie kind. Pretty much nobody at her house does anything without her say-so. Which is a problem because her say-so varies to her moods, which are up, down, red and purple. She's in early-mid stage Alzheimers. She MAY also have cancer. So some of the moody shit that happens may be folks reacting to her. Or reacting to the exhaustion that happens with dealing with her every day. Or it may totally have nothing to do with her.

Anyhow. a few minutes later I get a call from RY and he's fuming. "I'm only doing this because I love you like a brother," he says. "Ummm...what are you upset about RY?" Naturally he points to the other night with the cop. I've "embarassed" him somehow. "I swear, RY, he was vomiting, he was sick and yes, he seemed to be passing out. Quantum will swear he wasn't but that's not what I observed. I told you he wouldn't leave the house and we just needed some way of getting heat started."

 He'll meet Quant in an hour with a new battery. Okay fine. "Tell him to bring me my battery back," he says. "Look, RY, I told you, Quant nearly passed out trying to carry that battery over to our place. He doesn't have a way to carry it back, and I'm afraid he'd kill himself if he tried. That's why we want CK to get us a sled." We say a few more things and then he repeats "Tell Quant to bring my battery back."

Wha? "I told you. He can't carry it. It's not happening." Once again I don't think he hears a word I'm saying. No go. Not happening. Quantum is not dragging that thing across the snow without a sled.

I get home, Quantum goes out. An hour or two later Quantum returns. And he's highly ticked. "They went out and got the cheapest-ass battery they could find," he says. "But I told CK to get the right battery for the truck," I say. And seeing that we already know a charge is the problem, and CK does come from a cold weather place, he should know that the teeniest battery isn't going to have the cranking power to get the truck going. On top of that, no sled, no matches, no socks, and worst, no hay. The yaks still have a few crumbs of oats, but they are not happy.

At this point more of the story comes out. Unbeknowst to me, RY has borrowed nearly a thousand dollars from Quantum over the past few months. That doesn't even include the money we've given him towards hay. That may not be a lot of money, but for us it's quite a bit - if we had it we could have fixed the truck, bought a new generator, etc. For RY it's probably even a harder number. Now I really hope it isn't the deal, but I've been in situations before where people borrow money and then pick a fight so they don't have to pay you back.  I think this is why my grandparents became communists. *Giant sigh.* I really don't want to lose a friendship over this garbage.

Monday night the propane runs out in the heater. An entire cannister of gas has lasted us only about 30 hours. So much for the high efficiency boasted of on the packaging. We spend another night huddled together under the blankets, cramped and freezing.

Tuesday. Quantum gets M to give him a ride into town. He buys yet another battery, another canister of propane, a replacement propane heater (just like the one M lent us but smaller and hopefully more efficient) and a few small supplies. Not hay though. He gets a $8 plastic sled to drag the stuff back. Despite CK's avowal that he couldn't find them, the sleds were right in front of the Dollar Store. I somehow doubt CK even tried looking.

Wednesday. Once again we struggle to figure out what to do. Truck, no. Generator, no. Battery, no. Nothing is working.

We have a friend who is an electrician, but...gods, he's a friend we know through RY. And RY recently had a fall out with him. And RY seeems to hate us now. So how do we ask for his number? Naturally we don't know his last name even.

We realize that the other day I'd been talking to a friend and she mentioned Mercury was in retrograde. If you don't know, Mercury is the planet that rules communication and short-term travel. Both of those are screwed for us. According to astrology, when Mercury is in retrograde, those things screw up. We laugh. And shudder.

Thursday. I slog over to M's again and return his propane heater. This time we're going to get a tow truck to jump start our car. Can we afford it? Not really. Do we seem to have a choice? Not really. As I'm waiting at the bottom of M's driveway for the tow guy to come, I hear a woman's voice. "I ran the car off the road," she says. "It skidded on the ice." She's talking to someone on a cell phone. Now I'm not a big woman and I don't know how much strength I'll have to help someone get back on the road, but I feel incumbent to at least try helping. My legs and back are screaming, but I hike up the road, towards the sounds. Funny as heck, it's G, M's wife. He actually makes it down the driveway to her before I do. Well, at least I tried.

The tow truck guy comes. Except he doesn't have a tow truck, just a small pickup. He takes me home. I'm amazed his truck makes it up our road. On the way we see a huge elk bounding through the woods. He stays much longer than I'd thought and keeps trying to help get the truck started. The battery is drained, yes, but he and Quantum also discover that the negative terminal to the battery is cracked - part of the problem. Also something's wrong with the fuel line. And maybe the starter. The bill is only $83. Which is a lot for what we can afford, but totally reasonable for his time. He doesn't have the parts or knowledge to fix the situation but says he'll bring out a friend tomorrow if we wish.

Friday. Well we wish we can get him to bring out a friend to fix our car, but first we need to check our bank balance which we're sure is low. Quantum walks back to M's but M looks busy and can't give him a ride into town to check our balance or do desperately needed shopping. The yaks are now completely out of hay and Yeti spent the night tossing the now empty barrel that held the oats. The local taxi guy doesn't want to drive out. Finally Quantum calls P, the tow guy and offers to pay him to take Quant shopping. Just before dusk Quantum returns with yet more propane and some more supplies. Matches! Yay! Dog and cat crunchies (they were almost out of food too)! Hay! Hurrah! No more ticked off yaks!

Today was Saturday. P the tow guy was supposed to come out with his mechanic buddy around 2, but they never showed. Finally Quantum "remembered" something I'd suggested several days ago that got dismissed.

Or previous truck is a Blazer that's sitting in our driveway. Last May we were driving home and the darn thing threw a wheel. Like the wheel actually FELL off. Something with the front end cracked. But it was the wheel that failed, not the motor. Two days ago Quantum actually tried opening the motor, but the rod that opens the hood was broken. Today however, he tried again. The hood opened. Anything could have gone wrong with the motor by now. The gas in the tank could have been bad. The radiator could have frozen. The engine could have frozen.

But no. The baby started right up! Right now I'm typing thanks to energy powered by it attached to the inverter. Because of that we may be able to get our electrician buddy and the mechanic over tomorrow.

Please, I hope this saga is nearly over.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Week the Generator Died 2

Back at the trailer, Quantum says he'll go to our neighbor M's house and use his phone. That's a half mile or more in the other direction. Again uphill. But at least M should have a phone that works. I crawl under the blankets with the puppies and shiver and wait. 

Shortly before dark, Quantum drags the door open and stands frozen in the doorway. His face is gray and he's shivering and can't seem to move. I ask what's wrong, but he can't even talk. I get him inside, take off his boots and get him under the covers. He's vomiting (he has a sinus problem that makes this not entirely unusual, but it's still scary) he's shivering, he can't seem to get warm. A few times he seems to pass out.

I'm frantic. I go out and find the battery he brought back (it took me a half hour to get him to tell me that he got one) about 50 yards down the driveway. I hook it to the generator (since our last experiments suggest that the other battery just wasn't enough to crank it). No luck. After about twenty minutes of trying to crank it, it finally starts, but the outlet still isn't giving us any power. I haul it into the truck and try starting that. The damn thing is maybe 50 lbs and I can barely lift it.

Now I'm no mechanic, and I don't know a lot about cars. Especially newer cars. My old Harley and my VW I could work on a bit. This piece of junk I'm clueless. Plus I'm phobic about batteries - too many stories of them exploding. I can't figure out which way to put the battery in, and the connection on the positive side isn't going on (it's some Jerry-rigged hoop of copper instead of the usual connector) and then the keys won't work. I finally realize I don't even have the right keys. Quantum rouses long enough to scream at me about where the keys are and what kind of idiot am I that I can't find them. The fact that normally calm Quantum is raving is enough to freak me out, but at least screaming = alive. As it turns out the keys are NOT in the normal place. Meanwhile he goes silent again and I'm terrified he's passed out again. I HAVE to get some heat going for him. Did I mention the truck also has some weird "start button" instead of cranking via the key? In the 7 months we've owned the piece of junk I've only driven it once and am having trouble gettign it started.

It's probably only about 7 or 8 by now, but it's dark and the quarter moon is shining. I'm really scared because it seems like Quantum is going in and out of consciousness. Later he'll say he just didn't want to talk to me anymore, and was tired and wanted to be left alone so he stopped talking to me. I still have my doubts. 

I can't find a good flashlight (I'd need a flashlight to find one) but I set off across the fields to M's place. It's freezing cold, but now I've got adrenaline on my side. I make it up there and call RY, completely frantic. "I can't figure out how to get the truck going, it won't crank over. Quantum's vomiting and going in and out of consciousness. I need to get some heat goiing."

RY says he can't do much but he'll send out the snow patrol. (He's a fireman, btw). I tell him we don't need the cops, we just need some way of making heat happen. I ask him to help diagnose the truck problem and he suggests its a bad battery connection. I tell him please don't send out the cops but he isn't listening anymore. "Well that's dangerous," he says regarding the potential that Quant is going in and out of consciousness. I know Quantum isn't going to want to leave the trailer. We have two yaks, two cats and two dogs to take care of. RY doesn't seem to hear. I tell him, "look I just need help jumping the truck, then we can have heat." Finally I beg him to at least give me an hour. "If I can get the truck started I can hook up the internet and I'll let you know we're okay."

As I'm leaving, M drags me into the garage and hands me a box. "It's a propane heater," he says. "I just bought it. You got propane at home?" He helps me strap the box around my back with a bit of string. At least it's light. Meanwhile I'm losing precious time from how long I told RY I'd be back. I head for home. the rigged harness holding the box last for about 5 minutes then proceed to unwind and trip me. All the while I'm conjuring visions of hungry cougars lurking in the brush.

Back home, Quantum is semi-conscious and completely pissy.  "I can't get the connections on the battery right," I tell him, after making another attempt. "Either help me or RY will be here with the cops any minute." Quant doesn't want to help and eventually I give up trying to start the truck. He won't even try hooking up the propane heater, he just wants to sleep.

Sure enough the cops arrive. From what Quant tells me later, it's the one cop in town that everyone hates and nobody can deal with. (The others are pretty cool.) The dogs take an instant dislike and are barking and lunging at him. Don't ask me why, my dogs love just about everybody, but not this guy. I'm scared he's going to shoot them. Quantum unbundles from the blankets, finds his boots and goes outside to talk to said dickhead. RY is also outside but for some reason won't come to the door.

Well not only are they completely useless, but the Hum-V the cop is driving is 24 volt and can't jump the truck. Meanwhile they have a freaking ambulance down at the bottom of the road and a heli-vac on standby. What part of "all I need is to get the heater going" are people not getting? Quantum comes back in, they go away and Quant is ripping mad.

About 8 the next morning there's a banging on the door and it's M from next door. He's worried about us all night and he's here to set up the propane heater. He's a complete godsend. For the first time in two days we have warmth. It's Sunday, so everything in town is closed, and we can't do much about anything. Tomorrow we'll try to get a new battery since the one RY sent over didn't work. We try messing with the wiring on the generator, but that goes nowhere. We find a couple of board games in CK's old trailer and play Cat-opoly for the rest of the day, Quantum plays for himself and the dogs, I play for me and the cats. The dogs seem to be winning by the time it's dark.

The Week the Generator Died

When you're grateful that it's 41 degrees indoors, things are probably not good.

To get what we're dealing with, you probably need to know a few things.

Heat: As of the beginning of this madness we were heating the trailer with a small electric parabolic infrared heater. It's small, but it does the job.

Electric Power: We've been using a series of small 800 watt generators. They usually last about 4-6 weeks or so.  We've been through about a dozen in the past year. We paid for at least 4 of them. The rest have been under warranty. Thank goodness for that, because they are crappy as heck. The one we were using before this disaster was only a few weeks old. Most folks probably use them for camping trips, occasional field work with power tools. Don't ask me how this company stays in business. To get a new/replacement generator we need to drive 100 miles round trip to Pueblo.

Sleeping Space: Right now I sleep on the couch, while Quantum sleeps on a small twin or smaller futon-like mattress next to the couch. The dogs sleep on either the couch or mattress with us, generally on top of our legs. Much as Quantum and I would love to share a bed there just isn't enough space on either. Hey at least we can hold hands, which beats the last trailer we had.

Housing: It's a 70s or so RV, about 25 ft long. The previous owner had dreams that he was an electrician and rewired the place. Thus many of our problems. There are bare wires all over the place running to nowhere. Patently unsafe to connect electricity to. Presently the toilet doesn't work, the stove is running out of propane

Contact With the Outside World: TV and Internet/Computer. It's a half hour (at least) walk to cellphone service. Assuming the phone is charged.

Transport: A rather whiney F-250 pickup that RY sold us about 6 months ago. Perenially crappy in mud or snow. Has a problem starting in cold weather.

Nearest Road: 2 1/2 miles mostly uphill and across nasty terrain just to reach the main road. 10 miles to town from there. We can also walk 1/2 mile across our neighbor's land to reach the road, which shaves about 3 miles off that, but that's WALKING, and no car at the end of it.

Okay so it's Thursday the 2nd. We're contemplating a happy day tomorrow as it'll be Zen (the puppy)'s 3rd birthday. We plan a puppy "cake" with beef jerky "candles". Quantum goes to town for supplies, as we're expecting a storm. RY is supposed to come out at 3 to bring us a water shipment, since we're low. We also have a generator (we'll call it Gen2) in the trailer that RY sold us when he sold us the trailer we're presently living in. Charged us an extra $200 and he swears it works. The problem is that it doesn't work with the present electrics in the trailer. Some maniac rewired the trailer and there are bare wires all over the place. We have no choice but to disconnect Gen2 from the trailer wiring or risk a housefire - ANOTHER ONE - and that's somewhere we don't want to go. But we know that our "usual" generator is probably going to crap out soon, and until we get a chance to drive up all the way to replace it, that's our backup.

So here we are, planning to meet with RY and have him tell us how to fix the wiring into the "new" generator (Gen 2). Well RY shows up 2 hours early, claiming he didn't want to risk the weather getting worse. Quantum isn't home yet. RY tells me that Quant had a problem with the battery. I know rewiring the generator (Gen2)  is one of the major priorities, so I quiz RY on this and he draws out a basic schematic, and I try to follow the whole thing. Did I mention I don't know crap about electrics? Plug the plug into the outlet is about the best of my knowledge.

Quantum makes it home, grumbling that RY is early. But we've got a few supplies, all should be good, right? He wanted to go buy a new battery, but he cut his visit to town short because RY was in a hurry.

10:30 that night, Quant is sleeping and I'm messing around on the computer. The generator runs out of gas. Quantum wakes off, rather ticked off that I didn't wake him up to fill the generator. The darn thing won't start. We wait a half hour. It starts getting pretty cold. I cross my fingers and hope and go out, and fortunately the darn thing starts right up. Sadly it's the beginning of the end.

Friday morning seems pretty good. I'm doing some of my writing, Quantum's doing whatever Quantum does. It's been snowing, so we're taking a snow day. We'll try messing with Gen2 when it stops blowing. Around noon the generator craps out. This time it's for real.

I go out and try to re-wire Gen2. Quantum tries to fix the regular generator with parts from the 4 or so dead ones lying around. We also have an inverter that runs off the battery on the truck, and Quantum tries to get that going. No go anywhere. The truck won't start, the generator won't start, Gen 2 isn't powering the outlet. RY's directions are wrong.

We climb onto the roof of the trailer and try to call RY to confirm the wiring info. No luck, we get through to him but the connection is breaking up. "I think the batteries on the cell are going," Quantum says as I take off to walk the half mile or so to cell range.

Uphill. In the snow. By the time I get there I'm ready to collapse. RY goes over the instructions with me again. "Okay, I get that I connect one of the ends of the jumper cables to the solenoid on the generator and another to a ground," I say, "where do the other ends of the jumper cables go?" "To the battery, of course," RY says. "The battery?" I ask, with a sinking feeling in my gut. RY makes a noise that translates as, "what are you, stupid?" "Okay," I say, groaning. "I hope the battery has enough juice."

Of course it doesn't. Almost. Just at dark, it cranks over and starts and we make rejoicing noises and plug in the extension cord to our new buddy Gen2. Nothing happens. The outlet isn't working somehow.

Night falls, and we still have no electric and no heat. We cuddle together, us and the dogs on the tiny pallet that Quantum usually sleeps on. It's too cold to stretch out, so we sleep sitting up and cramped as heck. The temperature outside reads about 7 degrees.

Morning comes and we try to figure out what to do. Somehow we didn't freeze to death, so that's good so far. In the middle of the night I've dreamed up different wiring configurations to try with the outlet. No luck, of course. The snow has thankfully stopped, though it was going for most of the night. At least four more inches, maybe six.

We put together a plan. You know how that "best laid plans" work. We'll call RY and ask him to buy us a new battery. CK (our former roommate who now lives with RY) owes us $200. We know he just got his monthly stipend. He can buy us a new battery and that should start the truck so we can run the inverter. That'll give us enough electric to get online and we can look up how to wire the outlet to the generator correctly. Should be easy, right?

Quantum, the master of planning, wants to "make sure we get it right" and runs through every scenario he can think of. Meanwhile time's wasting and we're losing daylight. I finally point out that it's Saturday and will the car parts place even be open to get a battery? This is, after all Hicksville, and the stores close early on weekends.

I trek uphill back to cell range. Yesterday the walk was rough. Today it's worse. I've had to give up on my boots, since they're soaking wet with snow. Now I'm wearing a pair of super heavy rubber galoshes. The blasted things chafe my ankles like mad. And they're heavy.  Every step is work. It's snowing again now. Between exertion and cold, I'm hyperventiating by the time I get to the area by the "Stockdamn pond" (no clue why it's called that, and there's certainly no pond there) where I can get cell reception.

I open the phone. It does the Verizon wakeup thingie and then announces, "Low Battery, powering down." I want to cry.