Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Do we need to call the fire department? February 6, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:18 AM
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“WE NEED TO GET the car out of the garage!” I yell, throwing open the passenger side door as I observe smoke seeping from under the hood. “Do we need to call the fire department?

“I don’t know. Get out and push,” my husband orders after he has turned off the car and then turned the ignition switch back on and then off, realizing his mistake.

And like that I rocket out the door, lock gloved hands onto the hood and push with all my might to get our 1995 Chrysler Concorde out of our attached garage.

Gas fumes hang heavy in the air. In that adrenalin-charged moment, a visual image of the car bursting into flames, igniting the garage and then catching our house afire flashes before my eyes.

I am scared, but not astute enough to realize that I could be placing myself in danger by staying with the car.

Together we manage to get the Concorde out the garage door and parked on the driveway next to the house, although I am screaming, “We need to push it to the end of the driveway away from the house (and other vehicles).”

Randy isn’t listening, mostly because he knows the car isn’t going to explode now. The danger has passed. He lifts the hood. The “smoke” I’d seen wasn’t smoke at all, but vapors from gas hitting a hot engine. However, I knew the danger had been real and a fire could have erupted. That Randy does not deny.

The Chrysler Concorde, photographed several hours after we pushed it from the garage.

The Chrysler Concorde, photographed several hours after we pushed it from the garage.

My automotive machinist husband diagnoses the problem as a leaky fuel line or valve. A stream of gas drips up the driveway, ending in a puddle at the front of the garage. It is less than a cup, probably, but spilled across the flat concrete floor appears to be more.

The car has dripped fuel all the way from the grocery store several miles away where the problem began. It was there that I first sniffed gas and Randy dismissed the odor as coming from another vehicle. He lifted the hood then, claimed not to smell anything unusual. I claimed otherwise. Perhaps his answer was a white lie designed to reassure me.

When we finished grocery shopping and returned to our car, the stench of gas still permeated the interior, intensifying when the engine fired up. We rolled down windows, expecting the gas odor to dissipate. The smell only worsened as we headed toward home. I could taste gasoline. I felt a bit off-kilter, as if the fumes were getting to me.

When we finally turned into the driveway, I relaxed. But then, once inside the garage, I noticed “smoke” rising from beneath the hood and my instincts kicked in.

Get the car. Out of the garage. Now.

NOTE: If my husband was to share this story, he’d likely present a less dramatic version with no fear or threat of fire involved. The car has now been repaired, the problem being a disconnected fuel line. The line was apparently not properly latched into place the last time Randy worked on the vehicle.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An emergency road service ordeal February 5, 2011

IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN a hassle-free situation. That is why we have emergency road service coverage through our auto insurance. It is for times like this—when the car breaks down and you are stranded.

That happened to our eldest daughter Friday evening as she was leaving her St. Paul office for the commute to her Minneapolis home.

When a light came on in her car and when she had difficulty steering, she quickly got off the road and pulled into a convenience store.

Getting a tow truck should have been easy, worry-free, as promised by the insurance company. It was anything but.

A call to the insurance company came with a promise that help was on the way. But, as the minutes ticked by and no tow truck arrived, my daughter called to check on the reason for the delay.

She was told the tow truck driver couldn’t find her, although she was at a busy convenience store just off Interstate 94 and had specified her exact location. The driver, claimed, however, that he couldn’t find her. He was from Columbia Heights, not St. Paul.

So my eldest, by this time frustrated, called a St. Paul towing company.

They were “really nice,” she told me when phoning to update me on her situation.

Well, “Minnesota Nice” soon changed to “Minnesota-Not-So-Nice.” The driver first asked for $90 cash to pay the towing fee.

Who carries $90 cash?

Not my daughter.

Instead, he accepted her credit card, which, for whatever reason, wouldn’t work.

So she asked if he would take a check. He would. She wrote out a check and was already en route to Minneapolis with a friend who had come to her rescue when her cell phone rang.

It was the manager of the towing company saying the firm could not accept her check and would be towing her car back to the convenience store.

What would you do?

Probably exactly what my daughter did. She explained that she was not trying to rip off the towing company, that she had plenty of money in her bank account. It didn’t matter, so she headed back to the convenience store to use the ATM which the towing company rep told her was located there.

She withdrew $90 cash, paid the tow truck driver, ripped up the $90 check in front of him and left, two hours after she first called the insurance company that promised worry-free, drive-and-sign emergency road service.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling