Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Arby’s Intermezzo: Not Quite Games 58 and 59

Ten days after Bonnie and I had left Southwestern Virginia for my swing through Northern Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and even New York, we returned to the Blue Ridge region for two more games, each exceedingly important in its own way.  The game at Pulaski would provide my only experience in the Appalachian (Short Season A) League, and Salem would offer the opportunity to explore the recognition of former major leaguer and major league manager Art Howe, a friend and former parishioner of my colleague Don Musser who had introduced me to Art following a Pirates' victory over the Cubs in 1977.  While Art had begun his professional career in Salem, I had connected with him in multiple major league parks--in Atlanta, Oakland, and Los Angeles--where I had sung the national anthem.  In addition, I was also encouraged by the chance to see a game columnist Dan Casey, a columnist for the Roanoke Times who, anticipating my appearance in the region, had written a Sunday feature about my anthem tour.    
Arby's view from the earlier RV park near Lynchburg.
During our earlier stay near Lynchburg, we had docked Arby in the most idyllic RV site that we had found.  Nestled between trees and overlooking a lake, Arby had relaxed for a couple of days—one a rare day when we neither had a game performance nor a drive of several hours to a new city.  So we took advantage of a chance to explore nearby Appomattox Courthouse where we toured the National Historical Park, the site of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to U.S. Grant.  The theme of the exhibits and presentations is neither the conquest by the Union forces nor the defeat of the Confederate army, but the reunion of the nation. 

The McLean house at Appomattox Courthouse where Lee surrendered to Grant.
For our return to Southwestern Virginia, Bonnie secured an unbeatable rate at the boutique Craddock Terry Hotel rather than trying to recapture the serenity of our earlier experience in the RV park.  Located within a right fielder’s throw from the James River, the hotel is an artsy conversion of a former shoe factory.  Our room retained distinct features of the architectural integrity of the building while enjoying stylish upgrades and furnishings: the ceiling seemed as tall as the Green Monster (Salem, of course, is the Red Sox’ A-level farm team), the drapes rivaled the size of some infield tarps, and a walk-in shower and bathroom almost as big as a home-team dugout.  Decorated with art and artifacts relating to its stylish history, the hotel delivered continental breakfast to our room in pristine shoeshine boxes.

After two restful nights for us in the hotel and two most peaceful, unoccupied nights for Arby at the curb, we reboarded Arby and headed east along highway 460 through Appomattox.  Then reversing the route of Lee’s retreat, we aimed toward Petersburg with the afternoon's goal of reaching Norfolk.  There I was scheduled for a five o'clock test of my anthem rendition on the Tides’ sound system, which had been described as suffering significant delay.   To make sure that we could arrive in the Tidewater area around mid-afternoon, Arby needed fuel.  Recalling which of the service stations in Appomattox offered the lowest price, we stopped for gas, pumping 59 gallons for under $200, barely--$197.43.  But shortly after pulling back onto the highway and nearing the little community of Evergreen, Arby began to complain.  The dashboard warning light flashed: SERVICE ENGINE SOON. 
OK, I thought.  We should be able to get the Chevy 454 engine serviced in about twenty-four hours in Salisbury, Maryland, if not in Norfolk later that afternoon during my rehearsal at the ballpark.  If all went well, we could get to the Tidewater area by two or three o'clock; and if no attention could be given to Arby then, we could call ahead to Salisbury, Maryland, where I would sing for the Delmarva Shorebirds in a late morning start the following day. To make the schedule work, we had calculated that we could leave the Norfolk game after the fifth inning, drive across and through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel to the Delmarva peninsula, and stop in Salisbury for the evening.

But the biggest problem with our tight plan was Arby’s distress, indicated by the persistent warning on the display panel even as we eased through the little community with the hopeful name of Prospect.  Watching the incessant omen refuse to fade, we pressed on toward Farmville and passed its exits.  Then belch, burp, spasm:  Arby clanked as though something had fallen off the front end near the engine, then trailed under the passenger’s side.  Immediately, I pulled over, got out, looked under the engine, and scanned our trail for metal debris.  No damage was apparent, but Arby heaved.  It was 11:02. I was due in Norfolk by 5. 

As members of Good Sam RV Club and AAA, Bonnie phoned both assistance services, and found that Good Sam could offer little more than information that we could access via the iPad.  By contrast, although the AAA dispatcher had trouble identifying our precise location, she was able to contact an approved automotive shop in Farmville, describe our plight, and learn that we could be serviced that afternoon.  I remained hopeful, even when I learned that the tow would not arrive until 1.  Meanwhile, I set out warning flares and orange triangles, turned on the generator to run the coach’s air conditioning, and telephoned the Tides about the difficulty while Bonnie retreated to the bed for a nap. 

Minutes later, my phone buzzed with a call from Lisa Bryant, one of the television reporters for WBOC in Salisbury, Maryland.  She wanted to set up an interview the next morning in conjunction with my singing for the Shorebirds.  Regretfully, I let her know about Arby’s incapacity and the probability of my cancellation for singing at the game.

Shortly after one o'clock, a heavy-duty tow truck crossed the overpass behind us on State Highway 696, turned down the entry ramp to Highway 460, and pulled forward to our position a few feet beyond the merge.   While we disconnected Toad and watched Arby getting hitched to the truck, I realized the likelihood I would be unable to make it to the Norfolk game.  Seeing Arby’s reversed position in relation to a tow, I began to agonize about the uncertainties of repair and delay, or, worse yet, of Arby’s possibly prolonged disablement.  Already on the tour, I had experienced the cancellation of two games: one in Northwest Arkansas because of duplicate scheduling, and almost two weeks earlier a rainout for the Potomac Nationals.  Obviously, I knew that I couldn’t bat 1.000 on the tour; still, I desperately wanted to capitalize on every singing opportunity to reach my goal of 100, a target that permitted less than a ten percent margin of error. 
Initially, the truck towed Arby away from Farmville for several miles before reaching a point where it could make a U-Turn, safely swinging the 29-foot RV back toward the East End Motor Company in Farmville.  When the tow truck driver dropped Arby in the lot, I went inside the shop to describe the problem, only to learn that the mechanics had left for lunch.  

Arby awaits diagnosis and surgery in Farmville.
With little to do, I left my cell phone number with the office manager, Bonnie checked Yelp’s reviews for nearby restaurants, and we hopped in Toad to hustle over for a late lunch at Charley’s Waterfront Café in a restored industrial area along the Appomattox River. 

I worried and wondered as we ordered.  Before our sandwiches arrived, my phone buzzed with good news from East End: Arby’s diagnosis was a bad alternator, an easy repair that could be completed quickly once the right part could be located.  Alas, at 4:30 he called back to report that none of the auto parts stores in Farmville had the correct alternator for Arby’s engine.  He ordered the appropriate alternator from a supply house in Richmond and mechanic anticipated its delivery at dawn the next day. Expecting to complete the replacement by mid-morning, he said that Arby should be ready for the road by noon.

Frustrated by the situation, I phoned the Tides, the Shorebirds, and WBOC-TV with the bad news about being stranded in Farmville.  So prevented from the anticipated games in Norfolk and Salisbury, and separated from Arby for the night, we checked into a Hampton Inn and enjoyed its comfort and security during violent, evening thunderstorms.

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