When everything goes wrong in the best way possible

A few days ago, after arriving back home to Las Vegas, I met up with a friend at Gaetano’s Ristorante in Henderson for dinner. Afterwards, I got back in my truck and drove back to the western suburbs of the Las Vegas Valley where I live. Before heading home, I decided to take a quick stop at the local Target a mile and a half away from my condo to buy some snacks and beverages. I made it there without incident. It was approaching 10 PM and about to close, so I quickly finished shopping and walked out of the building and towards my truck.

Working in law enforcement, especially at a police department, makes you pick up some interesting quirks. Because I was never a sworn patrol officer, I don’t do active duty things like taking off my seat belt early or opening the door before the vehicle is fully stopped. However, there are things I do do, like always sitting at restaurants with my back to a wall and facing the entrance, or never standing directly in front of doors, or checking the waists of peo­ple around me to identify bulges that may be weapons.

Another strange thing I do that is loosely and indirectly tied to law enforcement is always remote starting my vehicle—not for convenience, but for safe­ty. If someone planted an explosive in or on my truck that triggers upon turning on the engine as an attack, the idea is that I will be far enough away that I will not be victimized as severely as I would be if I was sitting inside the cabin. The chance of this actually happening? Pretty much zero. But study­ing crime makes you hyperaware of small things like this.

With my plastic bag in hand, I pulled out my keys and pressed the button on my fob to remote start my pickup truck. I saw the lights flash, but the engine did not whir into action. Confused, I immediately stopped in place, looked around to make sure the coast was clear, then attempted to remote start my truck again. The lights flashed once again indicating that it received the remote start signal, but the engine remained dormant.

From a distance, I swooped down to angle my view so I could see under my truck to make sure there was nobody hiding underneath. Once I concluded it was safe, I unlocked my vehicle, stepped inside, inserted my key into the ignition, and turned. The infotainment system lit up, but nothing happened. I tried a second time, and again, nothing happened.

The third time’s a charm. I tried starting my engine one last time, and my instrument cluster screen lit up long enough for me to be able to see a warning that said my battery was critically low. I navigated through the options on the menu to check my battery status; after jabbing the “scroll down” button several times, I finally got to a screen that showed for a split second that my voltage was only 11.0 before fading to darkness.

My battery was dead.

This was fine. I pay for roadside assistance along with my auto insurance policy. I can get a free jump start and make my way home, then jump it again a second time from home after I have an appointment to get my battery changed. I pulled up my insurance company’s website to put in a roadside as­sis­tance request.

Of course, they don’t have an option to request roadside assistance over phone call, because that would be too easy (either that, or it was too late and there were no customer service rep­re­sen­ta­tives available). You need your username and password to log into the request page, which I forgot and only had in my password manager on my computer. You can log in with your policy number too, but the card I had was from the previous renewal cycle, and apparently my policy number changed for my next semi-annual period that started a few weeks ago, so the previous one was invalid. It took me about 15 minutes to gather all the information I need and put in the request.

The estimated wait time? 118 minutes.

I was not going to sit there waiting in the parking lot of a closed Target for two hours until midnight. Frustrated, I canceled the request and called an Uber to drive me a mile and a half back home. I would deal with this tomorrow. I live in a relatively safe neighborhood, so there would surely be no issues leaving my truck in the parking lot for one night. If anything, my truck should thank me. It’s basically like I’m letting it go camping.

I got back home safely. I let my dinner friend know what had happened, and told him how relieved I was that this had happened when I was so close to home, as opposed to when I was still in Henderson on the opposite side of the Las Vegas Valley. I also rantingly told the story to one of my friends who was visiting South Korea so I could share my torment and make sure she’s not having too much fun vacationing. 🙃

I ended my night by editing food photos, blogging about the restaurant, and winding down by watching some YouTube before bed. Stress level: 0.

The next morning, I started my day at a leisurely pace. I woke up early, got a little bit of work done, went back to sleep for a short nap, then showered. Because it was the daytime, I figured I should probably knock this out all at once instead of doing my two-jump method I had devised the previous night. I called a mobile battery service company that would arrive on-site, deliver a brand new battery, and install it for me on the spot so it’s all resolved and I don’t have to worry about it anymore, all for only US$300.00.

I told them the address of Target and scheduled an appointment with them for 1 PM. I called another Uber and rode my way a mile and a half back to my truck. Upon my approach, I was unsurprised, but still relieved, to find it just as how I had left it the previous night.

Shortly afterwards, the technician arrived. I told him what happened, and he reacted as if it was nothing special—just a regular old day at work. His ex­pres­sion changed when I popped the hood. His outlook on the situation also changed when he took a closer look.

I wish I had taken a photograph before the technician cleaned it all up, but the connectors to my battery looked like something out of an alien horror film. There was a blue growth festering out of the metal and I couldn’t tell whether it was spiny, fuzzy, or both. According to the technician, it was cor­ro­sion that grew on top of corrosion that had grown on top of even more corrosion.

He pulled out his workbag and got to work chipping away at the corrosion and getting everything cleaned up. I sat in the cabin of my truck because it was a little chilly.

As time went on, he started whacking, then hammering, then full-on pounding at the battery. I personally have never swapped out a car battery on my own, but I was still getting suspicious when it sounded like the technician was fighting the battery in a twelve-round boxing match, and losing.

Eventually, he motioned for me to step out of the vehicle. He let me know that the corrosion had gotten so bad that the battery release had effectively gotten welded onto a different part of the vehicle. He had apparently been unable to separate the pieces in order to get the battery out, and he was at­tempting to use increasingly higher force, but he had reached a point where he was concerned he would permanently damage something and decided to tap out.

Instead, he gave me a jump start and told me to drive straight to the dealership service center to get the corrosion repaired. Because he wasn’t able to complete his dispatch order, he opted not to charge me anything, even though I offered to pay him for the jump start.

I called the certified GMC service center nearest to my condo—the AutoNation Buick GMC West Sahara—and miraculously, they had an express service appointment time slot available in an hour. I drove straight there with my jump-started engine and pulled into a service lane. Upon arrival, I made con­tact with a service advisor who popped the hood and sprayed some diagnostic chemical on my battery to confirm that it had apparently been spew­ing acid all over the place. He put in a work order for corrosion repair and a battery replacement, and I also managed to convince him to squeeze in an oil change while they were at it, because my oil life was nearing the single-digit percentages.

When I’m waiting for vehicle service, I usually bring my laptop to get some work done and be efficient with my time. However, I obviously did not ex­pect this whole ordeal to last longer than about half an hour beyond just the battery swap in the parking lot, and I wasn’t planning on anything else go­ing wrong, so I didn’t bring my laptop with me. Maybe that was for the better, because this encouraged me to be offline for a bit, drinking some free coffee while watching sports on TV, taking a look at some of the new pickup trucks on display, chatting with the salesmen about new trends in pickup truck technology, and even getting an opportunity check out the new GMC Hummer EV SUV on the lot.

Two hours later, I paid for all the service done, and the bill was actually a pleasant surprise—dealership service centers are known for aggressive mark-ups, but the price I paid was fairly competitive. I drove back home, thankful that all this had unfolded precisely in this manner.

Sure, it technically isn’t a good thing that my battery decided to paint its surrounding with acid and corrode everything it touched, but I am under the belief that, eventually, vehicles will end up with some kind of issues, regardless of how much preventative maintenance you do. And yes, I understand that it is not statistically accurate to think of it this way, but I’m glad that one line in my “problem quota” was taken up by something as mild as this in such favorable circumstances.

I’m very fortunate that this happened while I was at home in Las Vegas, and not traveling somewhere else. I regularly drive back and forth to California, and on a macro scale, this would have been a much worse situation if I had taken a break at a rest stop in the middle of the Mojave Desert and then broken down there. I also just wrapped up a two-year road trip not too long ago, and I can’t imagine how much of a pain this would have been if I had broken down on some random unpaved trail in Wyoming with no cell signal. Even on a micro scale within Las Vegas, the fact that I broke down at a Tar­get parking lot in a very safe neighborhood was very fortunate, as opposed to somewhere near downtown or on the other side of the Valley.

I’m also very fortunate that this happened on a Saturday when the dealership’s service center was still open (as they are closed on Sundays), and that they had an express appointment slot available so soon that I wouldn’t need to leave my vehicle there overnight until Monday and have to find al­ter­na­tive transportation to my upcoming appointments.

So, if you’re going to have things go wrong… I guess this is how you do it in the best way possible.