The trip from the gas place to the town with mechanic in it is about half an hour. A lot of that is the hilly pass area, but I figured I would be ok on it as I'd been ok on the way down.
I geared down when I needed to, pulled into passing zone spots when they showed up, watched my temperature gauge and, again, traffic worked with me, and soon enough I was over the pass. Phew. GPS said there were just about 15 minutes til town. Which would have been great, except things were rattling.
Or something. I don't even really remember what was going on except I was terrified. I *knew* something was wrong, I knew it with every inch of my body, but there was nothing I could do but try to keep going. I hoped and prayed and knocked on wood that the van would be ok... just get me to town, just get me to town, but never before have I felt that much LEGITIMATE terror in my life. There wasn't even a shoulder I could have pulled over onto, but the van was not feeling good and maybe just maybe the engine was starting to smell like burning... maybe?
I did my own version of rocking back and forth... sang along to the music I had cranked up as loud as I could, and pretended everything was normal and ok and watched the GPS count down the minutes til I got to town... please just get me there, please just get me there, please just get me there, BAD NOISE! and then she did start to wobble.
I don't remember the noise itself, just that right on the edge of town (as in I just finally saw buildings) something went and the van started to wobble and I had very little control over the wheel. Foot off of the gas, thank GOD there is finally shoulders, and I immediately pulled over, off the road (as I said, this was the first time I would have even been able to do this since I'd left the gas station), blinkers on and before I got out to see what was going on, I checked my side mirror for traffic and saw my wheel.
As in, my wheel sticking out. Where wheels aren't supposed to be.
Again, adrenaline pumping, I grabbed my cell to call for a tow, so very very grateful I had cell service again, and that I'd made it to civilization. I grabbed my cell, and looked at the back, driver's side wheel, and not only was it nearly all the way out of the wheel well... but now there was smoke. There was smoke! MY VAN WAS SMOKING! Shit.
I grabbed my purse (brain figured I'd need that, but wanted away from the smoking fire vehicle), ran across the road (looked both ways still) and there was some kind of, I don't even know, motor shop or something and someone was outside and I said to him "can you help? my van wheel is on fire and it's scaring the shit out of me!"
Yes, that's how eloquent I was. See, I rarely swear here, but I pretty much never swear in public, but I was really really scared and that was the most accurate thing I could find to say to this person. Help. I'm really scared. Fire = bad. Help.
I pointed, and he ran inside, and then there were two of them, with a fire extinguisher and the shop guy said "he's a firefighter" and I just kind of stood there numbly holding my phone while they ran TOWARDS the now flaming back wheel, and then ran back because that fire extinguisher didn't work or something and I said "is this a nine one one call?" because, really, I had no idea what I should be doing, I just wanted away from the bad, unsafe van. And he said yeah, so I dialed 911 (first time for everything) and reported that my van was on fire and they said they'd send help and then the line went dead and I don't know if that's what's supposed to happen or the line just died or what but then the guys had sprayed down the flames and the tire had exploded from the heat and then cars and trucks showed up a few minutes later and men just piled out of them and I realized that in a small town like this they would all be just volunteers... called out from their normal jobs to deal with this emergency. And I felt very humbled.
The fire truck showed up too... again, just regular guys in regular outfits and the young man came over and politely asked if I could open the back door so they could make sure the fire hadn't spread and to be honest I didn't care. I didn't care about my stuff, or anything, I was just so grateful I was ok, and I didn't want to walk back towards the van, but I did and I unlocked the doors and walked away again and I watched as the firemen all worked on making sure my van wasn't still on fire anywhere.
And you know how you can *know* what someone does but really not understand it until you see it? Well, firefighters. My van was on fire. I was terrified. And I ran away from it. The firefighters? Ran towards it. TOWARDS THE FIRE. Towards the danger. They ran right towards it. I'd *known* this is what they do but to see it, to feel the danger and see them running into it to make it better, well that impacted my life immensely... and is something I'll never forget. Thank you firefighters for running towards what the rest of us run away from.
The young man came over to where I was standing and told me that they'd tried really hard to not ruin any of my stuff and that they were certain the fire hadn't spread inside, but that they'd been worried as it was near the gas tank.
I held back the tears. Didn't have enough thank yous to give, because they'd looked out for my stuff? Are you kidding me? I didn't care. Didn't expect anything to survive. Expected an explosion to take out everything, for there to have been a charred mess... I didn't care about my stuff, I was just thankful I was ok and un-injured, really.
And then just as suddenly they all got back in their vehicles and drove away. Just like that. No one came and talked to me, they just went back to their lives. I waved a thank you at the trooper who'd been directing traffic and then I sat myself down on the side of the road next to my poor, wounded, broken van.
I texted Jason "I need a ride home."
And then I called AAA.
"My van caught on fire and is not driveable. I need a tow to the mechanic."