Having gone stir crazy stuck at home for 5 months, I embarked on a solo cross country road trip to meet, for the first time, my now 6-month old grandson, Felix. Safety precautions included almost complete isolation during the journey — sleeping in the van, no indoor exposure, one drive-thru meal per day. Not exactly a fun itinerary.
On my second day, I had a minor adventure. Driving I-80 near Joliet IL in dense, high speed traffic, the sky got very dark and my phone blared out an emergency Tornado Warning. Within minutes, I was in heavy wind and rain. Fearing damaging hail or even an active twister, I pulled onto the breakdown lane to shelter under an overpass. My van filled the space between the guard rail and travel lane, so heavy trucks were flying by within a few inches of my face.
The storm got furious, with hurricane force wind gusts so strong that the car was rocking and road gravel was flying through the air and banging into it. After 15 minutes or so the worst was over so I turned the key to get moving again. NOTHING! The electrical system, which had been working perfectly, chose that moment to die. Parked in a dangerous spot, I waited for a few seconds of traffic lull, then quick like a bunny hopped out the driver side, slammed the door, and ran for the safety of the sloped abutment on the other side of the bridge columns.
Having no other options, I pulled out my phone to order some expensive “we got you, suckah” road service, only to find the phone had no signal, which made no sense based on my location. Half expecting any moment to see some hurtling semi-truck clip the van and send it flying down the roadway, I quickly grabbed my long jumper cables out of the back, returned to the safe side of the guard rail, and held out the cables fetchingly to approaching vehicles, hoping against hope that someone would stop to help. Of course, with the rain, the traffic density, and the dangerous location, no one even gave me a glance. After a half hour of this, I thought of pulling up my pants leg and trying a little cheesecake but instead gave up and put down the cables.
Returning to my phone, I eventually tried restarting it. Probably by coincidence, that resulted in some signal so I called 911 and told them that I just needed a jump but was stalled in a dangerous location. The dispatcher said she’d send the police and, after another 30 minutes, an Illinois state trooper pulled up and turned on his lights.
Most police would have stayed comfortably in their cars and radioed for a $150 tow truck, but this gentleman was much more helpful. He offered to jump my car from his and pulled onto the narrow shoulder ahead of the Toyota. Even with my long cables, he didn’t want to back up off the road far enough for them to reach, so he got out and together we pushed the van forward about 10 feet so they could be hooked up. The engine was quickly restarted and I was on my way thanks to his generosity.
Since I didn’t know what part of the electrical system was at issue, I drove another few hours to charge the battery and then parked at a rest area where I could easily get another jump if needed. I turned off the ignition and again couldn’t crank the engine. This pretty much proved battery failure so the next morning, I drove across all of Iowa looking for a Walmart Auto Center that hadn’t closed due to the pandemic, I finally found one in Omaha and in short order my problem was solved.
By the way, I determined that my inability to call was due to cellular network problems caused by the storm. The hurricane force winds continued west and became very destructive, flattening homes and agriculture over a large area. By one account, the storm, known as a derecho, destroyed 40% of the Iowa soybean crop. Get ready for expensive beef!