a series of failures and mistakes
Tuesday, December 28 2021
location: 800 feet west of Woodworth Lake, Fulton County, NY
This morning I told my boss Alex that I was snowed in and would have to be working remotely from the cabin. But then I couldn't get on the office VPN and, importantly, everyone else working remotely was getting on just fine. So there was something about the Moxee hotspot I was using that was thwarting my ability to do one of the main things I'd gotten it for: to allow me to work from the cabin. That wouldn't've been a problem, but there was another problematic tax import to do this week, and I needed to be able to get the right files and perhaps to run an office computer remotely via Remote Desktop. This flung me into a renewed frenzy of driveway de-icing. Fortunately, it was light outside so I could see what I was doing. But everything else was working against me, including the fact that all I'd had for breakfast was coffee.
The snow shovel was useless for removing the ice from the driveway, so instead I used the splitting maul. Its blunt end had worked great for breaking up the ice on the front steps, but that was partly because the surfaces beneath the ice were somewhat flexible. This wasn't really true of the surface of the driveway, so all the blunt end of the maul did was leave craters. This would help with traction, but not as much as thin cuts, which I could make with the sharp end of the maul. Encountering so much gravel couldn't've been good for the maul's sharpness. But sharpness isn't all that important for splitting wood. I found that with low-angle glancing blows, I could occasionally remove playing-card-sized patches of ice all the way down to the gravel beneath. But obviously it would take a long time to produce any real tracks to drive in. I'd work for awhile and then get totally winded in a way that suggested I was burning fat reserves due to the fact that I hadn't eaten anything yet. I went into the cabin to find something quick, simple, and highly-caloric to eat, and all I could really find in that category was halvah. I didn't really have a true appetite, so complete was my focus on de-icing the driveway, but I knew I had to eat something or I would probably collapse.
Meanwhile the "chuckleheaded" solar installers in the basement finally managed to get power from the battery to flow into the cabin, making it possible, for the first time, for things like the boiler and refrigerator to run while the generator was off. The former Generac employee told me he'd gotten everything working, and by the early afternoon he and his one colleague (they'd come out in just one vehicle) were packed up and had left. It wasn't long after that that the sad-chirp beeping began in the inverter. When this happened, power refused to flow. I'd reset he inverter and the power would come back on. But then eventually the chirping would begin again. It was an "arc-fault" error that refused to self-correct, and the manual suggested it might be related to a connection or wiring problem. That was all I needed today: another fountain of technological unreliability. Eventually I found a way to uncheck a setting next to "arc fault" in a configuration page on the inverter's screen-based GUI interface, and after that source of trouble seemed to go away.
I'd take little breaks to eat some halvah or check in on Neville and then I'd go back outside and do some more picking at the ice. After I had some basic tracks etched into the driveway, I'd get in the Bolt and try to climb the hill. Initially I wouldn't even make it up to the slight flattening in the slope even with a running start (and running starts weren't all that good given that I'd done little work on the skating rink covering the relatively flatness west of the cabin). But over time the roadway improved and I'd make it higher and higher up the hill. Clearly, though, if I wanted to get out today, I'd need to take advantage of everything in my arsenal. So I broke open a bag of supposedly "salt-free" icemelt and soon had used the whole bag sprinkling the tracks all the way up to the top of the hill. This worked quickly and gave me some hope. But all I could do was make it a little way past the first gentling in the slope. Beyond that, the slope steepened just before the summit. But I was down to only about twenty feet of roadway I had to somehow make driveable. So I tried something I'd attempted last night: putting down a piece of plywood and scraps of leftover larch siding. This worked surprisingly badly, with the wood often being flung some distance back behind the car. Sometimes, though, it would help just enough to get the car a little higher on the hill. So then I tried cutting down saplings (mostly of striped maple). Their somewhat-irregular shape made them more likely to stay in place. But they didn't provide a very large surface for the tires to bite on. But by now I was within ten feet of the driveway's summit. If I could get up there, it would be nearly all downhill all the way to, well, the Thruway.
But then on one of my many returns to the bottom of the hill in hopes of charging up it, I somehow backed into a slick spot that then somehow got my nose into the pile of snow left by Nate the Snowplow Guy along the edge of the woods west of the cabin. Trying to extricate myself only succeeded in bogging me down further. I tried to dig away the snow with a shovel, but it seemed impossible. All of this might've been doable had I been approaching this problem fresh after eating a proper meal. But I was now physically weak and psychologically frayed. So I turned to my phone and called a towing company. This was, I believe, only third time in my life I'd called a towing company for a vehicle I'd been driving. (The first time was back in early 1995 when my Punch Buggy Green was debilitated by failing fan bearings south of Oberlin. At the time I had no credit cards or cash and had to tell the irate tow truck guy I would mail him a check, which I did. The second time was after losing the keys to my Dodge Dart at a UVA party on Halloween, 1996.) I called KC Towing, the first towing company listed by Google for Gloversville, even though they had four stars and I could've called one with five stars. Perhaps I figured they'd try harder. When the guy on the other end of the line quoted a figure of $250, I balked, saying I was hoping to pay something like $150. So we negotiated a price of $200 to get pulled out and towed to the top of the hill. The guy on the phone said it would be about 40 minutes, so I spent all of that time straightening up the cabin and figuring out a few things with our problematic solar power installation (including the madness regarding "arc faults").
The guy driving the tow truck called on his way out to ask if I was really up that road where all he could see was a pair of tracks. I said that I was, but that it wasn't much further. The tow truck was big and had wide tires and was driven by a skinny young man who looked like he might still be in high school. He quickly had my car winched out of it snow bank, and then I could drive it into position for him to back up and grab its front wheels for a tow to my intended destination. I said it would be best if he took me out to Woodworth Lake Road, and so he ended up taking me all the way to the driveway up to the antenna tower. I rode in the Bolt itself with Neville, having loaded everything I needed into it and locked up the cabin.
The young tow truck driver had to call in my credit card details to the main office. After some unheard chatting with the main office, he told me that now the main office wanted me to pay $250 because, they claimed, the scope of the call had changed, and that towing my car hadn't been part of the arrangement. It very much had been, but, as you know, I was psychically weak at this point. Had I been in an interrogation room, I would've signed my life away just to be able to lie down and not deal with anything. So I said sure, $250. But I would be mad at myself the rest of the day for this concession. I would even consider leaving a bad Yelp review for KC Towing, but then another part of my internal dialog would say, "let it go."
On the drive out to Route 309, I noticed that now there were a number of lights shining from the dashboard that hadn't been shining before. One suggested the antilock braking system (ABS) was no longer functional, and another indicated that perhaps there was a problem with the parking brake. Had that skinny little tow-truck driver managed to break something when giving me my tow? I fretted about this all the way to Electrify America charging station outside the Walmart in Albany, where I had to go since all those attempts to climb the hill had made it so I no longer had enough electricity to drive home. Fortunately, for some reason electricity was free today.
I didn't have to charge for long to get the juice I needed. As I did so, I researched the new lights glowing on my dashboard. Someone said that after a tow their ABS system no longer worked, likely because a grappling hook had torn out a wire or destroyed a sensor directly. I climbed under the back of the car where the winch hook had gone and looked for damage, but couldn't find any.
Evidently this was because there was no actual damage. When I finally started the car to drive back to Hurley, all those warning lights had cleared. Evidently something about the tow had caused it to suspect a problem, but it was smart enough to eventually realize that there was no problem.
I'd paired my phone with the car's bluetooth, and this allowed me to receive two calls on the drive home. The first was with Alex, who was wondering where I was and wanted to talk about a tricky tax build. The other was my brother Don, who wanted to talk about several books he'd just bought and a remote-control car Joy Tarder had given him for Christmas.
I knew when I got home that Gretchen would want to know if I'd gone through out insurance to get a free tow, which of course I hadn't. I quickly explained how worn down I'd been and how impossible that all would've been and that I didn't now have the energy for a stupid argument about it. "I made some mistakes today," I agreed later, "but none of them were life-changing." Gretchen had seen a message about getting a tow and decided to make a soup that I might like. It was a complicated soup that evidently took hours to prepare, and while that was waiting, she offered me some toasted vegan pizza bites. They weren't great, but soon they're transformed my mental state from "harried starving animal" to "upper middle class white man glad to be home from his vacation cabin." The soup, by the way, was some sort of South American thing with beans and tomatoes and lots of lime juice. Even Gretchen admitted it had too much lime juice, which was enough to make me involuntarily cringe with every spoonful. It was alright, but nowhere near as good as the minestrone Gretchen had made the other day.
Meanwhile, Powerful has finally gotten a diagnosis for his anemia. It turns out he somehow contracted the parvo virus, a disease that (among other things) attacks blood cells. Parvo is treatable, thankfully, though it will require more hospitalization. Fortunately for Powerful, this can be done via sessions at the Kingston hospital, an inconvenience similar to kidney dialysis (though it will supposedly only require five visits).
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