Lazy Lake Days and the Best Worst Place To Have Car Trouble

This post is a couple of weeks delayed, as I’ve been focusing on some volunteer projects since we’ve been home. As I write, I’m about two months removed from the last days of our summer travels. Much like last summer, we finished our trip with a visit with family (my in-laws) at a lake house rental on Lake Keowee in South Carolina.

I might regale you with tales from our annual visits to the lake, but there are few stories to tell, because it’s so damned relaxing. I can usually knock out two or three books in between dips in the lake. It’s the sort of week where you put on your bathing suit in the morning and ask yourself if swimming “counts as a shower.”


Fairly certain the kids jumped off this dock over a thousand times. Uncle Dickie always catches the biggest fish, but our kids bring in the brim by the dozens (no data on how many times they catch the same one).


Does the pontoon boat have wifi? I worked on my tan, and Monica worked on writing a grant.

As our kids have gotten older, we see them less and less as they disappear for hours at a time with their cousins. Whey they’re grown, they’ll remember these carefree days at the lake, swimming and catching fish, with only the sun setting their schedule. We broke up the routine with a day-trip to Saluda, North Carolina, for a little kayaking.


Saluda, NC, is one of those idyllic little towns you can’t believe exists.

When we left the lake, heading home, things got a little interesting. Rather than attempt the marathon drive all the way to St. Petersburg, we decided to make another pitstop in Savannah, GA. Monica had added motivation to stop again, as she was able to set a meeting with a local preservationist (she’s since retaken the helm of St. Petersburg’s preservation non-profit, an organization that she ran a few years back).

As we passed through the outskirts of Greenville, we got on the interstate and the “battery” light lit up on the Westy. That’s weird, I thought. Everything seemed to be running fine. From the passenger seat, Monica Googled our issue. All signs pointed to the alternator. Thank god it’s Friday, I thought. We were in the middle of nowhere and I wondered how far we could make it. What are the chances there’s a German mechanic behind that barn?

We roared down the highway for an hour, the red glow of the battery light burning a hole in my retina. To save power, we turned off the A/C and the radio. Everyone began to sweat in the humid southern morning. We started to see signs of human settlement: a Honda dealer on the outskirts of civilization.

I probably should have gotten off at that exit, I thought.

Then, the gages went dead. The speedometer read ZERO even though we were flying down the highway (as much as the Westy “flies”).

“We need to get off right now,” I said, suddenly crossing two lanes of traffic and taking the next exit. I was losing acceleration. I asked Monica to Google repair shops. Observing a large shopping center, I speculated, “There’s got to be a Goodyear or a Firestone around here.” (After 10 years in the motor oil business, I knew that even if it wasn’t my first choice, a national chain that would probably have 5 techs standing around waiting for work.) As Monica waited for her phone to spit out results, I hung right at the light (because I didn’t want to sacrifice forward motion.)

And… behold! The first business we spotted, a Firestone, on the left!

I made my way to the left turn lane, and as if Moses were clearing traffic for me, the light turned green! I made the left, but found us not at Firestone, but in the parking lot of the Chick Fil-A nextdoor.

In the middle of the lunch rush.

I just needed to make my way around Chick Fil-A’s busy drive-thru and make a quick right into the Firestone. No matter what, you do NOT want to break down IN a Chick Fil-A parking lot during lunch. I made it 2/3 around the building, chanting, “Gonna make it! Gonna make it!” like Steve Martin chained to the wall in The Three Amigos.

Three Amigos

A metaphorical representation of me trying to get the van through through the Chick Fil-A parking lot before it died. 

And, holy Moses, who parted the Red Sea, and parted traffic, and turned the signals green… stopped for a sandwich.

The van died and I coasted to a halt, awkwardly blocking the non-drive-thru lane, staring at the back wall of the Firestone. Almost made it. A normal person might get out and push the van out of traffic, but I have vascular Ehlers-Danlos, so I can’t. Almost immediately, two Good Samaritans pushed us into three vacant parking spaces (the religious metaphors at Chick-Fil-A are like endless manna from the heavens).

Despite their dubious, right wing politics, we know Chick-Fil-A knows how to run a drive through. Moses got his sandwich fast. Soon I was holding battery jumper and limped the Westy into the Firestone.

The question remained, how quickly could we get an alternator delivered and installed on the outskirts of Columbia, South Carolina. The answer is: in about the amount of time it takes to eat lunch, walk across the street to the movie theatre and watch the Lion King. As the credits rolled, my phone buzzed, “Sir, your van is ready.” It was fantastic. You could not plan car trouble any better. The number of things that could have gone wrong and didn’t, is amazing: we could have broken down on the highway and needed a tow. We could have waited all weekend for a part. It could have been something more serious. What are the chances that there would be a movie theatre next door with a kids feature starting just as we finished lunch? Yeah. Call it God, call it karma, call it juju. They were all looking out for us.


Van trouble, one day shy of the end of our trip.


Catching a flick while the van gets fixed.

Our arrival to Savannah was a few hours delayed. Monica flexed her hotel-booking prowess, reminding everyone that I picked the worst hotel of the summer, and she picked the best. We ended up in the Mansion on Forsyth, which is historic and insanely nice. How nice? Well, it had a giant bathtub with double doors above it that opened into the room. And, to our daughter’s satisfaction, ROBES!


I guess this hotel is okay, if you don’t like bedbugs. I’d share pictures of the amazing tub, but Monica was in it the entire time.


While Monica had a breakfast meeting, my room service avocado toast was interrupted by a fire alarm. We didn’t panic. The kids and I calmly took the $13 order of bacon and went outside where we were greeted by two empty bounce houses. From the looks of his face, the boy is worried about my toast.

Our second stop in Savannah was as brief as the first. All that remained was our drive home to St. Pete. I think I touched on the subject of Georgia’s billboards last year. Honestly, I could devote an entire post to the absolute ridiculousness of the billboard situation in Georgia. Here are a few absurdities:

  1. In order to be seen above the trees, some billboards are so high up in the air, you’d need a Cessna to read them.
  2. There are some unintentionally hilarious religious billboards depicting teens who don’t follow Jesus turning into zombies. There’s also one depicting Jesus returning to earth with an army, including helicopters. Because the all-powerful son of god would need a helicopter or two to get the job done. Can we focus-group these ads and see if they’ve saved any souls?
  3. There are SO many. It’s just ugly, Georgia. I’m think I’m going to initiate a policy of not visiting a place I’ve seen on a billboard.


Seriously, what religion is this? Sincere apologies to the websites I stole the top two billboard images from. This is what Georgia looks like for about 300 miles. 

I’m sorry to pick on Georgia, because Florida isn’t really much better with all its Cafe Risqué, Ron Jon’s, and vasectomy doctor ads (don’t laugh – I’m a satisfied client of Dr. Stein). But Florida does have some gaps in the barrage of commerce (see Paines Prairie and the Everlades).

Our new alternator got us back to St. Pete without incident and another summer of family road trips was in the books. Stay tuned in the fall for updates on Monica’s next marathon, more weekend trips, and … we say goodbye to one of our beloved vans.

Follow our Instagram and public Facebook page for updates and pics that don’t make the blog. 

“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Jon’s 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at Monica is a marathoner, baker, freelance grant writer, non-profit consultant, tour guide, and prolific bath taker.

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