Transportation Troubles  

Posted by Brock Booher

I noticed the small orange fuel light when I dropped my daughter off at school, but I couldn’t remember if it was on when I left the house. My son had been driving the truck for the past three days. Did he see the light come on? Why didn’t he put gas in it? Since my appointment was only a few miles away, and I assumed he light had just come on, I decided to press on to my appointment and stop at a convenient gas station along the way.

About half way there, I passed an old van stalled on the side of the road. The driver was putting gas into the vehicle with a bright red gas can. We made eye contact as I passed - like a bad omen of things to come. The tiny orange fuel light suddenly looked like a flashing neon sign.

I was almost there. I could see the gas station – a hundred yards to go. Sputter. No! Cough. Just a little further! Jerk. Aw crap! My truck ran out of gas. I whipped into an adjacent parking lot. The sign from the gas station taunted and laughed at me.

I took a deep breath and kept my cool. I called my appointment and told them I would be late. I grabbed my phone and wallet and walked to the gas station. Ten minutes later I was back at the truck with two gallons of gas in a bright red container and a half-drank forty-four ounce soda. I was cool as a cucumber.

After pouring the gas into the tank, I wiped my hands and slipped behind the wheel. I took a sip from the soda and turned the key. The starter kicked in and the motor turned over and over. Nothing. I paused and thought for a moment. Oh yeah, prime the pump. I turned on the key, waited a few seconds, and then energized the starter. The truck sputtered a moment and then droned through the motions of trying to start. I took a sip of my soda and try to stay calm and cool. I repeated the process. It started for a moment and then died again. I took another sip. It was getting warm. I was starting to sweat.

I tried for twenty more minutes. All I could get was a sputtering start, a rough idle, or the moan of a turning motor that isn’t firing. I could feel the sweat trickling down my back. I wiped my forehead and called my son’s cell phone. He didn’t answer. He was still sleeping. I tried the truck again. Nothing. I called the house. No answer. I called my other son. He answered.

“Go wake up your brother and tell him to answer his dang phone!” I said.

A moment later we were talking.

“When did the gas light come on in the truck?” I asked.

“I don’t know… Sometime yesterday I guess,” he answered.

“When you saw the gas getting low why didn’t you put gas in the truck? You have a credit card.”

“I don’t know.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that the light was on?” (I was looking for any excuse to shift at least some of the blame.)


“Okay, I need you to get up, grab another gas can from the shed, fill it with gas, and come help me.” I heard a long sigh.


I hung up and said a short prayer. I prayed that the truck would start. I prayed that I wouldn’t blow a gasket of my own.

I tried the truck again. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. I tried again, and all of a sudden, it started!

I called my son and told him he could go back to bed, and went on to my appointment. After my appointment the truck started right up. I went straight to the gas station and filled up. The truck started right up. I went to the bank. The truck wouldn’t start.

I tried to keep my cool, but the soda cup was empty. My frustration was reaching a fever pitch. After multiple attempts the truck finally started again. I roared out of the parking lot and merged onto the nearest freeway. I floored it and soon reached speeds in excess of the posted limit. When I was certain that the fuel problem was resolved, I headed home and nosed into the garage. I turned off the truck, and then tried to start it again - Nothing but a sputter.

When I walked into the house hot and bothered, my wife tried to console me, but I would have no consolation. A week earlier the air conditioning went out on our van. Out of the three vehicles I owned only one was working properly at that moment.

They used to hang horse thieves, and now I understood why. When you mess with a man’s transportation, they get testy and mean.

I wolfed down a lunch and did a couple of internet searches. I called a mechanic buddy of mine. The truck displayed all the symptoms of a bad fuel pump. Of course automotive engineers in their infinite wisdom place fuel pumps in the fuel tanks these days. Changing them requires dropping the fuel tank or lifting off the truck bed – neither of which excited me. It was all an evil plot to coerce me into taking the truck to the dealership so they could suck the dollars out of my pockets.

My calendar was full for the next day or so and I let the truck sit in the garage and drove our van with the broken air conditioner. I did try and start it a few times, but each time I got the same sputtering result. My wife put out a cry for help on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to help fix the truck in exchange for buddy passes. Our friend and neighbor, Geoff, said he could do it, but he wanted to make sure it was the fuel pump before we tore into the truck. He sent me a link from a forum discussing a recalled relay that could often show the same symptoms as a bad fuel pump.

Driving without air conditioning in the Phoenix summer heat can cause brain damage. It was time to get my transportation troubles solved. We decided to trade in the broken van, and I was going to diagnose the truck problem or haul it to the shop.

The next day we started early. First stop was the Nissan dealership. They could replace the recalled relay if I brought the truck into the shop, but they wouldn’t sell me the relay because of the recall. I was reluctant to bring it in until I knew it was the relay and not the pump – catch 22. We test drove some really nice vehicles, met the salespeople (not pushy thank goodness), and moved on to other dealerships.

We went through the usual suspects – Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Volkswagen. In the modern information age most car salespeople are friendly, but no too pushy. They know that you are armed with a lot of information. The Volkswagen sales guy was the only old-school, what-can-I-do-to-get-you-in-a-car-today pushy type. We drove by the GM and Ford dealerships, but we just waved. By the afternoon we were sick of sales pitches, sticker prices, and standing in the sun and drove home without a new car.

After we got home I headed for the parts store and bought a repair book and a fuel pressure tester. Following the instructions, I removed the engine cover and found the “quick connect” fitting where I was supposed to attach the fuel pressure tester. The only problem was that it was a “quick connect” not a “quick disconnect” and I couldn’t get the thing to come off to save my life.

After multiple attempts and several Youtube videos explaining how to disconnect a fuel line “quick connect” fitting, I called another my neighbor Charlie that likes to work on old cars. He came over and together we tried to get the fitting to disengage without success. He remembered hearing that if the line still has pressure, it won’t be easy to disconnect. So we both listened for the sound of the fuel pump priming when we turned on the truck. Sure enough, we heard the small whine of the pump coming to life. At that point it was late, I was hot, and my brain was mush. We pushed the truck back into the garage and I called it a night.

Just before I went to bed I read the link Geoff sent me one more time. I had missed a step. There was a workaround to determine if the problem was the relay or the fuel pump. I knew that the next morning I would get one more shot at diagnosing the problem before calling the tow truck.

I got up the next morning and went for a run. I needed some endorphins. When I got back I swapped two relays as instructed by the workaround solution. I kissed the steering wheel for luck and turned the key. The truck started right up! I danced a jig to the sound of a Nissan Titan motor running like a top. My transportation troubles were over!

My wife interrupted my celebration. “Honey, can we go to the Mazda dealership before you go to work this morning?”

By the time I took off from Phoenix that afternoon, she had traded in our van and closed the deal on a new Mazda CX-9. I was just glad that my temporary transportation troubles were over, for now.

The Powell Perspective  

Posted by Brock Booher

I didn’t want to go to Lake Powell. I wasn’t against spending a week on a houseboat with family and friends on one of the most striking bodies of water in the United States. I wasn’t against spending all day boating and playing in the water, or passing the cool evenings on the upper deck watching amazing sunsets while I ate barbecued chicken. I didn’t mind passing the night hours gazing up at the brilliant stars. I thought I didn’t want to go because of all the hassles of making the trip, but the journey revealed a deeper motivation.

Life can be a hassle. Money woes, health problems, family disturbances, and a host of other hassles can make your life miserable. The trail of life is a long slog of ups that elevate your perspective, to downs that blind your view. Although everyone’s road is different, no one’s road is easy all the time. In fact, I would argue that the more difficult roads could be the best roads. Lately my road has taken an unnatural emotional dip.

The night before we left I wasn’t feeling well – emotionally or physically. I went to bed stressed and angry, and my anger kept me in lugubrious darkness all night long. I can’t say if I slept or hallucinated. I passed the night in and out of a psychedelic dreams, and none of them were pleasant. I felt like I was drowning in strangeness and swimming in a drunken stupor. I don’t know if I really slept at all.

When my wife’s alarm went off at five thirty, I was already wide-awake. I lay there listening to her brush her teeth wondering if I would get out of bed or pull the covers over my head and hide. I didn’t move for twenty minutes.

I got out of bed.

Several hours later we were loading our things onto a houseboat on Lake Powell. We loaded up with food, fuel, and water toys (including two boats and a wave runner) and spent the night in the marina. The next morning we headed out into the channel and went in search of spot to anchor the boat for the next week.

I have flown over Lake Powell hundreds of times. From several miles in the air I have looked down on its blue water extended into the red and brown deserts of southern Utah and northern Arizona like the long fingers of some freakish hand. Sometimes my view was so good that I could see the wake made by moving boats and wondered what it was like out on the water. Now I know.

Lake Powell is like an ocean in the desert. It is mammoth in size, but it isn’t the size that impresses, it is the contrast. The water laps up against towering cliffs of red sandstone that look like they been hand carved by God himself in a moment of artistic fervor. Enormous buttes rise up from the water like nature’s cathedrals. I’m sure that the canyons of carved sandstone were spectacular before the lake was filled, but man has enhanced the beauty God created with the creation of the lake. The blue-green water pops against the various hues of reds and browns.

Describing the view as picturesque would be like describing the Mona Lisa as a painting. Even in a houseboat that will sleep twenty people, I felt small compared to the vastness of that ocean in the desert.

Contrast can enhance our perspective. Like the steep grades of life’s undulating path, sharp emotions impact us more than the mundane monotony of daily emotional interaction. The contrast in my emotions gave me perspective and insight. I was suffering from a bout of depression.

We cruised for a while and let my brother-in-law, Jared, do the driving. He pulled out his map of the lake and we discussed various possible sites to make our camp. We passed several spots – too exposed, too much rock, another houseboat already there. Then we found it. The wind had carved a sweeping curve into the rising sandstone cliff, and deposited a pile of earth at the end of the curve just for us.

We buried anchors deep into the sandy soil and tied anchor lines around large boulders to secure the boat against any wind or storms. It was a flurry of activity for about an hour as we put everything in its place, and then we were free to enjoy the lake. We relaxed the afternoon away with a little boating and sightseeing, and after dinner on the upper deck, Jared entertained us with a laser light show against the four hundred foot canyon wall beside the boat.

The next morning I woke up at 3:30 and tossed and turned until 4:30. I finally just got out of bed. I snuck to the top of the houseboat and sat down to watch the sunrise. The purple light crept over the top of the buttes and cast a mellow glow over our slice of watery paradise as bats swarmed the air around my head searching for unsuspecting insects. I was surprised at how awake I was at that hour.

We spent the morning alternating between wakeboarding, knee boarding, and trying to kill someone on an oversized four-person tube.

After lunch we headed for Dangling Rope to get gas and ice cream, and followed it up with a trip to Cathedral Canyon.

Cathedral Canyon is a must do for any avid boater. It is a channel of water that winds through a slot canyon getting narrower and narrower until you are almost scraping your boat against steep sandstone walls rising up so high that they filter the sunlight and cast a glow on the water like the stain glass window of some medieval church. The wakes of passing boats reverberate off the canyon walls making the pilgrimage treacherous, but you are blessed with deep pools of clear water ideal for cliff jumping at the end of your sojourn. The scene lifted my spirits, but then again, churches should do that.

I hadn’t chosen to be depressed. I simply felt it. Here I was spending time with people that loved me in a spectacular setting doing things that I enjoyed, and yet inside, my emotions were churning like the prop wash behind my boat.

That afternoon we surfed. With the help of two avid surfers, Jared and Chad, we dialed in a monster wave behind the boat and carved it up.

Unlike wakeboarding or skiing, wake surfing is easy on your body when you wipe out, but the ratio between fun and effort is much better. Balancing the board against the face of the wave and letting the power of the passing water push you forward is exhilarating and therapeutic. Unlike surfing in the ocean, the wave is endless, waiting for you to slip from its sweet spot and fall, or run out of gas with your boat. Riding the waves in the mellow light of sunset against red cliffs was iconic.

We passed the remaining days in similar fashion, and in spite of the serene atmosphere and uplifting company, the waters of my mind remained turbulent. I returned home as lugubrious as when I left.

From now on when I fly over Lake Powell and see the blue water contrasted against the desert colors, I will have a new perspective. I will remember the flying buttresses of its cathedrals. I will remember the brilliant sunsets and star-filled nights. I will remember the clear green water against the brilliant colors of the painted desert walls. I will remember the excitement and laughter of my company. I will remember that in the end, some journeys are worth the hassle. But perhaps, I will remember it most for clear the perspective it gave me of my mental condition and the unnatural emotions we all feel sometimes when we get depressed.

I hope this blog post has helped you understand that sometimes depression is not situational. Things around us can be spectacular and beautiful, but we can still suffer inside emotionally. Recognize it for what it is – an unnatural emotion. When you feel that way, take a step back, find a friend, and try to get a new perspective. In the end if you are still suffering inside for no apparent reason, seek professional help.