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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Alien Lights or the Ghost of George Vanderbilt?

It started with a long weekend trip to Asheville, NC. I was meeting two high school girlfriends there.  I've known them for more years than anyone--except those with whom I share DNA.
          Since I was driving some 250 miles each way, and being the safety conscious person I am, I took my thirteen year old Toyota—yes, you read that right—I drive a 2001 Avalon that’s traveled 117,000 miles and was built before Toyota started having recalls and “issues”—to the nearby Valvoline Center. After a short flurry of activity, my old Toyota’s oil was clean, her lights and tires checked out fine, and I had even treated her to a new air filter. As soon as I packed my bags I would be ready to go.
But on the drive home to pack, I noticed a strange light flickering on and off on the floor on the driver’s side. Since the light was near the hood release, I thought it might indicate the hood was not closed properly. I released the hood and tried to close it again. I even enlisted my husband in the project and asked if he’d close the hood tightly so I was sure I wouldn't have any trouble on the trip.
The drive to Asheville was uneventful except for delays on some highways due to construction traffic. After I arrived we started sight-seeing, enjoying the fine restaurants for which Asheville is famous, and drinking a little wine. We were having an all-around good time.
On Friday night, after touring the Biltmore Estate we stumbled upon an old-fashioned, outdoor concert by Tuxedo Junction. We bought a bottle of Biltmore wine and enjoyed the selections from three or four decades of music. People danced the conga line in the grass, couples two-stepped and waltzed, and little children chased each other, throwing handfuls of grass they had torn from the lawn.  
Driving back to the hotel afterwards, I was startled to suddenly see the very bright light reappear, on and off near my left foot. The flashing light was most distracting, pulling my attention abruptly to the floor of the car from the dark, twisty roads of the Biltmore Estate where I feared a deer or other animal might jump in the road.
Even though as we drove, we joked about this light being an alien manifestation or the ghost of George Vanderbilt, who perhaps didn't appreciate us concert-goers trampling his estate, I had concluded the flashing light was a non-alien, non-ghostly, real life safety hazard. By the time we were back at the hotel I had decided to research the problem and, if necessary, get professional help the next day before doing any more significant driving.
So when we arrived at the hotel I took the car manual in with me and read it from cover to cover. Don’t ask why it took me thirteen years to read the manual. I suppose I just never had the need before now. My old Toyota really has been a trouble-free ride.
I learned many things from the manual. Who knew my car had a button for overdrive? And what was overdrive? And did you know the front airbags deploy if you drive over a cliff? I guess that’s a good thing, at least if it’s a smallish cliff and you don’t crash on rocks.
There are lots more nuggets of information in the manual. But the significant point seemed to be that some Toyota models have interior foot lights. I hadn't seen any light fixtures on the car floor. But this still seemed the most logical explanation.
After further research on the Internet, I concluded a bulb or wiring could be loose or maybe there was a fuse problem. I was proud of my automotive diagnostic skills. You really can solve anything with an Internet connection, can't you?
My friends and I agreed on Saturday morning we’d try calling the Toyota dealer and visit a service station if the dealer could not tell us how to fix the faulty light.
On Saturday morning, after confirming online that my Toyota dealer was open on Saturdays, I called. Only to be greeted by voice mail. So I left a detailed message about the faulty interior foot light I had diagnosed and asking the service department to please call and help me figure out a solution to the distracting light. The dealer never called back.
Then off we drove, with Google maps’ assistance in hand on our cell phones, in search of a service station we hoped employed actual mechanics. After several unsuccessful stops we spotted a Valvoline service center and I pulled in.
 I explained in great detail how I had diagnosed the problem and added that the mysterious light had first appeared after I’d had my oil changed at a Valvoline. So maybe they had tripped a light or fuse somehow? In jest, we mentioned alien lights and ghosts. But, I added, in any event, I sure hoped they could find and fix the disturbing light problem.
The nice young Valvoline man said he’d look at it and see if he could help, even though they did not ordinarily service interior lights. He stepped to my door as I got out of my car and pointed to where I had seen the light. As I did, the young man said, “I see the light and I see your problem. It’s the flashlight next to your seat.”
A moment's pause to realize what was happening was followed by peals of laughter from all of us and everyone at Valvoline.
Years ago, my husband had gotten me a large flashlight for emergencies and slid it next to the driver’s seat. I had completely forgotten about the flashlight. The flashlight had been jarred slightly and now was turned so the on button was pressed every now and then. So much for aliens and ghosts.

We offered to pay the Valvoline service man for his time. But he assured us the hearty laugh, as well as the addition to his supply of “dumb blonde jokes”, was quite sufficient payment.