"There are only two tragedies in life: not getting what you want, and getting what you want."
~ Oscar Wilde (paraphrased)

Only one sad photo in this newsletter: my van in the garage in yet another foreign country.

I finally got my act together and left Belgrade, Serbia today at noon. If I drove straight through to my ultimate destination in the southwest of Turkey, it would be a 20-hour drive. I planned to see a few undetermined sites in the south of Serbia before I crossed Bulgaria and entered Turkey.

As I was driving I thought I smelled an unusual smell, one that I couldn't identify, maybe from the van. An hour later I pulled into a rest stop and smelled it again. I looked under the van and saw something dripping. A lot. Uh oh. There's a large plate under the van that prevents you from looking at the engine directly from underneath. The fluid was dripping into this pan and then onto the ground, which means it's mixed with whatever gunk is on the pan. I got some on my fingers and didn't think it smelled as strong as diesel, but it didn't only smell like water either. I drove my van's front wheels up onto the curb to get a better look and had the hood open, as two men approached. One didn't speak a word of English, the other did speak one word of English. I used Google Translate and indicated that something was leaking, I didn't know if it was water or diesel. He looked and thought it was water, and suggested, through an interpreter on the phone, coming with him to a mechanic's shop.

It was a Sunday, I was next to a gas station on the toll road with no mechanic, and I quickly contemplated my choices. I could spend the night in my van in this parking lot; I could pretend like I knew whether it was safe to drive my van with diesel leaking profusely until tomorrow; or I could go with these two potential serial killers to a demonic location that only the cult members knew! I focused on this being only "potential," and decided quickly to go with them. I didn't see a good alternative.

The main guy indicated that his partner would come with me in the van, and it was only a 15 minute drive to the mechanic. Who was the mechanic, were they qualified, were there more serial killers there - all of these questions remained unasked and unanswered.

We left the rest stop, and immediately lost track of the lead car. About 3 minutes later we took the first exit and I realized I didn't have my phone. I didn't take the news well. I was already feeling stressed and uncertain about my choice, and then when I didn't see the first car or my phone my mind latched onto the idea that it was somehow a scam. I pulled off the highway onto some grass and started searching for my phone, and after not finding it, I was really in a state. Fortunately I kept my state to myself, because on the second go round I found it underneath some papers. I had moved everything in the passenger seat to allow the murderer (ok, potential murderer) to join me, and in my panic had scooped it up and put it in the back. (Imagine if I had lost my cool and started yelling at this poor guy who was trying to help me out!) The trip continued.

At the next intersection we rejoined the lead car and continued for a few minutes until we pulled straight into a property that was a combination of house and mechanic's garage. There was a group of families sitting outdoors with kids, grandma and grandpa were entertaining everyone. What crazy kind of cult is this?!

They didn't have a lift for the car, but had the old school pit dug underneath the car and had me drive over the top of it. Minutes later they had the pan off the bottom of the van and asked me to start the car. Once I did they brought me down the stairs and showed that diesel was really pouring out of the fuel pump, directly onto the alternator that is below it. Aha!

So. What have we learned? With all the tools and potential torture instruments spread around the garage, were any used on me? No. Was there any indication that they were trying to take advantage of me by helping me out on a Sunday when every other place is closed? No. Did they only do it for my benefit? Of course not, they are mechanics and it's how they pay their bills, so it benefits them - but probably not as much as it benefits me.

This is one of the downsides of driving a 30-year-old car: things periodically break down. But they don't break down that often, and most of the breakdowns that I've experienced have led to some really interesting times and pleasant experiences. No one wants to break down, I think that's pretty clear. But if you can remember at the time it's happening that it's going to work out, then guess what: you'll stay relatively calm, you'll have interesting experiences, and things will work out!

By dumb luck, they happened to come across me in the rest area, asked me if I wanted to come to the mechanic, assessed the situation, then drove me to an inexpensive hotel only 5 minutes from the shop. Believe me when I say there are not hotels every 5 minutes where I am. So far things are going incredibly smoothly. There also happens to be an official Bosch refurbishing center located in the same town, which will rebuild my fuel pump tomorrow. And they will install it by the afternoon, we hope.

One hour down, only 19 hours to go to my destination in Turkey. I'm not sure what to wish for! Updates, somehow, to follow.

Love and more love,