Michael J. Fitzgerald has been a journalist for 40 years, working as a writer and editor for newspapers, magazines and web publications. In 2014 he published the novel, "The Fracking War." In 2015, he published his second novel, "Fracking Justice." He writes or contributes to five blogs. He and his wife Sylvia Fox are the owners and principal partners in *subject2change Media, a multi-media firm involved in print, video and broadcast. He writes a weekly column, "Write On" for the daily 'Finger Lakes Times' newspaper in Geneva, NY. He was a journalism professor at CSU Sacramento from 1986 to 2011 teaching Newswriting, Column Writing and Magazine Writing.
LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - The day began with what we can expect to be normal weather for the next two weeks - hot and muggy. But spirits were high early as we pondered our drive from Puerto Vallarta to La Manzanilla - almost exactly 212 kilometers from son Dustin's driveway to Casa Santana on the beach.
But after checking out the VW bug, offered to us generously by Dustin's girlfriend Cami, we decided that we weren't sure that we wanted to make the trek in a car without air conditioning, and one that was missing its rear license plate. Mexican jails - where they sometimes take traffic offenders to wait to see the judge - are not air conditioned either. !Que lastima!
So after considering how to get to La Manzanilla, we decided to rent a car from Gecko Car Rentals - a local outfit run by an ex-patriate Canadian who gives great deals, especially if you pay in cash. Don't ask him to take American Express if you expect to leave his business without getting a lecture on what thieves that company is run by.
But as we pulled in front of Gecko - 10 miles from Puerto Vallarta where Cami keeps the car - there was a loud series of clunks and the brakes suddenly didn't seem, well, to be braking very well..
Diagnosing the problem
The good news is we were able to get a good (and cheap!) car from Gecko. The bad news was I had to get the VW 10 miles back down the highway (and through city traffic) to the same brake and tire shop that last week put a new set of brakes on the hoover.
It's a good thing I have suffered from chronic-brake-failure syndrome many times in my life, so driving with one hand on the emergency brake lever was nothing new. But with two almost frozen shoulders it made for some comic stops as I had to let go of the wheel to grab the brake lever with both hands to keep from careening into Admiral Fox, driving the rental car right in front of me.
Shifting was fun, too.
Reattaching the brake mechanism
The problem, it turned out, was that the right front brake assembly had simply come unattached and was hanging mostly by a hydraulic line. The sound it made when I would hit a Mexican speed bump (called a Tope), mostly closely recalled a garbage disposal in a kitchen sink - running with a teaspoon inside.
A few hours hours later - after lunch at an Outback Steak House (Quick quiz: how do you say kangaroo in Spanish?) and a trip to a grocery store for supplies - we were on our way in a mighty red Tsuru, a workhouse car here in Mexico favored by cab drivers.
And yes, I tested the brakes quite thoroughly before we left.