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The science of holiday travel - Ed Brock

The countdown clock stopped, and it was time to decide if the mission was a go or not.

Inclement weather and a hellish red warning light indicated a high probability of catastrophe if I went ahead. But so much was at stake, and the pressure of making the call made me feel like I was standing at the bottom of the Marianas Trench with naught but a raincoat.

The flight directors at NASA have nothing on me. I was about to scrub my Thanksgiving Day homecoming trip.

I hadn't been planning to go home to Mobile for Thanksgiving this year, but about a month ago it occurred to me that I actually have vacation time and so I might as well use some to go home for turkey. Needless to say, this decision made my sainted mother extremely happy.

Currently I'm the only child of hers who does not live in Mobile. This is a reversal of the first 30 odd years of my life when I was the only one of the older three siblings still living in my hometown, struggling to get through college while my older brother and first younger sister wandered to New Orleans and Atlanta.

Then they came home and, a few years later, I left, first for Japan and then here.

So it's important to mi madre that I make it home for the holidays so she can take a thousand pictures of us all together and so my nieces and nephews can remember what Uncle Ed and Aunt Michiko look like. Also, I was ready to get back home for a visit and, ordinarily, I like the drive.

My wife doesn't, but she's just a heathen. Plus she's jealous because, you know, her family's on the other side of the planet and she hasn't seen them for over a year. Some people just can't cut those apron strings, huh?

Anyway, my point here is that the timing was very bad for my alternator to issue its death cry. As it would turn out, that's what the problem was, but at 9 p.m. last Wednesday night all I had to go on was the fact that the battery charge light came on and stayed on as I was driving home from a friend's house.

For any of you who know nothing about cars, that could have meant any number of problems. More than likely I could have made the trip anyway, but Thursday's weather was bleak indeed and I had visions of me hitchhiking through the storm to seek help while my wife sat alone by the highway, plotting how she would suffocate me in my sleep.

It didn't help that the next day the warning light did not come on, tempting me to take a chance. Plus Mom and Dad had to call to offer to pay for a rental car, so desperate were they to have us home for Turkey Day.

But that simply was not an option. It caused me no small distress, but I had to decide to wait a day, and as it turned out that was probably a wise decision.

There are many life lessons in this incident. First, always keep your car in good repair before the holiday travel season.

Still more important is the understanding that we must all sometimes make decisions based on scant information and under tremendous pressure, and we should all be a little more sympathetic with people who make decisions of life and death importance every day.

It's also taught me that it's time to buy a new car.

Ed Brock covers public safety and municipalities for the News Daily. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or via e-mail at ebrock@news-daily.com.