As you may remember from the previous post, we had broken down in the middle of the night, were towed to Mishawaka, and had just received the disheartening news of an unrepairable engine. It was hard, but we needed to get right back to work. There was no other option but to quickly forge a new path forward. The ice cream truck had become our home, office, and mode of transportation. Without a working engine, all of this was gone. It was hard. I was emotional when thinking about how this project, which I had devoted myself wholeheartedly to over the past seven months, might be at its end.
Before jumping into full-time crisis management mode, we remembered that we still had ice cream in this immobile truck, and started serving it to the Chevy dealership. From there, it was time to define our goals. Were we trying to get the truck back to familiar territory in Illinois? Trying to raise funds to replace the engine? Ending it all in Indiana? After pained discussion, we decided that we needed to do everything in our power to get the truck to National Geographic headquarters in Washington DC.
We hatched a plan to sign up for two additional AAA memberships, each of which came with a 200 mile tow. Compiling these, we would string tow truck rides together to reach DC starting the next day. This solution gave us some hope given that a tow without AAA would be close to $4,000. Even with this approach, there were still logistics galore to plan. Wearily, we coordinated with the many parties involved in the expedition, as well as the helpful people at Gates Chevy who were scheming ways to get us back on the road.
Although we didn’t know anyone in the area (other than our new friends at the Chevy dealership) a friend of Cameron and Peter’s knew a family who offered to take us in. Graciously, the Schneider family welcomed three dirty, dejected, and tired ice cream men into their home. Despite trying to put on our best smiles and cheery dispositions, Mrs. Schneider saw through our veneer. She later described us upon entry saying, “they just looked so sad… So very sad.” And that was true. Despite trying to rally ourselves, we were pretty darn disappointed. We always expected breakdowns on this trip, but had forgotten the possibility of a catastrophic engine failure after a good patch of smooth sailing.
The next morning, we traveled with the Schneider father and son on their way to an early morning football workout, and were dropped off at the ice cream truck. Here, we began operation AAA. Sadly, it was not in the cards. Despite successfully towing the truck during the first breakdown, and earlier statements that the vehicle would be covered, AAA had a change of heart and declared that Betty the Chevy was not covered by the service. After two hours and forty-five minutes on the phone, I realized that it was useless to keep explaining the difference between an unsupported box truck and a towable step van while petitioning for coverage.
Once again, we were back to square one, wondering how in the world we would get this truck to DC. Soon after, someone from the dealership called up a friend with a lowboy trailer and asked “are you up for something crazy?” He was, and offered to tow our truck for half the price of a normal tow. We committed, and had a strategy to get the truck to National Geographic HQ. This tow would move the truck 600 miles, but we still needed to get ourselves to DC because we couldn’t ride along in the truck.
As Peter and I sat in the auto repair waiting room discussing options for taking a bus or train to DC, one of the salesmen who had earlier been scheming ways to get the expedition back on the road said, “Alright. I’ve gotten approval from the boss and wife. I’ll take you to DC.” We were floored. This man who we met less than 24 hours earlier was now offering to drive twenty hours to DC and back to help us.
His name was Rob, a man who we affectionately named Rob Zombie because of his interest/side-business of converting older cars into zombie response vehicles by painting them black, applying exciting decals, and slapping on a trademark bloody handprint. Apparently, they’re a big hit with the high schoolers of Mishawaka, and he’s sold eight so far. We met at 6:00 pm after he got off of work, and were told that the manager of Gates Chevy was allowing us to drive a Chevy rental car and would pay for the first tank of gas. Once again, the kindness was overwhelming.
We were joined by a fellow salesman, Phil, who decided to hop aboard with just 30-minutes notice. With three expedition members, and two new friends, we drove through the night sharing life stories before reaching National Geographic before the sun rose. We bid these kind friends goodbye, then sat on the steps of the Lincoln Monument while watching the sun rise over the Capitol.
And that is the story of how the Ice Cream Expedition improbably reached DC. The helpfulness of the entire staff of Gates Chevy, namely Brett, Rob, and Phil, the hospitality of the Schneiders, and the overall kindness of the people of Mishawaka lifted our spirits in a tough time, and gave us the ability to keep the Expedition alive.