Rodney M Bliss

What Would You Do? On A Long Lonely Highway, With a Dead Car, A Young Child And Night Falling

It was supposed to be a pleasant road trip from Pleasant Grove, UT to California. I figured it would take us about 11 or 12 hours. Seven hundred miles of driving. My Suburban was a great road car. My daughter and I were headed to Shriners Hospital in Sacramento for a surgery the next day. We could have flown, but we were scheduled to be there a week and I wanted my own car.

Well, I had my car. It was parked on the side of I 80 about 50 miles from nowhere.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Specifically we were about 40 miles outside of Fernly, NV. The trip had started off well enough. My daughter was 10 ten years old and was content to read a book for most of the trip. Lots of CDs and miles and miles of flat Utah and then Nevada desert. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon as we came around a bend in the freeway and my car made that “help me, I’m about to die” sound. The one that sounds like it’s out of gas, although I had over a half tank.

No. No. No. NO!!! Don’t Die!

And with that we coasted to the side of the road.

Daddy, why are we stopping?

Ah, just a slight issue with the car sweety. Go back to your book.

Maybe it’s easy, right? Maybe it’s a vapor lock. So, take the gas cap off and put it back on. Nope. The engine turns over, but doesn’t even pretend it’s going to catch.

Okay, think. You’re a project manager. You deal with unexpected crisis all the time. What are your options?

Ah. . . . I got nothing.

Okay, let’s look at it another way. What’s the worst case?

Well, I’m stuck literally a long way from nowhere. No towns within 40 miles. I need to be in Sacramento by 10:00am tomorrow morning for her surgery. It’s sunny now, but in a few hours the sun is going to go down and the January night in this high desert is going to be cold.

Sounds bad. You’d better come up with something, and fast!

I know. My phone!

Success! I’ve got bars. Thank you whoever thought that putting cell phone towers in the middle of the desert was a worthwhile expense.

So, who do I call?

My mechanic? He’s 500 miles away. That’s not going to help. Insurance! I don’t have AAA, but my insurance has got to have some sort of roadside service right?

Liberty Insurance roadside assistance how can I help you?

Yeah, my car died and I’m stuck on the side of the road somewhere in the middle of Nevada.

Could you be a little more specific, sir?

So, the insurance guy calls around and finds two towing companies that will service me. One is $400 for a tow and the other is $250, both are cash up front.

No, my insurance won’t cover that. It’s totally out of pocket.

Okay, so let’s get the $250 guys rolling. They are going to tow my car into Fallon, about 50 miles away. But, it’s going to be several hours before they get to me. There’s no way anyone can fix my car tonight. Still, problem #1 solved. I’ll no longer be stuck on the side of the freeway. What is the next problem?

I still have to get to Sacramento by tomorrow morning at 10:00am.

Any rental car agencies in Fallon? Google on my phone is my best friend right now.


Okay, how to get from Fallon, NV 250 miles to Sacramento if there are no rental car agencies?

(Notice that the thought of skipping her surgery date, was never really an option. I’m gonna figure this out.)

Do I know anyone in Fallon? Not really. I didn’t even know there was a Fallon, NV. Who can I ask that MIGHT know someone in Fallon? My first thought was the Masons. I’m a member of Story Lodge #4 in Provo, UT. Masons are charged with helping out our own. The Shriners are a sister organization to the Masons. Back to Google. No masonic lodge in Fallon.

The church! The Mormon church exists in every town in America. Google isn’t a help this time. I call a friend who works for the church.

Carl, this is Rodney, can you look up the phone number for the bishop in Fallon, NV. . .It’s a long story.

At this point, some of you might be thinking, “No way. You’re going to call some total stranger in a strange town and they are going to help you because you say you’re a member of the same church?” Yeah, that’s the way the Mormon church (and I’m sure many others) works.

After a couple phone calls waiting for the tow truck, I finally get connected to a member of the Mormon church in Fallon. For the price of a tank of gas I have secured a ride into Reno, 80 miles away. They have rental cars at the Reno airport.

Hey Sweety, wanna play UNO? Yeah, sweety, I’m getting cold too.

(Photo credit: All Arminda)

We watched the sun sink into the Nevada desert. By now, we were scheduled to have arrived and be having a nice dinner. We had water and road trip snacks, and it started to get cold very quickly.

Eventually a tow truck big enough to move a house arrived, loaded up my Suburban and carted it into Fallon. They dropped me at the garage where I left my keys and a note for the mechanic to find the next morning.

Are you going to be okay? It’s pretty dark and cold.

We’ll be fine. We’ve got someone coming to pick us up.

I didn’t know you knew anyone in town.

We don’t. Thanks for the lift.

About 20 minutes later a jeep pulled into the dark parking lot, his headlights coming to rest on my Suburban where my daughter and I were huddled under emergency car blankets.

Are you Rodney Bliss?

Sure am. I appreciate the ride.

Happy to help. What’s the rush?

She’s having surgery tomorrow at Shriners hospital in Sacramento.

Well, let’s get you on our way then.

And he drove us all the way to the Reno airport. The last 10 miles or so through the blinding snow.

When you return the car, give me a call and I’ll come back and pick you up and take you back into Fallon.

I really appreciate that. I’d don’t want to keep the rental any longer than I have to. My plan is to be back here in two days.

Just give me a call beforehand.

And with that, I shook his hand and he turned around for the 80 mile drive back to Fallon. I checked my watch. Even with the move to Pacific time, it was 10:00pm. Fortunately the rental agencies at the airport are open 24 hours.

The terminal was pretty deserted, as you might expect and we had to page the guy at the Enterprise rental car desk.

Can I help you?

I need a car for a trip to Sacramento.

Sorry, can’t help you.

Huh? Why not?

See the snow outside?


That storm came off the Pacific. Donner pass is totally socked in. They aren’t allowing anything except four wheel drive vehicles through. And we don’t have any left.

Now what?

(This is the first of a two part series on how Problem Resolution Management helped me get my daughter to California through car breakdowns, and blinding snow. Tomorrow I’ll discuss how to not take no for an answer.)

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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