I stopped for gas at a Citgo station a few blocks from the Siegel Center in Richmond to top off the tank before heading back to Floyd after the Virginia High School basketball final Saturday.

Leaving the station with a full tank, I figured I could be back home before 5 but as I pulled out onto Lombardy Street, something in the clutch linkage of the Wrangler popped as I tried to shift from first to second. The clutch pedal went to the floor with the transmission stuck in neutral.

A couple of friendly passersby helped me push the Wrangler into the Lowe’s parking lot right next to the station. I crawled under the Jeep to see if I could spot the problem. No luck.

Terrific. First the FCHS girls’ basketball team loses the state final. Now I’m stuck with a broken clutch linkage 229 miles from home on a Saturday afternoon.

When we purchased the Wrangler in 2000 I bought an extended warranty package good for seven years or 100,000 miles, including an extension on Chrysler’s Roadside Assistance Program. I pulled the card out of the glove box and dialed the 800 number. The young lady on the other end located a Jeep dealer in Richmond that had Saturday service hours and dispatched a tow truck. If we could get to the dealer on time, I might be able to get back on the road.

Not a chance. From the time the two truck driver from Flectcher’s Towing Service arrived at the Lowe’s parking lot, it quickly became obvious the driver wasn’t interested in getting me to Haynes Jeep. He wanted to “upsize” me to a tow job back to Floyd County.

“Haynes is always backed up,” he said. “You won’t get the car back until late next week. Let me tow you back home.”

I explained that the Roadside Assistance Package dictated that he tow me to the nearest open dealer.

“You can go anywhere you want,” he kept saying.

Possibly, but for how much?

“Three dollars a mile,” he said.

I had measured the mileage from the Siegel Center to home on the trip down: 229 miles. At three bucks a mile that comes out to $687.

“Look, Chrysler will pay $100 of that. If you have Triple-A’s plus package, they will pay for another 100 miles.”

I don’t have Triple A plus. That leaves $587.

“You can put it on a credit card.”

No thanks. I lost at least 30 minutes hassling with this guy before he realized I wasn’t going to buy into his scam. He finally winched the Jeep onto his flatbed and took me to Haynes. We arrived at 2:45. Their service department closed at 3:30. Of course, the service rep said they couldn’t get to it before Monday.

I called three different rental car companies, thinking I would rent a car to drive home and then drive it back next week to pick up the Jeep. Nobody had any cars available.

“I don’t know, there’s some kind of basketball tournament in town this weekend and we sent our extra cars to other towns for their tournaments too.”

Flights from Richmond to Roanoke? Not on a Saturday afternoon. Besides, I’m on the no-fly list. Something about a column I wrote about Bush.

Amy was down at home with the same bronchial problem that has laid me low for the past few weeks. I called Bernie Coveney, who is using one of our Jeeps. He said he would leave for Richmond right away. I gave him directions to my location on West Broad Street. That left me with about four hours to kill.

So I gathered my cameras from the Wrangler and headed for a nearby Hamms – a sports bar/restaurant where I could get some lunch and maybe watch the NASCAR Busch series race on TV.

Basketball fans packed Hamms, watching the ACC tournament on most of the screens. I found a booth with a view of the race and ordered a plate of buffalo wings along with ice tea.

Two hours later, after polishing off the wings, a plate of shrimp and enough tea to float a battleship, the waiters got tired of refilling my tea glass and brought the check. I paid and left.

The temperature sign on a nearby bank read 73 degrees, so I headed east on West Broad Street, figuring every block I traversed would make Bernie’s trip shorter

I walked about five blocks when my cell phone rang. Bernie here already? Nope. Bill Dinsmore, an old acquaintance from my newspaper days in Illinois. Bill now runs a new media program at UMass and wanted to talk about an upcoming program. I dropped onto the grass in front of a Taco Bell and talked with Bill for about 30 minutes.

When I tried to get back up, my right leg cramped a little. I decided to walk it out. Two blocks later, full cramps in both legs. I collapsed onto the grass in front of a BMS dealer and let the spasms subside.

Finally, legs still cramping, I limped to a McDonalds three blocks further down the street, ordered a large ice tea and water, and slid into a booth to wait for Bernie.

At 7 p.m., I called his cell phone. He had just turned off I-64 onto what he thought was West Broad and would be there shortly. At 7:15, he called. He had turned onto the wrong street. Would get back on West Broad and see me shortly. At 7:30, he called from a McDonalds. Wrong McDonalds. At 7:45, he pulled into the parking.

To give him a rest, I drove. Back on I-64, we headed West, driving in and out of rain for the 103 mile trek from Richmond to I-81 at Staunton. At 9:15, I merged into the truck traffic on 81 and headed south towards Roanoke.

A stop in Troutville for gas. The weather cleared by the time we hit Roanoke and headed south on 220 to pick up the Parkway for the final leg. Wreck on the Parkway. A bunch of people standing on the side of the road looking down a bank. We didn’t stop to look.

At 11:30, I turned off Sandy Flat Road onto Greenbriar and headed up my driveway, thanks Bernie profusely for the help, and headed inside.

Fifteen minutes later, my head hit the pillow. It has been a long, long day.