I said, "Oh, there's a slow oil leak that the mechanics haven't been able to stop. There's always a small pool of fluid under the van when I park."
Lisa got down on the ground and touched a tissue to the puddle. "Not red fluid!" she said.
Uh, oh. That's not oil; that's transmission fluid.
Lisa slid underneath the van and pointed a flashlight at the transmission fluid oil pan, then invited me down to have a look as well. "The transmission fluid pan gasket is broken," she said.
We checked the fluid level. Now bearing in mind that you're supposed to do this check with the engine warm, Lisa still says that there is plenty of fluid still in there, so it should probably be safe to drive a short distance; however, we certainly can't go driving a couple hundred miles tonight.
We went back into the hotel and I got online and checked around. There are some Jiffy Lube shops around here, and they were open even on this holiday Sunday, but they can't replace a pan gasket. A place that looked like it might be able to do the repair wasn't open. There appears to be an Aamco about 3 km from here, and assuming that they are open on Monday and can take the van right away and fix it tomorrow, I should be able to drive it over there and walk back to the hotel.
Speaking of the hotel: I went to the hotel front desk, and they were actually able to re-open my existing room booking, un-check me out and add another day to the stay at the convention rate. How convenient! I also canceled my reservation for the Atascadero Holiday Inn Express for tonight and I've just checked and confirmed that they have re-deposited the points I was using into my frequent-traveler account. (Fortunately, it was before the 6 PM check-in deadline.)
While all of this was going on, people were coming by both Lisa and me saying variations of, "Aren't you supposed to be gone by now?" and we were filling them in on the car problems. Some people who were at Westercon in Tempe last year said, "What, again?" They remembered that we had car problems last year at this same time. The problem this year with my van appears far less serious and not so catastrophic as nearly having a wheel come off of Lisa's pickup truck.
Although this year I have my luggage (unlike last year when I had to return to the hotel while my bags went back to Oakland without me), Lisa decided that It's A Tradition and trotted over to the official shirt stand and bought a Westercon 63 t-shirt from Scott Dennis. Ironically, she was wearing the shirt from Westercon 62 that she'd bought me last year when she knew that I was returning to the hotel with the clothes on my back and not much else.
After moving back into the hotel room, Lisa said that we needed to go get something to eat right away, and she was right. Our original plan had been to grab some Jamba Juices and get rolling, then eat later, and we'd not had lunch yet, so we needed to get fed. We declined Glenn Glazer's offer to go to dinner with him and a group at 6 PM mainly because we needed to eat now rather than a couple of hours later. Originally we were going to go to Chipotle, but they were closed for the holiday, so we ended up in the Panda Express two doors down instead.
As car crises go, this one seems relatively mild. I'm going to have to take an extra day off from work, but that doesn't look like it will be too big a problem. With any luck, we'll be back under way late tomorrow. And I think I'll try and use my trip-interruption insurance again for the marginal cost of the extra hotel night. Good thing I renewed my AAA membership!