“New incident: Oudenhorst A12 pumping station, flat tire trailer.” On a screen in a holder above the dashboard of roadside assistance Mike Konijnenberg (29) a message appears, the fifth of the day. “That must be a caravan,” says the ANWB assistance provider of the Utrecht region.
Twenty minutes later, that is indeed the case. Retirees Wiellie and Annelies Vermeulen were on their way to a campsite in Kockengen for a week’s holiday in their own country, but ended up with a blowout on the highway. They’re not the only ones that happened this summer. The ANWB was 3.5 percent busier than in previous years. Nationally, between 3,000 and 3,500 requests for assistance are received every day, while Konijnenberg does between six and ten a day.
This crowds are partly due to the fact that many people decided to stay in the Netherlands this summer because of the pandemic. Where they would normally have bad luck abroad, the ANWB now has to go to the Netherlands. In addition, many cars at home stood still for a long time because of working from home, causing them to struggle with start-up problems.
Just like we’re already on vacation!
Annelies and Wiellie Vermeulen watch as the ANWB changes their tires
That happened to a young software developer from Houten, who does not want his name in the newspaper. He has been working from home since the corona crisis and was finally supposed to go to the office today, but the car did not start. “It seemed so convenient, two cars in front of the door,” he says, wiping the cobwebs between the mirror and the door. “But we haven’t used it at all when working from home,” he says, pointing to his black Opel Corsa.
All the while the car stood still. And now “the health of the battery couldn’t get any worse”, says roadside assistance Konijnenberg. It has 2.2 volts in it, that must be at least twelve. And the ampere level is also far below standard. Damaged beyond repair, Rabbitenberg judges. He pulls out a new battery from a wooden drawer in his fully-built yellow bus. Cost: 109 euros. Free advice: drive your car for at least half an hour every two weeks, to prevent the battery from draining.
Rabbitenberg has been doing this work for a year and a half now. Before that he was a mechanic in a car garage. He had long had the ambition to become a roadside assistance. “Because of the combination of technology and human assistance.” He is interested in people, always wants to know where they come from. In a notebook he writes down all incidents and associated car models. Dozens of pages of breakdowns – to which he added seven new cases this Thursday.
Not all incidents are the result of the pandemic. Oswin Schneeweisz stranded with his Land Rover along the Driebergseweg in Zeist due to a problem with the immobilizer of his car key. For that he has to go to the key specialist – as an emergency solution he gets a red thread under the hood from the Rabbit Mountain Road Assistance. Hold it against the positive terminal of the battery and the engine will start. “Like sorcery,” says Schneeweisz, who is an hour and a half away from home. He is not in a hurry, but at some point he has to take his pregnant dog to the vet.
Konijnenberg also sometimes helps cyclists in distress: he recently received a report from two cyclists whose pedal support had failed. “They were traveling forty kilometers and were very remote. There was no bicycle repair shop within walking distance, so they called the ANWB. Well, I don’t know what they should have done differently either,” he says on the way to Driebergen-Rijsenburg, where an Opel Meriva with a flat tire is waiting.
The health of the battery couldn’t be worse
Mike Rabbitenburg of the Roadside Assistance
The unlucky ones are Alie and Han Timmers. At least, only Alie at first, who called her husband after she came to a stop a few miles from home. He got on his bike, with coffee for Alie. Due to the crowds, the couple has been waiting for two hours. Alie: “We alternated getting coffee.”
The flat tire piques the interest of three girls playing in the street, who cross the road “to get a better look.” It is less spectacular for Konijnenberg: the damage is not too bad, there was a “mean sharp screw” in it, but with a prop in the tire the couple can go back on the road. They are waved goodbye by the girls.
Biscuits tucked in
Retired Wiellie and Annelies Vermeulen are not so lucky with their caravan. The flat tire is in tatters. The spare wheel that hangs under the caravan comes from 2004. Far too old, says Konijnenberg. “You really have to change tires every five years.” The couple has to go to the service center of the Wegenwacht in Utrecht for new tires. “Fortunately in the right direction”, says Annelies.
Once there, Annelies and Wiellie wait with a cup of coffee at the picnic table, while Konijnenberg changes the tires. Annelies, as soon as it starts drizzling: “Just like we’re already on vacation!” They have already had two domestic holidays, both also with the caravan. “At a campsite where they not only organize things for young people, but also for the elderly. Such as ball shooting, farmer’s golf, crossbow shooting and bicycle bingo. Oh, and boules.”
When the tires have been changed, the Vermeulen couple can go on the road again. “We’re going to enjoy it,” they shout to Rabbit Mountain after giving him a basket of nectarines and cookies, “for the road”. His shift is almost over, and there are still 22 incidents in the Utrecht area on the screen of Konijnenberg. Those are for his colleagues from the evening and night shifts.
Also read this interview with outgoing ANWB director Frits van Bruggen:‘Holiday is a primal instinct’
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on August 30, 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of August 30, 2021