Transmission issues. What's up with my escort ?

ive had an epic week with my car, a 93 escort station wagon (1.9l). i dont know enough about cars to feel good about the end result. do you
know your way around clutches, transmissions, and the like? let me know what the heck is going on with my car!
the preview: my car has 160,000 miles on it. ive had it for six months, and have done a lot of preventative maintenance, changed oil and the like religiously, and hacked my way through the odd invasive maneuver like timing belt/water pump replacement. i adjusted the clutch pedal when i got the car and it seemed to make the shifting smoother. could have been in my head. i tried again a few weeks ago and it made no difference. the tranny was a little stiff between gears, and every once in a while it would hesitate before slipping into fourth or fifth. no big deal, just made me wonder.
in the last week, the shifting got markedly stiffer, and i got grinding noises shifting into reverse. this r-shift grinding got worse and worse over a week, so i looked it up in my manual and it suggested a dying clutch. im on a road trip right now, and started going door to door at the many transmission shops here in las vegas. the first one test drove it, and in so doing got the transmission locked in fifth gear. that had never happened to me before. ever. period. not even close. they said they had to push it back to the shop to get it out of fifth. they said it wasnt the clutch, it was the transmission that was bad. the second shop had me drive *them* around. they said, after a two minute drive, that it was a bad clutch and a worn transmission, and that they could take hte tranny apart and fix it. id heard that transmissions dont die suddenly, so id rather wear my old car out slowly and save the money. a new or rebult trans on my car would cost more than another beater. the third shop took it for a ride, with me in it. the fellow said it was the clutch, and then proceeded to get the trans locked in fifth. like i said, this never happened to me before. just a little stiff getting out once in a while. he said that the new clutch would almost certainly fix the locking transmission.
since he couldnt shift out of fifth, and we were miles from the shop, he started the car in fifth, smoking the hell out of the clutch, and drove back. the next day we picked up my car. the clutch felt a heck of a lot better. but- the grinding on shifting into reverse was worse than it ever had been before. i drove to our campsite (were in vegas to climb, not gamble;), and the next morning got the transmission stuck in fifth. i could not shift into neutral while coasting on the highway, and eventually we stopped rolling. after fiddling around a bit, we got it out by pushing the car forward while frantically trying to shift into neutral. we then drove straight to the shop.
btw- the car also stalled every few minutes after we got it back (turns out they forgot to plug the MAF back in), the splash guards under the tranny were unbolted (came loose and got stuck in my left wheel while on the highway), and they broke a bolt taking the battery holder out, and now it shakes around. the car also smelled of burnt clutch plate, but i dont know if this is residual from the fifth-gear-start from a couple days ago.
i described all these problems, and they took it for a spin. they said they shifted fine in and out of fifth, that the reverse grinding was normal (despite the fact that it was worse now than with the old clutch), and that the fifth gear problem was likely a worn synchro ring. however, i dont have the money to pay them labor all over again to check the transmission out, nor do i really want to. i wish i were at home and had my tools and could take a crack at this myself.
they reccomended that i just dont use fifth, and drive around in fourth everywhere, claiming the small RPM diff between the two gears was trivial, but i feel like im spinning the car out over 50mph.
what gives? im lost, out 550 bucks, and 3500 miles from home, and i want the car to work in fifth becuase i have a lot of highway ahead of me. any advice would be greatly appreciated.
regards, anthony anagnostou my real email: ant (@t) productionrunone (dot) com
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