Sunday, February 22, 2015

At least the heater worked....

(I suppose I should start a new blog since I no longer live in Chicago and am therefore no longer chronicling my life there, but that will be for a day when I have initiative, which is not today.)

So...the car? The 20+-year-old car my dad gave me so I'd be mobile out here in suburbia? The car I'd already had to have repaired after I rear-ended someone, had to put a new battery in just about a week ago? That car?

That car's rear axle shit the bed as I was driving home this past week.

The good news is that when the very loud CLUNKGRINDSCRAPE occurred and I suddenly dropped about eight inches in my seat, I was driving home from the gym, not far from my house.

My uncle had added me to his AAA membership, which I thought was nice but a waste of money given my past experience with them (having the legal right to demand help is cold comfort when you are stuck somewhere and the dispatcher says they can't find anyone to come out), but it made him feel better that I had it.

So of course I'd waited three hours for the AAA tow truck to arrive -- they were very busy because they were providing supplemental help to the state and oh yes, for the time being, the 200-mile tow service covered under my subscription was reduced to ten miles. Because when you pay for something that you turn to when you have NO OTHER OPTIONS, it's perfectly acceptable for the option of last resort to change the terms of the contract.  Did I mention how much I hate AAA?

 I was on a main road in suburbia, and while I was only about a half-hour walk from home, feared leaving the car to an unpredictable fate that might involve the state towing it to places too remote for even IKEA to consider, and exorbitant tow/storage storage bills. I passed the time calling a friend who'd once called me under similar circumstances ("You hear The Noise, and as you pull over, you also hear Satan laughing. Oh, yeah, I know the feeling.") I read the maps in my car, napped and, not for the first time, wished for a neighborhood library like Chicago, which had pretty much ensured I always had a book going.

A police car finally pulled behind me, and the trim uniformed figure that walked to my car sent my disinterest in men out to get some coffee while I had a chat with Hot Officer Rescue.

He said he'd gotten all kinds of calls about my car (I imagined terrified neighbors at the bay windows of their ranches and capes, furtively peering through the sheer curtains and wondering aloud to their also-retired spouses about the suspicious-looking car in the street).

Did I also mention that in all that time only one car stopped to make sure I was OK?

Officer I Was The Kind of Man Uniforms Were Made For took my license and returned to The Vehicle, where he did the radio thing they do. He came back.

"AAA has no record of the call."


"I called the tow; they're affiliated with AAA and are on their way. Don't worry about it; you're all set."

"I can't thank you enough. You are a life saver."

"Well, if you really mean that, maybe I could take you out for dinner some time -- I could pick you up, of course, given the state of your car. I'm not supposed to ask people out when I'm on duty, but you seem like a fun, resilient person who can roll with things, and I don't meet many women like that in my job. It's refreshing. I don't know whether you're into vegetarian food, but I know a great place in Salem."

OK, he didn't really say that. But dammit, I'd been in a car for three hours reading A MAP and having nosebleeds from the dry air of the car heater, and can't be blamed for wanting a storybook ending for once.

I told him that in Chicago I'd lived two blocks from the El.

"You should move back to Chicago," he said, directing traffic around me.

"Don't think it hasn't crossed my mind," I sighed.

I rode with the tow to the mechanic, and my uncle met me there to give me a ride home.

Later that day the mechanic, who is the most affectless guy I've ever spoken to, called with the bad news.

"The rear axle is shot; it came loose completely. I called around to see if anyone had the part, and after they stopped laughing, they said no. Not that there's even anything to attach it to any more," he deadpanned into the phone.

I experienced the familiar shame, imagining what a mechanic must think about a person who drives such a wreck of a car. I know I shouldn't care, but I do. I missed my Chicago mechanic Dac Tran, who'd looked at my used Honda Accord and said, "Honda good cah." I wanted a professional pat on the head for being savvy enough to pay reasonable cash for a reliable if aging car. I wanted Mechanic Kenny to understand that this car isn't who I am; I make better choices than this. My soul is a Honda Fit, a Ford Focus Wagon. I'm Roadworthy! I wanted to tell him.

I thanked him and said I'd be down with my dad the next day to transfer the car to them to be hauled away.

When I called my dad, I said, "I just bought a new battery, so I'll have them remove that and give it to you. I also just filled the tank, so I'll have them take that out and put it in your car."

My Dad, ever the ray of optimism, said, "I don't think they can do that."

No, Dad, of course not. Mechanics have no clue how to take gas out of a tank.

"We can ask them," I said, once again forcing myself to sound neutral.

"Well, my tank is topped up anyway."

"OK, then, they can keep the gas for themselves, because either they or the junkyard will."

He met us there -- he'd cleaned out the car (I need to get my map back), and that was that. I'm still trying to figure out whether it bothers me that it didn't seem to bother him that I'd been riding in a deathtrap, that it could have happened just the day before while I was doing 60 on Route 1.

I look on the bright side: It didn't happen while I was on a major highway, and it didn't happen far from home. And while I'm now dependent on a bus service that is not at all frequent and doesn't run on Sundays, I no longer have to worry about whether to pull the plug or keep paying for treatment.

I did have a good phone interview for a temp-to-perm job, and the timing is good. New priority is to get a job so I can get a reliable used car, from a dealer, with a warranty. Meanwhile, I bought a new T Pass, and my credit-card company is happy.

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