Sunday, January 07, 2007

Although nothing seems right in cars

When last we left my car, it was having only slightly worse a day than I was having. While aggravating, this wasn’t a complete surprise because had this car been human it could have baby-sat Henry Ford. The last two years have been a steady drip of expensive repairs and replacements. With each repair, with each replacement, as I was writing the check to Chris the gifted mechanic/gerontologist, I would think “I’ve got to make this car last another four (six/fifteen) months to justify what I just sunk into it”. At one point, I estimated I had to keep the car until I was declared too old to drive. And yet the car continued to decline and take my quality of life with it.

For a few months, the air-conditioning only worked if the outside air temperature was less than sixty degrees. This problem was not fixable without pulling out the entire heating and cooling system, so I decided sometime in August that sitting in rush-hour traffic in a car hot enough to melt cheese was a character-building excercise for Daughter and me.

When the summer finally broke (mid-November) I came to discover the heat had gone out as well. I stocked a bag of scarves and blankets for the morning trip to school and let Daughter hold my traveling cup of tea for warmth. The automatic windows which had perversely refused to go down all summer now randomly shot downwards and would insist they didn’t remember how to go back up. One day, three lowered themselves randomly while I was in the fast lane on the 10 Freeway. It was like riding a luge.

Flash back to three weeks ago. The car gets towed to Chris who called me later that day. The problem was the main computer. To put it in human terms, the body was fine, but the brain didn’t respond to light, stimuli or potato chips. With some effort, Chris could find me a transplant organ. He would locate a car of equal antiquity whose body was shot but who was still doing crossword puzzles and steal its brain for my car. The cost would be half of the blue-book value of my vehicle, not counting labor. The labor would be extensive. There was a loaded silence between Chris and me.

I am terribly blessed in many ways, not the least of which is that I have found a wonderful mechanic who I trust. Even though my car was paying for his weekend place, he was tacitly encouraging me to let it walk towards the light.

“No, don’t order the part. I’m pulling the plug. Have someone pick it up for scrap.”

I felt like arranging for a wake and some deli plates. But in this modern age, there really is not time to mourn properly; I had to find a new life-partner. It doesn’t reflect well upon my depth of character that I had a new prospect within an hour.

Consort has a friend named Edward. Consort has known him since college. He also happens to be one of Daughter’s godfathers. Edward had bought himself a new car this year and had yet to sell his previous vehicle, which happened to be a newer version and, dare I say it, prettier version of my former sedan. Edward lives minutes from his work, so the mileage was almost ludicrously low. Edward is a single guy so his car had actually been cared for -- there wasn’t a single Pirate’s Booty Veggie Puff besmirching the seats. Edward is a careful and responsible adult so he had done all the maintenance just when it was supposed to be done and had the paperwork to show for it. The price was beyond right. In summary, I will never again get such a good deal on a used car. The sun hadn’t set before Consort, Daughter and I were driving in my new wheels.

Edward called at least three times to make sure everything was working fine. I was happy to tell him everything was perfect.

This past week I had a meeting on the west side of Los Angeles and parked in an underground lot. After the appointment, I pulled out of the spot, started towards the exit ramp and felt the car give a sort of a “…Peh” and die. I tried turning it over, only to be rewarded by “…P…”, and then nothing at all. The radio and the clock worked so it wasn’t the battery, which would have been the easy fix. I found the instruction manual, discovered where the hazard lights were and switched them on.

I called Consort because I was planning to stop by his office to say hi to him and now clearly wasn’t going to make it. Also because I wanted to whine to someone who had to listen.

“Hi,” I said in a clipped tone. “The car isn’t moving and I’m about to call AAA and do you suppose I am ever going to pay off whatever karmic debt this is?”

For some reason, he decided to come over and stay with me until the tow truck arrived. Just as I hung up, a horn blasted from behind me. I looked over my shoulder through my back window at headlights. Large headlights. it was one of those supersize SUVs with a name like Ford Pangea or Dodge Alpha Centauri. The driver’s door opened and a small young woman got out. She was wearing UGG boots, summer clothing and an aggrieved expression. She pointed to my car.

“You’re in the lane. You have to move.”

I have this personality quirk: when I am in a really foul mood and I meet someone who annoys the hell out of me from the first moment of contact I get really happy, because now I have a vessel into which I can pour all of my vitriol. I spoke very slowly and in a tone which might lead someone to think it was my birthday and she was very retarded.

“Oh, sweetie,” I purred. “I would love to. But if you look down here,” I said, grinning and gesturing to the back of my car, “you will see my hazards are on. This means I’m telling you that my car can’t move. You’re going to have to move around me.”

She looked more aggrieved and clicked her tongue in irritation. I suspect this is one of two expressions she has-- the other one goes along with the phrase “I am so drunk!”

“My car can’t make it around your car,” she whined.

I smiled more broadly still and leaned in to her confidentially.

“That’s because you have too much (expletive deleted) car!”

She flounced off. I went back into my car and hummed along with the little song in my head.

Minutes later I looked back. My new friend was still sitting behind me, entertaining herself by flashing her fog-lights at me. However, there were now easily eight cars clogged up behind her, any one of which could easily have slid around me were it not for the automotive cholesterol clot behind me. I sighed and got out of the car again. I walked past her car and went to the next car. I then commenced to direct traffic.

Actually, directing traffic is kind of fun. I got to think strategically and I got to be bossy. It was kind of like that game you had as a child, where there is a square with fifteen numbered tiles in it and you have exactly one open space through which you can slide the tiles to get them back in in order.

Within a few minutes I had gotten Princess Big-Car around my car (there was, in fact, enough room). She zoomed past me, and I was happy to note the name of a really third-rate state college on her back window. Her car might be moving, but she couldn’t find Asia on a world map. A few of the people I had helped move were kind enough to stay for a few minutes and push the car over to the side of the lane which is where Consort found me when he arrived.

He had me pop the hood and he poked a few things. Nothing seemed amiss, which was troubling. The old car never showed any obvious symptoms when it was at its sickest. He had me turn over the car. It moaned.

When he spoke, it was in a neutral tone. “Isn’t that the same noise the old car made when the computer died?”

I paled.

“It could be.”

Consort attempted to calm my alarm by saying, “But what are the odds you’d have exactly the same problem with two cars in a row…?”

I shook my head vigorously. My entire life is a repudiation of odds-makers. The very weirdness of this would increase the likelihood of it being so.

Finally, we saw blinking headlights reflecting off the wall of the entrance ramp, indicating the tow-truck. I flung my arms around a bit, both to get his attention and to make sure there wasn’t anyone left in the parking lot who didn't think I was an ass. I explained the symptoms to the tow truck guy and suggested my concern about the health of the main computer. He had me turn the car over and checked something under the hood. He looked out from behind the hood.

“You put in gas recently?”

“Of course!” I said indignantly. And then thought, Had I?



It didn’t need gas, it was half-full! It had been half-full for at least a week…

Wait, is that possible?

I looked on the instrument panel at the gas gauge, which was at half-full. I looked at it again and discovered I wasn’t reading the gas gauge. My old car and my new car are the same make but somewhere in between the model years, they had switched the gas and water-temperature gauges.

I think you will be as excited as I was to know my car’s water-temperature was fine.

Consort was mortified in the way that only a man who used to repair his own cars and doesn’t recognize the sound of an empty gas-tank can be. In his defense, he might never have heard one before because, really, what kind of grown person runs out of gas?

I tell you, this is why I can’t have nice things.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i promise not to tell Little Miss PITA (pain in the ass) about this. i'm sure your Consort was like mine: wishing the ground to open up & swallow him whole, so the embarrasment could end.


10:19 PM  
Blogger Chewy Mom said...

If it's any consolation, I too have run out of gas as an adult. I was on a highway in the middle of Florida with four children under the age of 8.

Your story is waaay funnier, though! And I'm glad you didn't lose another car-brain.

4:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Quinn, how classic! I just love your description of princess-big-car, I know just the kind of girl you're talking about! But, on another note, it's kind of funny how we get attached to our old cars, isn't it? When I was about nine years old my parents sold their car and I was totally distraught. Before it left our driveway for the last time, I climbed inside with a magic marker and wrote, "I love you car!" on every seatbelt. (My parents have since forgiven me for that, but at the time, they were furious!)

5:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah Quinn, but at least the fix probably cost you less than $60. Can't beat that.

And princess big-car cracked me up.

6:35 AM  
Blogger Melissa C Morris said...

This is something I would do -- You were an honorary blonde for the afternoon.

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How funny, in the "Oh my God, I've done it again" kind of way. I can relate! Oh, yes I can.

Are you the twin my mother never told me I had?


9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, we are clearly soul sisters in this regard. I am so horrible about putting gas in my car and at least you have a viable excuse for running out of gas. Sadly, I do not. I just hate pumping my own gas (well you would too if it took you 35 minutes to fill your gas tank up!)!

10:23 AM  
Blogger Melodee said...

I nod my head in understand from behind the steeling wheel of a super-old car with "only" 100,000 miles on it.

As usual, I loved your witty story-telling.

The Original Mel

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tell me about it, Quinn. I'm with you there with the karmic effects of car maintenance. =)

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm car drama going around. I've been
at my rural home upstate for the past 2 weeks and Thursday Tango Kitty gets a UTI of sorts, his vet is in Manhattan so I call an unknown upstate vet who says take him immediately to the emergency room as his life may be in balance. I did. (kitty is fine now) but I am warned to get him to his normal vet soon. So I rush back early to my home in Manhattan for a Friday appointment. I get on Palisades Parkway and not 15 minutes from the big city a deer meets head on with my car. (Deer not in the good shape kitty now is...nor is my car)

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ford Pangea...that is so funny. I really enjoy the way your mind works.

I'll call all my friends, "Have you read Quinn today?"


7:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quinn, thanks for the laughs - that's why we all have AAA (and also because my usually trusty Volvo has 225,000 miles)!

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quinn- This may sound a tad melodramatic, but I was having such a miserable day. Thank-you for your stories! They were so needed and so very appreciated this afternoon.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had my nearly new car towed in rush hour traffic from West Hollywood all the way to the dealer in Alhambra, only to find out it was, you guessed it, out of gas. Now that was embarrassing and then the most expensive tank of gas I ever put in it. My gas gauge,I found out, is slightly off. When I thought I was nearly out of gas, I was really out of gas.
Loved your post.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Camera Obscura said...

A few cars back, Hubby bought himself a brand-spankin' new Camero as reward for having lived with a POS Hyundai for two years longer than he really wanted to.

He found out the hard way that his new varoom-varoom didn't have a low-fuel warning light, unlike every other car he'd ever owned.

And then there was the six weeks he had to live with a rental while they repaired that same car, after he turned off of the PCH onto Kanan-Dume one day right behind a Con-Ed truck, which promptly dumped all its ladders on him the minute the road got steep.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ran out of gas today. My husband had to leave work and rescue me. I felt like a complete idiot, but after reading you tonight, I can at least laugh about it a little! Thanks, as always.


11:14 PM  

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