when pictures fail me…
Unlike my mother, I have never named my car. I grew up with, and at sixteen learned to drive our family’s 1962 Buick Special, “Betsy.” Like our dalmatian Penny, “she” belonged to our mom, who took care of “her.” It.
No, I was not going to anthropomorphize a machine, even if it was my very own first car, ever, some fifty years after Betsy. Still, seeing it sitting there beside my mechanic’s old Dodge Ram in an otherwise empty lot, under a layer of snow, the right side-view mirror long knocked loose (and, though I had lodged it back in place with a thick barrette, now dangling on a wire like an eye out of a socket), gave me a regretful pang. As if I were a teenage mother, ill-equipped to be fully responsible for the welfare of her child, I could only stand there, steeped in snow and guilt. I patted the hood, Poor baby, and was surprised to find myself tearing up.
The early diagnosis was not good. My engine was shot. Maybe dead.
On a frigid, sunny Saturday between snow storms, I had volunteered to drive. My friend and I had about forty dollars each to splurge on cheap, fun necessities and frivolities at Ikea in Paramus–an annual pilgrimage to beat the winter doldrums for underemployed women of a certain age. And to tank up on cheap gas.
Heading back home, we kept peering ahead at the prices, settling on Valero, one of the last stations before hitting a desolate stretch of the interstate near the NJ/NY border. $1.79 per gallon, full service. Mission accomplished, I nosed the car into the scary merge lane, then indulged in visions of playing with my purchases–organization porn–that very afternoon.
My state of reverie was interrupted by a rude blast of cold air blowing out of the heater. “No wonder, the A/C button is on,” my friend admonished. “But that’s the heater button too!” I said, doubting myself even after fourteen years of driving my car. I plowed on, fiddling with the dials, resigned that I might need yet another car repair (or drive the rest of the winter with no heat). I was bummed. But not freaked.
Next, the thermostat needle shot up to a vertical position. So did I, against the rolling wooden beads of my gypsy cab driver seat cushion. The “H” was now clearly targeted on the dial, a first. “That doesn’t look good.” My friend didn’t think so either.
In a limbo of not knowing what to do, I kept driving, looking for an exit. The shoulder of the interstate in this no man’s land was not inviting. After more than ten minutes of ten white knuckles on the wheel I saw the exit to Woodbury Commons, a shoppers’ Mecca. Civilization. Flooded with relief, I eased into the EZ Pass lane and slowed down, waiting for the light to turn green. Then I felt a tandem thunk: my stomach and the death of my engine. Just steer it over to the shoulder, I thought, and with its last gasp, my car cooperated.
Fast forward through multiple AAA calls as they tried to determine exactly were I was. Frustrated, teeth chattering, I lost my calm-in-an-emergency demeanor.
“I don’t know how much clearer I can be! I just left the toll gate at Exit 16 and pulled to the right! I can spit the distance! I am not yet on another ramp to anywhere! Yes, I can see an overpass in front of me. How do I know if it is Rt. 32? The sign in front of me indicates routes 17 and 32, depending if I stay straight or pull off.”
I could scale the chain link fence right where I was standing and go buy Uggs at the outlet directly opposite me. At the rate this rescue was going, I’d need them. All the while waiting, not to be scooped up from the frigid air and dying day, but for someone to determine whose jurisdiction exactly my future towing on the New York State Throughway would fall under. A half-hour later, my friend and I were squished together in the cab of a toasty tow truck, delivered to the lot of T & D Auto, closed on a Saturday.
Five days later, another snow has fallen on my poor car. My mechanic is still out sick with the flu. I am hoping, praying, his early diagnosis is flawed, and that when he views the world on a rosier day he’ll realize that all my baby needs is a new radiator hose, a nice, soothing bath of a lubricant, a trip through Foam and Wash to clean off all the nasty highway salt, and yes, I’ll spring for a new side-view mirror that stays put.
I just want my sweet Subaru, my “Tallulah,” safe and home again.