We’re back from our family vacation. We went to Disney World to spend some money….I mean spend some quality family time. We wanted to end the summer on a high note (and lots of bank notes) before one of our boys left for school in Pennsylvania and the other returned to school in South Dakota. It was one of the best (and most expensive) trips we’ve taken. It was worth it, though. None of the amusement parks were crowded. We didn’t wait in line for more than 15 minutes for any ride. The weather wasn’t nearly as brutal as it was in Texas and the best part…the kids didn’t fight at all. Why? Because they’d have to look up from the iPhones in order to argue. So, with headphones on and eyes glued to their lifelines, everyone was happy. Technology has brought us closer. Hey…no one was complaining, whining or arguing. Nope, I was too busy on Facebook.
We managed to squeeze this vacation in between two of my husband’s business trips. Ten days of almost no Blackberry time. I did a little happy-dance when he said he wouldn’t work while we were in Florida. With the kids plugged into their ‘Matrix,’ hubby and I had entire conversations without any interruption. Being with him made me remember why I love him so much. He’s an amazing man and does so many things well. Extremely well. However, he has a weakness. He is not very mechanical. That’s an understatement, actually. He’ll admit it, too. We take our cars to experts whenever anything goes wrong. Which brings me to this—-
After the aforementioned vacation, we were coming home from Dallas after a long flight including a three hour layover in Atlanta. No one looked forward to the two and half hour long, boring, brown, flat, surface-of-Mars drive to our small West Texas town.
Twenty miles from home, I heard, “Oh, crap. What now?”
Instantly, I am wide awake. I look over at my husband. “What?”
“The ‘Check ABS’ light just came on the dashboard.”
“What’s an ABS light?”
“Anti-lock Brake System. Something could be wrong with the brakes.”
We were barreling down the highway at 78 mph and my husband just casually told me something was wrong with the brakes?
“Berg! Why aren’t you pulling over?”
“It’s probably fine.”
“Probably? It’s probably fine? Probably is not something you should say about brakes!” My heart started pounding. My pulse rate sped up as my adrenaline became engaged in SAVING OUR LIVES.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s most likely an electrical short in the alert system.”
“A short? An electrical short? My god! We could have an engine fire!”
He laughed at me. Which really pissed me off.
“I’ll get it checked when we get home.”
“Don’t you mean if we get home. Damn it, Berg. I told you we should’ve got rid of this thing last summer when Stephen wrecked it. The beast is falling apart.”
“No, it’s not. It’s got at least four or five good years left.”
“Are you insane? It’s a ’97. If it were a human, it’d be in high school.”
He flicked his eyes toward me with a look of incredulity. “That is the weirdest simile you’ve ever made.” He smiled, shook his head and looked back at the road.
“It’s not a simile! It’s an analogy.”
“Whatever it was. It was bad.”
“Not as bad as driving your family around in a van that is ready to catch on fire. And think about this…if it did happen, we’d have to keep driving–like an asteroid hurtling through the night—plummeting towards Earth because WE HAVE NO BRAKES!”
My ever-so-calm man tapped on the brake pedal. “Nope. If we burst into flames, I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to stop. We won’t hurtle through the night.”
“Great. We won’t be an asteroid. We’ll be a big, flaming stationary object glowing in the deep, dark night in the middle of nowhere. People from miles around will wonder why the dessert has that orange glow.”
“Hyperbole!” I crossed my arms. “I’m going to be really mad if we have to keep driving past our house until we come to an incline so we can stop.”
“An incline? In West Texas? Where would I find an incline?”
“Not the point!” I shook my head and tried to calm myself. It didn’t work. “The car itself is telling you that something is wrong. How can you be so calm?”
“Because it could be nothing. Like when the Check Engine light came on.”
“What? When did that happen?”
“A couple years ago. It wouldn’t go off. But it was nothing.”
“How do you know it was nothing? What did you do?”
“I put a piece of electrical tape over it. See?” He reached over and peeled off the tape.
I’d never noticed it before because the dashboard is black. A glowing CHECK ENGINE light on one side matched the CHECK ABS light on the other side. He pushed the tape back down, ran his thumb over it to get it to stick again. “Trust me, honey. It’s fine.”
I was silent for the rest of the ride. I was in too much shock to continue the argument. Electrical tape???
We made it home late that night with the yellow ABS light illuminating the dashboard like a beacon of doom.
The next morning, I had to take my non-mechanical hubby to the airport for a trip to Virginia. We were running a little late for his 8:00 am flight so we were in a big hurry.
We drove my car and left the beast in the overflow parking down the street. (In our neighborhood we’re not supposed to park in front of our houses. Perhaps, they’re trying to keep people like us from lowering the property value by having a big, red, ugly, wrecked van-of-destruction parked in front of our home. Honestly, I can understand the rule.)
At work, my hubby is used to giving orders. In the office, he expects compliance without derision and hates quibbling. He talks rather fast and expects action when he’s in a mode to get things done. My man is a Rainmaker. He makes things happen because he is a critical thinker, good problem solver and he has a logical mind. In other words, he and I are opposites.
As he was throwing his luggage in the trunk, he gave me instructions for all the things we needed to have done before we drive cross-country after he gets back. We were supposed to take the minivan-of-rapidly-failing-parts to my son in Pennsylvania. After that, we are going to fly home. But first, we’ll watch our son play his first football game of the season. We’d leave, but the beast would stay with him. Yeah, my ever-optimistic husband thinks our 14-year-old van with a gazillion miles will run forever, so he’s giving it to his progeny.
Anyone who knows me understands that you can’t tell me anything important in passing. It literally goes in one ear and out the other. I mean in the span of 15 minutes my mind has already been on a safari, plotted out a murder mystery, developed a character or maybe even come up with alternate endings to well-known books, movies or plays. So, that matter of importance you told me…it’s lost in the population and vast landscapes occupying in my brain. It may be in there somewhere, but I’ll never find it.
While we drove to the airport, hubby plotted out our next two weeks with rationality and logic. I sort of heard the plans, but I had this great idea for a short story where someone thinks they’re really their own grandmother because a ….well anyway— let’s just say I might’ve missed a few things he said.
At the airport, my husband pulled out his luggage and then gave me a hug and kiss before making his way to the revolving door leading into the tiny regional airport. He turned to me and waved. “Remember to take the van to the mechanic. Have him check the something, something and let him do the such and such when you get the oil changed.”
“Uh-huh…get the oil changed. Got it.”
I got back in the car and continued thinking about my short story. Time Travel, hmmm….
On Tuesday afternoon, I was at a meeting. Someone said something about ‘taking a break.’ My brain snapped back to that cloudy conversation with my husband in the car. A shiver ran up my spine. Break? Broken?…That reminded me of something…
Oh crap! The brakes!
I rushed straight from the board meeting to the auto shop. Okay, first I had lunch with a good friend, but then I went to take care of the brakes. Well, we might have done some shopping first. But after that…I rushed straight to the mechanic.
Here’s what happened.
I stood by one of the bays and peeked inside. I probably looked lost and out of place in my sundress and sandals, all gussied up for our girly meeting and foo-foo lunch. “Umm…Excuse me.”
Three guys turned around, looked me up and down. One of the younger ones smiled and I felt my face flush. At that moment, I regretted the plunging neckline of my spaghetti-strap dress and wished I’d gone home to change first. Into a nun’s habit.
An older man approached me wearing a big, friendly smile. His eyes did not dart downward (as far as I noticed.) I was grateful for that.
I read his nametag.
His name was Tiger. No really. I swear!
“Yes? How can I help you?”
“Oh, hi, Tiger.”
What I discovered is that you cannot say that name without sounding like your coming onto him, but it was too late. I mean with a name like Tiger, how can you say anything in a non-flirtatious way?
Tiger had a giant smile, gray hair, bright blue eyes and a handlebar mustache. With waxed tips. Curled wax tips!
I liked the guy right off the bat. He was a character. I just knew it.
“Well, Tiger, I was wondering if you could use the computer hook-up to find out why my ABS light came on.”
He looked behind me. “Which car? The Cadillac?”
“No, my son is meeting me here. He should be right behind me.”
Our red beast pulled into the lot and parked crooked, wheels on the yellow line.
I pointed. “That’s the one.”
“Well, we could take a look-see. First, let me get some information.” Tiger went into the bay. When he returned, he held a little car-analyzing-computer-thing the size of a bread box. He started to punch information into this magical device.
“Okay, what is the make?” he asked.
“Town and Country.”
He glanced at the van parked a few yards away and then looked at me. “That’s a ’97?”
“Still looks pretty good.”
“Oh, but Tiger, you’re only seeing the right side. That side simply confirms I like clean cars. If you go around, you’ll see the left side which confirms my son doesn’t drive any better than he parks.”
Tiger laughed and shook his head. We had an instant report, Tiger and me.
He looked down at the apparatus again. “Size of engine.”
I spread my hands out about two feet. “Oh, about yay big.”
Yes, I really did this. I swear. He distracted me and I didn’t think about the question, I just answered. All right. Fine. I have no good excuse for this.
Tiger laughed hard. “That’s good! I’ll have to remember that.”
“Umm…yeah. Heh, heh…just kidding.” I gave him a sardonic smile.
“So, size of engine?” He waited, fingers poised on the supernatural-car-diagnosis-contraption.
He scratched his chin. “You don’t know, do you?”
“Umm…well, I know it’s big enough to pull a boat.”
Tiger smiled and chuckled. “You have a boat?”
“No. but I remember when we bought it, the salesman said it could ‘pull a boat or an RV’.”
“How about I just look at the VIN number on the door. I can get the info from that.”
My son had long since abandoned me before I embarrassed him further. He sat in the air-conditioned luxury of my new car while I sweated in 101 degree heat making myself look like an idiot in front of a handle-bar mustached man named Tiger.
I unlocked the doors of the red beast and pulled the hood lever next to the seat so Tiger could find the problem. I knew where the latch for the hood release was because on more than one occassion, I’ve accidentally pulled it instead of the emergency brake release. It really is a design flaw. Not my fault. Not entirely.
The hood popped open.
“Umm…I don’t need that,” Tiger says.
“But…that’s where we keep the engine.”
Tiger laughed. “Yeah, but the computer is in the dashboard. The heart is under the hood and the brain is in the dashboard.
“Heart is under the hood. Brain is in the dashboard. Well, the intestines are in severe distress.”
“Dashboard brains. Hood heart…There is a giant dent in the side panel. The cup holder doesn’t close. The window on the passenger side doesn’t roll down, the CD player is broken and you can’t move the front seat up or back anymore. The guts of this thing are riddled with Pepsis.” I moved out of the way to let Tiger sit in the driver’s seat.
He chuckled. “I’m going to book you a slot for open mike. You’re funny.” He got to work doing whatever it is he does to perform his auto-mainframe-diagnosis trick.
I waited in the hot sun, perspiring, wishing I lived in Alaska. I caught a glance at my oldest child. Living life in ultimate comfort while his mother melted in the Texas heat, he sat in the car texting non-stop. I shall use this guilt accordingly. I filed it in the Catholic Mom Guilt File for later use.
Tiger looked up at me, squinting into the sun. “Can you write these numbers somewhere?”
“Sure. I’ll write them on my phone’s notepad.”
“30,30, 32 …”
“What does all that mean?” I asked.
“That’s your output.” Tiger looked at his hoozy-whats-it and said, “Something over calibrated, something else under calibrated. But I think the main problem is the unproductive dependent component.”
I glanced at my oldest child. “Yeah, I’ll say.”
I looked back at the white-haired gentleman. “All right, Tiger. Which one of those things is going to convince my husband we need to get rid of this thing?”
Tiger snickered. “Is that what you want?”
“Yes. Do you think you could…oh, I don’t know…write me a diagnosis? No wait! A prescription or something saying the prognosis is not good. Some sort of written proof. Testimony of an expert.”
Tiger got out of the van and closed the door. “What would you like me to say?”
“Whatever you want, but make it sound expensive.” I smiled.
“How about if I just write, “It’s gonna cost ya.”
“YES! That’ll do it.” Me and Tiger, we understood each other.
“Sorry, Ma’am. I’d like to help you, but you’ll have to take it to the dealer. We don’t fix ABS systems so I can’t give you an estimate—or a prescription.” He grinned.
I was disappointed, but still had a glimmer of hope. Anytime we’ve taken our cars to the dealers it involved big expense. I could almost hear my husband learning this news and saying, “Lemon Lot.” (A parking lot where cars are allowed to be sold by owner.)
I put out my hand. “It’s been very nice meeting you, Tiger.”
“You, too. A real pleasure.”
When my sweet man called from Virginia that night, I told him what Tiger said. I waited for it. Lemon Lot. Lemon Lot. I sent him subliminal messages. I knew, just knew he would see it my way. We needed to get our youngest son a newer, safer car. Preferably one with brakes and no electrical shortages.
Hubby sighed. “Well, take it to the dealer. Get an estimate.”
Wait a sec…What??
All right, now I understand. He’s not giving in yet. I’ll try another route.
“Honey…did I tell you Petsmart is having a Pet-A-Thon this weekend? Can I get a puppy?”