I think my car has an attachment disorder. Either that, or it’s just trying to kill me for sport.
Allow me to elaborate.
I love cars. That is to say, I love cute, snappy, snazzy cars with lots of flashy features and, preferably, convertible tops. The first car I ever owned outright was Nigel, a 1976 MGB I bought with my college graduation money in stubborn defiance of my father’s strong advice against the purchase. In true British automotive fashion, Nigel had a faulty electrical system, which imbued in him an alarming tendency to stall without warning, usually while straddling trolley tracks as trains bore down on us. Eventually, I had to admit my father had been right all along and attempted to unload him (Nigel, not my father), first lawfully, and then, when there were no takers, by leaving him in bad neighborhoods with the top down and the keys in the ignition. Unfortunately, no one was ever stupid enough to steal Nigel. Even the thieves knew better. Eventually, Larry the Loser located a foolhardy drug dealer with money to burn who was intrigued by the idea of restoring Nigel to his pre-Leslie glory, and off my little car went, where he no doubt met a sorry end in the crusher at some DEA impound lot (Nigel, not the foolhardy drug dealer).
I went for another seven years without owning a car, which was pretty easy considering I lived in the city, and also somewhat necessary, since I had racked up so many parking tickets with Nigel the State of Massachusetts refused to even renew my drivers license, let alone allow me to register another car. Eventually, however, I grew up and my credit improved enough for me to be able to lease a car for myself. That car was a black Infiniti G-20, which was the best car I ever owned.
My Infiniti was a perfect car. A mechanical marvel, great in the snow, reasonably priced, and pretty damn spunky to boot, the Infiniti and I lived in harmony for four glorious, incident-free years. But that wasn’t good enough for me. Oh, no. I had to be a show off. I had to have a fancier car than any of my co-workers. So, when I finally began making some serious money, instead of doing the sensible thing (saving for my retirement and holding onto my low-mileage, never-needed-to-change-the-oil-or-do-a-lick-of maintenance-work-on-it Infiniti) I went out and leased myself a Saab convertible.
The Saab was a lemon from the start. Oh, sure, it looked nice. At first. But the day after I brought it home from the dealership, I went outside to drive it the five blocks between my home and my office, got in, turned the key, and heard a horrible grinding noise as the engine tried to turn over. The thing would not start. Period. I called the dealership and had them tow it back to the shop, where, three days later, they discovered and replaced three corroded spark plugs.
That time the Saab and I spent apart was what did in the relationship. I’m convinced of it. Rather than use those three days to bond, the way an owner and her new car should, we were forced to remain separated and angry with one another. I resented the car for being sickly, and it resented me for kicking its tire. We never got over it.
For the next five years, we sparred intermittently, grudging partners in a passive-aggressive pas-de-deux. I neglected to change the oil, it stalled. I didn’t wash it as often as I should have, so it let its tires wear down. I didn’t care where I parked it, so it let itself get broken into. To make matters worse, my lease expired at the lowest point of my financial/professional existence and I couldn’t give the car back without having to pay a great deal of money I didn’t have to repair all the dents and dings in the finish (not to mention the rip in the soft top, which I had never fixed because of my friendly neighborhood purse thief and auto vandal’s proclivity for returning to the scene of his crime and rifling through my seat pockets on a nightly basis) so I had to buy the thing from the dealership, taking out a usurious high-interest-for-the-unemployed-rate loan that essentially doubled the cost of the car.
Evidently, the car heard me complaining about it and began plotting against me, biding its time until I took a job in an office far, far away from my home before exacting its final, terrible retribution.
Last Friday, we had our first snowstorm of the season, and, in typical new England fashion, everyone from Southern Massachusetts to Caribou, Maine freaked out, behaving as if they had never seen a single snowflake in their lives. Ordinarily, I would have stayed home rather than battle all the terrified commuters creeping along the roadways, but since I had been too lazy the night before to pull my laptop out of its docking station and take it home with me, I had to brave the trip. Once I got to the office, I dithered at my desk for a little too long and ended up not leaving until early afternoon – the height of the snow frenzy.
Now, I’ll admit…I’d seen my “check engine” light flicker on and off the day before, and in an uncharacteristic burst of responsibility, actually went to a gas station and had the oil checked. They could find nothing wrong, and the light flickered off again so I decided the Saab was just screwing with my head out of spite and went about my business without incident. But two hours of agonizingly slow traffic into my ordinarily one-hour commute, the light came on again – and this time it was accompanied by an alarming rattle coming from somewhere deep beneath the hood. Unable to extricate myself from the horrendous automotive snarl I was idling in, I held my breath and inched on. After moving exactly fifty feet over the next forty-five minutes, I finally managed to weasel my way off the highway and onto a different route home. Once moving at a more satisfying pace, I had a decision to make: should I pull off the road and find someone to fix the car, or should I try to hobble my way to my fabulously cheap and trustworthy mechanic in Cambridge, where I would be assured a reasonable repair bill and a quick cab ride the rest of the way home?
I almost made it, too. I was about fifteen miles west of Cambridge when the rattle became a howl and the howl became a scream. I made it to the exit and coasted up a slight incline, coming to a rest along the side access road that ran parallel to the highway. Then, with a wheeze and a groan, the engine stalled and died.
Well, this isn’t too bad, I thought to myself as I clicked on my hazard flashers. After all, I have AAA! And my cell phone is even charged, for once! So I pulled out the phone and hit my preprogrammed emergency number…and was immediately placed on hold. For, like, 20 minutes.
By the time a harried representative named Ray came on to take my call, I had already become a little chilly but was nonetheless determined to be a patient, understanding motorist. And my niceness seemed to pay off: Ray informed me that, although they were quoting a wait time of three hours due to the storm, since I was stranded in the car without shelter he was confident they could get to me much quicker.
“So, where are you, exactly?” he asked, booting up his computer.
I realized I had no idea. When you’re limping along in a dying car, you don’t really pay attention to exit signs.
I said, “I’m on an access road somewhere near Route 2. List off some of the exits and I’ll tell you which one I’m at.”
He rattled of a succession of numbers beginning with 60 and ending at 38. I said, “Um, I mean – tell me the names of the exits.”
He said, “Oh. We don’t have that information in our computers. We only have towns and numbers.”
I knew then I was in for a long evening.
Eventually, by some type of regressive hypnosis brought on by cold and desperation, we surmised I must be between exits 53 and 54. He assured me he would call the tow truck and I would be rescued shortly.
A half an hour went by rather uneventfully. I pulled out my laptop and did a little work, chatted on the phone with my friend Parker, and even listened to my audio book of Freakanomics over my car stereo for a while. A couple of motorists stopped to check on me, but, always mindful of Stranger Danger, I assured them I was okay and sent them on their way.
After another 45 minutes I began feeling uneasy. What if we had gotten the exits wrong after all? I poked my head out of my window and debated whether I should plod through the snow back to the exit and look at the sign, but a fast-moving snowplow that veered dangerously close to me sent my head back into the vehicle in a flurry.
When the next car stopped to check on me, I thought to ask if they happened to knew what exit I was at. They looked at their map and told me I was at exit 58.
I called Ray back and waited on hold for another fifteen minutes before relaying the correct information. “You know, it’s getting kind of cold,” I told him. “And dark.”
He assured me he would try to rush the tow truck and then said, “Would you like me to notify the police?”
There was an idea. I’m a firm believer in not abusing the 911 emergency system, but if they were calling the police for me… "Sure,” I said. “That would be swell.”
After we hung up I settled back into my seat again and noticed for the first time I could see my breath. I also noticed my hazard lights were beginning to sputter.
I called Ray back and miraculously got through to him right away. “Hey,” I said, “you know, my hazards are going off and it’s pretty dark out here. Can you try to speed thing up a bit?”
He said, “Well, we’ve tried to notify the police but there’s a little confusion over the jurisdiction. What town did you say you’re in again?”
“I don’t know!” I wailed. Actually, I kind of whined.
“Okay,” he said, a definite tinge of irritation creeping into his formerly reassuring tone. “Let me see what I can do.”
Suddenly I no longer trusted Ray. I hung up and called Parker back.
“This is ridiculous!” she snapped. “I’m calling the State Police. Sit tight.”
I sat back in my seat and tucked my now freezing hands inside my coat sleeves (I have a foolish tendency to lose gloves and always forget to replace them until it’s below freezing, so I never have them on when I need them). It was now quite dark and cars were whizzing off the exit and skidding dangerously close to me.
My cell phone rang and I dove for it. It was Parker again.
“You know,” she fumed, “these cops are just assholes.”
“Why? What did they say?”
“They keep asking me what town you’re in. What town ARE you in, anyway?”
A set of headlights suddenly materialized behind me. “Hey,” I said, swiveling around in my seat. “I think the tow truck is here!”
“Okay, call me when you get home.” We hung up, just as a man in a heavy jacket and boots walked up and tapped on my window. To hell with Stranger Danger. I was cold. So I rolled it down. “Are you my tow truck?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I’ve gone by in my snowplow three times and I thought this car was empty. I didn’t see you inside until just now. Do you need me to call anyone for you?”
Oh. Damn. I would have been touched by his concern if I hadn’t been so disappointed he wasn’t my tow truck. “No,” I said sadly, tears welling up in my throat. “I’ve called AAA. They say they’re coming…”
“Okay,” he said. “Good luck!”
He got back in his truck and drove off. I stared after him for a moment, crushed, and then touched the button to roll my window back up.
“Oh, NO!” I cried, pressing harder. “No, no, no!!”
The battery was dead. My electric window would not go back up. And by now it was quite cold.
I began to cry. Hard.
I cried for fifteen minutes. I cried as more cars zoomed off the exit and narrowly missed me. I cried as the snowplow man made another round, spraying snow and sand and salt through my open window and into my face and hair. And I cried as my hazards flickered and dimmed and finally went out for good.
“I’m going to die here!” I sobbed to no one in particular. "I'm cold and alone and I'm going to get killed!"