As the Facebook and Twitter folks have seen by recent status updates, we had an automotive issue last night. What started out as a simple trip in pursuit of a cheesesteak sammich wound up costing us hundreds of dollars and my manly pride, and it’s all because of the stupid iPhone (oh, yeah, and some homeless dude).
It started out as one of those “gawd, we’re too tired to cook tonight, let’s go out for cheap grub” nights. So, we hopped in the car to go grab a bite.
When I turned the key in the ignition, something didn’t feel right, but no matter. Let’s just go. However, when we got there, the car would not turn off! No amount of twisting, banging or cursing would make the key budge. We checked the owner’s manual, and it had instructions for popping open a slot below the steering wheel for an emergency shutoff, but it didn’t work any better than the twisting, banging or cursing. So, I did some more of those things just in case.
We decided to drive up to the dealership and see if they knew anything…knowing in my heart that no self-respecting mechanic would be on premises after 7pm, but what the hell. And, of course, I was right. There were only a couple of sales dudes, and they had no clue. Their advice was to drive home, figure out how to make the car stop (maybe disconnect the battery?), and have it towed in to be looked at in the morning. (At this point, the “long, hard day” syndrome was already in full effect, so the thought of leaving it at the dealer and catching a cab or some other ride home never crossed my mind.) So, we drove home.
At this point, it began to rain. A typical, Florida rain, which involves lots of lightning. So, the thought of fiddling around with the car engine, much less the battery, was appealing to me less and less. I decided to engage the OnStar system that came with the car when we bought it three years ago and rarely use.
After a bit of “all our representatives are busy” and explaining our troubles, we were handed over to GM roadside assistance for re-explaining, then to a local towing company for more re-explaining. Finally, a helpful automated callback told us that the earliest anyone would arrive was 55 minutes. This was followed by a call from the towing company, the gist of which was:
THEM: groblle grimgaw greeblesnitz
THEM: Where you at?
ME: (gives them the address)
THEM: Well, how do you get there?
ME: (gives them directions)
THEM: We’ll be there in 45 minutes or so.
ME: In the meantime, do you have any suggestions for getting this car to shut off?
THEM: What do ya mean? It won’t cut off?
ME: No. That’s why I called.
THEM: Hell if I know. Ain’t never heard of that before!
At this point in the story, we’ve got pouring rain and lightning, a car that won’t shut off, a clueless tow truck driver on the way…and we still haven’t eaten. So, Venita ordered a pizza, and we waited.
Naturally, about the time of getting a bite of pizza, the tow truck showed up. I went out (did I mention it’s raining?) and asked the driver what he was going to do about the running car. Of course, no one had told him about it. “I just haul ’em. I don’t fix ’em,” he said. *sigh*
He talked to his supervisor for a bit, and they came up with a brilliant plan. So, he opened up the hood…
It’s here that I need to take a pause and explain that my father was a mechanic. We grew up with auto parts, snowmobile parts, lawnmower parts, and parts to things we didn’t know had parts all over the place. A fun evening would be spent underneath a car in the garage handing him tools like a scrub nurse assisting in major surgery. So, I feel like I know (or ought to know) my way around a car engine. However, when I bought my first brand new car in 1994, I decided to stop self-medicating and let the professionals handle its maintenance. The plan was that they would keep bugging me to do my routine checkups, so it wouldn’t be left up to my lazy ass. So, I abdicated my manly mechanical duties in lieu of letting the pros keep it running.
It worked out pretty good as far as the intended purpose goes. I still drive that car 15 years later. But it put a big hole in my knowledge bucket where car engines are concerned. When he opened up the hood of this new car, I was dumbfounded. Where’s the carburetor? Where are the spark plugs? I don’t see the alternator, distributor, air filter…nothing I’m used to! It’s one, encased block with a couple of hoses and lots of wires. (This will come back to haunt me later in the story.)
The tow truck driver grabbed a plug that looks like a power cable connector to the hard disk in my PC and pulled it out of its socket. At that, the engine coughed like someone had punched it in the throat, and it shut down with a shudder. Victory!
Or it would have been had the driver not then gone on to turn the fricking thing back on so he could drive it up on the stupid tow truck.
When he got it up, he tried the same trick with the plug. No dice. It was like the cars computer brain turned into Scotty on the Enterprise. “Aye, we’ve got to divert power from the ion thingamawhatty and route it ’round to the flimflamshammer, but I’ll keep ‘er runnin’ for ye, Cap’n!” The car would not be fooled by that trick again.
So, with my head hurting from the stupidity of it all, I agreed to let the guy tow the car to the dealer while it was running. (I know!)
While. It. Was. Running. (I know!)
On top of that, he didn’t know where the dealership was, so I had to have him follow me in my car, driving 35mph over 11 miles (which equals 77 Florida traffic miles). And did I mention it was raining?
Well, we made it, and he parked the car in front of the garage and left me to wait for it to run out of gas or get hit by a meteor or something. I was seriously considering finding someone to siphon the gas out of the tank for $20, because there was still 1/4 tank left. Do you know how long it takes to burn through 1/4 tank of gas when you’re just sitting there watching the needle go no place fast? Damn fuel efficiency to hades and back!
After an hour or so, in which I tried the unplugging thing again, blasted the A/C, revved the engine until I thought it would explode, and wrote a long missive to the mechanic who would find my rotting corpse in the morning, a car transport truck pulled into the lot. While I sat there all depressed, he carried in a load of shiny new cars. It was like Santa showing up on the Island of Misfit Toys.
I approached the driver, and I asked him if he had any experience with possessed cars. He chuckled politely and said, “No, but let me take a look. I’ve been hauling these things for years. I know a few tricks.”
You know what he did? You know what he f***ing did? He did what I thought to do but didn’t dare because I was scared off by the sight of unfamiliar car parts, that’s what. He pulled the damned ignition fuse. And to make matters worse, he helpfully offered to disconnect the battery, because the engine was off, but the key was still stuck in the “on” position. I should have thought of that first. And when he asked me if I had any pliers, I dumbly muttered that I had no tools when I had tools in my own stupid car sitting right there, because my brain has turned completely to grape jelly. Argh!!!
This morning I got the news from the mechanic that the ignition cylinder was broken. The amount of the bill didn’t surprise me at all. I knew it was coming. Two things set me up for it: iPhone and the homeless guy.
I spent my lunch hour yesterday looking at iPhones in the AT&T store. My consumerist greed was offensive enough to the Fates, but then driving back to the office, I stopped in traffic next to a guy holding up a sign…
Now, usually, I do what everyone else does in that situation. I look down at the floor. Pick my nose. Fiddle with the radio. Look in the mirror. Anything but make eye contact with the unkempt person who probably just wants money for booze. But in this case I didn’t have any money to give him, so I had no guilt to stop me from looking his way. That’s when I read his sign.
“Hungry,” it said. Not “need work” or “out of work” or “need money” or just plain “homeless”… “HUNGRY”…
See, I spent so much time running around looking at iPhones that I didn’t have time to sit down for lunch. I bought a sandwich to take back to the office. And as I sat there staring at a guy with a “hungry” sign, my sandwich sat in the seat next to me, begging to be given to him.
I drove on.
And now I owe $641.15 for car repairs, and I don’t think I really need an iPhone.