Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We live . . .

. . . in the automated age. Everything is constructed in a such a manner that we don't have to think about how anything works. You, like I, sit at a keyboard for hours at a time - yet, how many of us know how hitting the button with an 'l' on it, results in an 'l' appearing on the screen? As Joe Rogan once asked, "If I left you in a forest with only a hatchet and some flint, how long would it be until I get an e-mail from you?"

For me this becomes most apparent when the the engine stalls out, and the car dies. There's something so crushing in the silence that follows the turning of the ignition. For a man, the check engine light can be the flag to his own defeat. An admission that "I'm truly not a man - not like my father was."

My car had been out of the shop for less than a week. It had a fuel line and battery replaced. Late Saturday night, the car was situated at the end of a long row of cars lining a side street. Stationing the car took the better part of a half-hour. Being that the Hydra (1 of 3,ever) is rear-wheel drive, it's useless in the winter. My intention was to leave it in this spot, and hope for better weather this coming week. The following afternoon, I decided to move the Hydra to my usual spot. The temperature that day was unforgiving. Though the mercury was in the single digits, with the wind coming off the lake, you could feel your eyelids drying shut. Any cavities you weren't aware of became evident. It's what Anthony Burgess called 'a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.' As I took shelter in the belly of the Hydra, I turned the key, expecting to hear it's roar. Nothing.

The best circumstance for your car to quit is when you're alone. It means you can handle the situation with a quiet, reserved dignity. You can pop the hood and stare at the engine block in silence. If you're with someone, or (gasp) a woman - you're sort of screwed. Far too often, I've had to feign believability, pull on the radiator hose, and go on about how, "I knew I should have replaced that rotating coil. It might be the mechanical abrasion arm, tough. Argh! Can your mom come pick us up?"

I tried to start the Hydra several times throughout Sunday, only to hear a click, and the white noise of the radio. As I left work on Monday, I stopped at the auto parts store to heed the advice left years ago on an auto forum message board. (It's always disheartening to find someone had asked the exact same question you have - and that the responses only worked to tell the inquirer how retarded he/she is.) I picked up a can of Heet to help unfreeze the line. My theory is that since I parked on a glacier, the surface temperature underneath the car had caused the fuel line (when it went from running to standing) to produce condensation, which then froze over and blocked the fuel line. I also picked up a spray can of Starting Fluid. The name sounded like I needed it. I imagined the Heet would need some time to work. I emptied it's contents and returned home.

Later that night, I strapped on every jacket and winter accoutrement I owned. Armed with only a few tools, I vowed not to return home until the Hydra ran.

Before starting the Hydra, I removed the can of Starting Fluid. I read it's directions carefully. 'Hold bottle upright and spray directly into air intake or carburetor for 1 to 3 seconds before starting vehicle.' I raised the hood. Where the hell is the air intake or carburetor? A quick web search on my phone proved worthless. I sprayed the Starting Fluid across the bulk of the engine, battery, fuse panel, and any place else that was 'sprayable'. I took my seat behind the wheel. Nothing. I waited for several minutes. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Again. Nothing.

I'd heard that if your starter is acting up, you can hit it with a hammer and revive the failed component. I took my only hammer( which is the same one used by Andy Dufresne), and begin wailing on the starter. For good measure, I took to hammering the shit out of anything else that was 'hammerable'.

After the car failed to start, I paced the street. I began thinking about how to best resolve this. What was upsetting is that it just came out of a reputable shop. I could have it towed to a nearby mechanic, but that mechanic knows nothing of the work that
d may say that they didn't know what they were doing and proceed to fuck me on something new. I could have it towed back to the original shop, but that place is on the far north side and the tow charge alone would be upwards of a hundred bucks - just to get the car to them. Then there's the possibility they don't take accountability for their work, and insist on charging me for a new - something - as if it was the first time through their doors. The frustration was unsettling. I lowered the hood, and got back inside the vehicle to lock it up.

For no reason other than my own curiosity, I turned the key one last time.


The Hydra roared before settling into it's standard purr. I laughed the way that only God can laugh.

The A-Plot was resolved. Now the B-Plot remained. Getting the car from off this patch of ice. My steering maneuvers and strategy of slamming down on the gas, then easing up - only to slam back down on it - didn't work. I debated dousing the perimeter of the car in lighter fluid or alcohol, then igniting it. Hopefully the flames and warm trickle of water would tear away at the layers of ice beneath my Hydra. I would have done it too, but fear for the spectacle it would create kept the idea from being realized. Instead, I went to grocery store and returned with 30-lbs of salt.

Like some macabre Morton Salt girl, I circled the Hydra, cigarette in mouth, throwing salt every which way. I held the bag upside down and let the rocks collect around the tires. Nothing shall ever grow in this place again. It was like Carthage!

The light from the street lamps reflected off the snow, giving the night it's own hue. I sat, watching the salt eat away at the ice. I imagined the high-pitched whine of the ice, like a lobster being thrown in boiling water. Soon, the road underneath would be visible. And the Hydra would, once again, be freed.

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