July 22nd, 2010


The Anecdote, unabridged.

One of the highlights of my student life was driving my first car ever.

I have good memories of that car. Good in retrospect, because the actual content of the memories is not all that awesome. The poor little thing had seen enough kilometers to go round the Earth half a dozen times over by the time I got it; it was leaking all over the place, and I could have raised fish in the perpetually rainwater-filled ceiling light. Because the battery would drain empty in the blink of an eye, every time I parked for the night I had to go under the hood and unplug it manually.

Still, it was my first car, and I took my first road trips in it. Good memories. And besides, you'll say, if you start off right away with the worst car of your life, things can only improve from there.

Right? Wrong.

My current car is a valiant thing. Though it, too, has now passed the half-a-dozen-Earths mark as of last year, it's in a much better shape, with a ridiculously sturdy turbo diesel engine, and I hope to keep it for a good while longer if I can. Still, even the bravest aging vehicle needs the odd repair now and then, and last week I had to drop it off at the local repair shop for a radiator leak. But I still required -- rather anxiously -- something to commute, so they promised they'd have a replacement car to lend me in the meanwhile.

This was, technically, not a lie.

The replacement car turned out to be the same model as my first car. The model that was already ancient a decade ago.

Suffice it to say I never managed to close the front door completely, and a bit of the dashboard fell on my knees as I drove. People in the street would give me mixed looks of horror and pity. What cosmic force held it together against all plausibility and at least three core laws of physics? I may never know. The sacrificing of goats might have been involved.

But against all odds, it served well enough for my daily bit of driving to the railroad station and back.

This is nothing to disregard. My commute is bad enough, and at this point whatever helps it not become worse is heartily welcomed.

Come yesterday. The repair shop calls: my car is ready, and they would like the replacement car back this evening because they need it by morning next day. (Which may mean either another customer in need, or goat blood refill time. Hard to tell.) Sure, sir; if all goes well with the trains I should be there by, say, 7:30pm, a bit later otherwise. Ah, sorry sir, but we close at 7pm; can you come in tomorrow morning at ass o'clock instead?

Well. Ass o'clock and I don't get along. At all. Never have.

So it's either ass o'clock, or somehow, somehow make it to the shop by 7pm in the Car That Shouldn't Be.

This is doable. You gotta be the first off the train, the first off the platform, the first out the station, the first in the parking lot, and the first out of the gates, before a train's worth of people clogs up the neighborhood for the next half hour, and you have to pray for not the slightest delay on the road, but it's doable.

Delay type number one: traffic lights.

Picture me, sitting at the wheel, sweating and steaming, tugging on my hair. Picture me -- this is important -- scratching nervously at a pimple at my forehead that'd been bothering me for a few days.

In retrospect, that's my first mistake.

About the same instant, the light goes green and the pimple goes pop.

I immediately feel something trickling from my forehead down the side of my face. Fun fact: even the slightest puncture of the head skin pisses blood like a mofo.

I don't have time to stop and scour my pockets for a hankie. I'm just entering the expressway and I have to keep careening along. The car shakes and creaks ominously.

I try to wipe at my cheek with the palm of my hand. That's my second mistake. Blood doesn't wipe. Blood smears.

Soon there's a cheap-ass horror movie peering out at me from the rear-view mirror.

I make my exit on the expressway in record time. Horrified drivers moving aside as I came tearing along, trailing blood and car parts, may have something to do with it.

And you have to realize, this is otherwise a glorious beautiful day out there, with sunlight on the fields and the beginning of a breeze. I would be whistling, except that I have perhaps five minutes to cover the last kilometers. Maybe more? Maybe less? I don't know. The car doesn't have a clock. (Or it lost it on the expressway. I may never know.)

In the end, I somehow make it just in time to offer the shop owner the vision of a disheveled and wild-eyed guy with half his face caked in blood flailing frantically and shouting "DON'T CLOSE!! DON'T CLOSE!!"

It doesn't get much better than that.