“Wow, it looks like they parked my car really close to the one in front of it,” I mused as I strode down a street in Mountain Town.
It was just after five o’clock on Friday afternoon, and, fresh from my shift at Mountain Town Used Book Store, I was headed to the auto shop where my car had been detained for the better part of three days.
Those three days had left me antsy.
It’s not that I mind the half-hour walks to the bookstore, or even the blistering sun as it coats Mountain Town with its summer blanket of heat and humidity. Those things I can deal with, even enjoy. What got to me was the feeling of being trapped.
In a rural area with no public transportation to speak of, possession of an automobile is imperative.
“It’s funny to me how people in the Goldlands think of a twenty-minute drive to see a friend as being a big deal,” Laquesha said to me during one of her frequent visits to my house.
“I know,” I said. “It’s a completely different set of standards. Living out here gives you a new conception of distance.”
Given my car’s age-—it’s but a year younger than Thomas—-it has handed me only trifling maintenance problems. The check-engine light first came on in 2008, two years after I bought the vehicle, and I was able to successfully ignore the warning until last summer, when a torque-converter switch absolutely had to be fixed.
That same summer during annual inspection, I was told that my car would pass muster but that its brakes would soon need attending to. I rode those things for a year straight without once getting them looked at, and I take some perverse pride in the fact that by the time I rolled into the repair shop for my 2010 inspection, the pads were worn down to the metal.
It’s not that I’m irresponsible, just that I’m a college student, which by occupational definition makes me poor. I have to figure out ways to stretch money very far.
So when two months ago my Oldsmobile started shaking at lower speeds, I paid it no mind. As the shaking grew worse, I found myself dreading the beginning of my morning commute, the part when I’d be stuck in the 25-mile-per-hour zone that surrounds Mountain Town. So long as I could get above 40 miles per hour, I’d be alright.
Even in my complacent denial, however, I noted that the speed I needed to attain to escape the vehicular spasms was slowly climbing. About a week ago it had risen to 50 miles per hour, and then one afternoon on the highway heading home my car abruptly started to violently convulse. My speedometer read 75 miles per hour.
I went up and down, slowed and accelerated, but nothing I did stopped the tremors, which by that time had grown so bad that the vehicle rumbled even at a complete stop.
I called out of work the next day and took my car to Mountain Town Auto Shop, where a mechanic informed me that I needed new spark plugs and that the parts and labor would cost me $300.00.
Mountain Town Auto is the kind of small-town establishment that has a near monopoly on car repairs and uses that advantage to exact shameless prices from its customers. The last time I went there, to get new brake pads and have a window replaced, the employees resealed my door panels with scotch tape and left my back window hanging loose.
I doubt anyone was too happy when my father in essence forced them to mend these errors for free, which is why at first I assumed that the sight greeting me last Friday was evidence of an intentional act.
“Oh, my God,” I muttered when I reached the parking lot. “Is this serious?”
I looked over at the shop office, which was cravenly empty, and started fuming as I whipped out my cell phone to dial my mother.
“Listen,” I said to her. “I need you to come down here and pick me up. Bring a camera.”
“Why?” she asked. "I'm sitting out back by the pool."
"Because," I said. "They parked a car on my car."
"Well, can you drive it home?"
"Mom," I explained. "There is literally a car on top of my car!"
What had appeared to be only an unseemly close distance between cars from far away was in fact the joining of two automobiles, with one's trunk sitting astride the other's hood.
Just as I started to really get into my complaining, a police officer drove up and pulled into the parking lot.
"Oh, good, there's a cop here," I told my mother, turning to the man as he got out of his cruiser. "Hey! You're going to be my witness!"
As if on command, he produced a digital camera and started snapping pictures of the scene.
"How long have you been here?" he asked. His tone did not suggest anything, but I was curious.
"I got here a few seconds before you did," I told him. "Why?"
It dimly occurred to some corner of my brain that he may not have stopped just because he saw me standing there looking exasperated.
"Well, there was an accident here," he replied.
"Wait, what happened?" I inquired.
"An eighteen-wheeler ran through the stop sign and hit several cars."
I stared at him.
"Are you saying that an eighteen-wheeler hit my car?" I asked. "In the parking lot of the repair shop where I literally just got it fixed?"
My reaction probably wasn't what he expected.
"That's awesome," I responded, breaking into laughter. "I mean, really. That's kind of amazing."
The big truck had actually struck the car in front of mine, sending it, totaled, flying into my hood.
"How long ago did this happen?" I wanted to know.
"About five minutes ago," he answered.
"That's great," I said, reflecting on the fact that I'd stayed after at work a quarter hour later than normal. "If I'd been here five minutes earlier, I could have gotten my car and left."
"Yes," he said, looking at me as if I were missing something. "But you also would have been in the car."
"Ah," I noted, suddenly realizing what he was getting at. "True."
My mother was vaguely surprised and my father furious--the truck driver had tried to run--but all things told the actual damage done was surprisingly minimal. The car in front of me absorbed most of the impact, so other than a dent and a scratch, both on the hood, my own vehicle was still completely drivable.
All the same, though, what are the odds?
Just a day in the life of BB.