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Me and My Car: An Abusive Automotive Relationship

(Originally Posted 8/08)

I park my car a block away from my home in a garage under an apartment building. It’s not the nicest apartment building in the world. I have never toured the apartments, but I can deduce this from the filthy state of the building’s exterior, the occasional rat I see skittering around and the heaps of pigeon shit adorning my windshield every morning. I pay $100 a month to park here and despite these things, it’s still better than scrounging around for street parking every evening.

Upon starting my engine and exiting the garage, I’d barely moved 100 feet when two things happened:

1) My car hit 80,000 miles. I said out loud, “Hey, look. Eighty-thous–
2) A sickening combination of sounds emanated from the engine. A screech, a thump, and a crunch that sounded like I drove over a rusty coffee can.

Immediately there was a high-pitched whizzing noise as the car lurched forward like it was about to puke. UNG-UNG-UNG-GUNG-GUNG-GUNG.

Owen: Oh, come on, are you fucking kidding me?!
White 2002 Ford Focus: {NNNOT FUK-FUK-FUK-FUKKING K-K-K-K-KID-DID-DID-DING}

The “Battery” indicator on my instrument panel- a little red light which I had never seen before- suddenly flicks on. Immediately my power steering turns off. If you’ve never driven without power steering, here’s a time-tested analogy: you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. Never take power steering for granted. I had to pull over and parallel park a sedan on a cramped city street in rush hour. Turning the wheel 5 degrees felt like tugging a mule into a burning building. That’s a pain in the ass considering the amount of FORWARD-REVERSE-STATIONARY-TURN action you have to do when you parallel park.

Once I got to the side of the road, I pull out the manual, which informed me that my electrical system had failed and to get the car serviced immediately. Well, that’s terrific, but the repair shop is eight miles away and I’d probably run out gas before the car did.

I pop the hood. All fluid levels are normal, including power steering, but something’s burning, and it smells awful.

Now I’m upset, not so much that the car was messing up, but because I’d just picked the car up from the repair shop the night before for a radiator repair. The 93 bucks I’d spent last night, in addition to the engine sensor ($286) only three weeks prior seemed more than just suspicious. My guess was that when they fixed my radiator the night before, they forgot to reassemble something, and now here I am.

As traffic’s rushing past me while I sit, debilitated, I call the repair shop. The mechanic, Jack, tells me that if I have no power steering, I probably blew a belt, and to bring the car in…but to keep all accessories off to conserve the battery. No radio, no nothing. This guy is trying to screw me…I just know it. But who was I to argue? The most complex thing I can do on a car is change a flat and check the oil, and let’s face it, not many can do even that.

So I drove the car to the shop. For the next 8 miles the radio-less soundtrack inside my car was a unique remix of clicking hazard lights and a series of sweat-embodied grunts and obscenities. During the last half mile, the instrument panel was lit up like a slot machine, flashing warnings while the engine abruptly quaked and barely choked out mileage.

All the while, I’m thinking, could I win if I sued?

I sputtered alongside the curb to park and approached Jack at the front desk.

Owen: Strange timing, don’t you think? Seeing as to how I was just here yesterday?

Jack (adjusting his gold chain): Well, it’s clearly a coincidence. Sounds to me like you blew a belt.

Jack could have told me that my Focus wasn’t spiritually sound and should confess its sins, or that the broken belt was causing engine fattening due to an unhealthy high-octane gasoline diet and I wouldn’t have been able to refute his advice. I should add, this mechanic had been referred to me twice by reliable sources. You just have to trust the mechanic. I submissively handed him my keys. I envisioned myself at his mercy while he grins his yellow teeth and slaps a pipe wrench in his hand, as I sobbingly turn around and bend over with my jeans around my ankles. Be gentle, Jack.

I walked a half mile to the bus stop while I vowed never to return to those greaseballs again. Then a 30-minute train ride to be an hour late to my meeting.

Nothing unusual, until 10AM.

My phone rings.

Owen: Hello, this is Owen.
Voice: Mr. Weber, this is Jack at the shop.
Owen: Hi, Jack, how’s everything going?
Jack: Hey, Weber, we’re gonna start calling you “Killer” around here from now on.
Owen: Oh, yeah? “Killer”? And why’s that?
Jack: Yeah, we, uh, looked at your serpentine belt, and as we suspected, it had come off.
Owen: Uh, huh…
Jack: We didn’t find a broken belt. But we did find a pile of animal shit and a bunch of fur.

Owen: Wha…what?

Jack: Yeah, you had either a squirrel, or a rat, or something like that on your belt. What probably happened is, he crawled up into your engine last night to get warm, and then he slept in this morning. In any case, you woke up before he did, and when you started your engine, the motor sucked him into the tensioner and the belt slipped off. He’s not with us anymore, but he left behind a bunch of fur and shit everywhere.

Owen: You’re kidding me.
Jack: I shit you not.
Owen: Wow.

Jack: So, we put the belt back on and topped off your fluids since you lost some this morning while you were overheating. You’re all set. You can come and pick it up any time today.
Owen: So, how much is this going to set me back?
Jack: Ahhh, nothing. Especially for one of the Top Five Strangest I’ve seen.

That evening as I picked the car up, they told me they’ve seen pigeons, and even cats get mangled in the engine at the prospect of engine warmth. Anyway, the car runs fine now. But as I was driving home, that horrible stench seeped through the vents again. A smell of torched fat and burnt hair- a smell that I can only guess would be crisped black entrails from an exploded diseased rat carcass on my engine block.

 

UPDATE (9/10)

The Focus is dead.  During a drive to a morning meeting, a guy in front of me slammed on his brakes to avoid another car.  And here I am, miserable, filling out the police report in a Dominick’s parking lot.

Me sarcastically smiling by my car.

Sarcasm in it's purest form.

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