That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Archive for November, 2011

CLASSIC: How is this MY fault?

Posted by kozemp on November 22, 2011

On my way to work every morning there is a light – at Ryan Avenue and the Boulevard, for those inexplicably keeping track of my route to work – that I have actually successfully driven through without stopping I believe four times in my entire life. It’s one of those weird things. It’s an intersection I end up at approximately 800 times a week, since you have to go through it to go essentially anywhere that isn’t Center City. And I always get stuck at it. It’s one of those things you get used to.

This morning, for whatever reason – Monday is usually the lightest traffic day of the week – the wait at the light was much, much longer than usual, stretching back a solid three blocks. While I was sitting there, for some reason, I had a flashback to another time I was sitting in traffic, although that one was much more weird and scary.

Many years ago me and a friend of mine, let’s call him… say… “Patrick” decided to go to Boston for a long weekend to visit a friend of ours who had recently moved there. For some reason – this part is hazy, it may have possibly been because I didn’t have a car at the time – Patrick was going to drive us up there on a Friday afternoon. This was a spectacularly bad idea for any number of reasons, the foremost among which is that Patrick was (and to an extent still is) completely incapable of successfully driving anywhere without laser-guided telemetry to get him there. The first time he tried to go to my house when we were in college he ended up at a bowling alley 21 miles past my house. TWENTY ONE MILES.

Boston, if you’ve never driven it, is roughly a six hour drive from here. Patrick picked me up at noon. We arrived at our friend’s apartment on Beacon Hill at 10:30PM.

Here’s how you make it take ten and a half hours to get to Boston:

First, you have someone drive you who, I am fairly certain, cannot always discern their right from their left. Then you have this person make only a cursory glance at a road atlas and think that this road here, yeah, 95, sure, that can take us the whole way, right?

So, instead of taking (if I’m remembering correctly) the New Jersey Turnpike up PAST New York City to… the Merritt Parkway? I honestly forget… you take the Turnpike INTO New York City and try to cross the GW and hack your way through the Bronx and suburban Connecticut on 95. Now years before we had them here they had those giant LCD signs on 95 in Connecticut, and once we get across the GW (elapsed bridge time: 45 minutes) and finally get moving, the sign says “HEAVY TRAFFIC APPROACHING DARIEN, CT”

When we see that sign Patrick begins rummaging in the space behind the seats with his right hand. Eventually he pulls out a map and says words that, to this day, echo in my nightmares:

“Find us a better way.”

I find what I think is a way for us to get to the Merritt Parkway without undue distress. This, of course, does not happen. After taking the first exit we can, Patrick first turns west, i.e. AWAY from Boston, and after much screaming we finally make it onto this OTHER highway which is, of course, at a dead stop.

“This is all your fault,” Patrick says.

“How is this MY fault?” I neglect to mention that the actual route entirely is my fault, but it’s inconsiderate to distract the driver.

“We were MOVING on 95,” Patrick says.

“Fucking turkeys,” I say.

“I, ah… I’ve never heard traffic described that way.” Patrick sounds confused.

“No,” I say, pointing at a flock of wild turkeys on the highway embankment. “Turkeys. Over there.” Like 20 turkeys just sitting around watching the traffic. This is my first ever exposure to the state of Connecticut and between turkeys and traffic I am unthrilled to say the least.

“That’s something you don’t see every day.”

“I don’t get stuck on a random highway in the middle of Connecticut every day either.”

“Shut up.”

At this point we’ve been in the car for maybe three hours. Eventually we get to a point where what we’re on is moving and it is determined -rightly or wrongly – that we need to get back onto 95. There is some kind of highway spur that goes to 95 through New Haven, which at that point I understood to be a slightly dingier place than Hell.

Traffic has been moving for a while and we’re on this spur back to 95 when Patrick turns to me and says – I swear to God these were his exact words because they will be burned into my brain until the day I die – “I don’t want to alarm anyone, but we don’t have any brakes.”

Despite Patrick’s attempts to the contrary I am considerably alarmed.

We manage to limp off the highway and into a Pep Boys that was INCREDIBLY conveniently located right off the exit. It is now 5:30 in the afternoon on a Friday (5 and a half hours to New Haven, BTW). The mechanics have all gone home. The people working at the Pep Boys are telling us that we can leave the Jeep there and someone could possibly look at it Saturday morning, but that it’s also possible the sun could explode on Saturday morning and the two things are about AS possible, and more than likely it will be Monday before someone looks at the brakes.

My vacation weekend in Boston is rapidly turning into my weekend sitting in a motel across the street from a Pep Boys in New Haven (which, until I would go to Los Angeles a few months later, was at that point the Worst Place On Earth I Had Ever Seen). Patrick is talking to the people at the service desk – god knows what he’s talking about – and they’re firmly saying no sir, we can’t call in one of our mechanics, but there’s a lovely Motel 6 just down the block when I notice a guy leaving the store with like 4 bags of auto parts.

I run outside and stop him in the parking lot. “Are you a mechanic?” I ask, desperate. He is. I ask him if he would PLEASE PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE OH GOD HELP US I’M GOING TO DIE IN NEW HAVEN just look under the hood of Patrick’s jeep and let us know if there’s something immediate we can do.

This is how much I know about cars. I think the brakes are under the hood.

The guy actually agrees, opens the hood , and after approximately four and a half seconds says “you’re out of brake fluid.”

“That’s it?” I ask.

“That’s it. Cost you five bucks and you’re back on the road.”

“Wow. Thanks.”

The mechanic – aka The Nicest Man I Have Ever Met – walks away smiling. I go back into the Pep Boys to find Patrick now with approximately half of his upper body leaning across the counter, his feet now barely touching the floor, pleading with the person at the service counter. I consider letting him debase himself a little further before I remember that he is actually my friend and could, were he so inclined, leave me in New Haven.

“Come on,” I say, grabbing his arm and pulling him away from the service desk. “I took care of it. We need brake fluid.”

“You TOOK CARE OF IT? What does that MEAN?” he asks.

“Just find a couple bottles of brake fluid and let’s get the fuck out of here.”

“What does TOOK CARE OF IT mean? What did you DO?”

Knowing him and knowing me I imagine Patrick assumes I, Jack Bauer-like, tortured a perfect stranger into diagnosing the car. I tell him what actually did happen.

“Brake fluid? That’s it?” he asks.

“That’s it.”

He pauses, then says, “we’re really fucking stupid.”

“No,” I say, “we’re smart, we just don’t know anything about cars. There is no shame in that.”

I resist the urge to tell the story of the first time I tried to put motor oil in my car and put it in the transmission.

“We know what BRAKE FLUID is, for god’s sake. I mean, we’ve HEARD of it.”

This argument essentially went on for the remaining five hours it took to get from New Haven to our friends apartment, 90 minutes of it spent actually IN Boston looking for it. Because calling someone from the Virgin Islands to help you navigate around a city he’s lived in for like 3 months and never actually driven a car in – that, my friends, is intelligent behavior at its best.

As for what happened in Boston, well, that’s another story, innit? Another long, sad story…



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