Car Trouble

My car broke down on the way to a tutoring session this afternoon. (Donations will be accepted via PayPal at my email address.) It was very peculiar. The engine died while driving down the road and wouldn’t restart. The only indication I had as to what was wrong was that the alternator light was on. Except that when the alternator dies, you don’t know about it until the next time you try to start the car. The alternator charges the battery. It doesn’t keep the engine going. When the alternator goes out, your first sign is usually that the battery is dead. But my batter worked fine.

At any rate, I was stuck for about an hour and a half in the parking lot of a local Sprint store with nothing particular to do. So I amused myself by reading an Agatha Christie mystery and by observing and talking to people.

1. First observation: Despite what one may think, apparently cell phone service salesmen make a decent living. There were some very nice cars in that parking lot. One that particularly caught my attention was something from about the fifties, teal, with wings. It was perfectly restored, with immaculate detail work. It also, I noted, idled far better than my poor ’95 Camry.

2. Second observation: No matter where you go, no matter who your service is with, there is no way to break the $70 floor for service for two cell phones. AT&T gives me 450 minutes, with rollover, nights and weekend minutes starting at 9:00 pm. Sprint apparently will give me 700 minutes, no rollover, nights and weekends starting at 7:00, which is a pretty sweet deal. But it still costs $69 and some change. I can add as many bells and whistles as I want for $70, but cutting them all away will not take the price below that floor.

3. Agatha Christie is awesome.

4. I had a hilarious time with my tow service.

It seems an irrevocable law of nature that, no matter how close you may be to any number of tow services, the one that gets the tap from AAA is always the one whose truck is farthest away from the site. I had to wait approximately 50 minutes for my truck to show up. After waiting about 30, I thought I’d double check and called the number they had given me. The lady who answered only said “ABC,” which kind of threw me into a shock. “Is this the liquor store?” It wasn’t. I don’t believe I made a favorable impression.

The place where I wanted to take my car for service just so happened to be directly across the street from where I had coasted to at the bottom of the hill. I had to wait 50 minutes to be towed less than 100 yards. The irony was not lost on my tow guy, and we hit it off pretty well. I declined the offer of a ride to my mechanic, and instead challenged him to a race. Since it was a divided highway, I figured he would had to drive nearly a quarter mile to the next light to do a U-turn, so I had pretty good odds. Instead, the guy found what I believe may be the only connected parking lot in North Carolina, and managed to make a straight shot across the road. We tied.

Later, being unemployed, I was asking him what is required to become a tow truck operator. Ingenuity, he insisted, and began a series of anecdotes, including the following about removing a car from the roof of a house:

Apparently, near Winston Salem, there is a section of road that, as it ascends to make an overpass, has a guardrail, and on the other side of that guardrail is a house whose roof is only a few feet lower than the road it stands next to. (I am fairly certain that this sort of thing is illegal, but I suspect that, in this case, the house was there first.) At some point there came a man in a pickup truck, drunk, who managed to drive himself into the guardrail and through it, such that the back half of the truck was hanging up into the street, while the front wheels were making an interesting impression on the other man’s roof. In this case, it turns out that removing a car from the roof of a house was relatively easy. The bed of the truck was suspended in the air, so all that was needed was to slide the tow bed under the wheels, attach winch, and pull. The drunk man’s insurance was kind enough to pay for damage to the house; less so for damage to the car.

We got along so well that, contrary to normal policy, he spent a few amateurish minutes with me trying to figure out what had broken in my car, and he even offered me a ride home. (A friend of mine was already there.) Curiously, even the mechanic had stayed open late, with all the appearance of waiting for me to finally get across the street.

No one, however, has offered to cover the cost of whatever repairs are needed.

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