I am notorious for treating my car like shit. While I love Rhonda the Honda, finding my base model 2003 Civic both reliable and low maintenance, I assume that I can ignore her until she eventually rebels. This morning, Elliot and I decided to go to brunch, and as I began to rattle off our dining options, I stuck the key in the ignition and pushed.
Rhonda sputtered out a death rattle.
“Um, did we leave a light on? A door open? The battery must be dead.”
“It’s can’t be.” Elliot responded. “The radio works. The lights work. But I know nothing of cars.”
“I, I’m sure, know less.”
In any instance of crisis, I call my brother. As I’m currently house-sitting in Mill Valley and Alex is home for the summer, for the next two weeks we’re 5 minutes apart. The main reason I needed Alex to come over isn’t because he knows anything about cars. It’s because for some bizarre reason, my father remembered to renew Alex’s AAA membership and not mine.
I’m the girl, you’re saying. His only daughter. The apparent light of life.
With Alex on his way, Elliot and I stood in the driveway and began chatting with the plumber working on the house being built next door. The plumber decided that he and Elliot should push my car into the street, where he could align his plumbing van and attempt a jump. Finding jumper cables in the garage, we figured we might as well try, even though all signs, lights and working radio pointed to a charged battery.
Needless to say, Rhonda could not be jumped to life.
A dead battery I can handle. Even the plumber was stumped, guessing it was the starter and beginning a tirade on Japanese craftsmanship. Alex soon arrived and sat in the driver’s seat of Rhonda. He put the key in the ignition and pushed.
“Well, I’m out of ideas.”
The plumber suggested getting one of the Mexican guys also working with him on the house next door. “I don’t know why, though. They’d just steal the tires.”
Elliot, Alex, the plumber and I stood around waiting for a tow truck, as I called Al, the body shop guy who recently applied Rhonda’s new bumper after her unfortunate collision. Conveniently, Al’s shop is a mere 5 or 6 blocks from my house sitting gig.
“Al, what do I do?”
“I’m not a mechanic, Beth. I own a body shop. But call my friend Marcel. That’s where I take my car and he’s right across the street. Oh, and thanks for the tickets. I’ll call Marcel right now and tell him you’ll be towing a car over to him, okay?”
After Al had so kindly repaired Rhonda’s bumper and then, knocked a dent out gratis, I sent him and his kids a few tickets to the play I’ve been working on. It seemed like an easy gesture at the time, and one that would come back to me tenfold in the long run. I was right.
“Awesome, Al. Thanks so much.”
“No problem. I’ll tell him to take good care of you.”
By this time, AAA had arrived, having been called by Alex, possessor of the coveted membership. Curiously, they came in a van which had, obviously, no towing capacity. From out of this van leapt Joey, cocky in his little uniform as he mysteriously applied latex gloves.
Alex looked concerned. “Uh, I said we needed a tow.”
“Relax, pal. I’ll get her running.”
He pulled out jumper cables.
“We tried that.”
Ignoring us, he attempted to jump her anyway. Needless to say, Rhonda was no more impressed by Joey’s cables than anyone else’s. “It’s got to be that starter.”
“That’s what I said!” chirped the plumber, now invested in my dilemma and neglecting his leaky toilet or broken faucet.
Joey circled the car several times, rambling on in automotive jargon and deciding that the internal mechanics of my keys were to blame.
“Joey, I have a base model Civic. There are no internal working of my keys.”
“Yeah, there are. You know that button on your keys you click to unlock the doors?”
“I don’t have that.”
“Yeah you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“What you’ve got there in your hand are valet keys. You should be using the key they gave you with the locking button. And only Honda can do that for you. We’re going to need to call a tow truck to tow you to Marin Honda. Then they’ll hook your car up to a big computer and reboot her internal computer.”
I called Marcel and ran this by him.
“Hi Marcel, I’m Beth. Al told me to call you.” I explained Joey’s diagnosis.
“Well, Beth. I hate to say this, but if he’s right then yeah, you’ve got to take it to Honda. I’d love to get your business but I don’t have some computer thing I can hook up to your car. I’m really sorry.”
I then called Marin Honda. Finding “Craig” on the other line, I explained Joey’s diagnosis.
“You never got keys with push button locking because you got the cheapest model available. I’ve never heard of some kind of magic computer that magically starts cars, but if I did, I wouldn’t be working here.”
Thanks, Craig. Because what I need right now is attitude.
Fine. Marcel it is.
Joey departed, getting Alex to sign some form and announcing, before he left, that a flatbed truck was on its way.
“A flatbed? Really?”
“It’s all we got available today.”
Alex left us with the AAA card and went on with his life. “Keep me posted, guys. I want to see how this ends.”
As he drove away in his working car, a huge flatbed truck made its way up the hill. From within the can emerged Bill, his weathered arms covered in vintage tattoos and his hair a full bodied mess of gray curls. Maybe 55, Bill, it’s safe to say, is a badass and we later decided, must have an array of children in their 40’s and a checkered past. Bill got Rhonda onto the flatbed of his truck and inquired as to where she was going.
“Marin Auto Works.”
“Oh, cool. Who’d you talk to? Marcel?”
“YES!””Marcel’s cool. You coming with me?”
“No. Marcel can’t get to her until this afternoon. Is that okay?”
“I don’t give a shit. It’s your car.”
He unceremoniously shook our hands and departed with Rhonda sitting embarrassingly on display. We said goodbye to the plumber and headed out to brunch.
“What a cast of characters we’ve met. The plumber, Joey, Bill. With Marcel popping in on the phone periodically.”
I borrowed a car from the garage and drove Elliot to the city, calling my brother on the way back. “Shit, Alex. This is going to cost me a fortune. And I hate borrowing someone else’s car, especially while they’re out of town and have no idea. Ugh, I just know it’ll be a million dollars.”
As we chatted, my other line beeped through.
“That’s my mechanic. Gotta go.”
I clicked over.
“Hi, Beth. Boy, it’s bad when you recognize your mechanics phone number. But, in this case it’s good because I have good news. Your car is fixed. You can pick it up whenever you want.”
“Yeah, a (insert something car sounding) wire came loose. As soon as I opened the hood I saw it and screwed it back in. No biggie.”
“Oh, thank god. How much is this going to cost?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Seriously? Oh my god, thank you so much, Marcel. I’ll just walk over in like, an hour. Is that cool?”
“Sure, Beth. No problem.”
Yes! I returned the borrowed car to its spot and raced inside. Whipping together a huge batch of cookies, I called my brother and filled him in. 30 minutes later, I walked the 6 blocks to Marin Auto Works carrying a tin of warm cookies.
5 minutes after that, I drove away in Rhonda the Honda. She started right up, and I drove her past Marcel and Company just in time to see a crowd of mechanics hovered over my cookie tin.
And the lesson learned in all of this? When your car’s got a blinking light on the dashboard flashing “Maintenance Required” for 2 weeks straight, she may indeed require some maintenance.
Wait, I didn’t mention the blinking light?