Monday, I was settling back into my writing routine. Had my coffee, had surfed the news and fed the cats. The cats were now asleep. I was ready to write.
Well, first, one quick computer game. I’d just begun when the phone rang. Churlishly, I checked the incoming number. If it wasn’t someone looking for me that I wanted to talk to, I was going to let voice mail answer.
It was my wife’s cell phone. She was out making food deliveries to shut-ins, something she does once a month with Food and Friends.
I answered (of course). (No, there wasn’t even hesitation.) “K’s answering service. She’s not home right now. May I take a message.”
“My car died.”
“I’m trying to start it. It won’t make any sound.”
“Are there any lights?”
“Just one that looks like the little teapot.”
“Where are you?”
“Corner of Terra and Siskiyou.”
“I’m on my way.”
I was dressed and just needed shoes and mask before I was on the way. I figured, battery, but was surprised. I’d bought her a new battery two years before. She doesn’t drive it much. Other thoughts: alternator, maybe solenoid switch or starter (didn’t sound like it, though). I had cables, and would try jump-starting it.
But first — “I have to finish the route,” she said, transferring the food to my car. “Then we’ll worry about the car. I just have two stops. Then I’m supposed to pick up money from Judy. She and a friend want to donate to help some Y employees who lost everything. I’m taking up a collection so I can buy gift cards.”
I already know all of this but it’s part of her process to go through her own checklist aloud. She’s not actually talking to me.
We complete all that and get back to the car. Because of where it’s parked, my cables are too short to reach it. I head back home because I have a longer set, and return.
The car won’t take a charge. Although the radio comes on, the engine won’t turn and the starter makes a tinny clattering noise. I know the sound: it’s definitely a flat battery. But it’s a five year battery that’s two years old.
Probably the alternator. I can’t change it myself with the arm I have. I’ve swapped out three generators or alternators in my lifetime (also replaced a starter before). That was decades ago, when I was younger. Besides, that Ford’s engine compartment is too packed. The traversely mounted engine is festooned with wires. There’s not a spot of daylight in it. The cars’ engine compartments of my youth had room to work, less wires, and simpler belts.
I’m also annoyed. I’ve been after my wife to replace her car for about fifteen years. We’ve had it for seventeen years. Since the beginning, my wife has complained about its squeaky brakes. Its auto transmission also does some odd clunking. Then there was the seat fabric; it’d worn through, so I’d put some custom seat covers over them. It looks great, but it all points to a cheap car.
That’s not a surprise. When we bought the car, one of her requirements is that it use regular gas and it costs less than fifteen thousand dollars because she insists on paying cash for cars. The woman does not like having debt.
My annoyance has been growing because I’ve been telling her that parts will start failing. “But I don’t use it much,” she answers. “I just drive it around town. And we keep it in the garage.”
“They’ll start failing from age and fatigue.”
“But it only has a hundred and five thousand miles on it.”
“That has nothing to do with it. It’s still a 2003 car in 2020. Driving it less is actually worse for it in many ways.”
She’s not listening. A tow truck is arranged. The car is taken in for testing. “You need a new alternator,” they tell me.
I nod. “Yeah. I know.”