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.”
Cars can surprise me. The Miracle Focus did. Gather ’round, o’ peers of the ‘net, and let me share the short tale.
We have two cars. One car ‘belongs’ to my wife, with the connotations attached that this is the car that she primary drives, and that I slip behind the wheel once in a while. This is a 2003 Ford Focus that we bought new that year. It was replacing the Nissan 200 that was my wife’s car then. Rear-ended, they declared the Nissan totaled.
Saying the Focus is my wife’s car implies the other car, the 2015 Mazda CX-5, is my car. That’s not true. My car was a 1993 Mazda RX-7 R1. I traded it in on the CX-5 at her behest in 2014. The Focus was then going to be traded in on a new sports car for me.
She reneged on the deal.
All that is beside the point, and just lengthens the story without adding to the plot, as did this sentence. The Focus has 105,000 miles on it, not bad for a fifteen-year-old vehicle. My wife drives it around town.
I take care of the maintenance.
I don’t do a good job.
Trying to make up for that, I took the Focus to an Oil Stop to have it’s oil changed, its fluids checked, air put in the tires, and so on. I did that last year, too, actually in January of 2017. It was supposed to be returned for maintenance somewhere in May of 2017.
That didn’t happen.
The maintenance this year, August, 2018, was well-overdue. I wasn’t too worried because no warning lights had come on, and only twenty-five hundred miles had been added since the last oil change.
When I took it into the same Oil-Stop as last year, they wiped out the dipstick and showed it to me. “It’s a little overfull,” the tech said.
That was surprising. I didn’t add oil to the car. No one else had, either. Oil Stop was the last place where anyone had added oil. As is their custom, once they changed the oil filter and put new oil in last year, they’d showed the dipstick to me to prove it was full. Now, a year later, it was overfull.
I was impressed. This car not only wasn’t using oil, but was apparently creating it.
That’s why it’s the miracle Focus.
That, plus I think it’ll be a miracle if my wife ever really does let me get rid of it.
Not that I’m bitter or anything. That would be petty. I’m just saying…