Rocinante’s Reprieve

CargoThe roads around here have been dicey lately, what with incontinent weather systems leaving piles of precipitate all over the place, so it wasn’t until Sunday morning that it was safe to push Rocinante, my loyal Honda Civic, past fifty on the highway.

At which point he started shaking so hard, I thought he was going to lose a tire and jettison his undercarriage—not a happy prospect when one is a quarter of the way across a slick bridge above the frozen Mississippi, with two kids in the back seat making those “uhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh” noises that kids like to make when they vibrate.

We managed to arrive safely, if shaken (Hey-o!), at our destination, where I asked my friend Larry—the one who lent me a roll of duct tape when Rocinante’s driver’s side mirror fell off this past summer—what he thought it might be.

He thought it might be a lot of things, most of them expensive.  Of course.

We managed to get home again, by dint of taking streets with speed limits of thirty-five and briefly irritating the crap out of the other drivers on the bridge who would have liked for me to go just a tad faster.  But I started to notice other things, too, like the way Rocinante was lagging when I hit the gas, as if he had to figure out how to get his wheels all going in the same direction first.  And how even at slower speeds, I was feeling a definite wobble in the front wheel on the driver’s side.

I  had to wait until Monday evening to get Rocinante to our favorite mechanic, and I’d already half-decided that it was time to trade in my faithful 2005 steed, with his battered body and imaginative gas gauge.   Instead of  laying down the money for new struts/tires/axel pins/exorcisms, maybe I should use it for a down payment on something new, or newer.

I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a car payment, but maybe it wouldn’t be too bad—surely a nine-year old car with under 65,000 miles on it would earn a decent trade in, dents and dings and broken latches aside.

Or I could sell him myself.  Surely someone would want to adopt a small loyal car that might be a bit . . . homely . . . but always started—battery willing—and offered effective heating, low gas mileage, and a brand new windshield . . .

Maybe for parts.  Or the demolition derby.

I suddenly realized why some people spend thousands of dollars on chemo for their pet goldfinches.  Unfortunately, in this situation, “Over my dead body” isn’t just a phrase, and I had the safety of my children’s’ bodies to consider, too.

So I drove to my mechanic’s shop with heavy heart and light pocketbook and told my car wizard all about it while one of his guys took Rocinante out for a test drive.

The guy came back and drove my baby onto an empty lift.  My mechanic went out to talk with him and about fifteen minutes later, he came back into the office, where I’d been reading depressing magazine articles about cleansing diets and echinacea,  and shook his head.

My heart sank.

“Charlie didn’t feel that vibration at all,” he said.  “When’s the last time you drove it over forty-five?”

“Yesterday morning,” I said, wondering if I should call my kids in as witnesses and have them demonstrate that “uhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh” noise for him.

“Did you park inside last night?”


“Is your garage heated?”


“Okay,” he said.  “Your struts are fine and everything else looks good—bolted down tight.  But you have a lot of ice and packed snow around your front wheels and I’ll bet it was worse before you reached your garage and some of it melted off.  That can throw off your balance by several ounces.  We just cleared all that out, so why don’t you take another test drive with Charlie, and see if that fixed it?”

“Um, okay.”

So I did. And it had.  And I was charged $17.60—but only because they replaced my wiper blades.

Rocinante is in fine, inexpensive shape, at least on the inside, and I wouldn’t trade his ugly mug for any of the prettier ponies out there.

Not even for heated seats and a USB port.


What are you driving these days?

Hindsight in the Fog

My driver’s side mirror was knocked off yesterday morning—and I know that’s in passive voice, thank you, but I’m avoiding full responsibility for the damage, which is what the passive voice is for.

I’ve spent the last day and a half alternately worried that I couldn’t adequately see the traffic behind me and certain that someone will rip off the carefully duct-taped mirror from my car while it in the library parking lot.  I’ve also spent a lot of time adjusting the damned thing manually, which is a lot less hit-or-miss (HEY-o!) when I can use the automatic controls, which I can’t do because the wires apparently loosened once I taped the mirror case down, or open the window, which I can’t do because it’s taped to the mirror case.

I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere, probably more than one, about hindsight, foresight, merging, paying attention to one’s surroundings, the obstacles to establishing budgets, the usefulness of duct and electrical tape, and the essential viciousness of garage door frames.

CargoThat last is a lesson I should have learned the time I tried a slow hairpin turn in our old two-and-a-half-car garage so I wouldn’t have to back down the long, curved, steep driveway, which had a stone wall on one side and one made of railroad ties on the other.   It did work . . . mostly . . . and the garage door still closed and the dent over the front passenger tire gives Rocinante that jaunty air of weltschmerz that all good, faithful, and neglected modes of transportation should have, unless you’re trying to calculate your trade-in value* without wincing.

But that was over a decade ago, and my memory is only good for certain things, like what the founder of our town had for breakfast over 160+ years ago on the day he was murdered and where the bathrooms are located in any building I’ve ever visited.  And, of course, HobNobs.

Accidents that were clearly my fault don’t get many memory cells allotted to them.  If a falling tree clips a Honda in a forest and no one remembers where that dent came from, no harm, no foul—right?

Except it was foggy this morning—if ever a natural analogy there was—and all I could see from the mirror for the first few miles was the yellow line next to the back tire because I’d forgotten all about my little contretemps and either the mirror isn’t holding its angle or my beloved offspring are messing.  The mirror makes a neat click-click-click when you push it, so I know which way I’m betting.

If anyone is curious, side view mirrors were invented so that a driver doesn’t have to bodily turn the whole of her attention behind her to merge into the flow of traffic while zipping quite fast towards the cars ahead of her, which have slowed down to do the same thing.  While her younger daughter’s stuffed pig does the Rhumba in her peripheral vision.

I knew this already, so I pulled over before the Insterstate on-ramp, click-click-clicked the mirror into place, and continued on.

Disaster averted, analogy generated.

The budget will have to be similarly adjusted to pay for repairs—and to those who just said, “Ha! Passive voice,” well spotted.  The ambulance bill hasn’t arrived yet . . .

But we’re all safe for the moment and, since it’s my turn for the late Monday shift, I spent the morning as a library patron, editing pigeons and pressmen in the quiet . . .  in front of a window facing the parking lot, so I could see if anyone paused beside my car.

And after my shift, supposing that no one vandalized Rocinante while I was working, I’ll drive to the grocery store for food, diet Pepsi, and more duct tape.

Guess I’ve learned my lesson after all.

How’s your Monday going?


*Or, rather, the trade-in value of the car.  My trade-in value isn’t much, even in spare parts.

Car Tunes, the Sharing

We went to the car wash this afternoon,* but first I had to clean the kidscat out of the backseat—I was only springing for an exterior wash, but the accumulated junk in the interior was still embarrassing:  six mangled picture books, three bottles of water, a bent umbrella, three empty juice boxes, two go-bags stuffed full of melted crayons and crumpled paper, half a petrified doughnut in a paper bag, innumerable hair ornaments, enough crumbs to feed the rat population of Newark for a week, and a buck eighty-four in pennies.

To be fair, I also removed six or seven empty bottles of diet Pepsi from the front passenger footwell, but that’s only because I wanted to recycle them and kept forgetting.

There were also a cascade of empty CD cases—I take the CDs out because the little storage shelf under the stereo isn’t big enough for more than three or four cases, and I keep forgetting to bring them back inside.** I stacked them up, set them on the seat, and, on a whim, grabbed the CDs off the shelf and shuffled through*** the music I listen to while I drive around.

My first thought was, Hey!  Blog post!^

Followed quickly by But take that one out first.  And maybe that one, too.

And then, Why?

So here,in total honesty, are the CDs currently in my car, from top of the pile to the bottom, with occasional annotation:

Apocalyptica, Inquisition Symphonybecause there’s nothing like heavy metal cellos to get you through rush hour, even if you can’t rush.  Plus it confuses the heck out of the driver in the next lane.

The Brian Setzer Ochestra, The Dirty BoogieI love big band music and swing.  Love it.  Cherished the week and a half that it was back in style, ten years ago.  And when it comes back ’round again, I’ll be ready.

The soundtrack to Sherlock Holmes — Violins dancing.

The soundtrack to Iron Man I have yet to see a Robert Downey, Jr. movie that doesn’t have an amazing soundtrack.  That’s all the excuse I’m offering for this one . . . ’cause that’s all I got.

Garrison Keillor’s Comedy Theater, Disc 2 — It’s difficult to express how huge a Prairie Home Companion geek I am, but  I own five PHC collections.  This particular disc has the “Influenza Opera” on it and an ode to Newt Gringrich from the National Arts Council.  So it’s a bit dated . . . But still funny.

Trout Fishing in America, Big Round World — When you find a musical group that caters to kids and doesn’t make you gnaw the steering wheel by the third full repeat, you buy all of their CDs and keep at least one in your car at all times.  Even the Christmas one.

Music Inspired by Mission Impossible 2 —  Some of these songs are on my Pigeon playlist.  Most aren’t.

Medieval Bæbes, Worldes Blysse — If I could sing like this . . .

Linkin Park, Meteora  Sometimes, you need good, angry emo.  This is good, angry emo.

Nickelback, All the Right Reasons — Yeah.  I listen to the most hated band in America in my car.  The one that Henry Rawlins says would be a deal-breaker on a first date.   What’s more, I  have  several of their songs on the Pigeon list, including the title track and  “If it’s Worth Saving Me.”  I often swap this CD out with Dark Horse. And I don’t care.

Robin Williams, Weapons of Self Destruction — Does anyone actually find this surprising?  Plus, put a beard and twenty years on him, and Robin looks just like my dad.  It’s weird.

Justin Robert, Yellow Bus —  It’s a facet of parenthood that isn’t mentioned in the brochure:  sometimes you just have to suck it up and gnaw the steering wheel.

Metallica and the San Francisco Orchestra, S&M Album, disc 2 — There’s something about metal on orchestral instruments that does it for me, and the audience reactions just feed the energy.  I have nothing against disc 1, but all my favorites are on this one.  In my opinion, the definitive versions of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Enter Sandman” are here.^^

So, here’s the double dog dare:  What CDs are in your car?  And if you don’t have a car and/or a CD-player, what’s on the last playlist you listened to?  Or if you’re old school, what plays on your favorite radio station?

Be honest.

Annotations are welcome, but optional.


*For those of you who tuned in Thursday, yes, there was popcorn.

**An absentminded lifestyle doesn’t just happen.  It has to be cultivated.  

***Literally, not electronically.  My next car will have a USB for my MP3 playerthough by the time I can save up a decent down payment, both will probably be obsolete.  We’ll be downloading music telepathically from the ‘Net Cloud . . . iWorm, they’ll call it.

^Okay, my first thought was, Eclectic isn’t quite the word, but MPD might be the acronym.

^^And I miss Jason Newstead . . . I understand why he left and Robert Trujillo does have serious chops, but still . . . I don’t know, maybe I’m just a sucker for a redhead.

Cargo Beep Beep!*

One of my core beliefs is that cars thrive on neglect, and my current one, a Honda Civic nicknamed Rocinante,** bears me out on this.  The little oil change reminder thingies placed with such optimism on the driver’s side of the windshield are mere guidelines—I have about a twenty-mile, round-trip commute, so it takes a long time to build up the mileage,  and while I could go in every three months, meh.

The way I figure it, if nothing lights up on the dashboard, and the idle doesn’t rattle my fillings,  it’s all good.

But I do have that big trip coming up and unless I chicken out and take the bus or the train,*** which would be far more relaxing but add three or four hours to my trip, I’ll need a car that can make it to St. Louis. 

So I took today off to get my car drained, tranfused, tuned, tweaked, braked, rotated, and aired out.   It now drives like a much more expensive vehicle, but without any added risk of being carjacked by anyone interested in mere retail value.

If I remember to fill the gas tank, I’ll be all set. 

That is, aside from figuring out what to pack, where to park, and how to cope with my quirky, yet oddly attractive anxieties about traveling and attending alone—though there are so many panels I want to attend, the biggest worry I have is choosing which ones. 

And if I can fit in a side trip to the Zoo on Sunday . . .


*Knock,knock. Who’s there? Ether. Ether who? Ether bunny.

Knock,knock. Who’s there? Justin. Justin who? Justin other Ether Bunny.

Knock,knock. Who’s there? Stella, Stella who? Stella nother ether bunny.

Knock,knock. Who’s there? Samoa. Samoa who? Samoa Ether Bunnies.

Knock,knock. Who’s there? Beryl. Beryl who? Beryl of ether bunnies.

Knock,knock. Who’s there? Consumption. Consumption who? Consumption be done about all these ether bunnies?

Knock,knock. Who’s there? Cargo. Cargo who? Cargo “beep, beep”…run over all the ether bunnies.

**After Don Quixote’s old, broken-down, extremely loyal horse.

***The whole point of going this year was that St. Louis is only 5 hours away.  That’s less than a hour on a plane, but I plan on hauling home swag and souvenirs that I don’t want to pay for again at check inAnd I hate to fly—not fear, just a general loathing for airline policies.

My Car-mic Debt is Paid . . .

I am now the sole owner of one 2006 Honda Civic , silver, pebble chip in windshield, dent over front passenger-side wheel,*  line of door-corner punctures down either length (so thorough they look like tattooed detailing), and marshmallow-soft brakes.

I should have known something was up when it didn’t start after work last Tuesday, which was the day* the title was mailed out by the American Honda Finance Corp., bless them.

It turned out to be the battery kicking off a year early because it wasn’t designed to bake nine hours a day in a metal, solar-powered oven in a shade-free library parking lot during the eighth-hottest summer on record—but I know a warning shot when I see one.

Regardless, it’s one less payment I have to worry about, until parts start ejecting themselves all over the road . . .
*When you have a two-car garage with separate doors and you want to park facing out, think very carefully before you decide to turn the car around inside the garage. That is all I’m prepared to say at this time.

**Of course I checked the date on the envelope.  What do you normal people do with all your free time?