Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Case (Or Three) of Car Trouble

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

A Case (Or Three) of Car Trouble

I’ll be the first to admit that mechanized vehicles confound me. The spatial logic and reasoning skills needed to operate an automobile have always mystified me. I learned bit by bit how to drive. While I know how to manage a powerful but short-lived summer downpour, I cannot parallel park. Much to the consternation of my father, I know little to nothing about what makes cars run.

Are you some kind of feminine man? This was his disgusted synopsis after a particularly exhausting effort to teach me how to change a tire. Now, I can manage it barely without the need of assistance, but that took years and some especially dismal failures to take hold. Dad was quite the handyman and could often perform home maintenance by himself. I was followed him around as a child, fully intending to commit to memory whatever it was he was fixing.

I shouldn’t have even bothered.

In the course of my life, I have totaled three cars. I remember well the first. One drizzly, overcast November morning, I took my place behind other cars on a four-lane highway with many traffic lights. The roadway was moderately busy, but morning commuters, in a hurry to get to work, were riding the bumpers of the car in front of them. This meant abrupt braking which required far more stopping distance, made worse with the wet roadway.

The most hazardous road conditions occur when rain has only just begun to fall. The oily residue of constant traffic combines with falling precipitation, making slick spots. Until enough rain water has washed away the residue, the combination can be very problematic. My car had an unfortunate tendency to hydroplane already, as it was deliberately lightweight and designed to get better gas milage.

I applied the brake in desperation as the silver Jaguar ahead of me ground to a halt. No such luck. The force of impact folded up the hood of the car like an accordion. The Jaguar escaped without a scratch. In my car, the airbag deflated, though I would have been perfectly fine had it not.

A device designed to keep me safe instead left a lifelong injury. My left thumb was dislocated, caught in the path of the rapidly inflating airbag. I thought at first that it must be broken. In any case, it has never been the same since then.

I’ll fully take the blame for the second time it happened. I was driving in downtown Birmingham in the middle of a rainstorm. Stoned, I pulled out in front of a truck, but didn’t give the driver behind me adequate space to adjust. Though he tried to avoid the outcome, he couldn’t avoid hitting me from behind. The force of impact spun the car hard to the left, into a side road. My back end now rested in a ditch.

It must have looked worse than it turned out to be. Unfazed but slightly dazed, I exited the car. Employees of a small business had heard the commotion and went outside to observe. One of them was smoking a cigarette and I, not missing a beat, I bummed a cigarette off of her. I wasn’t sure what else to do.

The driver who had hit me looked very concerned. He had obviously been afraid that I might have been seriously hurt. The rain continued, so he suggested I sit in the cab of the truck until the police got there.

The accident was ruled to be my fault, which it was. The right-side back brake light in my car was destroyed, crushed by the force of the impact. The light looked like a huge gloved fist had punched it. As from that, the rest of the car was undamaged. I drove it for the next six months, until the engine sounded like it was popping corn, not powering the rest of the car.

The third altercation took place during the infamous and disastrous trip to St. Cloud, Minnesota. After my wreck in Chicago, the car was essentially totaled. What completely did it in was a deer. The animal ran out in front of me. I was returning back to the hotel around two o’clock in the morning, and encountered a herd of the creatures making their way across the roadway back to the woods.

My shattered headlight shined light lower than normal. This blinded one of the does, immobilizing her in front of me. My malfunctioning back brakes were no help. I recall the hollow thud of contact, how a red spray of blood and guts was flung against the windshield. The deer made a horrifying cry of panic shortly before impact.

Due to sleep deprivation and marijuana, I was beginning to hallucinate, seeing tiny glints of light everywhere. This development added a level of surrealism to what had already been a very strange trip.

The engine began to overheat. Remembering high school Driver’s Ed, I recalled that by turning on the heat, some of the excess temperature from the engine could be siphoned away. In my case, this meant that the deer guts coating the inside now began to cook.

The smell was beyond disgusting, but I had no other choice. I was a couple miles away from where I needed to be, and wasn’t strong enough to walk the rest of the way.

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