Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Automotive Adventure Ends

My automotive adventures have finally come to an end. My car was repaired yesterday, and it is now safely at home in my garage. I returned the rental car this morning and had a bit of a trek getting home from the rental car place, but this was where knowing DFW Airport pretty well helped. I took the bus from the rental car center to a terminal. There I caught the bus to the remote parking lot that also has a city bus stop. I caught a city bus there to the transit center in my general area, and from there I caught a bus that dropped me off pretty much across the street from my house, except I still had to walk a block to actually get to my house because of that brick wall that wraps around my complex. The car wasn't due until noon, but I cleverly found by checking the bus schedules that there was one bus this morning where there was a ten-minute layover at the transit center instead of 40 minutes, so I was able to get off one bus and on another one right away. The Dallas city buses are really nice compared to those I've ridden in other cities. The one that went to my neighborhood was more like a tour bus, with the seats you can recline a bit and the fold-down footrests. So now, it's all over except for paying the credit card bill next month (ouch).

This is going to sound rather odd, but I have to admit to getting a certain degree of satisfaction out of coping with adversity. Not that I want adversity to cope with, but in retrospect, I like that I was able to think one step ahead, stay calm and come up with creative solutions to my various problems without having to ask for a lot of help other than maybe some advice. I guess you can see where Katie's stubborn, independent streak comes from. I'd definitely be the type who would want to see if I could handle the scary magical stuff myself before I asked someone for help, even if I was close to someone who was a real expert on it.

The final diagnosis was a failed shift cable assembly. Apparently, the part that holds the cable that connects the gear shift to the engine broke, and the cable then popped out. It happened just as I was pulling into my garage after driving home from my parents' house. I recall hearing a noise and thought I'd just pulled too far forward and hit one of the storage bins in the back of the garage, but it was probably the cable snapping. Here's the scary part: it could have happened at any time. I'd just been driving cross-country, often in the middle of nowhere, and it could have stuck in whatever gear it was in at the time. I could have been on the open road, and then it would have been stuck in fifth gear. Instead, it stuck in first gear in my garage. I definitely have a guardian angel.

My angel has had a bit of a break with this car. This was my first serious failure with this one. I've only needed battery jumps previously (the hot weather here and the fact that I don't drive often conspire to eat batteries). But the car I had in college required a team of guardian angels to provide round-the-clock coverage, and boy, did they get put to work. They always came through, though. That car was a Sentra wagon, and it was possessed. I was at the point where I figured I'd get better results calling an exorcist than a mechanic. Yet, somehow things always worked out. The first time it died on me, I was interning at a news bureau at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Like most broadcast news internships, there was no pay, so I was trying to find a part-time job to help pay my living expenses. I'd just interviewed for a hostess job at a restaurant and my car died in their driveway as I was leaving, so I had to go back inside and ask to use their phone and phone book. On the bright side, that meant I got to spend even more time with the restaurant manager, and he got to see how I dealt with people when I was stressed, and I got the job.

It was several breakdowns before that problem was fixed. The dealership first put in a new battery, but it ended up being an intermittent problem with the fuel pump -- so intermittent that my dad took it to the local auto place when I was home between the internship and the next semester, and they told him there was nothing at all wrong with it. Then it died in their driveway as we were trying to leave. Next came a problem with the carburetor. The car died as I was driving down a major street (Research Blvd. in Austin), and I coasted into the next driveway -- which turned out to be an auto repair place.

Around this time, the car started eating clutches. The first time one burned out on me, I was driving home at the end of the school year, with most of my worldly goods in the back of the car. The car sputtered to a halt on a country road in the middle of nowhere. This was before the days of cell phones, and though there were houses nearby, it didn't look like anyone was home. Before I had a chance to start worrying, a car pulled over. It was an off-duty state trooper and his wife who were going to the city nearest my hometown (probably the best thing you could ask for in strangers offering a ride). They said they'd give me a ride to that city, and then they ended up taking me all the way to my town when they realized how close it was. They dropped me off at the school where my dad taught, where I got to tell him that I'd made it, but my car was in a ditch about five miles outside Frankston. The next clutch that went out, I was on my way home after the next fall semester. I wasn't too far outside Austin and was on a country road that would connect me to the bigger highway. I coasted up to what turned out to be a salvage yard -- right behind their tow truck. I got a tow and a ride back to Austin, to that repair shop I'd coasted into before, where I was able to call a friend to give me a ride back to the dorm. I was a day late getting home for Christmas, but at least I had a safe place to stay. Needless to say, there was a bit of a dance of joy when I traded in that demonic thing masquerading as a car.

With my last car, my angel just had to help me with a tire, when a tire blew out right in front of a Goodyear place. I did have a tire go flat on my current car, overnight while I was in a motel. I have an air compressor in the trunk, so I aired up the tire and was able to get to the Discount Tire Company shop two blocks away to get the flat fixed (and they didn't even charge me, since I'd bought tires at one of their stores before and they include free lifetime repair service -- even though those tires were on a different car).

So, while I've had my share of car troubles, they always seem to work out for me. I still get a little shaky when I realize how bad this one could have been. This is definitely one of those times when I feel like someone was watching over me. And now I guess I need to do the work that I've been needing to do while I was dealing with all this car stuff, huh?

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