“Well, that was an ugly hand!”
“The worst one yet!”
The four women playing bridge at Pint & Plow yesterday laughed knowingly like old friends are wont to, and one dealt the cards for the next hand.
My phone rang, and it was Karen.
“Did Tivy [High School] get a hold of you?”
Her tone made me think immediately of–sadly, I’m serious, in this age–a school shooting.
She outlined the situation, and I realized the morning–and maybe the afternoon–would not be about me getting work done at this coffeeshop that doubles as an office. In fact, I had not had coffee at home; I’d run out my supply the previous morning and hadn’t stopped at H-E-B for more. (Careful Readers will note that I used the hyphens there, when I’ve omitted them in the past. You’re welcome.) I was nigh halfway done with my very first cup of java when Karen called.
So this son left school and came with me, and we grabbed lunch at Whataburger, which has a radio ad with a pre-teen, a real one, not an actor, who actually says that a meal there is as close to a home-cooked family meal as you can get. Whataburger is heads and shoulders above the crowd of fast food, but I’ll let that bit of hagiographic copywriting speak for itself.
The women next to us, one of them in her 40s and in nursing attire–lots of nursing work here; it’s as common and nearly as lucrative as hedge fund work in New York City (speaking of hagiography)–were talking about Adonijah and Solomon and the scandals of the Old Testament. This is the talk of Kerrville, and I find it refreshing to eavesdrop on. In New York, if you eavesdrop on the wrong table, you might find it necessary to wipe your ears with alcohol and a cotton swab.
Then there was The Tale Of My Car.
Driving with the out-of-school son to pick up the in-school son, all of a sudden my steering got arthritic. It had been like this for a time, and I finally took the advice of my wife, who said “Check the power steering fluid,” which I did two days ago. (Years ago, knowing I did not grow up with cars, she sent me to the mechanic with our old Volvo but instructed me on my way out the door, “Remember to ask them to check the power window [sic] fluid.” Those of you who know her will know this practical joke is completely in character.)
Yesterday, I had power steering fluid added–I had learned years earlier that most real cars do not have “power window fluid”–and this transformed the ease with which I drove Gracie. (That’s my car, a 1998 Ford Contour.) She was like a vessel newly christened by champagne, and she responded to the slightest urging of her pilot. First thing today when I tried to turn it over, the battery and oil lights came on. It took three cranks to get it running smoothly. And today around 3:15, the battery light was back on, the A/C wasn’t working, and the steering went out, making it hard work to turn corners. After school pick-up, I drove the boys home to drop one of them off and, pulling away, saw a black coil on the street where my car had been parked, engine running.
“I think that’s part of my car,” I said to the remaining son. I got out and walked over. Sure enough, it was part–part only–of a black rubber grooved belt I’d seen when inspecting my power steering fluid reservoir yesterday. I put it into the trunk and told myself I’d stop at Texas Express Lube after dropping my son at his appointment nearby.
When I got to the mechanic, they opened up the hood. Three guys, all looking in, barely letting me get my eyes on what they were seeing, and groaning, “Oh, man.” “You see that?!” “Oh, wow.”
The manager said to me, “It’s amazing you even got here.” Sure enough, I had driven 35 MPH most of the way, even when the speed limit was 55. At one point, I was on the shoulder in a 55 with my hazards going along Bandera Highway south of the intersection of Loop 534, and a State Trooper appeared and then slowed about fifty feet behind me, in the lane, ostensibly to check if I was ok. I gave him a thumbs-up out the window and then pulled into the lane at the intersection.
The serpentine belt had completely broke off. It runs the power steering, the A/C, and a whole bunch of stuff, I’m told. Maybe even the windows, the radio, and my general outlook on life. The new belt is cheap, around $42, but to get at it, they need to take a whole bunch of things to get at the pulley, which also might be broken. [Editor/Writer’s note: today, my birthday morning, I get a call and learn that, yes, the whole assembly needs replacing. The total cost is nearing Gracie’s original sales price of $650. I’m thinking about next steps.]
The good news is that one of the mechanics is interested in buying it.
“My girlfriend’s son needs a car.”
I looked at him–he looked to be about 25–and I did the relational math in my head. My pause allowed him to fill in the details.
“She’s ten years older than I am.” (I had guessed correctly, he was exactly 25.)
“Oh, so she has like a 17-year-old?”
“Yeah. This would be a first car for him!”
* * *
I left the car there for the night.
This is the field I was about to walk across–I’ve been reminded many times that no one in Kerrville walks…only the homeless do–to get to where the son’s appointment was.
Reminds me what my father would tell me about his wanting to walk the ten minutes from his aunts’ house on Church Street to downtown Williamston, NC. One of them would say, “Law, Frank! [Lord, Frank!] Don’t walk! Let me carry you over there!” [Drive you there.]