For this post, I thought I’d combine my experiences from last night with my efforts to strengthen my creative writing skills. Hope you enjoy!
“Oh shit. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”
I’m mumbling to myself while Tupac shouts about his love for Cali through my speakers and my temperature gauge steadily goes higher than I’ve ever seen it go. By the time I get to the parking garage, I can practically hear my engine screaming and it’s not a surprise that there’s white smoke billowing from under the hood.
In a frenzied move to check things out, I pop the trunk instead of the hood and curse at my car and then at myself when the hood won’t open. It’s the first time I’ve had to deal with those car troubles that all adults seem to complain about at least once in their lives since I became a car owner, which was but six months ago.
So much for buying a salvage title.
I stand sadly in front of my car for a while, watching the steam cool and thinking of how stereotypical it must look for a thin Asian girl to be standing in front of a white Honda Civic. Then I call my pops. He says to wait until the car cools then check under the pressure cap. Five hours later, and sure enough, there’s not a spot of liquid under the cap.
Great. I hope it’s just a crack in the hose and not the radiator.
I spend the rest of the day contemplating whether I should pour a gallon of water into the cap and drive home to a nearby mechanic’s or call a tow truck. As I contemplate and struggle with yet another real-life obstacle, I try to ignore my co-worker’s usual steady stream of first-world complaints triggered by a rare occasion of actually having to work.
She’s an old lady – a grandma, really – and I usually have the patience to at least pretend I’m sympathizing with her as she somehow manages to complain about a job that has full benefits, decent pay, and a lot of down time. Everything from “It’s so DARK outside. Yuck, it’s like it’s eight at night!” every other 4:30 a day to “Can you believe I’ve been doing this one thing for the past hour?” to “He just showed up and made me make copies. This has got to stop. They have to give me at least a day’s notice” to “I just can’t believe they’re making us do this” to “They’re making me go all the way down there?” – “there” being from the first floor to the fifth on an elevator. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I didn’t even know it was possible to complain that much, or that it was legal even if it were possible.
But today, I finally snap and tell her that she at least doesn’t have to deal with problems with her car and she quiets down.
That’s it. I’m taking the tow truck.
Maybe I’m worn down by my coworker and her Miltonian-without-the-genius dialogues turned monologues or maybe I just don’t want to put water into my radiator cap when temperatures have been literally freezing these days. Either way, I figure it’s better safe than sorry. Besides, I have insurance on it.
I almost immediately regret my decision when I discover that I must wait an hour for the truck to come. I heave a small sigh, regret my small lunch, and read “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” for an hour as the sun sets, night settles in, and I feel thankful for an office to wait in.
Finally, my phone rings.
“Hello? Hi, are you by your car right now?”
“Nope. I was waiting for your call. Can you fit into the garage?” The operator had previously told me that the truck might not fit through the parking structure.
“I don’t think so, not on the second floor at least. You think you can wait five minutes? I’m new to the area so I didn’t know I’d need the other truck. Sorry.”
“Sure, that’s fine,” I say, though I have a sinking feeling that those five minutes will be thirty minutes short. I make sure to keep my voice upbeat and kind, though. He sounds like a nice guy. After all, most people don’t have the decency to apologize like he did. Plus, after working in service-oriented jobs for the past few years, I know what a pain in the ass upset people can be. I just don’t want to be that point of misery for anybody else – that person who you have to act extra nice to so that they’ll at least go from yelling to simply glaring. You feel like a total loser afterwards because you know it was in your power to knock that person out rather than suck up to them like a Shakespearean jester without the wit.
“Ok, thanks. Thanks for your patience.”
I’m struck again with how cordial he is and how I could never be that nice over the phone to anybody after hauling a truck to God knows where to God knows who. It was bad enough when I had to take upset calls sitting at a desk.
Sure enough, I end up sitting in my car for twenty minutes or so before I finally hear the roar of a heavy truck. He looks at me questioningly from a distance and I give him a friendly, though somewhat frantic, wave. He nods and drives up to my poor Civic.
“What happened?” He talks to me like a friend.
“Oh, I think there’s something wrong with my radiator. There was steam and my temperature gauge -”
“Started going up?” He finishes my sentence and nods knowingly.
We get to work. I drive the car up to the truck, hoping that I’m not killing my engine even more and putting a new meaning to the phrase “beating a dead horse.” He gets to hooking up everything. He has to struggle because I parked the car at an odd angle (I worry again about being stereotyped). Even though he’s the one struggling, he keeps apologizing and assures me that he’s almost done. I just smile and thank him, again appreciating the fact that there are people in this world who are sociable and unlike me. My thoughts shift to my co-worker and I figure I’m not so bad.
Finally, he can’t take it and asks for my keys. He gets in my car and parks it so that it’s aligned with the truck.
He asks me whether I want to follow or ride with him, looking uneasy. Perhaps he’s met women before who preferred not to ride with a man in the front seat of a rickety stick shift of a tow truck, or maybe there have been one of those many cases of racism against working black males. Well, I don’t fit into either case so I say I want to ride in the truck and immediately hop in and finish reading “Catching Fire” as he puts the last touches on the chains and rig.
He starts the engine, warning me that the car is pretty jumpy. I privately doubt that it can be worse than the buses I had to ride to the firm I worked in downtown.
He compliments me on my ability to give good directions just as I lead him to nearly crash into a stop light.
“So much for good directions,” I say fretfully.
“You know, that’s actually not that bad.”
“Really?” I was hoping he’d say that and wonder if it’s true.
From then on, it’s one of the most pleasant conversations I’ve ever had with a stranger. He graduated from college not too long ago and somehow got into the towing business. He tells me where he’s from and I tell him I’m originally from San Diego. He asks me why on earth I decided to move to this area and I ask him why on earth I would ever want to move back.
“Why? Isn’t San Diego nice?”
“Oh! For retirement! Really? It’s always advertised like it’s the place to be.”
“No! There’s absolutely nothing to do there! Maybe go to the beaches, eat good Mexican food, and visit the zoo.”
And smoke pot.
“Wait, wait, wait. Now are there penguins in that zoo?”
“Yah, there are. There’s Sea World and there’s a lot of penguins there.”
“Well, then I could stay there forever! Penguins, beaches, and some good drinks. That’s all I need.”
I laugh and we talk about our jobs until he – I never did find out his name – mentions how his own tow truck breaks down now and then and the pain of having to tow his own tow truck.
“Yah, I’ve been stranded in some pretty strange places,” he says proudly.
I marvel out loud and think privately how my coworker – and the rest of the many people out in the work force too spoiled and high up for gratitude – could take a lesson from this guy. How can we possibly complain when we don’t have to drive all day, get stuck in strange places, deal with frantic people, and – as it turns out – have an hour and half commute to work every day?
During a short period of silence, we both instinctively glance at his radio.
“I’m sorry I can’t play any music for you. The radio on this old thing is…” He finishes with a disapproving shake of his head.
“Oh, it’s fine!” I think of how ridiculous it would be to feel insulted by a lack of a radio when I’m getting a ride from a stranger who just spent fifteen minutes rigging my badly-parked car. Then I immediately think of a dozen people who would.
White people problems.
We come to a stop at a light close to home.
“But, uh, you know. If I had some Tupac, I’d play it for you,” he says while staring cautiously at the floor.
And then it hits me and all I can do is hold my head in both hands and say, “Oh my gosh, you heard it” while we both chuckle.
I had left Tupac on in my car.
As he corrected my bad parking to rig the car, he was undoubtedly blasted with Pac in all his enraged glory. With more embarrassment, I realize it wasn’t even one of the nice songs that was on; it was “Troublesome ’96.”
“Yes, I don’t think most people would expect someone like me to like Tupac,” I say, feeling obligated to give an explanation for myself.
“Yeah, you threw me off with that one! I was like, ‘Whoa! Boy!’”
I was willing to bet he thought a lot more than that and not in those words.
I tell him that I started listening to Pac a year or two ago and that I thought he was more of a poet than anything. He seems further surprised by my description and tells me that he definitely agrees.
“Yeah, I like Tupac too.” He says it in such a subdued voice that I know that I’m not the only one severely understating my love for this artist for the sake of polity.
A discussion of Biggie ensues and we both agree that although “Born to Die” was a great album, his stuff gets repetitive after a while.
“Yeah, it’s all about that East-coast style. That’s cool.”
“Yeah, but you know what?” I pause, feeling unsure and giddy. “It’s westside for life, man. Westside for life.”
“Now that’s what I’m talking about!”
We finally get to my place and the tow truck jerks and hiccups to a halt. He unhooks, unchains, and – in short – un-tows my car and I reverse park it on the side street horribly.
As I hurry back to him, my body already tightening against the cold, I see him pull out papers to sign.
I say “no thanks” as he offers a reading light while I squint like an old bat to sign off.
“How long do you work?” I say as I hand back everything.
“Oh, until midnight tonight, unfortunately.”
I make a face.
“But it’s all right. I get a lot of down time in between, so it’s ok. It works out.”
“Oh. Well, hang in there,” I say with a determined face, shaking one of my fists to signal “more power to you” and trying to imagine what my co-worker’s face would look like if she was told that she’d have to work until midnight for a day.
“Thanks. I appreciate you,” he says as he waves and turns back towards his car.
I didn’t realize how short his statement was until now, but it felt long because it felt so significant.
I appreciate you.
We walked away in opposite directions, him to pull in the remaining chains and I to park my car at least two feet from the curb rather than the current four.
He drove away and I went inside my home. As I rushed to turn on the heater, I smiled and thought of how tow trucks, penguins, and Tupac now had a little more meaning in my life.