Saturday, September 4, 2010

no title yet GASP!

This is just an rough draft assignment for my english class I'm working on. The topic we had to pick was "the first time we did...."anything at all. So, here goes.

My first car was an '87 white Toyota minivan named Betsy. I didn't get a vehicle until I was 18, and even so I was still the first one in my group of friends to do so. However, that didn't mean I knew much more than the rules of the road. I didn't know how to change a tire, or that regular oil changes are as necessary as keeping gas in the tank (this may have contributed to the death of that poor beloved van). I even had a co-worker ask me once if I'd checked my blinker fluid recently, and for a few seconds I had to think about it. Then I socked him in the shoulder and he laughed and laughed.
One summer day, only a few months into my stint as a full fledged driver, I was at my friend John's house. The sun was so strong it made even the thickest leaves a translucent green and you could smell them, as if their pores were opening to breathe just as ours were to sweat. There was not a single breeze, but the beach was only ten miles away and we knew once we got down out of the mountains we could get some relief. There was no more having to ride our bikes, either, which would have had the opposite effect on our desire to cool off.
So John and I hopped in ol' Betsy, opened all the windows with a quick crank of the handles, and squirmed in the fuzzy seats. It was like putting on sweatpants, but as soon as we got the AC going we'd be okay. I turned the key and Betsy gave one feeble attempt to turn her engine over, and then nothing. I figured I'd just done it wrong, after all, I was still new at this whole driving thing. So I turned the key again, but this time all I heard was one sad little click. The sweat was really starting to pour now: I don't think they make fuzzy seats like that anymore, for good reason. At least the windows weren't automatic, but since there wasn't any breeze to speak of, it was still hotter in the car than out.
"I think the battery is dead," John suggested. Sounded reasonable to me. I knew the gas tank wasn't empty, but then, I didn't know what an alternator was or that there were fuses, which could have just as likely been the problem. I can say this now, perhaps slightly smugly, since I've killed a lot more cars since then. Which, come to think of, I shouldn't be proud of, but at least I've learned a few things.
"So, what do we do?" I asked, deferring to him as though as a male he might know more about this sort of thing.
"Well, if we had some cables, we could jump it...."
"But we'd need another car for that," I pointed out, and there wasn't one around. My house was a couple of miles away, and I could have called my Mom, but I was a cocky, independent teenager and I was going to prove it by figuring this out myself. By now it was just too hot in the car, so we got out to ponder the situation. For a brief moment the comparison of the outside air was almost refreshing. Our backsides were soaked from that brief sit in Betsy. Then our bodies re-acclimated and we were even more desperate to get somewhere cool.
"I have an idea," John said. (This later proved my presumption of male car knowledge exceeding that of females to be unfounded.) "I've heard that if you get a car rolling fast enough, like down a hill, you can jump start it that way," he said. Well, we happened to be on a hill, which I might say was lucky, unless I could've seen into the future.
"Then let's do it."
I was already aimed in the right direction, so I climbed back into that sweaty driver's seat and sat there for a moment while John climbed into the passenger side. At the bottom of the hill the road made a left turn, so I took a moment to consider before popping the E brake. At the turn there was a fence, and then a lawn, and then a house. I figured if the worst happened I'd bust a fence, but the car was going to start, right?
"Are you sure about this?" I asked. "I mean, have you actually seen this done, or know someone who's done it?"
"Oh, yeah," he said, casually waving his hand. Maybe he was just fanning himself, but I took it as a gesture of confidence. "My sister's Pinto dies all the time, and this is what she does."
"Okay." I took one last look around. I didn't want to do this when any other cars were coming: it was just a little country road, nothing like suburbia. No yellow line down the middle, no white lines on the side, and definitely nothing even close to resembling a sidewalk. Just the gray pavement stretching down... down... It wasn't really that long of a hill, but it was fairly steep. However, I hung out with guys mostly, and had a tendency to try to match their levels of testosterone with my own form of gutsy stupidity. There was no way I would back out of this. I wanted a running car, dammit, so I wiped my sweaty forehead and released the emergency brake.
Betsy started rolling slowly at first, and I tried the key a few times. Nothing.
"Wait 'till we're going faster," John said. About halfway down the hill, we seemed to be going pretty fast for being in a dead car, so I tried again. Still nothing. By now the turn was coming up pretty quick, and it seemed like the trees and houses were streaking by, flashes of green, dashes of gray and brown. I was starting to feel adrenaline buzzing through my limbs and out to to the tips of my nerves. My heart rate was was climbing in what seemed like direct proportion to the descent. I started pumping the brakes, but nothing happened, and I frantically twisted the key again and again.
Finally we hit the turn and I cranked the wheel. It locked. I smashed the brakes with all my strength and yanked the E brake and wonder of wonders, we missed the fence, slid with a terrifying, crunching, roar into roadside gravel, and managed to come to a stop. At this point the sweat pouring down us had nothing to do with the summer day. We sat there shaking a bit, then wobbled out of the car. The sun was like a spotlight, blinding us, bouncing off the white paint of the van and the fence I'd missed. My jaunty self assurance had leaked out of me faster than a wave might recede at the beach we wouldn't make it to. I was a kid again, a kid who hiked back up that steep hill to call my Mamma for rescue.
She came and looked at the battery. She had more car savvy than all my friends put together, which added to my lesson on sexual assumptions. There was a faintly sea foam green crystallized corrosion on the battery. It wasn't in need of a jump, it was in need of replacement. My first time I ever tried to jump a car, and it couldn't have even been jumped anyway.
"And honey," my Mom said, one hand over her her eyes and forehead, the other on her hip, elbow crooked. "This method only works with a stick shift."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hilarious!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i like it.... mom