Sometimes a breakdown is just a breakdown

During the best of times, I pace a lot. I’m the antsy type.

When things aren’t going I pace even more, which one night got one woman’s attention near a bus stop in Albany, New York.

In the beginning, there was the “MacGyver” car.

It was a 1984, or maybe 1986, Dodge Aries. It was my first car, bought from a used car lot near where my parents lived just before my senior year in high school.

Keeping it on the road tested my father’s considerable mechanical ability, no more so than when he ran a wire from the fan to a toggle switch he installed in the dashboard so I could run the fan manually, because it wouldn’t run itself.

But in the same way Richard Dean Anderson couldn’t solve everything with bailing wire and bubble gum, the Aries was retired to the auto graveyard, which is how I wound up in the car I drove during graduate school and the years thereafter.

I don’t remember the make and model, but I do remember it not having a radio (my father’s attempt to replace the AM radio having been unsuccessful) or the bar that protected the front driver’s-side fender (after I didn’t realize it had hooked the wheel well of my neighbor’s car and ripped it off).

It was that car I was driving home from the store one night when the occupants of another car stopped to get my attention at a red light to ask if I noticed the smoke coming out from behind my car.

Now that they mentioned it, I hadn’t, but even with my limited mechanical ability, I knew that was bad, so I pulled off on a side street.

It was the days before cellphones, but fortunately also the days when you could knock on a stranger’s door at night without them assuming they’re going to rob or kill you, so I called my parents from a nearby house.

It took a second to process what she was saying, and then it hit me: alone, nighttime, bus stop, antsy, not wanting to talk.

And this is where the woman at the bus stop came in.

I had to wait about 40 minutes for my parents, and my car was sitting nearby with a problem of some sort that I didn’t know.

So yeah, I was a bit antsy and wearing out the sidewalk with my pacing, and I was a bit short with her when she asked if I needed anything.

Not nasty, just short, and antsy.

”You know, you’re just wasting your life.”

It took a second to process what she was saying, and then it hit me: alone, nighttime, bus stop, antsy, not wanting to talk.

She thought I was waiting to make a drug deal.

When it hit me, I just laughed. She went on her way, and eventually, my parents showed up.

We figured out the problem in as long as it took to back up about two feet, because that’s when the muffler fell out.

It had broken off, bounced off the road and gotten wedged between the tire and the body of the car.

We eventually got it fixed.

Although I owned multiple cars that tested my father’s creative-repair skills, none of them were quite like the one in the photo by Christopher Windus on Unsplash.

 

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