Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bad Stuff Happens

Well 2013 started well.

Actually, it started well before it started, on the last day of term 2012, when the Stevieling brought her mother's station wagon back from its first trip to school complaining that the brakes were not working properly. I didn't do anything about it before Christmas because when I went out to try it turned out the (new) battery was flat as a pancake.

After Christmas was over and done with and the new year started (without a bang: we were all sick and no-one was running a party this year) I went out with an extension cord and my trusty battery charger and charged the battery, discovering that the reason it was flat was the dome light had been left on since Azathoth-knows when. It seems to me that when I had a Mini with a poxy generator that barely got the job done at the best of times and a battery you had to fill with distilled water every few weeks I could leave a dome light on all night and still start the car the next day, but today's alternator-fired "long-life" sealed-at-the-factory batteries are clapped-out after a few hours of such abuse. I digress

After 36 hours of charging the car fired up, engine revving itself to death thanks to some sort of automated cold-start technology that replaced the old pull-to-start choke on my old Mini, and I put it in reverse. The car shot backward at alarming speed.

I tromped on the brakes and was rewarded with the reassuring thump of my foot meeting the firewall in the characteristic way it does when there is not so much as a drip of brake fluid in the pipes.

Defusing the tension this brought on by screaming, fearing to put on the foot-operated parking brake lest I uncovered some new malfunction, I slammed the car into "Park" and stopped just short of the road, the car rocking madly on its overly-soft suspension.

Pausing only to shout some class four Words of Power, whimpering with manly adrenaline, I engaged "Drive" and shot towards the fence again, madly stamping on the useless brake pedal in the vain hope it would magically precipitate braking from the aether. Slamming the shift once more into "Park" I brought the vehicle to a more or less controlled stop and my bowels to a more-or-less uncontrolled start.

The next day I obtained two quart bottles of brake fluid, topped off the reservoir and pumped the brake pedal in the hope that it would produce some sort of hydraulic magic. Each press of the pedal produced a "whushk-whushk" sound from under the car and when I looked, yes indeed, brake fluid was pouring from just ahead of the driver's side rear wheel.

Monday was Martin Luther King day, a holiday in New York, and I discovered a local mechanic was actually open for business. I stopped by and talked over the problem and told him I would bring the car over late that night so as to avoid all traffic.

My plan was that I would fill up the reservoir and drive slowly the mile or so to the mechanic with the hazard flashers on and the car in low gear. I would be moving slowly and could probably coast in neutral before stopping without brakes at all.

Of course, at around 4 pm it began snowing.

At 9 pm Mrs Stevie took my car and parked around the corner next to Mad Joe's house. I poured the remaining 1/3 of the brake fluid in the bottle into the reservoir, backed the Family Truckster out into the street and found the braking...wanting. It handled stopping rather in the same way a supertanker does, by not doing much of it on the whole.

I eased the monster round the corner, stopped and grabbed the second quart of fluid from the trunk of the Steviemobile, which I then poured into the reservoir, using about 2/3 of the bottle. That, and some class three Words of Power was enough to get me to the mechanic's shop.

I left the bottle of fluid on the driver's seat and taped a big sheet of paper across the steering wheel on which I had written "NO BRAKES", and we left the place in the Steviemobile.

Over the course of the next few days the reports came in. There was a brake pipe broken - $200. The caliper had to be changed because the bleed nipple was frozen - $200. The master cylinder needed changing because the seals had gone - $200. Some sort of valve had "carboned up" and was causing the engine to race. It needed changing - $150.

We eventually got it back but the brakes still felt "soft" to me and the Stevieling, but it didn't matter because she was going to use her Grandfather's station wagon. She took it out that Monday night to pick up pizza.

And called us to say that she'd gotten one block before the steering failed.

The mechanic towed the vehicle and found that the serpentine belt had failed - $100. The reason the serpentine belt had broken was that the bearing on the a/c compressor had broken up - $350.

So, bearing in mind that the Family Truckster is a heavy car with spongy brakes, the Stevieling is now using the Steviemobile to go to and from college.

This would have meant that I would have been driving the deathmobile, but I threw out my back the day before the Steering Incident took place1 and so I've been lying around in agony for four days, apart from a side-trip to Doc Rubberglove's new House of Pain.

This began well when I used my Tom Tom GPS system to find the place. He moved to new digs about a month before Christmas and I punched in the address, some few miles East of Chateau Stevie in East Islip, then and stored it under "Doc Rubberglove". I then stored a bunch of other places, including Pete's House O' Games, my local seller of nifty game stuff, located in Plainview to the West of Chateau Stevie.

I punched up "Doc Rubberglove" on the old GPS screen and was directed up Pineacres Boulevard, an instruction the damned thing always starts with and which I always ignore as the veriest gibberish. For some reason the bloody GPS is in love with Pineacres Boulevard and will direct me to drive it and thence a network of narrow, stop-sign infested side streets, typically to get me to the same road I can get to by turning left out of my driveway and driving three blocks. So I ignore the increasingly strident cries of the GPS until it gets its act together and recalculates the route using sensible parameters.

This day the bloody thing seemed to be on a roll, for it was trying to get me to drive North. Doc Rubberglove's practice is to the South and East. Still, after about five minuets of ignoring the GPS I decided to follow the latest recalculated route, which had me on the LIE in no time - heading West. I found a trucker's parking area and pulled over.

The Tom Tom does not have a feature allowing a visual inspection of the actual address stored under a "favorite" destination, but I eventually found a feature that enumerated the route as text and found that it was taking me to Plainview. I don't know why unless the memory glitched and Pete's House O' Games was now the destination of (any) choice.

Naturally I did not have Doc Rubberglove's new address because I HAVE A GPS!!!!

So I was forced to call them and get their address so I could re-enter it into the GPS. A new problem immediately presented itself when the list of towns that the GPS knew about didn't include the town of East Islip. A light dawned. I didn't have the external power supply connected.

I usually do, but I hadn't bothered this time since I wasn't worried about traffic and the only extra functionality I'm supposed to get with the power connected is a cellular-connected real-time traffic update. I plugged it in and Hey Pasta! East Islip was now an available choice. Not only that, the other info I needed to input sprang into being as though the GPS now knew the way to Doc Rubberglove's after all.

So we set off again, and the GPS took me off the Long Island Expressway on a voyage of discovery through the outskirts of Pilgrim Psychiatric Facility in order to get me on the Sagitos Parkway, something we could have done easily by staying on the Long Island Expressway another 1000 yards or so.

If you are reading this and you are a Tom Tom route algorithm programmer, I hate your guts and wish you a plague of boils and a tax audit.

Eventually we reached Doc Rubberglove's Palace of Pain and Misery, and in no time he was showing me around the bombsite that is his new practice. When I didn't make enough encouraging and approving noises he diagnosed a bad back and told me to drop my pants so he could give me some shots.

"I'm going to apply some cold" he said, donning protective ear gear and spritzing me with liquid nitrogen. Having distracted me with agony, he rammed a hypo into my left hip, skillfully avoiding my attempts to claw his eyeballs out.

"This next one will hurt a bit" he said, faked left and rammed another hypo into my right buttock containing something like a cortisone shot, but in this case the agony cut in as soon as the shot was given instead of five minutes later. I stood up with the aim of maybe punching him in the spuds or head-butting him, but instead was hit with the greatest feeling of sixties camaraderie I've experienced since the Demerol Shots of 1992.

"Whoa! Thanks, Doc!" I said, flashing him the peace sign.

He scowled. "There should be no side effects. How do you feel?"

"Outasight, man!" I burbled, reeling slightly.

"Any Pain?" he asked.

"Nope. Well, yeah, I suppose so, but who cares?" I responded.

"Well that's not right! Are you alright to drive?" he asked, or maybe it was the purple marmoset he had on his shoulder.

"Sure, man" I said. "My eyeballs feel a bit too big for their sockets and there's the whole oil-wheel eyesight thing, but I think I'm good to go".

So after signing various release forms with an inked locust I limped out of the office, weaving around the animated vines that seemed to be sprouting from the ceiling and climbed back into the car, which now resembled a large stuffed crocodile, and drove home via the pharmacy for some muscle relaxants and it was home to the giant toadstool where I slept for six hours.

Today, I woke to the feeling that my eyeballs were too small for their sockets, and the world was a less colorful and cartoony place, worse luck.

  1. walking slowly across a room

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