Wednesday, August 15, 2007

COLUMN: Breakdown

Dear Residents of Welton, Iowa:

I hate you all, and I hate your stupid little town.

Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. I'm sure that Welton's a fine little community full of good folk who live in harmony. Truth be told, prior to last weekend, I had never even heard of Welton, Iowa. More truth be told, though, I wish I were still unaware of its existence.

The afternoon started off peachy. I decided to go for a drive with a friend of mine of the female persuasion. It was one of those aimless, Al-Gore-would-not-be-amused afternoon pleasure cruises with no particular destination in mind.

My car had other plans, though, as indicated by the temperature alarm and red lights of the not-good-at-all variety popping up on my dashboard. We were 40 miles away from home.

"Gee, golly," I said in the imaginary family-friendly-newspaper world where I never swear in real life, "This is certainly a pickle."

Happily, less than a mile away I could see a gas station. By the time I got there, though, the Beetle was making a scream under the hood not unlike the sound my cat made the other day when I accidentally rolled my desk chair over her tail. This was NOT good.

See, I've mentioned a billion times in print by now that I'm kind of a weenie, right? And most definitely, one of the chapters of "How To Be A Super Awesome Macho Dude" that I managed to skip in life was the one about automotive maintenance. I know where the gas goes, I know where the oil goes, I know where the key goes. For anything else, I know where my credit card goes.

But that repair shop was 40+ miles away. It's 1000 degrees outside, I'm trying desperately to impress a girl in my car, and I'm effectively nowhere. Excuse me, no, I'm effectively in Welton, Iowa. Ever wonder where Welton, Iowa, is? Answer: It's in NOWHERE.

I opened the hood. There's no discernable reason why I did this, because a car engine makes as much sense to me as a book written in Swahili, but I did it anyways. I checked the oil -- yep, I had oil. I checked the coolant -- yep, I had coolant. In fact, I learned that I had coolant because the moment I broke the air lock on the cap, it all boiled up and all over the engine and onto the pavement. Indeed I HAD coolant. Now the parking lot had it instead. Many apologies to the Welton townsfolk for turning your gas station into a miniature biohazard.

I went into the gas station, added some water, and tried to fire the car back up. It was not amused, and responded by squealing and bleeding all that water right out onto the ground. So I thought for a couple seconds. I needed a plan of action. A plan that would somehow allow us to be rescued, and me to save face in front of the travelling companion. I needed help, but I didn't want to LOOK like I needed help. There was one person I could call.

"Umm, hi, mom," I sheepishly said into the cell phone. "I've got a problem..." That's right. I'm man enough to admit it. My mom knows more about cars than me. It's okay, really, it is. I know more about working at a newspaper and DJing at a dance club than she does, so there. Not that my mom could do a whole heck of a lot, because my car was completely jacked. But trust me, when you're in the middle of nowhere and totally frazzled, your mom's voice can be a good one to hear.

I called a tow truck. I called a friend to come rescue us. Then I waited. And spent more time in Welton than I ever care to. (To add insult to injury, a sign informed us that Friday was "Halibut Day" at that gas station. Curses, missed it by only one day!)

Our crisis was averted. My friend showed up in record time, and, eventually, so did the tow truck. My poor car got hauled back to Moline where I learned that both my water pump and timing belt had gone ker-blooey. Also ker-blooeyed? My checking account, once I paid for the repairs AND the cross-country tow. All told, it was certainly the most expensive daytrip I'd ever taken.

In retrospect, I don't feel so bad that I'm an idiot when it comes to car repair. I mean, even if I HAD known what I was doing under the hood, it wasn't like I could've MacGyvered up a new timing belt with some paper clips and chewing gum. Even if Jeff Gordon had been in the car, we still would've been standing around waiting for that tow truck.

So good people of Welton, I apologize for my earlier outburst. I'm sure your car-eating town is a pleasant place to be. In fact, some of you stopped to see if I needed a hand, and that was pretty cool (though if I had a nickel for every time I heard, "I thought the engine was in the BACK har har," I'd totally have 35 cents by now.) Just forgive me if I'm not exactly in a rush to return to your neck of the woods (Halibut Day notwithstanding.)

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