Musings, ramblings and other nonsensical thoughts
The Best Car I Ever Had
I remember the day I first heard about the best car I ever had. Newly single, I was working at a small publishing company in Costa Mesa. My parents, who lived up in Kernville, called me at work and told me they had found a great used car just perfect for me. Since most of the folks living in their area were retired, this car actually was owned by a little old lady who only drove it to the store and to church.
My parents were on the lookout for a car for me because of car I was driving at the time—a beat up Volkswagen bug that had seen better days. Something was going horribly wrong with the transmission causing it to slip out of gear with a bang! that would rock the entire car. Someone had also turned left into the car, shredding driver’s-side fender, which I remedied by having the fender cut off halfway. While this made the car driveable it had the unforeseen effect of funneling water into the car and onto me whenever I drove through standing water without remembering to roll up the window.
So it was time for a new vehicle. What kind of car is it? I asked. A Chevy Chevette, they told me, completely unaware of the humiliation they were about to inflict. I was so excited; I thought the name sounded sporty. I got off the phone and ran down the hall to the lunchroom where all my coworkers were gathered and announced, “Guess what? My parents are buying me a Chevette.”
I can still hear the howling laughter.
I was completely confused. How could a car with such a cute name elicit such derision? I came to understand that on the ladder of respect, the Chevette occupied the lowest rung, lower than even the Pinto.
But having suffered through completely unreliable vehicles, both new and used, I was glad to get it. For example, I once owned a Volkswagen Karmin Ghia that was such a nightmare that when it self-ignited in a hospital parking lot (apparently these cars were known for ignition switches that would spontaneously combust) I prayed it would burn to the ground and I could collect the insurance. Unfortunately, a 10-year-old boy saw the fire and called the fire department, which promptly arrived and put out the blaze, saving the car. I nearly wept. Worse, I had to give the kid a reward for his quick thinking.
The Chevette wasn’t pretty. It was beige and nondescript. But almost as if it knew it would never get by on its looks it ran like a demon.
Oh sure, there were occasional breakdowns. One Friday night, driving up the 405 the timing belt broke. I managed to drift over to the side of the freeway, not too far from an off ramp. Since this was before cell phones, I had to hike up the off ramp to find a phone. I ended up at a car lot and called Triple A. I was frantic and the guy on the other end was sympathetic—until he asked me the make and model of my car.
A Chevy Chevette I told him. He burst out laughing and queried, “What color is it, blue or beige?”
My boss at the publishing company also had a Chevette, giving you an idea as to how well paying that job was. He was 6' 4″ and had decided to combat his baldness by joining the Hair Club for men, resulting in some sort of weave on the top of his head.
Now every Chevette suffered the same event; after a certain number of miles the headliner would just collapse. Sometimes this was total, other times only sections would come unglued. In my case it was the area over the back seat. Any passengers sitting there had to hold the headliner up off their hairdos (my girlfriends said it was like traveling in a circus tent). I eventually just tore the entire headliner out making the car look even more like a tin can.
But when my boss’s headliner gave way over the front area, he decided to squirt glue up through tiny slits he had cut into it, thinking this would adhere the headliner back on. What happened instead was that the glue seeped through and never really dried, causing him to leave strands of his fake hair all over the headliner.
I met the best mechanic I’ve ever had because of this car and I have him to thank for the fact that I drove it for over six years, since on one Christmas Eve he managed to save it from the salvage yard.
It was a grim diagnosis, something involving the crankshaft pulley and if it couldn’t be fixed, and there was a chance it couldn’t, the car would have to be junked. I remember he almost had tears in his eyes when he told me this, he knew I didn’t have the money to replace that car.
But somehow, he fixed it; he was my Christmas miracle that year. And that car went on to drive me to Florida and then back to California, unfortunately without air conditioning, which went out just as I arrived to Orlando—in August.
I made my second husband tow that car from Jacksonville to Corpus Christi, while I drove behind the moving van in his perfectly pristine, shiny white pickup truck. And even in the dusty Texas towns we drove through the Chevette’s reputation preceded it. Once, as he was waiting at the light and I was behind him in his truck, a pickup full of migrant farm workers pulled up alongside him. They actually pointed at the Chevette he was towing and laughed.
I finally let go of the car when we arrived to Corpus Christi. There was some issue with the steering wheel. Apparently it wasn’t supposed to feel as if it were about to drop off the column. So I sold it to a guy who was going to use it to run fish up and down the docks. I felt as if I was betraying a friend and it bothered me to think that the car would no longer smell like perfume and hairspray but rather bait. I like to believe though that it is still in action, not getting by on its looks but making this guy think of it as the best car he ever had.
My mad plumbing adventure, or more aptly, my trip down the rabbit hole
TO: The Honorable Councilwoman, Rae Gabelich/District 8
Dear Ms. Gabelich:
I want to tell you about my experience with Long Beach water and sewer because it just doesn’t make sense to me, nor to anyone I’ve related this story to. I’m wondering if it will to you. Here’s the nutshell version:
I have lived at __________ for several years. This is a duplex and I am a renter and my landlady lives next door. During the time I’ve lived here we have experienced ongoing plumbing problems. Laundry drains will back up, which causes the toilets not to flush and to almost overflow and the showers to back up.
Typically, it has been my side of the duplex that has had the most trouble. I have been flooded about six times—not New Orleans-style flooding by any measure, but with the kitchen floor covered in water, the washer/dryer standing in about four or five inches of water and so on.
(I have consequently developed a fear of water-based appliances and have become inordinately fixated on watching the toilets flush)
The department of water and sewer was called out the first time this happened and told my landlady and me that the pipe leading from the house to the street, which is the city’s responsibility, was clogged with tree roots. They ran some sort of hose down the sewer and cleared it and told us the pipe would need replacing. They put us on the schedule for this and said that anytime we backed up we should call them and they would come out right away and clear us.
We continued to back up and they came out as they said they would. Sometimes they were able to clear us; sometimes they said our pipe was clear and it was a plumbing problem under the house. So, we called various plumbers who, over a series of visits, rootered pipes, cleared vents, installed a catch; they were here constantly, as was the city.
The last time we clogged up was on a Saturday and I had company staying for the weekend. So of course, my laundry area flooded; the toilets and shower backed up; and the kitchen floor was covered in water. We called the city and they came out and that’s when I discovered they were not rootering the pipe, they were merely power-flushing it and had been doing this all along.
They told me the city pipe was clear and that I’d have to call a plumber. He comes out and it turns out the pipes under the house were clear also. The plumber can’t figure out why I’m still backed up, but I won’t let him leave until he does. In a desperate attempt to shake me from his leg, he decides to ignore what the city has said and rooters out the pipe, pulling out tree roots and God knows what else. We are once again clear.
Two days later the city comes out to replace our pipe, which I assumed was damaged. A couple of days before this the gas company came out and marked the gas line. The next day someone came out and posted “No Parking” signs. At 7:00 am on D-Day, the city crew came out with a backhoe. They dug up the lawn. They dug up the sidewalk. And then these five guys stood around looking very puzzled.
“What’s up?” I said.
Well, I am told, there’s nothing wrong with your pipes. The tree roots are gone.
“What do you mean?” I inquired. And then I tell them about the events of the weekend and how the plumber rootered the pipes.
Well, I am told, that took care of the problem.
“You mean that all along the whole problem was that the pipe needed rootering and that could have solved the problem? Why didn’t you guys do that?”
“That would make us plumbers,” said the lead guy. “And we’re not plumbers.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that was all we needed to do?” I queried.
“Because most people don’t want to deal with it, they want the city to deal with it,” he explained.
“So,” I continued, “the city thinks it’s more cost-effective to withhold this information and to instead, get an entire crew out here, dig up the lawn, dig up the sidewalk, and replace a pipe that just needed to be rootered out?”
It was as if I had been suddenly transported into a Joseph Heller novel.
“You realize this doesn’t make sense,” I said, wondering if it did and if my brain had suddenly been deleteriously affected by my activities in the early seventies and I just wasn’t getting it.
So to recap, rather than telling us rootering was all that was required, the city instead let us wrestle with this problem for almost two years, sending out employees on multiple occasions, causing us to endure all manner of expense and inconvenience (have you spent any time around mold abatement equipment? I can still hear the fans) and even more importantly, spending taxpayer dollars to replace pipes that don’t need replacing.
Does this seem logical to you? Because if it does, I’ve fallen through the rabbit hole.
I can understand the whole “we’re not plumbers” thing, but why can’t the city establish a contract with a plumber that can rooter when that’s called for? Or, why can’t the department at least tell people all of their options?
By the way, you’ll be happy to know that the city crew said our plumber did such a good job of rootering the pipe that we’ll be flowing unstopped for the next five years or so.
I come from a family of walkers. We especially liked our after-dinner walks. My sisters and my parents and I would hit the sidewalk, saying hello to the neighbors, noticing whose house was looking especially attractive (and whose needed work). Walking was a way of connecting with our surroundings and with each other. The exercise, always good for us my mother would remind, was an added bonus.
I’ve clung to the walking habit ever since. It’s more than a workout to me; walking is solace, reflection and companionship. Most of my girlfriends like to walk and we power along together—we seldom stroll, velocity is usually required—mulling over children, husbands and lovers, parents and work.
I like to walk alone too, around the village area where I live. I like to see the passersby and wave hello to the shopkeepers I’ve gotten to know. I stop to pet dogs and cats, and to admire babies and praise them to their parents.
I mark the seasons by walking. In the summertime the sun beats down on me and my hands swell and I’m an unsightly, sweaty mess. In the fall, I scuff through leaves and see the Halloween decorations go up. In the winter, my friends and I bundle up and head out into the dark, walking through silent, cold streets. People are snug in their houses; we see our breath hanging before us, and we marvel that we alone are seeing the stars. And in the spring there are the gardens, the soft air, and kittens that plant themselves in front of me.
I’ve walked when what I’ve most wanted to do was stay in bed and cry. I’ve walked (limped actually) when I’ve been injured. But mostly, I’ve walked happy—or if I didn’t start out that way, I ended up that way if only because of the sheer pleasure of movement. This is another reason I walk; because I know that mobility is not guaranteed. There may come a time when I cannot throw my sneakers on and head out. So I guess I walk because I can. And if someday I’m no longer able to do so, at least I’ll have all those glorious memories of when the breeze was in my face, a good friend was at my side and our feet were striking the pavement with purpose and joy.