Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jump Me, Please

Raised by an amateur mechanic, I’ve managed to pick up enough about cars to get myself out of most precarious vehicle oriented situations.  I was required to pass my step-dad’s personalized test before I could even consider going to the DMV to get licensed.  I had to identify all major parts of the engine, and perform basic tasks that could keep me from being stranded or allow shop mechanics to screw me over: change the oil, change a tire (Yes, I was timed; I grew up in Nascar country.), pop the clutch, jump start a dead battery, stop using the emergency brake, add water to the radiator, and siphon gas, among other things.  As a direct result of spending my youth as an assistant grease monkey, I appear to have developed some over-confidence in my ability to handle my car.  I mean, sure I can bleed new brake pads; I did it once when I was ten.  I admit to being a fairly crappy driver, but I don’t get too worked up over vehicular maintenance.  It was an inconvenience, but not a surprise when my clutch went out.  I knew I needed a new battery this year, and I was pleased to have gotten two more years than warranted out of the battery in place.  I can barely work an oven, but I can get by with my car.

The last time I changed the battery, I was in college, and I spent a month parking on hills and popping the clutch; while I could live with a dead battery, I could not foresee a month without beer.  The parking tickets I acquired cost more than twice the price of the new battery and the coat hanger I used to anchor it in place. 

This year, with winter approaching and the temperature dropping, I knew the time for a new battery was imminent.  A coworker had to jump my car a week prior, but there was frost on the windshield and 3am.  I figured if it stayed above freezing, my battery would make it another week or so, and if not, I’d just pop the clutch or get a jump.  In short, I saw no reason to rush out to buy a battery right away.  I drove to Raleigh to pick up my new motorcycle, and spent Saturday night driving home.  I realize that I’ve already admitted to being a poor driver on four wheels, so the next logical step isn’t typically to reduce the number of wheels by half, but that’s exactly what I’ve done. 

On a predictable stop for gas, my battery had finally had enough of the cold and my insistence on pushing it to its very limit.  Stranded in an apparently less-than-lucrative portion of an unfamiliar town, I considered my options.  Pushing my pickup and popping the clutch was out of the question; I was on flat ground with about 40 feet of space, hauling an additional 450+ pounds of motorcycle, and I didn’t want to risk jarring the ramshackle strapping I’d rigged.  My jumper cables were about half a foot too short traversing the distance between the motorcycle battery and the truck battery.  My only remaining option was to enlist a stranger for assistance.  Crap.  I find the damsel in distress routine abhorrent, and I despise asking for help in almost any capacity, let alone requesting aid from a complete stranger.  Luckily, this distressed damsel merely needed the hero or heroine to park their running vehicle near mine and pop the hood.  The most daunting task at hand was finding a willing participant.  Historically, I’ve had no problem helping out others in this exact scenario, so I felt confident I’d have little issue and I’d quickly be on my way.  I was wrong.

Crappy Samaritan #1:
The only other vehicle pumping gas was a short bus on an F450 frame, which I knew would easily suit my needs.  On the side of the bus was a Christian church logo, and well-dressed ladies were milling about, presumably grateful to stretch their legs.  While my experience with Christianity has been somewhat precarious, I know Christians are typically good people who are willing to help folks in need.  Furthermore, this is a group of women, so I wouldn’t have to endure a potential sleazebag staring at my breasts, talking to me as if the presence of ovaries is indicative of mental retardation, and insisting on hooking up the cables himself, risking destroying both batteries, as I’d log since removed the red plastic cover labeling the positive terminal in a fit of rage and frustration inspired by an ill fitting starter connector.  Clearly, this appeared to be an ideal arrangement. 

I approached the group with my best disarming smile and a positive attitude.  Despite the fact that I knew full well the battery in their van held twelve perfectly appropriate volts, I asked, “Hi, ladies!  What kind of battery do you have in there?”  I briefly explained my situation, and politely asked for their help.

“I’m sorry, but we can’t help you.  We can’t do things like that.  If we had a man here, it would be different.”  Excuse me?  She seriously just implied they were incapable of doing something as the direct result of the lack of a phallus present.  Just exactly what role does a penis play in using jumper cables?  I’ve never seen a penis with thumbs.  How would it reach the battery at all?  Obviously, these ladies are accustomed to much different penises than the ones in which I’ve been exposed. 

Despite my irritation at having my biggest pet peeve displayed shamelessly, I forced a smile and tried to keep my demeanor light.  I did not say, “If you can’t pop a hood and identify the battery of a vehicle, ANY vehicle, you shouldn’t be driving it.”  I did say, “Actually, ladies, I was raised by a mechanic and am about one bad date away from lesbianism by default.  I shouldn’t have an issue with it.”  Their mouths literally hung open as I shut mine.  Apparently, I’d struck their exposed right-wing republican nerve just as strongly as they had tampered with my girl power nerve.  Luckily, another car drove up at that moment.  As I scurried away, I said, “Thanks anyway, and have a safe trip!”

Crappy Samaritan #2:
I walked toward a gold sedan occupied by a lone female.  When I saw her, I was immediately relieved, thinking I’d found another chick on an independent journey.  She looked up as I was approaching, still about 20 feet away.  Her eyes grew huge, a look of sheer panic formed on her face, and she began to frantically wave me away.  I don’t know what the hoodlums of Burlington, NC typically look like, but where I come from, they do not wear college sweatshirts with pink lettering, cowboy boots, or braided pigtails.  I had no clocks or dollar signs hanging from thick chains, had no drawings of weapons adorned on my clothes, wore no ill fitting pants I’d have to hold up while running from the law, did not flash any gang signs, nor did I refer to anyone via racial slur.  This woman’s reaction appeared to be a minor infraction that I could easily overlook.  I slowed my walk and held up the jumper cables to give her the opportunity to scan her memory and identify the object as a non-weapon, which proved only mildly effective.

She cracked her window enough to facilitate speaking, but limit other interaction.  This woman obviously still viewed me as a threatening creature, a position in which I am unaccustomed to portraying.  Safety is important, and while she may be a bit dramatic, I can’t totally blame her wariness merely because I knew I didn’t want to stab her.  I gave my best disarming smile for the second time in two minutes.  “Hi!  Don’t worry; I’m not looking for money, food, or booze.  I have a simple dead battery situation.  Is there any way you can give me a jump?  You can stay in your car if it makes you more comfortable.” 

My change in approach appeared to do nothing to mollify her anxiety or convince her I had no intention of burglarizing, raping, or murdering her.  She moved her mouth toward the crack in the window to tell me, “No, I can’t help you.  I have a rental car.”  A rental car?  Last I checked, having a rental car is a rare opportunity in which you treat a car as delicately as a superhero/superheroine treats his or her crime fighting machine.  You are supposed to abuse rental cars.  One may offer to jump start a hobo’s shopping cart of bizarrely accumulated items or take one’s frustrations out by beating on the radiator or redlining the tachometer.  It makes sense to spend a few extra dollars on insurance, as you may very well destroy the vehicle by the way you treat it, given those who have come before you did the same.  This lady was either not well versed in the proper mistreatment of rental cars, or continued to believe I had nefarious intentions and was conjuring up lame excuses. 

“I understand, ma’am.  Is there any way you can stick around until I get my car jumped?  I don’t know this city, and it doesn’t look like the best area.”  I could practically see her imagining my team of merry hooligans arriving to harvest her organs for sale on the black market.  If actual trouble did arise, this woman would be utterly useless.  “Never mind.  I’ll be fine.  Thanks for your time.” 

Crappy Samaritan #3:
A gentleman arrived in a jeep and I approached him, jumper cables in hand, and asked him for assistance.  He had on a camouflage hat and looked the part of a country boy.  “I’m sorry.  I have a weak battery,” he answered.

“Okay, but your alternator is functioning, right?” No, sir, you have a weak IQ.  NEXT!

Crappy Samaritan #4:
I waited in the store for another car to arrive.  A well-dressed man entered, and I asked again for help.   He told me, “No, my car isn’t really made to jump off other cars.” 

“Oh, is it a hybrid?” I inquired. 

“No, it’s a Corolla.”  NEXT!

Crappy Samaritans #5-7:
“No.”  By this point, I’d quit thanking people for their time to hear my plea.  These folks were either idiots or jerks; sometimes it is hard to tell. 

Good Samaritan #1:
A woman walked into the store while I was asking two of the last potential do-gooders, and she had heard the denials I’d received.  She approached me and asked me if I was a student at the college advertised on my shirt.  I told her I was a graduate, as was she.  She said she’d be happy to jump start my truck so I could be on my way.  I may not be actively using the degree I’d earned in my current career, but I’m pleased that it is now officially more than an incredibly expensive conversational piece.

We walked outside, and I noticed the church van had returned.  The leader of the group approached me and told me they’d initially left, but decided to come back and wait until I was on my way to prevent any danger, which promoted them in my mind to Good Samaritan status after all.  My fellow alumna and I were able to successfully jump start my truck in a matter of seconds, earning a literal round of applause from our audience of crusading ladies.  No penis was necessary, and I made it home safely without turning off the engine. 

I bought a new battery first thing the next morning, and was even able to recycle the coat hanger holding the old battery in place by adjusting it to fit the new one.  Next time, I’ll replace the battery when it starts showing signs of trouble.  Of course, I could just park on hills for a while…