Friday, July 18, 2008

It's gotta be the shoes

I should have known it would be coming.  I mean, for a few weeks now, my car had been doing odd things, like doors locking when they shouldn't and alarms not going off when they should.  So, when I went out to my car and the key bipper didn't work, I just chalked it up to more of the same.  And then, when I tried to start it and nothing happened, well.  I have to admit I wasn't surprised at all.

Here's the thing:  I live in the city.  I know my neighbors only a very little.  The guy across the hall from me is never home unless he's having a gigantic party. Upstairs is Cathy, who is just lovely but works all the time.  And then there's Frank, the rock star.  Frank fronts for a band that you've heard on the radio.  When I moved in and saw the name of his band on his mailbox, I thought, good god.  I'm never going to be able to talk to this guy.

But Frank's nice.  And in the end, he's the only one who was home.  I told him what was going on and asked him for a jumpstart.  But here's the other thing about the city: not everybody owns a car.

"But I have an idea," Frank said.  "What if we put your car in neutral, push it, and then see if we can start it that way?"

Really?  I said.  That works?

"Sure," said Frank.  He seemed really excited by the possibility of pushing my car.  I couldn't understand it.  I guess all men, even rock stars, get excited over fixing cars.  "Just let me put on some shoes."

We went downstairs and chatted for a while about his recent show at Ravinia and his new album and the weather and when we got to my car, we realized that we couldn't push it forward because the car in front was too close.  I have to park on the street, you see.  If you ever need an expert parallel parker, I'm your girl.

But Frank wasn't deterred.  "Here's what we'll do," he said.  "Put it in neutral, we'll push it backward, and then we'll push it forward and you try to start it."

Are you serious?  I said.  I was laughing like a madman at this point.  Yes, my car was dead, but come on.  How many people have rockstars offering to push their car?

So I got in the car and put the key in the ignition.  However, when I tried to put the car in gear, I couldn't move the gear shift at all.  My car is relatively new, see, and all this fancy antitheft stuff kicks in just when you want it least.

I got out of the car and Frank and I just kind of stood there, looking at it.  "Maybe you have jumper cables?" he said.  "If you had cables, maybe we could flag somebody down."

I popped the trunk and we both went to study the contents.  My winter coat, which isn't really all that handy in July.  My tap shoes.  The oscillating fan for my classroom.  My schoolbag and laptop.  A cute pair of strappy sandals.  Frank seemed kind of bemused by the contents.  "Maybe in the wheel well?"  I lifted the wheel well.  In there was, well, a wheel.  And the missing piece from my clarinet.  God knows how it got there.

I shut the trunk.  You know, I said to him.  I have to say that you're the best.  You don't even really know me and still you were willing to push my car. 

He laughed and said he was out of ideas.  It was time for a tow.

Yeah, I said.  But you're still the best.

Frank went back upstairs and I looked at my car for a minute before calling Marcus.  Marcus, you see, was the person I was supposed to be meeting.  Um, I said.  I've got a little problem.

Marcus, however, always was on top of things.  He had jumper cables in his trunk, he was on Lake Shore Drive, and he could be there in fifteen minutes.

Great, I said.  I'll wait.

So I just kind of leaned against my car and waited.  A woman came down the street and yelled that she loved my shoes.  I love my shoes, too.  I can't afford the fancy ones, but they're always cute.  Thanks, I yelled back.  A minute or two later, a man drove by and yelled hello hot mama.  I ignored him.  In the time that I was waiting for Marcus, four or five more men drove by and yelled or honked.  Seriously?  I thought.  I was only standing out there for about fifteen minutes.  And here's the thing: I like to dress like a girl.  You don't usually find me knocking around town in jeans and a t-shirt.  You'll find me in a skirt and some cute shoes.  Nothing overtly sexy, but.  I look like a girl.  I consoled myself that at least nobody drove up and asked how much.

Perhaps it was the shoes.

Marcus finally appeared and he did, indeed, have jumper cables.  We popped our hoods and studied the contents.  It had been a long time since I'd done this, and I only half-remembered how.  And also, I'd never done it with my car.  Marcus suggested the owner's manual and we studied the pictures.  Seemed easy enough.  We tried to connect it.  The jumper cables weren't long enough.

Now, you have two choices in this kind of situation. You can either get angry and upset or you can succomb to hilarity.  I chose hilarity.  Marcus was a little less amused.  He closed his trunk, pulled his car closer to mine, and tried again.

We hooked everything up, he started his car, and my car alarm immediately started going off.  Of course, I thought.  I'd used my key to get in because the power was out.  The key worked now, however, and I was able to shut the alarm off. However, when I tried to get into the car, I couldn't.  Marcus's car was too close.  And the passenger door?  Locked.  The keys?  In the ignition.

I can't make this stuff up.  Again, hilarity ensued.  At least you can tell people this story, I told Marcus.  

"Right," he said.  He seemed less convinced.

Marcus had to get back in his car again, move it enough so I could get in, climb across and unlock the passenger door, and move it again so the cables would reach.  Finally, everything was ready. He started his car.  I climbed into the passenger seat of my car and maneuvered into the driver's seat.  You never realize how long your legs are until you have to tuck them in and around a small space.  But I did it.  I've got skills.  I had to kick off my shoes in order to pretzel myself up enough, though.

The dashboard lit up.  Excellent sign, I thought.  However, when I tried to turn the key, nothing happened.  I looked at the console and an alarm indicator showed that the anti-theft system had kicked in.

The good news is that now I know it's incredibly difficult to steal my car.  The bad news is there was no way I was going to get my car started without help.

We got out of our cars and studied them again together.  "I think you have to call for a tow," said Marcus.  It was the second time that evening that a man had told me that, and I wasn't having any of it.

No, I said.  We're going to lock it, get in your car, and go to dinner as planned. I'll take care of the problem in the morning.

I mean, seriously.  No rush.  The car was definitely not going anywhere.  

I got home after midnight and looked through my papers.  My warranty it seemed covered everything because I only had 28,000 miles on it.  I made a phone call.  Honda said that I would need the dealer to fix the problem, so I would have to wait until morning anyway.

I woke up early, made the necessary phone calls, called in sick to work, and went outside to wait for the tow truck.

Things were a little different this morning, however.  There were cars parked in all the empty spots from the night before and people milling around in front of the building across the street.  I looked closer and realized that many of those people had bullet-proof vests on.  Cops.  They had the door to the building open and stood around it, unworried.

A couple of teenage hooligans walked by and shouted, "What did he do?"

Murder, a cop replied, and laughed.  I couldn't tell if he was laughing because he was screwing with us, or if he just really liked pulling a murder case.  I seriously hoped it was not the latter option.

I went back in the house and called my brother Brian, the cop.  Brian works in a different district than I do, but if he's working, chances are he knows the basic details of a murder.  He wasn't working, though, and knew nothing about it.  He had the morning off.

I went back outside and waited for the truck again.  It took much longer than the estimated hour.  It always takes much longer.  This is Chicago.  It can take you an hour to go two miles if traffic hits you the wrong way.

The tow truck finally arrived and I went to meet him.  The driver was this grizzled old man who seemed totally unconcerned that he was blocking an entire lane of traffic.  I explained my issue.  He nodded.  "You don't need the dealership," he said.  "I can fix your problem."

You can?

He nodded.  "First I need to jump you again."  He pulled the truck around and connected the cables.  Of course he got it right the first time.  Then he asked me for my key.  He was going to code the car again, he said.  

Just then a cop walked by and I asked her what was going on.  "We're just checking some things out," she said cryptically.

Now, when I was a child, there was this show called the Bozo show that I watched almost every day.  I was even on the Bozo show once.  I'm sure one of my siblings still has the videotape.  Anyway, on the Bozo show, there was this character called Wizzo the Wizard.  He would cast spells on things with his Magical Stone of Zanzibar by raising the stone above said object and saying the magic words, to wit: "Doo dee doodeedoodeedoodoodoo!"

The tow truck driver was doing a remarkable impression of Wizzo.  He walked around my car, touching my key to certain points around the vehicle and waving it like ... like the Magical Stone of Zanzibar.  All of a sudden, the alarm started going sounding.  He got back in the driver's seat, turned the key, and the car started.  I'm telling you.  It was magic.  I've never seen anything like it.

How did you do that? I asked.

"I was just recoding the car by touching the key to the sensors," he said.  "You know you've done it right when the alarm goes off."

Good to know.

He said I should immediately drive my car to the dealership and make them fix everything that seemed even a little wrong as long as I was still under warranty.

I stopped at Brian & Viv's house first.  Here's the thing: I'm not an idiot.  However, certain men seem to think I'm an idiot, simply because they're wearing a mechanic's uniform and I'm not.  They will suggest things that I don't need and I don't know enough about cars to know that I don't need them.  Turns out I didn't need the support.  Bri stood next to me, but I knew when to say yes and no and when to insist that they look at something again.  

While they were looking at my car, we went shopping.  I bought new shoes.

I also asked Brian about the cops.  "Was there an ambulance?" he asked.


"Then he was lying.  If there's a body, no matter how long they're dead, we have to call an ambulance.  Cops aren't allowed to pronounce anybody dead."


"Really.  Even if we find someone in an advanced state of decomposition, we're not allowed to pronounce somebody dead.  I once responded to a call where a guy had his brains blown out and we still had to call the ambulance."

That was a relief.  So why were they there, do you think?

Bri thought about it for a minute.  "Well.  Maybe there was a body."

You just told me you thought there wasn't.

"There could be, though, especially if they've been dead for a while.  Sometimes the ambulances will drag their feet if they're really busy.  They don't like to deal with dead bodies."

You think?

"The key is crime scene tape.  Was there any?"


"Good.  Then it's not a body.  Maybe it's just a suspect who's already disappeared and they're executing a warrant."

That didn't exactly reassure me, either.

They weren't able to fix my car that day, but it was running enough for me to take it home that night.  When I got home, I looked across the street: no crime scene tape.  Okay.  No body.  A suspect, maybe.  In what?  This still bothers me more than a little.  You never can know who your neighbors are.  Not all of them are handsome, kind rock stars.

And even though it took two days, the boys in the service department got my car doing what it was supposed to do.  I guess there were things that never worked right in my car in the first place, even though it was brand new when I bought it.  A nice man Earl took care of me and didn't at all treat me like a girl.

Go figure.  It's gotta be the shoes.

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