Narcissit? Who me?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Repost: Transportation

I've made some additions and changes to this. Sorry it is so long!

            There really isn’t any problem I have a harder time with than the frustrating complexities that arise when transporting myself from point A to point B. Whether it is weather, traffic, street crime or any other of the limitless obstacles that come between me and my destination, I have trouble dealing. On foot I walk in front of cars; as a passenger I am an eyeful of distraction, and I would be sure to kill myself, and a number of human beings/ small mammals that share the motorways with me, if I ever straddled a bike again.  But because I don’t have Howard Hughes’ debilitating wealth, I have to leave the house on occasion to earn money, and purchase necessities such as food, and various blankets with sleeves.  And this sets up all sorts of situations that have cost me dearly in time, money, and dignity.
My transportation issues didn’t come along to ruin my life until I was of age to take responsibility for my own comings and goings. Before I was sixteen my parents, and most often my older siblings, graciously shuttled me between school, home, and the one activity I participated in when I was a child, movie rentals.  But as soon as I was legally allowed to drive, I assume through some sort of loophole during the testing system, I was on my own. In the time it took to print a government issued ID, my fate was sealed, and my troubles began.
As any ill-qualified teenage driver in a sub-arctic region, I experienced the usual type of side of the road, driven straight into a snow-drift type emergency, in which, every time, I was rescued by a stranger. I have also dealt with the usual driving away from the house with the extension cord still attached, and the icy-road condition funfest that is driving your friends home in February. But amazingly I was able to survive my high school commute of roughly two minutes, unscathed. Save for a few parallel-parking issues, and the unavoidable rural obstacle of cows on the road, the tiny streets of my town were quiet enough that I miraculously avoided the kind trouble that has plagued me ever since I left those sleepy streets.
Sure, car trouble is one thing, but the one great human equalizer, the social experiment on wheels, and the experience I was wholly unprepared for when I left home, was that of riding the city bus. My hometown was so small that we had zero forms of public transportation, except for the occasional hayride; so riding a bus with strangers was the newest of experiences.  Getting a bus pass, stepping onto a bus, and picking a seat were all new to me when I started University. At first I was excited, who wouldn’t? I get to pay hundreds of dollars to take the most inefficient route to my school on a schedule that would either deliver me an hour early, or fifteen minutes late for class. All good things, admittedly, but the bus and I got off on the wrong foot. Literally.

Mastering the bus took a lot of practice. Practice that I was unfortunate enough to participate in alone. I had no coaching, and in the city I was living in, I was alone in my area of town, so unless I was going to befriend any of the shift workers that rode the same route as me, I was bus-buddy-less. I had seen people ride buses in movies, and on TV, and most of them were Muppets, so I was pretty sure I could handle it. I would arrive at the bus stop, wait anywhere between minus thirty seconds and a half hour, and get on, fall into a seat and get off at my stop. Later, riding the bus home, I had somehow remained ignorant to the fact that I had to pull the cord to get off at my stop, and subsequently rode the bus eight extra blocks, till thankfully a six year old rang the bell, and confidently strode off, with me in tow. In my defense, I should note that it was the same bus driver that had picked me up in the morning, and because I was from a town so small, I was never unrecognized, even on Halloween, I assumed he knew me, and would naturally let me off where he had picked me up. But that was just the beginning of my bus issues. After I was able to master the rudimentary bus skills that Kindergarteners’ have, I, for a short time, could get to and from my post secondary schooling without incident, until one day.

One day I was walking towards the bus after a particularly rest-full nap, AKA Art History Class, and was perhaps a little blurry eyed with sleep as I was approaching, and I didn’t pay attention to the slight hissing sound, that buses emit right before they close their doors, and confidently stepped aboard. Or at least I would have if the bus doors hadn’t closed. Closed, just as I was stepping on. A complete closure that separated my foot from my body with a bi-folding Plexiglas door. And boy, was it tightly closed.  I couldn’t wiggle my foot out from between the bristled edges of door, and I couldn’t seem to pry the doors open with my severely limited upper-body strength. And because of my natural and awkward meekness when in situations that could lead to me being dragged to death behind public transportation, I didn’t scream or pound on the doors as a regular person/ small mammal would have instinctively. Instead my brain shut down, as my ankle was being crushed, and I went through a mortifying few seconds where the world stopped turning and my life flashed before my eyes. I took only a few seconds because really it was all television re-runs, and cherished memories where I used my penchant for useless trivia to win at board games. What snapped my brain back to attention was the fact the bus was being shifted into gear, and if you aren’t versed in automotive mechanics, means it was preparing to drive away. And although my shy-to-the-back-of-the-room mentality wasn’t prepared for it, I began to pound on the door of the bus, hoping to get the bus driver’s attention, less I become a smear on the pavement that college co-eds would eventually vomit on. Thankfully the bus was a newer model, unlike the other buses that usually came to pick me up. Buses that were held together with scotch tape, and bore patent-pending inscriptions from Henry Ford, so the bus driver was able to hear me, and opened the door. I flashed my bus pass, but I like to think that she would have let me on for free, you know, possible dismemberment being deserving of a free ride. And although Ms. Bus driver had apparently been unaware of my situation pre-banging, the other riders on the bus had taken notice, and I fell into my seat as many of them refused to make eye contact and (unsuccessfully) held back laughter.

Soon afterwards I stopped taking the bus. I would no longer subject myself to the painful experiences that the bus brought upon my delicate psyche. Instead I decided to drive myself everywhere I needed to go. Usually I took the longest routes, and often I got lost, and more often than that, other drivers expressed their opinions about my techniques and skills with hand gestures and honking. But I got by. Sure I still got stuck in snowdrifts. Yes, I drove off with extension cords. And perhaps I ran out of gas on a couple of occasions, but I remained an accident free driver. My car did get rear-ended once when my roommate borrowed it to go to work one day, but I wasn’t in the car, so my record remains clear. That is until I almost died.

I was driving home from lunch with a co-worker where I had ingested a lot of ribs for how early in the day it was, and I could hardly see out my windshield. It was the type of mid-spring, going to get unbelievably cold again, break in temperature, where all the snow and ice on the roads melts and turns the streets into water parks. Water parks with brown dirty water, and garbage, that covers your windshield with a thick film that requires an industrial strength solvent to get off. I had used up my entire window washing fluid reserve getting to lunch, so getting home was tricky. Not going to lie, a lot of that trip was instinct and muscle memory. After narrowly avoiding a trash receptacle out on the curb, I decided, uncharacteristically, that enough was enough.

I bought my car in high school, paid for in part by my sandwich artistry, and the generosity of my parents. Before “my” car I had a hand me down, yellow and black monstrosity known as the “Laser” that had belonged to my brother. It didn’t mesh well with the image I was trying to convey in high school: invisibility. So I wanted a new one. Driving a bumble bee to school everyday kind of ruined the illusion that I didn’t exist. So as soon as I could save up enough from my part time gig schlepping underwater-vessel-type sandwiches, I dove head first into car ownership.

Now I believe there are two types of car owners. There are those, unlike myself, that care for their vehicles. They wash them regularly, and change their oil. They listen to sounds, and clicks, and take in their cars or trucks for regular maintenance appointments and detailing. Then there are those like me, who do nothing. Don’t get me wrong I loved my car. It was my knight in shining silver paint, and never let me down. I bragged constantly about how little trouble it gave me, and how easily it started in minus 40-degree temperatures.  All with little care an attention from me. Until that day…

Deviating from my usual route I told myself that today, enough was enough. I was now in my mid-twenties, and what comes along with that is paying your own rent (most of the time) and being a responsible car owner.  I drove to the nearest gas station and decided to buy window-washing fluid to clear the gunk from my windshield. “Wow,” I thought, “I really am becoming responsible!”

After I had washed the mud-water from the window, I made a mental note, as I was getting into my car that I should make an appointment with a repair shop as soon as I got home to get my burnt out head-light fixed. I could practically feel the transformation from passive to involved car owner flow through me.  So when I was pulling onto my street, I was feeling pretty good about myself. The warm March sun had melted away the snow and ice that had clung to the roads since September, revealing the ruts and bumps that severe changes in temperature reap on pavement and asphalt.  Nothing was out of the ordinary, besides my new outlook on proper vehicle management, so I took no special care when I drove over an ordinary rut on an ordinary rutty street.  I’d say the loud crash, the scraping of metal, the sound of two tires blowing, and the scream that escaped my own mouth brought my full attention to that rut. My car was making wheezing and clunky jalopy sounds as I stopped screaming and realized what was happening. The rut was no ordinary rut, it was much bigger and my car had taken the full cost of that realization. The car managed to sputter to the side of the road, and I was some how able to 1) stop screaming and 2) peal my hands from the steering wheel.  My first instinct was to leave the car before it undoubtedly exploded, like in every movie, but I couldn’t. When my driver side wheel exploded it pushed itself into the car door, thus making it unopen-able. Panic was starting to creep into my brain when I heard a knock on my window. I jumped expecting to see the Grim Reaper standing over me, waiting to take me away. Having no prior experience in any sort of accident, even fender-bender, my mind plumbed deep to dig out as much fear as possible.

But instead of the cold hand of death I instead saw a middle aged woman, standing outside her mini-van, pulled up beside me, peering in my window.


“There’s a hole!” she said to my closed window.

Uh, huh I nodded along from inside my car. I tried to open the door again, and then looked up at her and shrugged.

“A HOLE!” she yelled at the window and pointed behind us, “A HOLE!”

“YES!” I screamed back. I guess there was a hole. A big hole that had made exiting my vehicle much more difficult, not to mention rendering, said vehicle,un-drive able.  

“A HOLE!!” she repeated, then adding “Are you OKAY?!”

“Yes,” I mouthed back. I was fine. And she hopped back into her mini-van and drove off.

I somehow, and might I say, quite skillfully, I managed to maneuver over the center console of my car and out the passenger side door that was pretty stiff, but open-able.  Not knowing what to do, I walked back to look at exactly how big this rut had been, and my jaw dropped. Gone was the little rut I had driven over. In it’s place lay a giant hole. A hole, just as the lady had said, a hole measuring about six feet across and of unknown depth. The road hadn’t risen up to meet me, but instead had dropped away, trying to suck me straight to hell.

A sinkhole; I think is what they are called, from which I narrowly escaped that day, but my car, who was not so lucky, died. So I called my father, my brother, and a tow truck driver, all of whom had no idea what to do when the road collapses beneath you. Fed up, and stressed, and filled with grief over losing a tried and true best friend, I did what any irresponsible twenty something car owner would do: had the car towed, had my parents deal with the insurance, called a friend to come and pick me up, and got exceedingly drunk retelling the story all night.  And so my brief commitment to proper car ownership ended, and added another notation in the horrors I have experienced while getting myself where I need to go.  And finally proving, as I have always known, that I should just stay home.


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