Saturday, May 08, 2010

Fridays Are Free Days

In theory, I don't work on Fridays. It's a day off in the Middle East, and when I originally signed up for my job, I was one of many employees and had to keep Fri-Sat-Sun for myself, for my writing projects. And while I have increased my working hours, it's by my choice. I do sometimes go in on Fridays, but I like that I don't have to go in.

Yesterday, I scheduled my day tightly. I'd go to the post office, then to the county offices to research two apparently abandoned houses I've been looking at with my friends (one for each of us), go to the other county offices, research the liens on the properties and try to find some records on what exactly is "contaminated" about the soil in the yards (meaning is it an underground oil tank or something more sinister), then go to work for a few hours, then see a certain superhero movie on opening day at the IMAX cinema around the corner from my office. The Marvel opening was a few days ago, but I'd opted to go to the Strand bookstore that day instead, to hear a popular cartoonist be interviewed.

Since I had to go to so many different locations in Hudson County, I got my car, Henry the 1990 Ford Taurus. I walked to my garage, threw my packages in the trunk, and backed the car out into the street. I tested the garage door opener which I'd left unlatched last week, and after a little tugging and running the chain back and forth, the opener worked again.

I got into the driver's seat of my car, shut the garage door behind me, and... wait, why is the brake light on?

I turned the emergency brake on and off. The light stayed on. Shit.

I'll just run by the post office, then go drop the car off at Mike the mechanic's, and I'll head to the sheriff's office on foot from there. I'll walk to the second office, then to the train... hell, that's a lotta walking.

As I drove to the post office, I contemplated my options and the lack of direct buses. But then when I put on Henry's turn signal at a light, nothing happened. Double shit.

I tried the headlights. Nothing. The radio. Nothing. The fan... nothing.

I wonder if I have brake lights.

The "Check engine" light flickered on, off, then back on.

Maybe I'll walk to the post office too.

I went around the block and—with racing heart and a fair amount of nervous sweat—headed up to Mike's. Henry the Ford's mechanic is an old-school J.C. guy at Alpha-Omega Vehicle Repair up past Little India, on Newark. I'd originally found him from recommendations by other customers on He's been maintaining Henry since 2004 or so, which is about when I realized that the plan that Turbo and I had when we bought Henry in California in April, 2002—to buy a thousand-dollar clunker and drive it into the ground on our way across the US—wasn't going to work. Henry was too reliable, too solid a car. He wasn't going anywhere and I'd let his maintenance slide, but Mike cleaned him right up and kept him going with minimal work every since.

Mike had a line of cars and looked busy. I doubt my sudden arrival was on his itinerary. But he took the time to come outside and check out my warning lights.

"There's nothing on."

"What? Really?"


No warning lights.

"Maybe... huh... it fixed itself?"

He laughed just a little.

"No. Look. You don't drive it that often, so when you turn the ignition key, it can stick a little. Make sure it's in the right place."


"Uh, okay, er... thanks." Maybe I was red from embarrassment. I felt kind of like a car hypochondriac but it's better to have it checked out than not. I thanked Mike and shuffled off to the post office and then to the Kafka-esque warren of hallways in the county administration buildings.

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