The Funniest Day of My Life

February 18, 2012 § 6 Comments

Penny had an appointment up in Newport, which is so close to the Quebec border, you can smell the poutine from Main Street. The boys and I settled in, me to cleaning the house and basically dithering around; the boys were immersed in some made-up game or another. It was generally understood that after lunch, we would engage in a long and vigorous rough housing session. The boys and I love to rough house, although I must admit, I loved it more when they weighed about 50-pounds less, collectively.

The phone rang at 11:25 or so. It was Penny, calling from a stranger’s cell phone (we don’t own one) in the parking lot of a gas station outside Newport. “The car broke down. I need you to come get me.” Sure. No problem. I was not perturbed, for these are the sort of things that happen, and they do not warrant upset. Besides, I had an entirely unjustified faith in my ability to get the Subaru running again. No doubt it was just a bad connection to the starter or something. I would swoop in, crawl under the car with a hammer and a screwdriver, give’r a few taps and turns, and the damn thing would fire right up. I would be my family’s hero, and what is better than that? Nothing, that’s what.

Newport is an hour away, which is not so bad, except that the kid we bought our Chevy from had seen fit to remove the catalytic converter and replace it with a straight pipe and one of those “cherry bomb” mufflers that sound like the friggin’ thing’s farting into a megaphone. It’s tolerable around town, but on the highway…. it’s like being inside a tuba or something. The other consideration (which wasn’t really a consideration, because what choice did I have?) is that the Chevy gets about 8 mpg. Newport and back would be nearly 100 miles, so we’d be vaporizing somewhere in the vicinity of $45 worth of gas. Ah, but we wouldn’t: Unbeknownst to the boys and me, as we motored blithely up I91 inside our 8 mpg tuba, this would be a one-way trip.

The car was done. And when I say done, I mean threw-a-rod-through-the-engine-block done. There would be no crawling, tapping, or turning. There would be no heroics. All of its precious lifeblood – oil – was pooled under the motor and when I turned the key, the engine made such a clatter, I dare say the Chevy was jealous. Or would have been, because a most-unlikely and almost-funny thing had happened: Mere feet from where the Subaru had taken its last, dying breath, the Chevy had decided that it too was weary of this world. It stalled and would not start and – believe it or not, but I promise that I am not lying – had spit most of its engine oil onto the highway’s edge. It looked like one of those spreading pools of blood you see in movies when someone gets shot.

I am not going to claim that I handled the situation with total equanimity. But I will say that even in the moment, Penny and I and the boys (especially the boys) made many a joke, in which our plight served as both setup and punch line. This was not one of those “we’ll laugh about this someday” scenarios; it was one of those “this is so crazy, there is nothing to do but laugh about it now” situations. It did not hurt that we’d known the old Subaru was due for retirement and had already procured a replacement (an even older Subaru, but in fantastic condition. I think), which was waiting in our driveway. If only we had a way to get to our driveway.

To make a long story only slightly longer, we relied heavily on the kindness of strangers (and my mother, who retrieved us) to extricate ourselves from this clustermuck. I find that this is always the upside of these sort of minor crises: It brings out the best in people, it provides them an opportunity to offer assistance and simple kindness. To simply be needed. We live in a culture of such convenience and abundance that these opportunities don’t present themselves as readily as they once might have (although I suspect they’re always out there, if only we look for them), and to be honest, I think we’re all a little poorer for it.

Later that evening, after we’d finally gotten home and done chores, I went up to the neighbors to pick up waste milk for the pigs. How was your day, they asked, and I sighed and shook my head and told them the whole story. And we all had a nice, long chuckle.

§ 6 Responses to The Funniest Day of My Life

  • Nancy Settel says:

    you make me want to be a better person and handle “situations” oh so much better than I do. Oh how I love your writing. Nancy Settel

  • maggiemehaffey says:

    Clustermuck indeed! (laughter) Have been in a few of those myself with all the old vehicles we’ve had…

  • Angie says:

    Ben –
    I am so sorry to hear of the Subie & the Chevy giving out – and at the same time no less.
    I once had a funny such adventure happen to me….
    My teenage daughter was scheduled on the first flight out of Manchester to head down south to visit with her dad. We were on the road bright and early and got all the way down to Tilton (NH) before one of us had to pee. It was before 7 am and the rest areas were not open so we headed off the exit to Walmart or Mcdonald’s or whatever. Just coasting up to the stoplight at the end of the exit came an all too familiar sound – we knew exactly what had just happened. You see at the time I was driving my 2000 Ford pickup and they seem to have a problem keeping their spark plugs in! It’s a problem most Ford owners are well aware of and when it happens you basically sound like a popcorn popper – only REALLY LOUD! Looking back, I am thankful that it didn’t happen on the highway while I was going 65 mph!
    But anyway what do you do when this happens on a Sunday morning, when you have no way to fix it and need to catch a flight???
    Well, we headed into the Walmart (to pee) and asked if there was a service center around or a rental car place – remember, she had a flight to catch – but no such luck.
    One kind woman told us to wait just a minute and she would try to find somebody to help us – remember, she had a flight to catch.
    A guy came up front, he had just finished his overnight shift of unloading the delivery trucks and so he had been at work all night and was getting set to go home. He said he would have a look under the hood. I knew what it was because it has unfortunately happened to me before – just a little closer to home and so presented no real inconvenience. One look and he knew it would require some parts and some time – remember, she had a flight to catch.
    And then he offered to drive us the rest of the way to the airport!
    I couldn’t even believe it. I didn’t even ask – HE OFFERED! Wasn’t he tired and didn’t he just want to go home? Well we took him up on his offer, I offered to pay for his gas and we hopped in his car! We made it to the airport just in time, my daughter made her flight and I bought the guy a cup of coffee and some donuts!
    We headed back up the highway to my truck. This amazing man then drove me to the parts shop and back the Walmart parking lot and the proceeded to fix the popped plug! Talk about the kindness of strangers…
    We finally said goodbye at about two in the afternoon – I gave him a big hug and the last of the cash in my wallet and drove myself back home.

    The Ford is resting in the driveway now and we now drive a Subaru – way better gas mileage and it’s been pretty dependable so far.

    I’m just over here in Walden. I look out across my land and over to the hills of Cabot and Brickett’s Crossing and farther on to the Green Mountains. I can see from above Mt. Mansfield south to Camel’s Hump and nope, I never, EVER, tire of that view!


  • Dagny Gromer says:

    I think you handled the situation well. Humor is healthier than rage.

  • Ben Hewitt says:

    Thanks, everyone. And thanks for the story, Angie. Yup, lots of nice views ’round these parts.

  • […] cars. It is a not insignificant nor inexpensive hassle, although (knock on wood) it’s been a while since we’ve been marooned at the side of the road. But here’s the real question: Would […]

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