Nobody Walks In L.A.
You see? This is what happens when you drag an uncultured sod like me to culture: My truck broke down.
It was sounding kind of funny on the way downtown to meet Beth at her office -- sort of a clickety-pingy kind of sound, like the radiator fan blades were hitting something. But decked out in dress slacks, a cashmere blazer, and even a tie, I wasn't exactly dressed for spelunking under the hood, so I crossed my fingers and promised I'd check it out in the morning. My trusty steed wasn't thrilled with that idea.
I made it out of the parking structure, onto the freeway, and most of the way home with no problems. I kept a sharp eye on the oil pressure and temperature gauges throughout the entire trip, right up until I got distracted and forgot...and that's when it happened. Next thing I know my side-view mirror shows heavy white smoke pouring out of the exhaust pipe. I got off at the next offramp, which just happened to be the one I wanted anyway, and at the light at the bottom steam began spewing from under the hood.
Quick decision time. I'm almost home. Do I go for it and get the truck home where I can work on it in the morning, or play it safe and park it on the street to have it towed? Since Beth was driving her own car and I was right behind her, the smart play was to park it and ride the rest of the way home with her. I went for it. But then, I kind of had to, since the only effect flashing my hi-beams seemed to have was to compel Beth to speed up.
Typically, I caught every single red light the rest of the way. Don't you hate how that always happens? You can be toodling along in no particular rush to get somewhere and every light turns green, but be in a hurry and the Traffic Pattern Gods conspire against you. So I limped the rest of the way home, watching the temperature gauge go higher and higher as I sat at all the red lights. It was pegged on "H" a few blocks before I got there, but at that point I was so close that I just pushed on. Finally, I pulled into the driveway, killed the engine, and crossed my fingers as I listened to the radiator boil over.
Popping the hood was something of a mistake. It was too dark to see anything even with the flashlight, and since I wasn't wearing a gas mask I got a couple nice lungfulls of anti-freeze vapor. It's kind of like menthol cigarettes: they taste sort of sweet, but you can feel the smoke going down and you just know it's crystallizing in your lungs and speeding your way toward cancer. But I'm probably well on my way there already, what with all the fiberglass and asbestos and assorted other crap I've inhaled in abandoned buildings during my film production days, so what the hell. I breathed deep and poked around and couldn't see a damned thing
The next morning I could see what the problem was: a broken fan belt. But I knew that wasn't actually the problem, it was more a symptom. Something had to fail to break the belt and my best guess was the water pump. That was more work than I wanted to do myself, especially with no wheels to get a new water pump and I didn't know for sure it was the water pump, so I told my mechanic I was bringing it in. He offered to have it towed, but I said don't bother, I can get it there okay. Yeah, right.
I had to drive it, but I didn't think that would be much of a problem. I'd baby it along and shut it down if it got too hot on the way. It's not that far to the mechanic, so I figured I'd only have to shut it down once, if at all. Three hours. That's how long it took me to get there. Just like the night before, I hit every single red light between me and the mechanic, and I think they'd added a few overnight. Three hours, countless stops. I think I was averaging a stop every two lights. After the third or fourth one I got smart and bought a newspaper just so I'd have something to do while I waited for it to cool down. I should have bought two. It took me so long to get there that they'd forgotten I was coming by the time I arrived.
It turned out the problem wasn't the water pump after all. It was the smog pump, and don't think that didn't piss me off. An piece of equipment that isn't necessary for the engine to operate broke down and could have killed the engine that never needed it in the first place. Ridiculous. Fortunately, the engine came through with no ill effects, but it was nervous time for a little while there while they ran a compression test to make sure I hadn't blown a gasket or cracked the block. So now I've got a new smog pump to the tune of $420, thankyewverymuch, but I'm counting my blessings because it could easily have been several times that amount in labor alone, not to mention the cost of a new engine.
There's probably a moral in here somewhere. I'd like to think it's Don't go to any more evenings of show tunes and dancing but it's more likely to be Don't drive your car when it overheats. Draw your own conclusions.