December 3, 1999



Lawn Bitch


Have I ever mentioned that I hate Long Beach? I do, have for years. I apologize to any of you unfortunate enough to live in that godless place, but I also pity you. It's such a ... place, you know? I hate it so much that I've renamed it: Lawn Bitch.

My first encounter with the Bitch was way back when, when Beth and I were working together platonically without a clue that we would end up shacking up one day. There was something going on at a club down there -- I think a coworker's band was performing -- and I ventured south to see the show. Or I should say I tried to.

It took forever to get there because every freeway heading into the Bitch was designed by go-cart driving nippleheads and is populated by more nippleheads who have yet to learn to drive. It's a cavalcade of SIG-alerts and traffic jams and numbskull driving and clueless yipyops wandering from lane to lane. And that's on a good day. That night way back when was par for the course. Once I finally got into the Bitch, I immediately got hopelessly lost.

For years Long Beach was known for its two biggest landmarks: the Queen Mary -- a ship that doesn't sail, and the Spruce Goose -- a plane that doesn't fly. Notice I called them landmarks rather than tourist attractions. That's because tourists weren't attracted. It's Long Beach, after all.

Ultimately the Spruce Goose left town by barge in 1992 and the Queen Mary was nearly towed off to Japan in 1993 before concerned citizens blocked the plan. Clearly, Long Beach is running out of landmarks. Fortunately they still have one other landmark, one that I loathe, one I've heard described as "the evil heart of Long Beach": the Traffic Circle, a roundabout traffic throughway there's no way through.

Once I finally got to the Bitch to see the show that night, my route took me through this traffic circle and I damn near never saw the light of day again. It was dark and the street is poorly lit. The streets leading in and out are poorly marked. The idiots driving in it hadn't considered before entering where they'd like to exit, so they were wandering all over the place. I almost never got out. In fact, the guy who designed it never made it out -- he was apparently killed in an accident in this marvel of his own design a year after it was built ... and then HIS SON was killed in it 10 years later! Zut alors!

By the end of the evening, I had had my fill of Long Beach. For life. I swore never to go there again. But you know how that goes: swear one tiny little oath in your life and Fate conspires to make you break it. My job made me break it: two of the hospitals in which I teach are located in the Bitch, one of them overlooking the Traffic Circle. Lately, I've been going there a lot. Happy-happy-joy-joy.

That was all fine and good for several months. I'd zip into town, teach my classes, and zip back out. I left the city alone and it left me alone. Everything was everything, you know? But on Tuesday the Bitch must have noticed me.

I was leaving work early. My afternoon class had been canceled, so I figured I'd head homeward and maybe go see Toy Story 2 with my suddenly free afternoon. I hopped in the truck, fired it up, put it in reverse ... and it died. Hmm... I fired it up again, put in the clutch to prepare to put it in reverse ... and it died again. I cranked it again and it wouldn't catch. At all.

The Bitch was back.

Beth drove down from downtown L.A. to give me a ride home and I left the truck there overnight. The next day I dropped Beth at work and drove her car down to meet my buddy Tim at my truck so we could poke around under the hood and get it running again. We worked on it for about 45 minutes and got it running. Great, I thought, no problem. Tim left for work, I drove Beth's car up to L.A., then took the train back down to Long Beach and took a cab from the station to pick up my truck.

I got in and it fired right up. I called Tim on my cell phone to tell him I'd found the wrench he left behind, and just as I hung up ... the truck died. I fired it up again ... and it died again. And then wouldn't start at all. I lost it a little bit at that point. Temper doncha know. Nothing got really broken, but I sort of bent the steering wheel out of shape a little bit -- and hurt my hand by punching the wheel out of shape. Oops.

I called a Pep Boys I knew of just down the street -- through the Traffic Circle, in fact -- to get a recommendation for a towing company. Answering the phone doesn't seem to be a priority at the Long Beach Pep Boys. It rang and rang and rang. Finally they answered and transferred me to the auto shop, whose phone rang and rang and rang. Finally they answered and gave me the phone number for a tow truck. The wrong phone number. I called back. Ring and ring and ring. Transfer, ring and ring and ring. Someone picks up, then hangs up without a word. Call back. Ring and ring and ring, answer, transfer, ring and ring and ring and ring. Someone picks up, seems unable to hear me, hangs up.

I wanted to kill everyone in that store. I wanted to kill everyone in Long Beach. I wanted to get the fuck out of that town and never go back. But after all I'd been through, especially with the mouthbreathers at Pep Boys, I most of all wanted to get the hell out of Long Beach without spending another penny there or accepting help from any of its nipplehead people. I vowed to do it myself and climbed under the hood.

I finally narrowed the problem down to the carburetor. And Lawn Bitch, of course, but mostly -- rationally -- the carb. I sprayed it out with carb cleaner, which helped get it to start, then got the hell out of Long Beach, which helped keep it running. I limped it home and counted myself lucky to get out alive.

Now it's in a shop close to home with a diagnosis of a bad carburetor needle jet or somesuch. At least that's what the mechanic calls it. That's what he's been trained to call it. They don't cover the Lawn Bitch Effect in mechanic school.











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