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Breaking Down is Hard to Do
by Turtle Jones
Breakdown. You know the feeling. All of a sudden your car just doesn't want to do what it's supposed to do. Panic sets in. You're screwed. But hey, you're gonna have a good story to tell about this one when it's all over.
These are ours.
turtle takes the wheel
Let's keep our story straight cause it's way too late.
The car died when the LSD was just getting us back into town. Some fucking bright idea. I was burning hard off acid with a shaking hand. Stared at the ground. We had made it off the freeway before it had broke down. Just an overpass. Crashed it in the side rail and walked.
That's what you do. At five in the morning when your BAC is over the legal limit, it's usually a good idea to leave the car and keep walking. You don't want to pass out in the car unless you throw your keys 25 feet from the car. Hell if I know. We have some weird laws in this country. I leaned out and remembered the night before. Something about some bands, some party, some barn, loud music and a ton of people. My friend got up singing for the band. I pulled him down. People on ATVs almost running me over while someone was cranking Funkadelic.
One of those questions that you have to ask yourself "why was I there?"
What happened last night?
You know there are some times where your body tells your mind that this might be too much. You might want to think about this a little bit harder before you keep going. But, as usual, I did a line of cocaine and shot back a few hits of acid. What the hell? I had no fucking clue where I was at but I kept drinking. Somewhere in California. About two hours out of fucking nowhere with a lot of cows. Well, that didn't help me.
Another fucking ATV. How many of these fuckers were there?
The hill was climbing with ATVs, guys and girls racked out on LSD and cocaine. Oh, they were drinking too. Body tells mind "Lets leave, turtle." Well, now wait a second. The last band hadn't even started yet, so let's just slow down there body. The drugs had fully kicked by the time the barn caught on fire. See dude, that's one of those things that tell you that you need to leave. It doesn't matter if you know where to go, but you have to go.
I smoked a cigarette and turned on the engine. Waited for a minute before the hillside was on fire to find my friends. Hmmmm. No one was getting this. We need to leave now. My body started talking to my brain again.
Mind: We need to leave
Body: Well I told you that 3 fucking hours ago
Mind: Why can't you just give me a break?
Body: Cause you never fucking listen
Mind: OK. I'm with you now. Put the keys in my hand.
Body: We can't leave anyone behind.
Grabbing everyone I saw. Throwing them in the car. I jumped in as the place burned down behind me and just drove. People packed in the car. Slamming a beer, telling everyone to hold on. ATV people going by me. One of my good friends on the back of a Jeep screaming and waving at me as he pulled by me going about 120.
Me, dropping the clutch and pushing the car to places I never knew it could go.
The sun came up as we pulled back into town. I was dry heaving with a foot on my chest. Everything was coming down. My car wasn't working right. But, that was just the drugs. Must be just the drugs. But, it wasn't. You know that cold sweat that comes down on you when your car fucks up? Well, that had been there since the night before. The car was pushed to the overpass and I lit a smoke. Threw off my shirt and watched the sun come up as I wondered what to do. No one had a phone. But, we needed to walk. I gave everyone my AAA number and told them to not come back to the car until they found a phone and had a time the tow truck driver was going to be there. And no matter what the fuck was going on, they weren't the driver of the car. They were just passengers and the driver had long since gone. You never know what is going to happen, so staying as far away from the car is usually a good thing.
It was a good plan and it worked. Cops came by me when I was walking back. Asked me if I was the driver. Looked at the car. I said no. I had gotten the time of the tow truck driver. We were cool. "The driver went home. Yeah, it's my car but the driver left. Prove I was driving it then we can talk"
One crisis averted. Let's move to the next one.
Getting the car to the shop. Did that. It was all cool. I was in my friend's shop at seven in the morning splitting a fifth of Captain Morgan’s wondering what the hell was wrong with the car now. He started it. Looked at the engine. Put a gallon of gas in it. It started.
You don't know the feeling of shame when you get that "You just ran out of gas, dude" look.
It almost rips your heart out. - T
Michele gets into gear:
Road trip! I don’t know how this came about. Maybe we were just bored. But my sister and I decided that we were going to Baltimore. See the Orioles. Check out the Harbor. See the Edgar Allen Poe house. Do whatever it is people do when they are in Baltimore for the weekend.
This was...hmm...I need to do some math here. Maybe 1987. Which means I was 25, my sister was 18. Sounds about right.
We were taking my sister’s car. She had this Buick Regal with a killer stereo in it. I mention that because it’s the reason we didn’t take my more reliable, dependable Mustang. Because the Mustang had a tape stuck in the cassette player and we’d have to listen to Appetite For Destruction the entire way there. Not gonna happen. So we took her somewhat unstable Regal with the kick ass speakers and working cassette player and hit the road running. Freedom. Just two young girls on the road with no definite plans except to see a baseball game and have some fun. Popped Van Halen I into the cassette player. The opening notes of Runnin’ With the Devil hit and we were on the road. Life was good.
Until we hit Jersey, that is. The second we got off the George Washington Bridge, my sister said what were to be the most infamous words ever passed between us: “Do you smell pancakes?”
I sniffed the air. “Smells like Christmas.” By that I meant Christmas morning. Pancakes, indeed.
Maybe it’s just us, but when a car overheats, it smells like walking into an IHOP on a Saturday morning. Syrup. Pancakes.
We didn’t make the connection right away. At least not until steam started to spew from the hood.
Well, fuck. Barely out of New York and we’re in trouble already? What should we do? This was before the age of cell phones. We were kind of in a jam here. Lots of traffic and we were in unfamiliar land. All I knew was that if we kept driving two things would happen: 1) We would be on the Turnpike and it might be days until the next exit. That’s the way it works in Jersey; and 2) The car would die on us. I mean, I was no mechanic by any stretch of the imagination, but even I knew that driving a car that had become enveloped in a thin, white smoke was probably not a good idea.
So we pulled off the road, drove a few feet and ran right into an auto repair place. Ok, good luck might have not abandoned us. We told them our problem. They said it was..umm..something or other. Something simple. They’d fix it for us in just a few minutes and we’d have no problem getting to Baltimore and back. So simple.
About half an hour later we parted with some of our vacation money and went on our way. Ok, so we got waylaid. No big deal. We were back on the road and adventure awaited us.
We made it to Baltimore. Well, there were a few tense moments when we got lost on some loopy highway, but we got there. Those guys at the place we stopped were gods to us. Fixed the car for pretty cheap and we could now enjoy the weekend without worrying about breaking down again.
I don’t remember much of the weekend except that the Brewers beat the Orioles, we never got to Edgar’s house, the aquarium was pretty cool and our taxi driver was not, as we thought, planning on taking us into a back alley and killing us, but just taking us on a shortcut to the Stadium.
Cut to the ride home. All is going pretty well. But it’s Sunday. Anyone who has ever driven back into New York from anywhere on a Sunday will tell you, it’s fucking hell. You either leave real early in the morning or real late at night because anything else in between means you’ll be sitting in a parking lot of traffic for a long time.
Our timing was off. We thought we left early enough. But by the time we got within wishing distance of New York we hit a wall. Standstill traffic. Not even crawling. Not even inching our way toward the toll booths. Just standing still. It was hot and sticky and we were tired of all our cassettes. I almost longed for Guns n Roses. So we just sat in traffic, both of us feeling a bit anxious about getting home. Plus, I had to pee. Bad. We ran out of bad jokes to tell each other and sat in silence for a little bit, the only sound my legs crossing and uncrossing as I did the pee-pee dance in the driver’s seat.
And then. A small, scared voice. My sister, barely getting the words out.
“Do you smell........”
There it was. Christmas morning. IHOP. Syrup. Pancakes. Steam.
You could see the small wisps of smoke coming from the engine. We knew soon they would be big puffs of smoke. My sister turned the heat on. Apparently that’s supposed to cool down the engine. We were both kind of panicky and we just watched the temperature needle, begging it move back toward C.
Traffic started moving. Cars ahead of us were inching up. Shit. What to do? Drive it like this again? The smoke was starting to come on strong and I really couldn’t see much ahead of me. Then the beeping started behind us. People in our lane were leaning on their horns, cursing out their windows. "Fucking MOVE IT!" Shit. Shit. I was panicking already. I didn’t need these people to add to my stress.
The syrup smell was in full force. It was like a fucking Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast was taking place under the Regal’s hood. Smoke pouring out. We could hear the hissing sound over the strains of David Lee Roth. I started talking to myself. Remain calm. Remain calm. It will be ok. Calm the fuck down. I looked at my sister. She was crying. Great. I started crying.
Two girls sitting in a broken down, overheating car in Sunday traffic on the Jersey Turnpike with a thousand mad New Yorkers behind them, threatening to do stuff to us that I only read about in the Time Life series on serial killers. Of course we were crying. I drove the car up on a small median but this was a huge ass car and I wasn’t really in my best mode here and that just made things worse because the way the car was angled, I was now blocking two lanes of traffic. Old men were threatening to kill us. Some woman in a Volvo called us some names that I still don’t know what they mean. A ten year old kid made a slashing motion across his throat at us. The horns blared. The curses rang out. I had to pee so fucking bad my back teeth were floating.
And then, like a knight on a steed coming out of the darkness, a tow truck appeared. Driving up on the median, it pulled up behind us. Two young men got out of the truck and offered to help us damsels in distress. Now, these guys looked like someone I had seen before. In a movie. Maybe a movie about prison. Murderers. Rapists. That kind of look. But they were gonna get us the fuck out of there. We had to take the chance. It was either go with the prison dudes or get killed by the maddening Turnpike crowd. We let the dudes hook us up. They told us to ride in the car while they towed it to their station.
The whole way there, my sister and I held hands so tight I probably still have fingernail marks in my palm. We were terrified. These guys didn’t want to fix our car. They wanted to kill us. Maybe torture us first. We had chosen the lesser of two deaths, I guess.
They finally pulled into a service station. It was closed. Dark. Not near any sign of civilization. Just this station sitting off on the wayside. They pulled into an alley next to the building and got of the car. This is it, I thought. I heard my sister whimper.
One of the dudes opened the door.
“This is my station. We’re closed now, but leave your car here and have someone drive you to get it tomorrow. We’ll fix it up for you. And we’ll open the place up while you call a friend or a cab to get you home.” Then he offered to lend us money to get a taxi.
My sister and I just looked at each other. These guys were sincere. They really just wanted to help us. We went into the station where I finally got to pee. Then we called a cab. Getting a cab from Jersey to Long Island is not a cheap deal. We didn’t take the money from the dudes, though. We paid for it when we got home by dipping into my parent’s secret stash of vacation money. Good thing they weren’t home.
And to this day, the smell of pancakes and syrup can send me into a small panic.
Or make me hungry. It’s easy to forget the whole car thing if I’m hungry enough. -M
We're pretty sure you have a story like this. Breaking down at the wrong place, wrong time. Is there ever really a right time, though?