When I first started working in the body shop office three years ago, I saw this little red Geo Metro
parked out in the lot. It was scraped up one side and was sitting on a few spare tires, but other than that, it looked fairly driveable. Its owner was an Asian
student at Loyola
who didn’t speak English very well
for a junior. I eventually convinced her to sign the title over to me after showing her that a year of storage fees just wasn’t worth it. I jumped it off, did an oil change and got new tires, and I was off.
My roommate and I had been planning this crazy vacation/road trip for a L’Abri conference in North Carolina during the month of July. Since the Geo had no A/C and we were carting two other friends of ours with us on the way up, we drove mostly at night, taking advantage of the cool night air. I tried to get the Geo, a car whose history in mechanical ability I had limited knowledge, as ready as I could for an 18 hour drive on the first leg where we dropped our friends off in South Carolina. The body men at work helped me a lot, throwing in my hatch extra bottles of water, checking my fluids and belts. One of the more thoughtful body men took the time and effort to change out my vacuum hoses, which were dry rotting from the car’s long coma in our yard. For some reason, he tucked the old hoses in an unused area under my hood, in case I might need them.
The way up went silky smooth. Since this was the first car I’ve ever owned with manual transmission, I let everyone else drive who wanted to. With cars this tiny, you really feel the speed, and it made the stick shift and steering wheel shake constantly when you maintained any speed over 60. We stopped at Myrtle Beach on the way to Ocean City, Maryland, staying at an inn there for a few days. We drove back through Virginia, staying with my parents one night then making our way back to North Carolina for the conference, where we met back up with our friends and one of their friends who drove his van to South Carolina to pick them up.
As we got ready to leave to return to New Orleans, my roommate asks the van owner if he would caravan back with us, since we all lived in the French Quarter. As we pulled out of the drive, a little metal cap plunked down from my engine compartment, unnoticed. Hours later, the oil light comes on. Rhonda, who’s again stuck with driving most of the way back because I’m a pussy, motions for the van to pull over. When we raise the hood, there’s oil splattered all over inside. Our rear window was covered in it. So I guess it was the oil cap we lost.
By this time it’s almost midnight, and we’re somewhere outside of Georgia. The gas station we found didn’t carry oil caps at all, but I remembered the vacuum hoses that were stashed and bought some clamps. We fashioned a plug with one of the hoses, clamped it down, then stood there pondering if the pressure inside wouldn’t just shoot the hose out like a cork in a water bottle someone sat on. Or worse, what if it got sucked down into the reservoir, which was already hot to the touch? We all shrugged and just took a chance. Luckily, we managed to find a 24 hour Wal-Mart that had oil caps in the Geo’s size. We filled the baby up with oil, bought a few extra bottles, and made our way back onto the highway.
Hours go by with no problem. From the right side of the road, a rabbit hops precariously in front of our car. It didn’t make it to the tire farthest from before we ran over it. It seemed to pass between our tires, however, so we figured we didn’t crush it, fearing the stories we’d heard about animal bones being sharp enough to puncture dinky tires like mine, whose size resembled a lawn mower’s. A few more hours pass, maybe less, before the entire car starts vibrating, the steering wheel jerking from Rhonda’s steady hands that had been at this wheel for at least 8 hours by then. Again we motion for the van to pull over.
Lifting the hood, we see the rabbit, wedged against and melted into my radiator. It looked a lot bigger under my hood that it did on the road, its long body stretched out almost the full length of the radiator. We summon the van’s driver, a guy, to get the rabbit out. We make girly noises as the rabbit’s corpse is crudely lifted out with a plastic bag and flung out into the tall grass nearby. At first we think we will just keep on trucking, until we look under my car. Coolant is pouring out. The force of the rabbit, having jumped up at the worse possible moment as we passed over it, threw its body into the radiator, which then was pushed into the fan blade, knocking the radiator from its tray, breaking the sealed reservoir that held the coolant. Yay.
The van driver has had just about had enough of this stop and start business but has tried his hardest to maintain. I on the other hand, lost it. I didn’t have AAA, we had maybe 15 bucks between us and in no way could afford to stay the night in a hotel, let alone pay to get the car driveable again to make it home. We left the Geo at mile marker 47 outside of Montgomery, Alabama in search of a pay phone. Only one number mattered at 4 in the morning.
“Moose? It’s Laura.”
(slowly coming to) “Yeah…what’s up?”
“Can you pick up my car? It’s in Alabama.”
(insert abbreviation of node title story here)
“It may take me a few days, but OK. Just bring it back to the shop?”
“Yeah, it’s at mile marker 47…” (fade out)
We piled everything we had of any value from the Geo into the van, which was already stuffed full with some patio furniture our friends had picked up in South Carolina. We left a note and one of my business cards on the windshield and hoped for the best. Rhonda and I took turns sitting in the back of the Aerostar in origami positions for the next 8 hours of the drive. We came home exhausted, broke, but otherwise happy to be home.
The first day back from work, I was forced to tell the rabbit story, much to the laughter and cajoling from the body men. The following day, my car bounded into the lot on the back of Moose’s truck. My boss, being a kinder one than I deserve, bought me a new radiator and fan blade, got a body man to install them for me, and I drove it home that night.
That, my friends, is one of the awesome things about working in the car industry. I ended up never having to pay for that ridiculous long distance haul or for any repairs to the car, none of which were really due to our negligence, though you can bet I double check the oil cap from now on. Besides, I now have an eternal role in a story that at least 4 people who were with me, will never forget.