Sunday, January 18, 2009
Fate and frostbite
("Hope, I am your cousin!")
Oh, winter. How I hate you.
It's been an intriguing week: Numerous single-digit days, another 8 inches of snow, a stir-crazy dog who hasn't had a walk in days, two blown tires on two cars, a mistaken confidence in my ability to change the second tire of my life on the coldest night of the year, and a "What were you thinking?" from a doctor who gave me penicillin for the frostbite on my knee and fingertips.
The tale of comeuppance and coincidence begins with one dumb declaration.
"Actually, I don't think it's that cold," I told colleagues Friday morning, hours after the mercury dipped to -15 and set a record.
Never mind that my winter-survival skills consist of walking 20 feet from my car to the garage. I grew up in Maine. I know cold.
Hours later, in keeping with my habit of delaying routine maintenance until the eve of big trips, I changed the oil that was 7,000 miles overdue and bought a spare tire to replace the flat one that hung on the back of the Jeep for four months. Mo was leaving the next day for the birthday party of her nephew three hours away in Grand Rapids.
A snowstorm was forecast, and I had a vision: Mo and Hope, stranded by the side of the road, eating upholstery to survive. I'd blown a tire in our other car on the freeway four days before and been rescued by a drunk hobo and another passerby who actually knew what he was doing. That stuff temporarily jolts you into becoming a responsible car owner.
Feeling smug, I was driving home when I heard a rumble, rumble, rumble. Two lanes over, I spied a ramshackle van and sneered "You, sir, have no business on the road." Twenty seconds later, the distant rumble became immediate thunder, and I knew I was in trouble. Again.
I called AAA. Thirty minutes just to talk to an operator. I eased into a gas station, called Mo and shrugged off her entries to pick me up. How hard can it be? I did this once 20 years ago: Raise the jack, remove the wheel, put a new one on. I'd be on the road in 10 minutes.
She called back three times, offering to drive the 2 miles to get me. Each time, I assured her I had it covered. Within 30 minutes, I adopted a new strategy: Look as pathetic as possible and hope someone takes pity on me.
Someone did. A postal carrier named Michael with a sweet tooth. We were out there another 30 minutes, in sub-zero temperatures, jerry-rigging a too-small jack with bricks and remnants of the blown tire.
I asked how I could pay him back.
"Just do something nice for someone else," he said.
Faith in humanity renewed and proud of halfway changing a tire, I drove home in triumph. Twenty minutes later, my knee swelled to a stiff magenta mass. The next day, waiting to buy more tires, a silver-dollar sized blister formed on my knee, while smaller ones popped out of four fingertips.
I went to the doctor. Mo and Hope didn't make the birthday party. It snowed all day, while I thought of what could have been: Both of them stranded with no spare tire, eating the dashboard and cursing me. I was grateful fortune smiled on them by frowning on me.
I hugged them extra tight. Mo had other ideas. She inspected the pants I carefully hid in the hamper, producing Exhibit A in People v. Dunderhead.
"I can't believe you wore jeans to work with a hole in the knee," she said.
"But it was casual Friday!"