Monday, May 31, 2010

Car Talk (Richmond, VA)

Not having a car takes me back to memories of several cars from my past, which I will share with you if you will please keep me in mind when you come across a cheap, dependable vehicle. Or even if you don't...

My Father's Car(s)
My earliest auto-memory is of my dad's car, a huge, dark-colored (black? navy?) thing without air conditioning or seat belts, but roomy enough to transport my brother, grandmother, great aunt, and me in the back seat. I recall the supply of jumbo-sized, paper malted cups that always traveled with us because, as soon as I would enter the vehicle, I'd get carsick. Eventually and inevitably, I would throw up -- almost always on my aunt.

Same or similar automobile, a Plymouth, I think. Trips to the beach. We were like the ubiquitous, tiny circus cars, spilling out a seemingly endless stream of people: my Mom, sporting sunglasses and swaddled in white towels, parked in a lawn chair under an umbrella, a lock of blue-black hair peeking out from under her Chinese straw hat; my father, a Paul Newman look-alike with clear, bright-blue eyes, olive skin, and what remained of his once platinum blond-turned brown hair; my brother, dark skinned, green-eyes lushly lashed, and thick, black waves of hair; our best friends (Chinese), the Chins -- Richard, Marion, and Frances -- and the Braillor (sp?) boys, with their steely gray eyes and white-blond hair; and me, a mop of curly reddish brown curls, blue-gray eyes in a sea of freckles, skin turning lobster-red at the first touch of sun. A swarm of children surrounding my mummy-like mommy, we were always a curiosity for passers by.

"What is the Mother?" we'd hear them ask each other.

The Green Car
A small, olive-colored station wagon with faux-wood panels and a dashboard that had somehow split down the middle. By far one of the most hideous vehicles around, but as with some ultra-ugly dogs, cute in its own way.

One day, my husband and I decide to see a movie matinee and park the green car behind a Chinese restaurant, under the "No Parking after 5:00 p.m." sign. It's mid-afternoon, and we're not worried. But the start-time listed in the newspaper is wrong, and we go home, returning a few hours later. We park and race into the theater.

I don't remember the film we saw but I do recall the surprise I felt when we returned to the lot. No car! It's only 5:30, there are plenty of parking spaces and not so many diners at such an early hour. We enter the restaurant and ask for the manager. "Did you have our car towed?"

"No, we never do that," he assures us.

I turn to my husband. "Somebody stole the green car!"

I cannot believe it. Who would stoop to such a thing? Only the most desperate of desperados. Someone with no conscious, no shame, and no friends.

The manager allows us to use the phone to call the police to report the theft and to call my father-in-law to come and pick us up. As my husband explains the situation in which we have lost ourselves, I realize that someone depraved enough to steal the world's ugliest car will most certainly check out the world's ugliest glove compartment and find the registration.

"The perpetrator (no, I didn't exactly use that word) is probably on the way to our house to rob us," I tell M. "Call Kenny and tell him to keep an eye out for the car." My husband does just that, as visions of our next door neighbor -- a state policeman with a household armory -- waiting in ambush and armed to the teeth and nails and blowing the perp to Kingdom come and gone, play out in my mind.

We walk outside. I am in shock. I pace back and forth on the sidewalk, walking a bit further each time. The police car pulls up, the officer gets out. I watch as M tells our tale of woe and the officer makes notes. I continue walking. When I reach the corner, I turn to walk back and, out of the corner of my eye, I spy the green car -- parked exactly where we'd stationed it on our return trip to the theater.

I run towards the officer and M. "They've abandoned the car!" I yell and point. "Right there!"

The officer gives us a strange look. M. turns an incredible shade of red.

After calling his father, M. and I do not exchange a word or even look at one another on the drive home. Until we get to within a block of our house. It is than that I remember that Kenny will be on the lookout for whomever drives up in the green car.

"We need to park here and you need to tell Kenny what happened," I tell M.

"I'm not going to do that," he says.

"What do you mean? You need to tell him. You're the man!"

"That's exactly why I'm not going to tell him," he says.

Silver Escort
It's been about a week since we've moved into our new house in an old neighborhood. We're getting settled, unpacking, decorating, excited about the big kitchen, the view into downtown, the friendly neighbors.

A friend pops in, and we walk to a nearby cafe for breakfast. "That's odd," I think to myself on the way back. "I thought I parked the car in front of the house."

"Did you move the car?" I ask M. when I go inside.

"It's out front," he says.

I walk back outside, up and down the block. There's no silver Ford Escort on either side of the street. "It's not there!" I cry. All my good feelings about the area we've just moved to vanish. I feel disappointed, betrayed, violated.

We call the police and the insurance company. M. has to drive me to my class that evening. He and our son, R., pick me up two hours later.

"We've got good news and bad news," M. tells me as I climb into his car. Before I can ask, he says, "We found your car! R. and I went for a walk in the neighborhood, and it was two blocks away, across the street from Jefferson Park. We went over, put the Club back on the steering wheel and ran home to get the keys."

"So why didn't you pick me up in it?"

"Because when we got back, it was gone again..."

"How can that be?" I cry.

"We couldn't figure it out," says M, "but then I realized that whoever took the car had to have the keys. I couldn't find mine when I was looking for them, so we'd just taken yours. And when I checked the shorts I was wearing yesterday, I noticed a hole in the pocket...."

I actually feel a lot better knowing that the carnapper had not broken into my hatchback; the keys were probably right there on the ground beside the door, and he was merely accepting the invitation to use the car.

At midnight, the phone wakes us. The police are calling to say they've located the car. They ask me to come get it. "Where is it?" I ask.

"Walk out your door and turn left," the officer instructs.

I see the patrol car, blue lights flashing, and my car half a block away. The officer explains that she'd seen a car pass by with its radio blaring and only one headlight shining. She'd turned her siren on and the driver jumped out and ran away. When she'd radioed in, she was told that it was my stolen car.

The thief never touched the toll change nor removed any objects from the car. He hadn't put on a whole lot of miles, and he even left the keys in the ignition for me. And he'd almost parked the vehicle back where it belonged.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Out of Transmission (Richmond, VA)

I'm doing 60-65 mph on the interstate, on my way to a meeting. There's no more construction along the highways I'm traveling and traffic is moving well. The meeting doesn't start until 10:00 a.m., but at the rate I'm going, I'll arrive early enough to enjoy 30 minutes of coffee and conversation before we launch into business.

I ease over to 8A and slow down to the posted exit speed. Uh-oh. I'm hitting the gas pedal, but I'm just hearing a really loud noise and the car doesn't respond. "Come on, come on," I urge.

The car doesn't listen.

I put on the flashers and try to move over to the right lane. Drivers are beeping but not allowing me to get there, despite the powerful waves of panic emanating from the person trapped inside my barely limping vehicle; the waves are so obvious, so strong,that surely they are powerful enough to penetrate the drivers' thick crania. I guess not. The thick skulls and their accompanying bodies zoom by in their cooperative vehicles. Mine has started to smoke and smell bad. I do not allow smoking anywhere near me, but my car won't listen.

So here I am, parked in the weedy triangle between exit and entrance ramps. There are no signs to tell me where exactly "here" is, but I call AAA and try to calmly describe my situation.

"MY CAR IS DEAD!" I say. Other vehicles whiz by, making it difficult to understand the person with whom I am speaking. "I got off of 395 North at Exit 8A, but I don't know how far I've gone and there are no signs and I'm not sure where I am."

The voice on the line is calm and reassuring. It promises help within half an hour.

When the tow truck finally finds me, its driver confirms my diagnosis. The transmission is shot. "It'll cost you prob'ly between $1500 and $2000 to fix it," he says. "Ya think it's worth it?"

I don't, but I figure he knows more about cars than I do. "It's got about 150,000 miles on it," I tell him. He shakes his head.

He tows my car to the closest station. They tell me that it'll cost about $3,000. I kiss the car goodbye.

Well, I don't actually kiss it because it's pretty dirty. But I do empty out all the bags, books, magazines, dancing shoes, canvas fold-up chairs, oil, windshield washer, radiator and other miscellaneous car-related fluids, coins, fly swatters, toy groceries, a blanket, an emergency kit, and approximately four years' of accumulated, un-identifiables from the seats, glove compartment, floors and trunk.

I watch the car formerly known as mine as it is towed away to its final resting place. It will be sold for parts and compacted into an unrecognizable mini-mass. I silently say goodbye, because the car never listened to me before; why would it start now?

I spend most of the day waiting, surrounded by bags and crates and pounds and mounds of stuff, for M. to pick me up.

This is not the first time I've driven a vehicle into the ground and it probably won't be the last. I need a cheap, reliable (mutually exclusive?), and, preferably, cute -- or at least presentable -- replacement ASAP!

If you've got any ideas (or better yet, a car that you'd like to offer me for way, way less than it's worth), please let me know.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dealing with Dancers (Richmond, VA)

Thursday night at Club Q. I take the salsa lesson, along with some of the usual suspects and a few newbies: a couple of women who are fast learners; a Latina, who's got the moves down pat and has probably had them since long before her birth; and the Latina's companion, a gringo with no rhythm, lead feet, and a low tolerance for his own ineptitude. We move through the lesson more slowly than usual.

In the women's restroom, where I go to freshen up, hangs a poster announcing that tonight is a 5-DJ-Birthday-Celebration. This is confirmed by the appearance of a ton of equipment, which is being set up on the stage even as I re-freshen. The music starts and dancers begin trickling into the club.

My "old" friend, dancer extraordinaire, and recent college grad Kim is back in town. Tall and strong, he greets me by literally sweeping me off my feet, with a grand reunion hug.

The music booms so loudly that Kim winces and cups his ears. I happen to have an extra pair of earplugs in my bag, so I gift them to him. With our earplugs blocking all sound (with the exception of the blaring music), we resort to lip-reading and sign language. We eventually give up all attempts to communicate, as lip-reading and signing are difficult to do while one is twirling or being twirled around the dance floor.

Kim dances with me several times. A natural salsero, he is even more adept than I remember and has progressed way beyond my ability to follow his intricate moves. I remain on my feet, but just barely.

I dance with others throughout the evening. At one point, Kim approaches holding his ear -- which is still, incidentally, attached to his head. He has, it is obvious, lost one of the little green earplugs, which are prone to popping out of one's ears and under someone's shoe while one is executing complex turns.

"Wait," I tell him. "I think I've got an extra."

I locate my bag, which I'd stashed under my jacket and street shoes, and take it to an area where there is enough light to allow me to scrounge around for the earplug. After about 30 seconds, I fish out the spongy item -- and with a flourish and a triumphant "TA-DA!" -- I hand it to my friend. Kim is so grateful that he hoists me into the air again.

Upon consummating this transaction, I realize that, in the midst of this shadowy, bouncer-filled club, a-swirl with dancers and drinkers; with police stationed outside and with plain-clothes officers (no doubt) stationed inside, preparing themselves for multiple and sundry trespasses of local, state, and national laws; it is only then that I realize that the little scene in which I was the principal player could easily be misconstrued, misinterpreted, and mistaken for a drug deal.

Several moments fraught with fear and paranoia ensue and pass. When I am neither detained for questioning nor hauled off to the police station nor revealed on TV news as a woman of a certain age dealing earplugs, I return to the core of why I am at Club Q on Thursday evening at 10:45 p.m. I am no dealer but I am addicted -- to dancing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Home Invasion (Richmond, VA)

I don't mean to make light of the horror that has occurred in my and other fair cities, the fear and trauma -- both physical and emotional -- that occur when someone forcibly enters another person's abode. When I write about the home invasion that I have recently experienced, I am referring to an inter-species attack that many of you, dear readers, will no doubt have dealt with in as many unsuccessful ways as have I. You, at least those of you who've lived in or between the four corners of the earth, probably have guessed what I mean: ants.

My house has become their home. They are making themselves right at. They are a constant parade, a swarm of marauders, eating me out of house and.

Up in arms, I have fought them with every weapon at my disposal. I have stepped on them, wet-paper-toweled them, vacuumed them up, sprayed them down. I've used baking soda, cinnamon, Windex, and roach, ant, and insect killers. They march on, undeterred.

I could look at the bright side: They are an army of Merry Maids, scouring the floors and counters for stray crumbs. When they have mopped up, they will head on back to their own, well-tended nest ... or on to your place.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Well, well, well. (Richmond, VA)

It starts Friday afternoon at work. My throat feels so sore I can't swallow. I force myself to down some water. Perhaps I'm dehydrated?

A sore throat never killed me before, so why should I let it stop me now?

I meet A. outside of our usual First-Fridays-cafe rendezvous. My throat feels a bit better, especially if I avoid swallowing, talking, and thinking about the pain.

We flit from gallery to gallery. Gallery 5 (an old, converted police and fire station that has become a gathering place for the young and hip and a showplace for socially relevant art, blaring music, and fire dancers)features a necklace made of those little, green plastic toy soldiers. Ghost Print Gallery (the front of a tattoo parlor) always has interesting stuff and doesn't disappoint, although I barely recall what is showing; my eyes are always drawn to the painting of a greyhound by a Barcelona artist and to the work of a young man who paints race horses. Not usually of interest to me, but so well done that I'm glad to see their work still hanging. ADA always exhibits the edgiest artwork. Adorable owner John is demonstrating a roll of original, paper hand towels, cranking the handle to reveal frame-able illustrations at $10 a section. Awer Bull, a Lost Boy from Sudan, represents his and other Lost Boys' paintings at another location.

After about an hour, A. leaves to meet another friend at the library, where Indonesian dancers and musicians will perform. I decide to stay behind and sit down, just watching the throngs of art and artsy students, musicians, couples, triples and other multiples of every age, race, and ethnicity as they stroll by. The weather is perfect for people watching, I've landed in an ideal location (halfway between two groups of musicians) and across the street from the crafts market), and every joint in my body is aching.

I pry myself off the chair. I am SOOOO tired I can barely reach the car. I reconsider my idea of watching the sidewalk performances taking place at various venues on my way home. I realize that stopping would be hazardous to my health and that my health could be hazardous to others.

By 9pm I'm in bed. I fall into a restless sleep, waking up every couple of hours.

When I finally emerge from my sweaty covers at about 8:30 on Saturday morning, my throat feels fine. It's my head that is aching, my limbs that are hurting, and my temperature that is climbing. I'm cold. No, I'm hot. I'm congested. My nose is stuffed and running, sometimes simultaneously. I feel really, really tired, sleepy, miserable.

I had been looking forward to today. We were going to the college graduation celebration for the son of one of my oldest and dearest friends. All week long I'd anticipated spending time with G and her family in their beautiful home, a modern take on an Italian villa, situated on a Charlottesville hilltop, but with a view straight out of the Tuscan countryside. Each time I visit, the lush gardens have expanded: there are vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs. There's a koi pond, a deck, and terraces. I expected delightful conversation, delicious and gorgeously presented food (G is a great cook and a true food artist), and the pleasure of seeing G and J's bright, beautiful children, who have grown up so fast and turned out so well.

Instead, I spend the day sleeping and sneezing. Apparently, this is just what I need to do (i.e., sleep, not sneeze).

Today, Sunday, I feel so much better. No zumba, though. No running or even walking around. Don't want to push myself. I'm staying inside until this evening, when I'll have dinner with some friends.

My Colombian daughter, my son, my son's friend girl have called and/or emailed to wish me a happy Mother's Day. I feel very, very well, thank you!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

the Downside of Happiness (Richmond, VA)

I have to be careful. On Friday, as I set out for work, I felt downright uplifted.

The last time I felt such sheer joy without reason was pure disaster: I exited a Chinese restaurant with a song in my heart, in my mind, and on my lips, sprang into my car, and promptly backed into an invisible (ok, not invisible, but unfore- and aft-seeable) brick wall. The resulting damage to my hitherto fairly to middlingly presentable Ford Taurus station wagon was minimal -- a mere chunklet of fender dislodged. However, three days later, I found that I'd lost a bad percentage of the bumper somewhere along the road. Now and then, it's not like I had been tooling around town in some sweet little "look-at-me" sports car, or in any sort of vehicle with the remotest panache, elan, or other even vaguely foreign-word-assigned chic-nicity. But suddenly, I was driving something that looked (and looks) like a wreck that had slid backwards off a tow truck.

So here I am again, in a car that no car thief would have the courage to be seen in or near, and I've got that "high on life" feeling that landed me in that previous bit of trouble the last time I felt it. Despite a sense of foreboding, I can't rid myself of this intense happy-osity, so I start to focus on what on earth could be the cause. I think about the things in my life that inspire me, but I can't make a connection.

Could it be Spring that's put a spring into my step? The warm but not hellish temperature? The gentle breeze that fingers through my hair without batting tendrils into my eyes? The intoxicating, mingling wafts of fresh air, fragrant flowers, and newly mowed grass? The landscape bursting in lush greenness and rampant, colorful blooms? The cloud-free, blue-to-the-nth-power sky? Nah, that's not it. Been there, done that and still didn't feel this way.

I'm neither more nor less in love than I was yesterday, when I moved around in my usual state of channeled panic.

My son isn't due home from college for a month or so and when I think of his homecomings, I'm always excited but when I actually see him, I'm usually so happy that I cry, but he's not coming yet and I'm not crying, so as I've said, that can't be it.

It can't be hormones because, as a woman of a certain age (WOAC), I don't think I have any.

I'm not dancing -- although I do confess to bopping around in the driver's seat, drumming on the steering wheel, and shaking my shoulders with relative abandon when I've got salsa, rock, or other danceable tunes playing on the radio. But it's 7:45 a.m. and I'm listening to NPR, so believe me, the news isn't something that would make me feel joy or even crack a smile. Yet, despite the bad news, I'm smiling or, perhaps, I now worry, am I cracking?

Maybe I'm manic depressive? Perhaps my usual non-stop energy and drive are really manifestations of mania that alternate with the total cessation of consciousness that I have, up to this moment, called "sleep," which is really depression so severe that I don't feel anything except exhaustion?

Considering the above, elation dissipates. Where do I have to go? To the office or directly to a school? How many presentations will I make today? Did I develop and translate the fliers for the workshops I'll facilitate next week? Can I make it to all three meetings in different parts of town that I've scheduled between 3:00 and 5:00? Did I remember to stick my planner (my bible, my life)into my bag, so I'll know where the heck the meeiings are?

Back to my usual, frenzied state of normalcy, I unrelax. I feel better and, therefore, worse than I did when I left home a short while ago.