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Another Portland Blog

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


On the first day of Christmas, my car gave to me...

...a breakdown at 2 AM...

...a white-knuckle tow truck ride...

...and a massive repair bill.

Last week I stopped by Voodoo Doughnut on my way home from a six-hour stint at the Rose Garden. As far as I was concerned, everything was right and good in the world. I had spent the evening watching an arena rock show, two episodes of The Colbert Report were waiting for me at home and a Captain Crunch-covered doughnut was riding shotgun.

I should have known that whoever operates the Wheels of Fate would consider this a perfectly appropriate time to bring the hammer down. At the intersection of 3rd and Washington, my car's engine, as if struck by a Bolt O' Death from a bored deity, completely shut down. I had just enough inertia to get off the road and into a parking spot. I returned fire with my AAA card and put in a call for a late-night tow.

Thirty minutes later, a jittery tow truck guy arrived at the scene. Still half-conscious and in a zombie state of mind after rolling out of bed minutes prior, he hitched up the car and we headed west. He looked like he had been awake for days and confessed that this wasn't his night to be "on call." Eager to get back to bed, the driver put the pedal to the metal, blasting through downtown's one-way streets at no less than ten miles over the speed limit. After running a red light he said with a laugh, "that didn't just happen."

At 3 AM on a rainy December night with few options, what would you have done? I double-checked my seatbelt and began a silent prayer to God, the Spaghetti Monster and whoever else might be up at that hour as the driver chugged an unknown substance from a Big Gulp cup. The rain pounding on the windshield, he hurtled the truck towards the US-26 onramp. Weaving over the lines, he hunched over the wheel like a video game junkie snared in the middle a Command and Conquer binge. His eyes were blinkless. Heading into a tight turn onto the 217, he made another confession. In his haste to get downtown, he accidentally dumped gasoline all over the back of his truck and on one of the tires while filing the tank. The truck was now, officially, a Deathmobile. "Things are pretty slick back there," he said with a snarl. "I should probably take this 260 turn a little slow."

Expecting to see the restraints holding my car to give way, he hit the brakes and eased into the turn. We made it to a repair shop in Beaverton without further incident.

Whatever he had been drinking finally kicked in. Alive and alert, he offered to haul me back across the westside to my house (and further jack up the bill he would be sending to AAA in the morning). The rain had reached monsoon levels. Even if I tracked down the number for a cab, there's no way the operator would hear me over the downpour. I jumped back in the cab and we headed back towards the river.

Two days later, on my way home from work, I noticed smoke coming from the car's engine. I put in another call to AAA. The second driver was a 20-something who had come to Portland with a degree in Criminology. This was his way of killing time until a police academy came calling.

The verdict from the repair shop: the mechanic had used a cleaning chemical known to evaporate once the engine heats up, thus the smoke. They threw in a detail job to make up for the inconvenience. The inside of the car now looks like something you would see on an Armor All commercial.

Now that it smells like a new car, I hope it drives like one for a while.

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