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The Thaddeus Gazette

Perfect Timing


Ah, my liberal cobelligerants, I greet you. You share the great dream, justice and equity for all. You dare to ask "What if?" and "Why not?" For you, the fruits of industry and innovation are to be shared, not sequestered and squandered in primitive pageantry of ownership.


Not for me, so sorry. I've had a broken timing belt to deal with.

It is written (I've written it myself) that a greater pain can drive out lesser. It is also written that personal pain is far more stringent than the universal, which can explain the general lack of interest in those who suffer farther distant than, say, a one day's walk. Or to put it another way, the pain you read about on FacePlace will never supplant your own personal pan hangover in your affections. Hear me. I so testify.

Last winter, I was invited to perform at a craft fair in Southern California that I'd appeared at years before, as part of their 50th anniversary celebration this summer. I was flattered and went to some lengths to confirm the gig and even book several more in the drive path that would take me there. By golly, I was planning a tour! Just like the good old days! I'm not 65 years old, I'm 65 years young!

My elaborate plans were struck down when, two days before the tour was to commence, I crawled under my van to change the oil and a streaky drip of engine coolant came trickling down my face, originating from the vicinity of the water pump.

I believe I have previously explicated my attitude towards car repair in a manner that leaves little room for misinterpretation. While I loathe and despise wrenching as a filthy, knuckle-busting enterprise, I'm not ignorant or rich enough to leave it to garages. I'm inured to the condition of being too broke not to shoot my own dog. Involuntary macho, if you will.

But I am also nothing if not richly experienced in the fine art of free-range automotive reconstruction. In my wild and woolly years I had innumerable opportunities to slice and dice myself in the service of art and cut-rate transportation, staring up despondently at the south end of a vehicle going nowhere fast, generally in rest areas and safe house backyards along the long long trail a-winding. And in the pitiless light of that experience, it was as clear as the coolant on my face that I was setting myself up for terrible things by ignoring Nature's Subtle Warning Signs and blithely blasting off into the wild macadam yonder on some fool quest to revisit my wasted youth.

Which is to say: this wasn't my first rodeo. And I hate rodeos.

It is, in my experience, much easier to cancel an informal tour than to schedule it. A few phone calls and some groveling sufficed. But, having averted the hypothetical carpocalypse, my voice of experience rolled over and went back to sleep. In spite of its incontinence, the van remained reliable enough to use for local chores and gigs, as long as I kept a weather eye on the coolant level. I even took a chance and successfully vaulted the 200 miles to Eastern Washington for a folk fest.

And then I tried to go to Spokane. Another folk fest. And right on the outskirts of town, a mordant little thump from the engine and subsequent deceleration informed me politely that the timing belt had expired and I had taken one too many trips to the well. Turn around, you just passed Slippery Slope!

Good ol' AAA deposited me, busted van and all, at the doorstep of the dear friends I'd expected to stay with. How dear, you ask? Dear enough to put up with nearly a week of me borrowing their car, ranging about encrusted with Mechanic's Blackface, eating their food and expounding voluminously on the fascinating subject of shade tree car whispering. Lucky in friends, unlucky in cars, that's me.

While my first reaction was DTMFA, my sweet wifie and wise and sagacious counselor convinced me that a van that ran would have at least a cursory street value, whereas one that didn't wasn't even worth 7 a pound. Besides, I'd at least had the foresight to bring my car tools, and imagine how disappointed they'd be to ride home on a bus?

The ensuing mousecrap nightmare may safely be consigned to the pits of memories better forgot. Suffice it to say that it adequately fulfilled my generic definition of auto repair: "A series of insurmountable obstacles which, when overcome, lead to the resumption of the status quo." I swore. I bled. I despaired. I resumed. I consumed caffeinated beverages. And bit by bit, bolt by bolt, the dreadful task was done.

But as I prepared to depart scenic Spokane for my usual haunts in Chickadee Gulch, it occurred to me that this particular flea circus came along at precisely the right, uh, time. Like those fellow love warriors I addressed at the head of this thing, I too was shaken, stirred and put away wet by the events of 11/8. I was furious. I was nauseous. I slept badly, and dreamt of bad toupees. But the immediacy, the intimacy of a motorway mishap had the power to sweep all that away. I was still waking up at five in the morning, but the litany of VAN VAN VAN pounding in my head was infinitely preferable to the Trump Of Doom that had preceded it.

Make no mistake. I still don't like it. But bad times, like a bad timing belt, may well be amenable to dissection and restoration. Let's jack it up and get back on the road!

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