Posted by: Kate | January 28, 2010

These Things Don’t Happen to Normal People

Wednesday was supposed to be a fairly uneventful day.

In fact, a week ago, it was supposed to be entirely uneventful: kids in school, Willem at work, me home. I might have had typing work, or not… might have gotten started on some organizational project or another, or not… it would have been only the second day all month in which I had the house entirely to myself, and I was quite looking forward to that.

But then, on a drive up to New Hampshire, my passenger side mirror committed suicide.  It was sitting, all snug and well-behaved, in its little holder one minute, then started to wobble, and before I could pull over to the side to check on it, it had thrown itself from the vehicle.  Very strange, but strange happens.  I made plans to take it to a dealer the following day, and after that visit I made an appointment to bring it back to the dealer on Wednesday, to give them time to order a new mirror and to do two manufacturer’s recalls on the vehicle.

Fine,  not the end of the world.  Especially since the dealer has a shuttle service that would bring me home during the several-hour recall completion process.  And it turned out that I did have typing work to do, so I would need to be home anyway, not out running errands… so, the plan was, I would bring the car to the dealer at 7:30, they would bring me home, then they would retrieve me a few hours later when it was all finished.

Then Emily woke up and immediately began complaining of a sore tooth.  She had mentioned it the previous two days, and we had tossed some Tylenol her way and had her brush and floss extra, as my general rule of thumb for non-severe health things is to give it three days and try to treat at home before we drag in a professional.  But when it was still bugging her that morning, I agreed to call the dentist; they wanted to see her quickly, given her history of tooth issues in the past, and an appointment was made for 3:00 on that same Wednesday afternoon.  Boy, was my day going from empty to busy rather quickly.

Then, just to make things more exciting, we also awoke Wednesday to a very shivery apartment.  Happily, our neighbors downstairs still had heat, so we were hovering around the 60-degree mark, and thus were able to sleep comfortably and move around to get the kids dressed and out the door.  Unhappily, 60 is just a little too chilly to be comfortable while sitting still, transcribing interviews.  So I shot off an email to our landlord, and did a cursory check on the fuse box in the basement to make sure it wasn’t just that simple of a fix.  She got back to me right away, and the plumbing/heating guy called me soon after, and plans were set that I would just leave the back door unlocked so that he could come and go as needed, because between the car and the dentist, I was going to be in and out several times that day and couldn’t promise him a welcoming committee at the house.  I don’t know what the issue is, as the extent of my involvement with him was to stop down and offer him a snack or drink (apparently this is not common, between homeowners/tenants and servicemen… I find that faintly awful and continue to offer), and he grunted and rattled tools and declined refreshments, and I backed slowly away and left him to deal with the pile of furnace parts he had assembled (or, I guess, disassembled) on the basement floor.  But he was there for over four hours, which validates the fact that it was a bigger fix than just flipping a fuse… and reminds me that there are up-sides to being a renter, because I know I won’t be getting the bill associated with a four-hour heating guy visit.

None of this seems especially weird to me.  A bit chaotic, a bit of a hassle, sure, but not acutely abnormal.

Not even the call I got, midway through the morning, from the car dealer.  It wasn’t a pleasant call: “In the process of doing the recalls, we discovered that your water pump has a bad leak and needs to be replaced immediately, to the tune of $400.  And your power steering fluid mechanism has a less-bad but still noteworthy leak and needs to be replaced sometime soon, to the tune of $900.”  FABULOUS.

This is all without them doing the 100,000 mile checkup, which I had scheduled for Friday morning, because it’s been far too long since we’ve had someone give the entire vehicle a thorough inspection.  That, all by itself, will cost almost $500, and it took a fair amount of discussion before Willem could be convinced that it was a good idea because, as he said, “What if they find something wrong?”  Well, yes, darling, they might… that’s kind of the point, and I’d prefer them find it in the comfort and safety of the garage than me find it on the side of the highway.  (And, just in the interest of fairness, he was – mostly – kidding with his reluctance, though it was hard to swallow that this particular once-over was $300 more than the one-step-down maintenance… how can we be sure that the extra things they’re doing are really worth that much more?  And my answer was, I don’t know, but I don’t know that they’re not, and with this being our only vehicle and a baby quite imminent, I’d rather err on the side of caution.)

So, anyway, not great news, but again… not what I would consider not-normal, either.  The strange bit started with their next statement: “By the way, we also noticed that your windshield wipers are in need of replacement, because of blah-blah-blah…”  To which I was able to reply that I agreed, but that I had already purchased replacements and just hadn’t gotten around to switching them out yet.  The new ones were in their packages, in the car; I could deal with that myself when I got the car back.  “Oh, no, we can do that for you, no charge, no problem.”  Awww, how sweet, they’ll give me five minutes of free labor now that I’m signing on for frighteningly near $2000 of other stuff?  (And that’s without the potential other problems that the inspection will find, and I’m quite certain the brakes need work.)

Eventually, with some delays and time-crunch added in, I was able to go pick up the now-up-to-date-on-recalls and newly-remirrored minivan, with plans to bring it back on Friday morning for the new water pump (necessary in order for us to confidently drive to New York for photos Friday afternoon) and the 100,000 mile checkup.  Got Emily to the dentist, got home, typical evening chaos/routine.

Woke up this morning with plans to go up to New Hampshire to spend some time with Gretchen and help with her save-the-date cards, since her wedding date is creeping up with alarming swiftness.  Hop in the car, notice the light sheen of frost on the windshield, switch on the wipers and fluid because I was too lazy to hop back out to scrape at such a small amount of frost.

And nothing happened.

Well, no, to be accurate, the washer fluid squirted out just like it’s supposed to.  But the wipers didn’t move.

I was surprised,  but thought maybe they had frozen in place.  It didn’t seem like it was cold enough, and there certainly wasn’t a significant amount of ice in the way, but what else could  it be?  So I clambered out to look at the wipers, and was confronted with the bizarre part: the driver’s side wiper was sitting lower than usual, in fact as low as it could be and still be on the glass.  (For those who have never, as I had never prior to this morning, looked closely at the windshield/hood setup, the hood rises up to the base of the windshield, then there is about a one-inch drop down to the glass; thus that wiper was resting in the junction between hood and glass, rather than sitting a few inches above it like normal.)

And, stranger yet, the passenger’s side wiper was all the way up on the edge of the hood, resting against the washer-fluid spout.

Huh, I thought.  That’s weird. I tried to lift them up such that they would be sticking all the way out from the car, like you do when washing the windshield, and both were very reluctant to comply.  It felt like I could force them to lift up if I tried, but I was concerned that if I forced it, I’d end up snapping something right off.

So I got back in the car and tried again, this time closely watching the wipers.  And they did, actually, move a little bit, in response to the switch being turned.

They moved away from the windshield.  As though they were all set to clear off anything that was on the hood of the car.  Because, you know, that’s just a daily concern, who needs clear vision when you can have an uninterrupted expanse of hood?

Um… actually, I do.

I tried again a few times, because my brain kept insisting that there was no reason for the wipers ever to move themselves in the wrong direction, so clearly this was something wrong with me, not with the car.  But they kept nudging themselves away, then getting stuck on pesky things like the edge of the hood or the washer-fluid spout.

Defeated, I found a rag and wiped off the successfully-squirted washer fluid and frost by hand, and drove directly to the dealer, happy – OK, by this point I don’t think I was quite capable of happy, but I was at least fortunate – that it was directly en route to my destination in NH.  I then got to tell my same story three different times, to three different employees, all of whom had to look at me quizzically, then get into the car and try it themselves, because clearly I was just making stuff up.  They each would then make the same huh sound that I had made earlier, and would go find someone else to talk to about it.

Since it wasn’t raining or snowing at the time, I decided to just continue with my morning plans and return to the dealer around noon.  At which time, they fixed it, graciously at no charge to me.

I didn’t ask them what had caused this particular hiccup in the first place, or how they fixed it.  I might ask tomorrow, since I’ll be there for a while, waiting for them to do their previously-scheduled checkup and repairs.  Or I might just do my best to attain complete cluelessness, because I think maybe I’m not supposed to understand.



  1. They installed them BACKWARDS? WTF. Oy, what a full, potentially headache-inducing day! I hope tomorrow goes smoothly and is as inexpensive as possible….

  2. Must have been a Jewish mechanic.

  3. They’re out to get us. Doesn’t matter what hemisphere . . I lament that not one member of my extended family chose to become a mechanic.

  4. I stopped going to a shop in the town where I grew up because I was convinced they either did shoddy work, or helped one thing fall apart while fixing another. Yes, it was a used car, but it wasn’t a total wreck, and the number of trips to the garage was getting ridiculous. I feel for you. I still not-so-fondly remember the times when pushing down the clutch made a good-sized amount of water gush onto my foot.

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