Wednesday, November 16, 2016

That Sinking Feeling, or Bad Day at Blackwell

This story lies somewhere between comedy and tragedy. Depends on your sense of humor and your outlook on life. For me, it was closer to tragedy, bordering on horror, taking me dangerously close to outrage and even vengeance. But you decide.
     It began innocently on a Friday morning in mid-October. Mary Lee and I and Lexi, our ever present Golden Retriever, piled into my 2010 Honda Insight. I mention the car by name because it's an important player in this story. The weather was unusually fine for this time of year, maybe even a touch warm, an excellent day for a nature hike. So we headed to Washington State Park, about an hour away. We arrived about one o'clock, found a trail head, and hiked for almost an hour. We were the only ones on the trail, which ran along a small creek through the woods. It was fairly easy walking, so calling it a hike is a bit of an exaggeration. We were the only ones on that trail, a peaceful escape from traffic and internet, bringing me closer to the very essence of our being, a connection to the wondrous forces of nature, a glimpse into the eternal, and all with my iPhone  off. 
     We returned to the car, headed out the park onto Highway 21. A service station sat just a couple hundred yards up the road. We both decided it'd be a good idea of use their "facilities" before heading home. That bottled water kind of goes right through you. So I headed up 21 follow this closely if you will. There were two driveways into the station. I pulled into the first one. In retrospect, my life would have changed if I had chosen the second driveway. But I chose the first. The building with the rest rooms, the dollar hot dogs, the racks of candy and stale donuts - really some of the worst products our culture has developed - that building was at the other end of the service station area. A line of pumps stood between me and the building. A rope barrier was strung between a couple of the pumps. Nothing to do with me, I thought. So instead of pulling back onto 21 and heading up to the second driveway, I went straight ahead, intending to drive around the pumps. 
     Have you ever had the feeling that something has just gone drastically wrong? That you've made some kind of error but aren't quite sure what it is? Have you ever had a sick feeling deep in the pit of your stomach that you've just taken the wrong fork in life's road? Then you know how I felt when I drove straight ahead into a pit of freshly poured concrete. This wasn't just a patch, where your tires might get a little grimy. No, this was more like driving into quicksand. Not that I've ever driven into quicksand, but now I know how it feels. This was deep.
     My car began to sink into this large section of concrete. I tried to back up. Immediately. No traction. I tried the recommended rocking motion we've all learned to get out of  snow. No traction. And sinking deeper. I looked around. There had been no markings to indicate work in progress.  No rope, barricade, construction cone, sign. Several guys in their Ford F-150's and Dodge Rams at the pumps stood there pumping, smiling and enjoying the show. I could read their minds.  "Look at that old fart stuck in concrete." "Bet he can't get out." "I feel kinda sorry for the dog." 
     Finally two guys came over, worker types in jeans, boots, tees, tattoos, stood in front of my car, shook their heads. 
     "Can you help me?" I shouted out my car window. I wasn't about to open the door and step into the muck.
     "Ain't no way to get you out without a tow truck. And there ain't no tow truck here."
     "Then push me out." 
     "No way we can get a car to push you out," said the other one.
     I pointed frantically to the front of my car. "Then maybe you can get in there and push me out."
     They looked at each other, shook their heads, and stepped into the goo up over their boots, pushed me, hard, harder, as I spun the wheels, flinging more and more concrete up into the underside of my beautiful Insight. Finally I was on solid concrete. I got out of the car and said, rather pissed at this point, "Why the hell didn't you put up some signs or ropes or something?"
     "We wasn't through yet," said the first guy. 
     I looked at my car, wet gray concrete covering the wheels, bumper, the entire bottom of the car dripping with that stuff.  
     And that's when my brain shut down. What I should have done at that moment was take out my iPhone and take pictures. Take a video of the area without any signs, of the guy who had pushed me now frantically smoothing the concrete over before it dried, to make it look nice again. I should have called the cops or state police or whoever the hell is responsible for law enforcement in Blackwell, Missouri (that's where the station is located, I discovered later on). I should have talked to the owner, gotten names of witnesses, taken their pictures. I should have, I should have, I should have. That was my mantra as I tried to fall asleep the whole week.
    But I didn't.
    "You better get over to a car wash," said one of the guys in the concrete boots. "Before that gets hard." He had already started scraping off his boots. 
     "A car wash," I thought. Yeah, I'd better get to one. Then everything'll be okay.
     So, not compiling any evidence of the crime that had just taken place, we hit the road, headed towards DeSoto, Missouri, found a car wash. The do-it-yourself kind, where you hold a sprayer, put money into a machine, dial if you want soap or polish or just water or whatever. For the next twenty minutes I sprayed the car. Huge slabs of wet concrete slid off. I crawled partway under the car, sprayed underneath. And that was a forceful spray. Four minutes worth for only two bucks. I spent eight bucks. Got off all the concrete I could.  
     Then we hit the highway, headed back home. "I think we're okay," I tried to tell myself, but not believing it. Especially with the car feeling suggish. Ten minutes later the car began to vibrate when I hit 50 mph. It was a long, torturous ride home, never getting any smoother. And every mile of the way I knew I was doing more and more damage to the car. I could feel that ugly mixture grinding its way deeper and deeper into my Honda's soul. 
     Finally, after what seemed like hours creeping along the highway, we arrived home. I spent another half hour with the garden hose, sprayed more gray chunky goo from under the car. All the while thinking, I should have, I should have. I called the service station near me, told him what happened. They were just closing up. "Bring it over Monday morning," he said. "We'll knock that concrete out of there." That gave me a bit of a lift to carry me through the weekend.
     Come Monday morning, it was on the lift at the station. "Wow," said the guy. "Never seen anything like that before. I can't do anything." He gave me the address of a car repair place that maybe could do something. They couldn't. The guy at that place looked at the car, bent over, said, "I don't know. It'll take a lot of work." I asked how much, rough idea. "Oh, four, five thousand. Don't hold me to it, though."
     I didn't. I drove home with a heavy heart, an upset stomach, an approaching migraine, and a sadness brought on by the certainty that my Insight was running its last miles. It was. By the end of the week, the insurance company, reading the report from one of their car repair shops, gave me the bad news. It had been totaled. Repairs, if possible, were estimated at $6000 and climbing. Which meant I could take their payment - 75% of market value - and they'd have the car carted off for scrap. Or I could take a little less payment, keep the car and take care of the repairs. The guy at the repair shop said, "It'll never be right. That estimate will go higher. We wouldn't know until we take everything apart."


They kept the car. I took the payment. I drove a rental for a week, a Chevy SUV, twice as big as my late, great Honda. I'm in the market for a car now. A used car. Here's what I'm thinking. Maybe this concrete episode was a sign. My first car was a convertible. A 1956 Chevy Bel Air. All my other cars that followed were convertibles: '60 Corvette, '65 Olds Jetstar, '72 Dodge Dart (one of the worst cars I ever owned), kept the Olds for a long time, then an '88 Mazda RX-7. I kept that until 2004. And have been without a convertible since then.
     So the answer is obvious. It might be time for a convertible. Maybe something good has yet to come from that unfortunate day in Blackwell, Missouri. Great name for a town, right? Blackwell. I don't plan to return anytime soon. Unless I find a really good deal on a used convertible there. Like a '60 Corvette for under five thousand dollars.