Archive for November 24th, 2010

Grr argh hmm

One nice thing about being retired is that I don’t have to commute in the snow, which Portland drivers absolutely cannot cope with. However, today I got my comeuppance. Although we had only a sprinkling of snow, the temperatures were below freezing, about 25° F, and when we went out to the car this morning to go to the gym, it wouldn’t start. The lights and radio came on, but when I turned the key… nothing. Not an “rr-rr-rr”, not even a click. Weirdly, the headlights didn’t dim, so it wasn’t the usual cold-weather problem of a weak battery.

Oh, bother. But that’s okay, we have another car.

Kate’s car wouldn’t start either, with the exact same symptoms.


After trying a few more times to get both cars to start, I gave up and called my friendly local mechanic, Hawthorne Auto Clinic, which is literally two blocks away. A little while later one of their technicians came by (on foot) with a “jump box” — basically a battery in a case with attached jumper cables.

It wouldn’t start either car.

He also tried banging on the starter with a pry bar, in case it was frozen. No change.

Okay, he said, I’m going to go back to the shop and come back with some more diagnostic tools. But a little while later I got a call: they weren’t going to keep sending him out on foot in this weather. I would have to have the car towed in.

I called AAA and they sent out a tow truck about 40 minutes later. With amazing alacrity he picked up the car, towed it to the auto clinic, and zipped it into their parking lot neat as you please, all covered by my AAA membership. The auto shop said they’d get to it as soon as they could. But there were a lot of other cars there that had been disabled by the cold.

By this point our trip to the gym was shot, but I had a 1:00 appointment downtown and we were meeting a friend to see Harry Potter at 4:30 and I still hoped to make both of those. I checked online and found there was a bus that would take me right to my 1:00 appointment, but I’d have to eat lunch real quick to make it.

I was also really concerned about what was going to happen with the rest of today and tomorrow. We could maybe get our friend to pick us up on his way to the theatre, but if the car didn’t get fixed before we left for that we probably wouldn’t get it back until after Thanksgiving. And if that happened, how would we get to Thanksgiving dinner? Worry worry worry.

As I was scarfing down lunch, the auto clinic called. When they got to my car it had started right up, immediately and repeatably. Their best guess was that it had been a frozen starter or solenoid (the weather was not only below freezing, it had been duck-drowningly wet for the past several days) and that the jostling the car had received from being towed had broken whatever was frozen loose.

So I got the car back from the shop (no charge! I love Hawthorne Auto Clinic) and drove downtown where I got something from Lucius Shepard for Ellen Datlow. We had a nice little chat about Monsters and other movies.

So all’s well that ends well. Though Kate’s car still isn’t starting, I hope that it will recover when the weather gets back above freezing.

I have to say that I’m really noticing my privilege right now. I have a lot of friends who, when they have car troubles (and they have them frequently, because the best cars they can afford are crap) it turns into an appalling cascade of can’t-make-it-to-work and can’t-afford-to-fix-it. Whereas I, with money, have a well-maintained car that rarely breaks down, have a AAA membership (a form of insurance) to tow it when it does, and live in a neighborhood with a fine auto mechanic right down the street who will cut me some slack because I’ve been a good customer. So I really feel like I’ve gotten away with something here by getting out of this car crisis with no major problems and no money spent.