Thursday, May 05, 2005

What a day

Today two machines took my money and failed to deliver a product or service in return. One was a public telephone and the other was a tampon vending machine. Think about that for a while and you'll have a pretty good idea of what my day was like.

I drove into Athens to run some errands. My last stop was the Publix supermarket. I had just loaded seven bags of groceries into the car, including some dairy products and fresh fish, when I slid into the driver's seat, turned the key, and...

Nothing. Not a sputter, nor a vroom.

I tried it several more times. I got out of the car, swore and kicked it a few times, and got back in and tried it again. Still nothing. I would have popped the hood, but one of the many things that's wrong with my 1990 Accord is the fact that it takes two people to open the hood because the latch sticks. One person has to be inside holding the release while the other person worms their fingers underneath the edge of the hood and fiddles with the lever.

Not. Good. For one thing, my car appeared to be broken. For another, the house was 45 minutes away (plus traffic, since rush hour was fast approaching) and there were two half-pound grey mullets swathed in deli wrap whose freshness depended on my ability to think quickly.

I went inside and, after the pay phone stole my 50 cents, approached the service desk. And here's where my love for the high level of customer service at Publix supermarket was justified once and for all: They put my groceries in their walk-in cooler and let me use their phone to make a long-distance call.

The s.o. didn't answer. I later found out he had been outside chasing Gracie, who had broken her collar and was on the lam.

I walked about half a mile to the next strip mall and found another pay phone. I called collect because I was out of change. The s.o. picked up this time, and I described my location so he could come rescue me. "Go get yourself a coffee or something," he advised. "It's gonna be a while."

I started walking back to the strip mall where the Publix was. On my way I passed another grocery store. Suddenly I noticed that a shopping cart standing abandoned outside was not empty. There was a 10-pound bag of charcoal briquets underneath it that someone had forgotten when they loaded their car.

I looked left. I looked right. Nobody was around. I decided the charcoal was a karmic payback of some kind, tucked it under my arm, and continued walking.

An hour later I was sitting in the car enjoying an overpriced Starbucks coffee when I saw the s.o. pull up in the other car. Gracie, collarless, was hanging her head out the window.

I handed over the keys to my car and the s.o. tried to start it a few times. He did all the same things I did, including kicking the car. Then he released the gearshift and tried everything with the car in neutral. Finally he had me hold the hood release while he popped the top. He stuck his head under the hood and tweaked something.

"Turn the key," he yelled.

"VROOOOOM," went the car.

"You cured it!" I shouted in jubilation.

A battery wire had come loose. And here all this time I had been contemplating setting the goddamn car on fire, or maybe making it into some kind of public art. O me of little faith.

When we got home at 7-something p.m., I discovered that the reason the mullets had been so inexpensive was that they needed to be not only gutted, but also scaled. Couldn't one thing be easy today?!

But you know what they say. All's well that ends well.

And don't waste any time worrying about the tampon thing. After all, I was marooned at a grocery store.