What follows is a true story, unexaggerated in any way.
Last Thursday, as I've mentioned, Rebecca and I were in an accident. Just a little one – the car behind us smacked our bumper, and we got pushed into the back of a pickup truck. No major problems, except that the hood was crunched.
We were both off the Friday before the holiday weekend, so we went to a nearby auto body shop, hoping to get everything done before the weekend. Knowing that there was no way that would happen. Was there any way that the hood could be popped back into shape, we asked the mechanic. Unfortunately, no. Not with this make. We needed a new, unblemished hood. But the good news was that he could order one and have it in by Monday.
“Do you happen to work on the weekends?” I asked. “See, the thing is, this is our only car, and I work fifteen miles away…”
He gave us that look that says, "Oh, if only I could!" Of course not. But he could get us in for Monday. Rebecca suggested that she take me to work in the morning and pick me up after the repairs were finished, and our new mechanic friend, Kevin, agreed that the plan sounded fine.
So, as these things go, he told us on Monday that there was no possible way he could do it by the end of the day, he had to keep it overnight, no other possible way. The tone he used suggested that we were naive, dippy children. Of course there was no way that he could do it all in one day. What was he, Santa Claus? This was after I was already stuck at work, fifteen miles away from our apartment. What could I do? Well, suggested Kevin, if I could get a ride home from work that afternoon, he could deliver the car to us Tuesday morning. And we thanked him again profusely.
My friend Chandrika drove out to Franklin to pick me up, and it turned out she had a flat, so I had to put on the spare and then we went to get it changed. This is the kind of thing that always happens when I go to a mechanic. I inevitably get neck pains the night before I have to go, because I know that a series of unforeseen problems will arise. It’s never, ever failed. Once, I went to get a tire changed and had to go back five times because the tire wouldn't stop leaking. Even after it was replaced. I never managed to get that problem sorted out.
So today, I get up early to call and ask when the car will be delivered. I’ve already told my boss that I’ll be a couple of hours late getting in. He understands; after all, we can't be sure when the car will be delivered. So when I call and Kevin tells me it’s ready an hour early, I’m ecstatic.
“When are you going to deliver it?”
“Deliver? Son, I wish we had the manpower to deliver repaired vehicles. But we don’t.”
“…What?” I'm already an hour late to work. This is the thing: Kevin seems genuinely bewildered and angry, as if we’ve repeatedly asked him for a bucket of chicken on the side. This is the same mechanic who we talked to Friday, the same one who offered transportation yesterday. Apparently, as far as he’s concerned, we’re lunatic troublemakers who take wrecked cars to shops and then try to game the system. A free delivery, sure, right. Another damn kid with pipe dreams of freebies. All I can do is stammer and say that I guess we'll figure it out.
The only thing I can think to do is ride the bus. I hate buses. There’s a set of unexplained rules that all bus riders know and I don’t. There's no way to ask; the driver is surly, the riders are distant. The website says the bus will arrive in ten minutes. I get exact change, throw on some clothes, and rush to the stop. When the bus arrives (right on time!), I ask for a transfer ticket.
First off, they don’t do ‘transfers’. After telling me this, the driver gives me a transfer card. Bemused, I sit down and wait to get to my first stop.
Only no one bothers to explain that they don’t automatically stop. You have to watch out for it and pull a rope. This is not explained, and I’ve been too ashamed to ask for a tutorial. I only realize that this is how it works when I see another passenger do it So when the bus stops for another guy and I recognize I’m sort-of-kind-of near my stop, I hop out.
I manage to find the transfer point, which has a giant sign next to it and three covered bus stop areas. Then I wait twenty minutes to see the bus casually zoom by the other side of the street. I curse profusely and cross the street. There is another, tinier sign on the other side. I’ve just missed my bus.
I call Rebecca and she tells me that the mechanic is just a couple of miles away. It’ll actually be faster to walk than to wait for the next bus. By this time, I’m two hours late for work. I start running.
That’s when the first hobo flags me down. He shakes my hand four or five times in a row, never letting go, only slowing down between sentences, as he asks me my name, where I’m from, where I’m going. When I tell him about my dilemma, he offers me a handful of spare change and says that he’ll travel with me and give me a $200 book of food stamps.
“Thanks,” I say, “but I just need to walk there alone, I think.”
“Oh, that’s great. That’s great,” he tells me. I give him my unused bus transfer card in gratitude.
I run down the street as far as I can, which is about a block, and then a man wearing a fishing hat and carrying a violin under his arm approaches me. I assume he’s going to ask for money, but the day is full of surprises. He says, “Do you know where the violin shop is at?”
He speaks slowly, as if I’m feeble. “Do you know… where the violin shop… is at?”
“Uh? I don’t think so.”
“You from around here?”
“You got any cigarettes?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t.”
He looks frustrated, and wanders past me. “Good luck!” I call.
It is at this point that the bus that I was supposed to transfer to drives past me. Somehow, I've managed to *walk* faster than this bus over the past mile and a half. It stops right next to me, as if to laugh, and I really, really wish I hadn't given my transfer pass to a homeless person.
I’m another half mile down when another hobo stops me, hands me a leather CD case, and asks if his rock CDs look any good. I tell him they’re great, but I’m out of cash, and he asks if I have cigarettes. I apologize and tell him that I don’t, and keep walking.
It's hot. I mean, like, stomach-achingly hot. I'm indubitably late for work now, sweating like crazy, and when I see a sign offering 'spaghetti with goat', I actually consider grabbing a plate. But I perservere, and at last, I reach the mechanic's shop.
“Oh,” Kevin says, smirking. “Guess you finally got a ride, huh?”