Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Terrorizing St. Paul with jumper cables and a mouthful of Novocain

I survived another trip to the dentist today. I will admit to hyperventilating a little bit, but things weren't as traumatic as last week.

I think I mentioned before that the dentist had originally suggested the work on this side of my mouth could be done without Novocain. This idea was wholly rejected at the start, but I wondered this time around if it might actually make things a little easier on me.

My logic went like this: I can suffer a little discomfort and perhaps actually being able to feel the drill tearing through my jaw, rather than not really feeling anything and just sitting there waiting for white hot electric pain to cause my head to explode, would keep me from going into a panic.

"Sure we can try that," the dentist said. "Just put your hand up if you need me to stop."

"Fweeeeeeeeeeeeee," said the drill. "Bzzzt. Bzzt."

And my hand was up.

It says something about me and my transparent wussy nature, I suppose, that he was instantly swabbing my cheek with that piña-colada-tasting* numbing agent. It was ready to go. He hit the nerve again in administering the Novocain, but since I was expecting him to do it and my mind had logged it as far more painful than it actually is, I was able to keep myself from weeping.

I was sweating like a maniac, and I clenched my fists so tightly that it hurt to unclench them, but as I say, it wasn't as bad as last week, and one hour later I was in my car and headed home.

But first I needed to drop by the gas station. I tried really hard not to be frustrated by petrol prices -- because it's my own damn fault for driving a 23-year-old car with a 6.5-liter engine -- got back into my car, and: nothing.

"Son of bitch. It was just running," I thought.

I tried turning the keys a few more times, made sure the battery connections were OK and even tried kicking the car, but it did no good. I couldn't get a sound from the car -- it was completely dead.

This was one of those moments in which, if my life were a movie, I would do one of those pull-away Spike Lee crane shots. I'm not sure I entirely get the point of them, but he uses them when things go a bit shitty, which is where I was. I had just gone through my second emotionally exhausting dental experience, the right side of my face was still completely numb from Novocain, and my $250 piece-of-shit car was dead.


I would like to big myself up and point out that I did not do my usual thing of getting really, really, really angry. There was no reason for me to be: I was in my beloved St. Paul; I had $7 in my wallet, which is more than enough to get you anywhere you want to go (albeit incredibly slowly) on the buses; and while I was scheduled to come to work today, I didn't have to be there for three more hours and I am in my final days of employment, anyway.

Instead, I felt a sense of frustrated resignation. I called my wife and left a moping Eeyore-esque message on her phone. What was going through my head was what my brother had told me about the day his 1977 Buick Skylark died: "I came outside and it just wouldn't start. The thing wasn't worth fixing, so I called the junkyard to come pick it up."

"Here it is," I thought. "The death of my car. What an unceremonious goodbye."

That's a good name for a band, by the way.

It seemed like an exercise in futility, but I decided I would at least try to get my car started again. Even though it had just been running, I decided to try jumpstarting. I got out my cables and walked over to the woman who was parked right next to me, pumping gas into a Lexus SUV.

"Hi, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind giving me a jump," I said, smiling and waving my booster cables in as friendly manner as possible.

"Uhm... no. I... uhm," she said, trying to think up a reason not to help me.

Let's be fair and remember that I had a face full of Novocain, so my request came out as more of a growl and my smile may have come off as somewhat leering. But it was the middle of the day, there were loads of people around, and she was parked right next to me -- all she would have had to do would have been pop open her hood.

There was no reason to mess with her, though. There were plenty of other people at the gas station.

"I understand," I said. "You're in a rush."

"Oh, yeah," she said. "Really in a hurry."

So I walked over about five feet to a man pumping gas into a red Volvo.

"Hi, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind giving me a jump," I growled, this time playing up my partially paralyzed face in hopes that it would garner some sympathy -- after all, who would refuse to help Good Ol' J.R. jump start his car?

"Uhm... no. I... uhm," he said, trying to think up a reason not to help me.

What the fuck? Who refuses to help someone jump start their car? It was the middle of the day, at a busy gas station and I was pointing to my car. All these people had to do was sit there while I did all the work. That's what you do when you jump start someone's car: you sit in your car and do nothing. Once the other car is started, the jumpee thanks you profusely. It is the easiest way imaginable to rack up good karma, and I had two people refuse.

This is what's wrong with America, people. When the Chinese take over, remember this day. Remember that we are a nation that flat out refuses good karma.

But I didn't pester the Volvo man; there were still other people I could ask. At the next pump over, there was a man standing next to an early 90s Ford Tempo. What person driving a Tempo was going to refuse me? He was my people. We could bond over shitty cars.

"It's just that, well, this is my mother-in-law's car," Ford Tempo man told me. "And I would hate to have to bring it back to her and explain how I blew up her generator."

It's an alternator, you fuck. Cars have alternators. And do you not see the car I'm driving? You don't think I know how to jump start a car properly?

"OK," I said, and walked back to my car.

I got in to try starting it up again. This is years of working with computers that caused me to do this. Computers sometimes really do come back to life if you leave them alone for a while. Internal combustion engines, however, stay dead.

Ford Tempo man had a sudden, begrudging change of heart and swung his car around.

"You look so miserable," he said. "I'd feel bad if you were just stuck here."

I'm assuming my miserable look was a result of the Novocain. Maybe I look miserable all the time.

I tried to explain to the man that I had just been to the dentist, so my face was numb, but it became clear to me that he was terrified of either me, or "car stuff," or both. So I just went about the process of hooking up the cables. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see he had a nervous look on his face -- as if we were doing some kind of drug deal. When I attached the negative cable to my engine block, he jumped back about 15 feet.

"Cripes, man," I thought. "It's not gonna 'splode like some kind of al-Qaida car bomb."

I got in the car and turned the key. Nothing. I wasn't really surprised, because: 1) I wasn't sure this was going to work, anyway; 2) my engine block has 23 years of oil and dirt on it -- not ideal conditions for electrical current. So I got out of the car to mess with the cables a bit and try again. But he was already removing the cables from his car.

"Sorry it didn't work out," he said, shoving the clamps in my face.


"Why don't you ask the guys across the street?" the gas station attendant said.

I was flipping through the phone book, looking for someone who would come tow my car and buy it for scrap. The "guys across the street" was the Phillips 66 station, which also does some odd mechanical repair.

When I walked in, I noticed a large sign on the wall: "MINIMUM LABOR CHARGE IS $12.61"

That's sort of an odd figure to come to, and it left only $37.39 for the maximum amount I was willing to pay to fix my car. Unless I had burned out the magical Makes Everything Work fuse, I told myself, I was going to be parting with my car today.

One of the mechanics grabbed a portable jump start kit and walked across the street with me. He fussed with the wires, had me try to start the car, fussed with the wires, had me try to start it, fussed with the wires and, "WHOOOOOOM," my car roared back to life.

"Holy shit. I was all set to have this thing towed away for scrap," I said.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you," the mechanic said.

"How much do I owe you?"

"Huh? Nothing. It's a jump."

Back on the freeway and sailing toward home in my born-again land boat, I thought to myself: "The guys at the Phillips 66 on the corner of Cleveland in Grand, in St. Paul --that's what I'll write a blog post about. I will write an enormous 2,000-word post to point out how they are among a dying breed of people who aren't so self-absorbed that they can't help a person jump start his car."

"No one will read that long of a post," a voice in my head told me.

"Probably not," I thought.

*By the way, thanks for ruining a perfectly good alcoholic experience, world of dentistry.


Samsung said...

What do you drive?

And I LOVE the post. Because well, I love reading anything about cars, even if it is bad car experiences...except car crashes and people being injured or dying. I don't like reading that...

I guess occasionally being female comes in handy. My F150 ran out of gas, and I attempted pushing it into the nearest gas station since I was too cheap to be a gas container. It's heavy. Very heavy. A couple of men who were working on the side of the road in construction offered to help me.

I refused. "No thank you, I got it."

Because I'm stubborn and stupid like that.

It's really, really heavy and it's hard to push and steer at the same freakin' time.

All the sudden, I notice the truck is alot easier to push now. "Wow, cool. Static friction turns into kinetic friction. Wonders of physics."

Heh. The two guys got behind the truck and pushed anyway.

So, I thank them profusely and showered praise.


Wierdo said...

Don't worry, some people do read long posts ;). And thanks for the wonderful image of you and the growling half numb smile!!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that 3 (well two and a half) people refused to help you! Were you nekkid under a raincoat? sporting heavy artillery?

Jeeze, that's just rude.

Lucy said...

I LOVE other people's misery. Why would I not read? Unfortunately you had this terrible happy ending tacked on the end. Ruined my day, Cope.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

If I ever need a jump, I know just where to call.

Chris Cope said...

Jae -- I drive a 1983 Oldsmobile Delta 88. Ain't she a beauty?

Violet said...

great... i just made a dentist appointment today. thank you for reminding me of how much i enjoy them...

Nessa said...

Just when you lose faith in humanity, Phillips 66 to the rescue.

We had a great big Olds, too. It was like driving my livingroom sofa.

Lindsay Hansen said...

What is wrong with people? At least you were logical with your approach. In high school, I was on my way back from big bad Minneapolis (piano lesson) and my car died at the gas station. Fortunately I had the foresight to consult with my father (using payphone as pre-cell phone), as my first instinct was to have the car towed home. What I thought that would solve, I don't know. In case you're wondering, my dad (wisely) suggested having it towed to the mechanic.

Lauren said...

This is a crazy story. Well, actually, wait--it's not really that crazy. But good writers can make a normal "the car broke down today" experience into a very entertaining piece. And you have done so!

I found your blog a few weeks ago through Lanette and Huw. . .and I must say that it's one that I have been continually reading since I discovered it. Not many blogs are this fun to read. Thanks! :)

I also like your Good Names for Bands page. . .I've always been on the lookout for those, too.

Samsung said...

That car is as older as I am.


Lucky said...

Nice car! Now I miss the rat-buick again.

I wouldn't have thought twice about helping you jump-start your car. I don't think I've ever had anyone refuse to help me jump a car before, either.

I can't believe you were in St. Paul, people used to be so nice there.... Of course, maybe they were commuters from Minneapolis.

Anthony S. said...

Good writing.

I was once stuck with a dead car at the gas station; attendant came to me and told me he was going to have me towed if I didn't move it out of his station. Real sweet guy, seeing as I'd only been there for five minutes, and just bought gas.

Glad your car could be jumped back to life.