Thursday, October 6, 2016


Late this summer, nephew Jeff bought my motorcycle. He sent me a check; I sent him a signed bill of sale and some notes explaining why we don't need a title; and then we waited for a man with a truck to collect the bike and carry it off to Florida. After a week and a couple of postponements the truck appeared. I've dealt with enough motorcycle guys that I didn't expect promptitude.

The departure of the Beamer reminded me of nephew Brian's adoption of my father's string bass. It was a bit sad to see it leave -- it had been in the house all my life to that point and then some -- but it was going to a good home. To my surprise, both Brian and his son have some idea how to extract music from such a thing.

The day the motorcycle arrived at Jeff's, he posted a picture of it on Facebook. It looked better than I remembered, its informalities discretely blurred. In fact, the motorcycle guy with the truck enthused about what (comparatively) good shape it was in -- in comparison, that is, with some of the near-basket cases he has driven around. He also explained that the term "basket case" arises from motorcycle parlance and refers to a bike that arrives in baskets. My cousin Bruce bought one of those once; but that's another story. So my bike also has gone to a good home and was soon seen on Facebook in pieces in Jeff's garage.

Then one fine day on Route 2 in Fitchburg, my car began emitting vapor from under the hood; the temperature indicator established itself in the red zone, and the engine light went on. The car eventually came to rest at TJ & Sons Auto Repair in Gardner, where Tommy diagnosed a blown head gasket and implied that it wasn't fixable. Of course, anything can be fixed; but a blown head gasket is major surgery, and I had already spent too much on repairs to that car. Tommy agreed to deal with the car in exchange for the towing fee. Unable to think of a better option, I agreed. Paula and I cleared out the car and we left with a promise to drop off the title at my leisure.

It seems that Paula, too, was working on replacing her car. We went to some classy-looking dealership in Greenfield that had about one used something-or-other that I might have considered buying. But it was priced higher than I had hoped; and although low in mileage, it had had three previous owners, the first of which was described as "commercial." That, the salesman admitted, probably means that it had been a rental car. Paula's then-current car had a stint as a rental on its résumé, and she had had major trouble with it: "You don't know that somebody didn't put a boat on top of it and drive it up Mount Whitcomb," she pointed out. Anyway, the car in Greenfield looked huge -- after my little Civic I suppose most cars would -- and the ugly gun-metal-gray color made it look even bigger. Paula didn't find anything she liked the looks of either. So much for Greenfield.

Over the next few days, Paula drove all over central and western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire looking at cars. I enlisted my daughter-in-law: "Car stuff is her job," said Justin about division of labor in their household, the day Amanda related on Facebook that she had changed a tire in 90o heat, including chiseling out a corroded fastener on the tire compartment. She credited her father with teaching her well in such matters. "I enjoyed teaching my daughters manly things," Tim posted back.

Amanda and I went car-shopping; Justin was sick and not at work, so the kids stayed with him. I never can get over how readily other people's young kids can be left largely on their own, with distant adult supervision. Justin at the 4/5½ that his kids are now would have been on top of the refrigerator the next time anyone checked on him.

The first dealer Amanda and I tried had one possible car, which turned out to be another reincarnated rental.  That Wouldn't Do. We proceeded to an establishment in Walpole that seems to specialize, though not exclusively, in second-hand Priuses.  They remembered Amanda from when she and Justin bought one of their Priuses there and were, as she thought they would be, inclined to please a satisfied customer with another prospective buyer under her wing. 

After some driving and dithering, I eliminated a rather elegant-looking dark-maroon Honda hybrid (another vehicle with low mileage and a history of rental-car employment) and settled on a red 2011 Prius.  When Amanda mentioned that its brakes were vibrating unhealthily, the dealer gave it new brakes all around. -- saving me, she estimates, at least $600 in future trouble. Paula helped me to collect my purchase a few days later in the Subaru hatchback she had settled on.

Meanwhile, the Civic was still languishing at TJ's. Justin and Amanda wouldn't hear of abandoning it for a $60 towing fee. So a day or two later, Amanda, who had business in western Massachusetts later in the day, met me at Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Gardner and proceeded to TJ's with intent that we should drive the Civic home. We set off for Otter River in tandem, me and the Civic in front, Amanda and the kids following.

We almost made it. Just over the railroad bridge, with the engine firmly in the red and making noise and the engine light flashing, I oozed to the side of the road and stopped.

"But you're so close!" Amanda objected. I reported on the car's behavior and reminded her of the hill up from the paper mill. She told me to let the engine cool for five minutes. I gave it exactly five minutes, and tried again.

Again, it was close. A couple of hundred yards from the house I turned right and then left (I have never understood what was meant by that attempt at a rotary in Otter River; if I had ignored it and gone straight, we might have arrived triumphantly at our destination; then again, we might have found ourselves stranded in the few yards of asphalt that is One Way and been creamed by the next car that came through too fast). As it was, the car ground to a halt in the mouth of the Old Winchendon Road.

I sat there looking stupid, while Amanda sailed into the Winchendon Road, parked car & kids, and dashed over, followed by two guys who had stopped to see what was wrong. One of them verified that we had a car problem but that no one was hurt, and went his way. The other stayed to help.

Meanwhile -- this was a complicated few seconds -- Amanda called directions at me to put it in neutral and steer to the curb, there actually being a curb in that spot, which isn't to be taken for granted in Otter River. She flung herself at the back of the car and pushed without waiting for the remaining guy, who came around and joined the party. Amanda, with her artist's eye for clothing and color, was wearing a very becoming medium-green dress and, of course, shoes not ideal for car-pushing. She is a tall, strong young woman; but pushing even a Civic uphill, even slightly, is a tall order. She must have been glad of the offer of help. We got the car out of the intersection, thanked the guy, piled me into Amanda's car (where the children were waiting patiently, presumably watching through the window).

Amanda left me and the kids at home and set off on foot with a gallon of water to pour on the engine of the Civic (turned out she didn't use it, the engine having cooled enough that she was able to persuade it to start) and pulled up the driveway in solitary splendor. She then took pictures of the car for the benefit of eBay, where the car sold in a day or two for $300.

As Amanda explained to a suitably impressed audience consisting of my mother, Mother's home health aide, the kids and, of course, me, "I grew up with mechanics and worked at a parts store." We will hope that the kids watching from the windows have added "car stuff" to their understanding of what women do in the world.

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