(Down at the Gay Rodge…Where nameless hooligans take your money in exchange for peering under the hood and going, "Say, this looks awful critical, bud. You have a good health-care plan along with a secure stock portfolio?")
Monday arrives early here. I rouse myself at seven because Dean the janitor had promised to come over from school and help jump-start my van. But after he hooks up the cables he wanders off and leaves Ali to rev her car while I sit behind the wheel of mine sipping a cup of hot coffee.
After five minutes or so I cranked my engine and the thing fires right up. Amazingly it still runs. Then as soon as she removes the jumper cables it dies. So we give up when the third try fails. Battery must be totally shot.
She suggests I call Towman.
He and his flatbed truck arrive shortly. Homer looks the situation over, spits and scratches.
First thing he points out is that my license plate tag has expired.
I allow he has good eyes and a handy tow truck. That idea has to jell for him while he looks over my lawn.
“Don’t want to mess up your yard with this truck,” He declares, so Rube and I lean and push the van out of its winter ruts and onto the lawn so he can back up next to it from the gravel drive. I stand aside to catch my breath. Bartholomew then starts to nose his vehicle back and forth until the rear platform slides up under old Rust Bucket’s backside.
He gets out, comes back to hooks up his winch, and then winds away.
Jake then tells me it will be fifty dollars for his tow truck, plus five dollars to recharge the battery and a half-hour's fee on a diagnostic he plans to run “back at the gay rodge”.
And he'll call in a half-hour to "let me know what".
Fair enough, says I.
Then Slim, his truck and my van drive off, barely missing my washtub planter filled with robust prairie weeds. I go inside the house to wait for bad news.
I wait. And I wait. Two hours pass. I grow tired, so I go nap.
As soon as I get up I resume waiting again. I practice this specialized occupation with the best of them, too. While ambling around the house I stumble across another short nap.
Later on I get off the couch and say to the wife, “You should call them up. Find out what the heck is going on.”
She snaps back, “Do I look like a detective? You call them.” So I call them.
That helped a lot, information-wise. After three rings Earl, or Goober, or whomever answers the telephone down there says,
I speak into the mouthpiece (wondering if I have reached Woodrow’s garage and not the White House, or some far-off bakery in China)
"Is my van ready yet?"
After a long pause Jed replies, “Lemme find out.” So I wait while he goes to see.
Then he comes back and tells me that the battery is still charging, but the alternator is kaput. This is great. His high interest in my case says the boys down there haven’t figured out how to use a phone to determine how much a new one will cost, so I thank him, hang up and dial the number for Napa, where auto parts are kept.
A laid-back but well-informed professional gives me the scoop right off, so with joy in my heart I go to test a third nap.
Clive, or Coon or some extraterrestrial calls the wife during my absence to tell her repairs will be less than three hundred bucks, and that the job may even be ready today.
This incredible news makes me suspect unmistakable aliens lurk inside the shop, preparing for an invasion, probably. His confidence shakes me. Just how does he know that for sure?
Ford Aerostar vans...from those I have seen alien things, for alien mechanics surely designed them.
While recovering from all these naps, I get another phone call. I have to assume Eugene solved the mystery of modern communication, but I make no inquiries into this – he has fresh news for me.
“You ought to replace them two belts.” He says. “They are both shot.”
Yeah. This takes me down a road right away.
I get a bright idea of two slugs I’d like to shoot myself, but first they need to fix this van of mine.
I let the best ideas go to waste, sometimes. But I don’t dicker with the man. He knows what he is doing. I sure don’t. Yes, I admit to being dicker-less in this situation. Go ahead, I tell him. Replace the belts.
“By the way,” He starts.
Now what is it, I think.
“Did you know your tag expired?”
I recall the time my daddy taught me to count to ten.
“Look,” I replied, at number seven. “Call me when you all finish, then me and the wife will drop by. What time do you close?”
I got him there, I think. My clock up on the wall shows five forty-five.
“Six,” He says it so fast it throws me, so I sputter out thanks and hang up the receiver.
The kilbasa and cabbage along with green beans and scalloped potatoes vanish precipitately, and within minutes Alicia and I skid to a stop in front of Merle’s Motor Works. A man wearing mechanics blues wipes his hands on a greasy shop rag for a formal greeting.
As soon as we step out of Alicia’s car he motions the rag toward my van’s rear end and informs us both.
“That thing there needs a new tag. The one you got done expired.”
Interesting stuff always happens here in Hoohooville.