Right In The Middle
My black Volvo and I rattled up to the intersection borderline. The light turned green. The smell was coming through the body of my car now, like I was cooking strips of corpse bacon on the hood. I pleaded with my machine,“C’mon, dude, we can make it down Overland." The car in front of me turned, and I pressed the gas. Nothing. “What? C’mon babe.” I pressed the gas again. Nothing.
Volvo gave up the ghost at 5:45pm in the middle, the geometric middle, of the intersection of Palms and Overland. In rush hour.
Not on a side street, nor twisty Motor Ave., no. My car stopped like a dropped anchor, right in the crotch of the intersection. It was obscene. It was flat out surreal. I was on the traffic equivalent of the gallows in front of a crowd of hissing townspeople hanging me for witchcraft.
And AAA had me on hold with Muzak.
Let’s go back an hour or so.
I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment, my ladyparts doctor to be precise, as a follow up to my recent baby-having. Said baby was at home with her dad, tranquil for the moment, but if you have one of these, or even know someone who does, you know the tranquility is more of a stay of execution. My parole was temporary, and daddy had business people coming over. Volvo and I had our mission parameters: get there, get poked at, get home. Hopefully before the full tilt, double screw of baby meltdown and rush hour.
The scorched smell first ghosted over my senses as I was crossing that part of National Blvd which splits, momentarily, into the Quantum universe. The smell registered in my brain, but my brain was navel gazing about the nature of the Blvd. and we ignored it. My brain was conjuring Morgan Freeman’s sturdy, celestial, timbre, from his Wormhole program, telling me that National Boulevard is more a theoretical concept than a street, because it exists in more than one place at a time, and disappears and reappears unpredictably. I agreed with my mental-Morgan, because on one occasion, years ago, I dared to wave my ass at the space-time parameters, and followed National boulevard on its full, mysterious, path. I followed National past the freeway, along the train tracks, through town, away from town, and I ended up perpendicular to another street: National Boulevard. I stopped at the light, and heard my laughter bounce off the dash board, and a silent scream bounce off my inner scull.
Back to the mission at hand, I rolled under the 10Fwy and into Cheviot Hills, as Morgan Freeman continued on, in my brain, about the nature of LA intersections in general. He said that they are something akin to singularities, fizzling with a kinetic insanity which only froths at the mouths of those gaping urban holes, in urban sprawl, in Los Angeles county, in rush hour. They twitch towards their own inevitable potential chaos - orgasms of vehicular absurdity DAMN there's that smell again...and I noticed an odd tone whirring from the front of my car with the funny smell. Hot funny. The stink of burning money for car repairs funny. I pulled over.
Maybe it was some other schmuck’s car, somebody who had foolishly left their oil unchanged and unchecked. I’m not that fool. I often think of changing or checking my oil. No, I haven’t actually done it, but it’s the idiots who don’t even think of it who get in trouble. I think about it all the time.
The smell dissipated, the light greened, and I pedaled the engine back to life. The smell came back. I checked the temperature gauge - just below the red, ok. My Volvo, in all the 8 years we’ve shared, has never overheated on me. We’ve foraged for gigs all up and down the 90 freeway, the 101, the 10, the 110, we’ve parked and rotted together on the 405, when some lunatics decided to crack the chest of the highway at 3am in Orange County, to service the road in front of an army of late commuting zombies. Volvo slogged with me at 5mph passed the construction crews, crept up the asphalt with me, upheld a mantra of pistons and fine Swedish engine craft. Never once did he burn.
So I was optimistic. I kept going. Past the mansions, the other golf course, Fox Studios, right on Pico, and left on Doheny to face the Hollywood Hills in the bleary North. Then I heard a rattle. “Just old car sounds” I told myself.
Volvo and I arrived and parked at the office of my ladyparts doctor to follow up on my recent birth. (Not my recent birth, my baby’s recent birth. Every doctor’s appointment I’ve ever had has been a follow up to my birth.) My appointment took my car concerns off of my mind. We were mostly making sure that I was still not pregnant anymore. We assessed this immediately due to two compelling points of fact: 1)There was not a baby in my body 2)There was a baby at home, who we assumed is the one who used to be in my body. We agreed that this evidence was sufficient to calling the birth a success, and I went back down to the parking garage. (Note: this was a slightly abridged version of my doctor visit, although all facts stated above are true).
I drove Volvo back out of the garage, and turned left opposite the bleary Hollywood Hills. Morgan Freeman reappeared in my brain, continuing his talk on Dark Matter governing downtown congestion patterns. I had forgotten about the smell and the whirr, but now it returned like a grey olfactory fog . Volvo began to take on a heave and a shake, like the phlegm which vibrates through the chest after a virus. Morgan Freeman paused, and I started making deals with God. God, let me get home before my 1 month old daughter starts screaming, and I will finish reading a book instead of Facebook updates. God, let the traffic be light, and I will take shorter showers...
Finally I made it back to Cheviot Hills heading toward National Blvd. - but by now the rattle had turned into a shake, and I could feel it through my shoe every time I pressed the gas.
I crossed National and Motor, but still had a ways to go, so my engine just had to keep the dream alive. Had to find the fear of God and keep churning. I started talking to my car. “C’mon man, we’re almost home, you know the way.” But Motor Ave. started creeping because 5:30 in the evening is “Every Asshole” hour in LA, because Every Asshole in LA is trying to drive somewhere. Right in front of you.
So Every Asshole in LA was between me and my house, and my car was losing the dream. I couldn’t hear Morgan Freeman anymore. I turned off Motor Ave. heading towards the intersection of Palms and Overland. This intersection seems like an upstanding bit of road, but it’s a sociopath too. It’s another vortex where laws of physics do wrong things, and good people make bad lefts. Where people cross the streets in late-80s colored pants, and drivingpeople notice this, and become confounded, and make slow decisions, and horns resound, and Every Asshole misses their turn. But I had no choice, I got in line.
Volvo and I rattled up to the intersection borderline. The light turned green. “C’mon, dude…” The car in front of me turned, and I pressed the gas. Nothing. What? I pressed the gas again. Nothing.
Volvo gave up the ghost at 5:45pm in the geometric middle of the intersection of Palms and Overland. The car behind me began to beep, the cars which were stopped at the red began to beep, the cars 4 cars behind me began to beep, and I started scrolling in my phone for the AAA number.
The dude behind me starting yelling something, so I made the universal signal for vehicular non-compliance. You know, you look up into the rear view, and extend your limbs into flappy-arms on either side of your body translating to “I have no power over the current situation of my vehicle!” And you mouth the words as if they can see you. I made this tribal gesture several times before the cars began maneuvering around me. Then the cross traffic started towards me and I sat, in the slowly swarming sea of Every Asshole.
In the cross currents of horns, obscene hand signals, and indecipherable hurled insults, I had a moment to reflect. Wow, I was that guy. That guy, who’s car is in such an obnoxious situation, that Every Asshole who maneuvered around me went home and told their friends/family/pets about that human zit who was stuck in their car in the middle of the intersection. They probably started by talking about what a shit-storm it was, and then moved on to what kind of an idiot winds up like that, probably somebody who didn’t even think about checking their oil (which is wrong, I often thought about it), and then moved on, in a moment of self congratulatory, high-mindedness to hoping that I ended up ok and get my life together. “Man, that poor asshole,” said the asshole, to his friends and family and pets who nodded over their quinoa or designer cupcakes.
Finally got through to AAA, and selected the “I’m fucked, save me” option from the voice menu. I was then transferred to the holding music. So I listened to the Musak, sitting in my one ton automotive shell, in the middle of the intersection. I didn’t think that this would ever be a thing, but now it was. And I was in the thing, and I couldn’t find my hazard light, as if I needed to alert anyone that this was a hazard.
Then a non-LA thing happened. A dude actually ran out into the intersection and offered to push my car out of the street. Really? So I put Volvo in neutral and he and his friend pushed my car to the shoulder of Overland. I got out and shook his hand, what a kind thing to do, just above and beyond the call, a real selfless act. He must’ve been Canadian.
So the Musak finally ended and the AAA person asked me the questions, and I forgot the year of my car as always. They told me they’d be there in 30 minutes, and I sat back to ponder what my Facebook post for this would be..wait, would that go back on my deal with God to read less Facebook? Is the deal off since my car broke down anyway? What if I post that on Facebook- BANG! I craned around in my seat, expecting to see some road-rage fallout from my car drama - some Asshole for whom I was the last straw, barreling towards my dead Volvo with the precision of a lit turd - but what I actually saw was another car, ANOTHER car, spin out into the intersection, and skid into the stopped cars on my side of the street. All traffic stalled. The intersection held it’s breath again. No sooner had I gotten pushed out of the middle by that nice Canadian man, than the roads had claimed another. I heard the Morgan Freeman voice return: “another vehicle has fallen victim to the pull of the gravitrons in the eccentric quantum vortex of the urban sprawl intersection.” It was at this point when my emotional meter became overburdened, and everything became funny.
I stepped out of Volvo, and walked towards the corner, where the other car was dented and smoking. The driver (not hurt) was standing by with her phone, making the “what did I learn in Drivers-ed about this?” face. Then the tow trucks began to arrive, and got confused about who went to who, then the fire truck, full of firepeople looking around at my black, broken, car - and the other black broken car, stopped around the corner from each other. I made the universal arm-flappy, shrugging gesture for “these are two separate incidents!” and the fire people tilted their heads.
While the professionals sorted everything out, another wave of odd began, since this corner happens to contain a convalescent home. Like a scene from a B-horror flick, all these people with walkers started dribbling out of the building and gathering around the event. The corner looked like a mid-80s patterned couch from a Florida motel - the bright greens of the firepeople’s vests, starched white of the AAA shirts, pale pinks, yellows, and florals of the seniors, the purples of the caretaker's scrubs, and the incongruous red and orange flare of the emergency trucks. It was a chaos salad. My nerves were shot, my car is probably finished, my baby is definitely throwing a fit by now…and all I could do was laugh. A lady in orange crocks looked at me sideways as I giggled behind my cell phone.
So Volvo got hooked up to the tow, and away we went to my local mechanic. I looked back at my ride and thought to myself, “the intersection had its sacrifices,” the wormhole was closed. I looked out my right window and saw the crowd dispersing, traffic returning to flow, and down at the edge of the block, I saw Morgan Freeman wink and walk away.