Saturday, March 08, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Venus and Mars Episode 203: A-Merrily We Go With Hemostats and Lube

Isn't it funny how life's annoyances usually arrive in clusters, rather than in convenient, easy-to-swallow single servings?

The first annoyance arrived at around 7:30 this morning, when we tried to start the car. One of our car keys - which had grown slightly bent with years of use, like an old dray horse's back - decided this was an opportune moment to snap in two, leaving about one inch of solid metal jammed inside the car's ignition. Unfortunately, neither of us knows how to hot-wire a car, despite having seen it done countless times on movies and TV.

Time to call our neighborhood mechanic? No, I don't give up 50 dollars an hour for mechanics' labor that easily - first, let's rummage through my trusty yellow toolbox, whom you met earlier during my stint as an amateur tree surgeon.

Inside I found what I thought I needed: a black leather pouch containg a pair of surgical hemostats and tissue-dissection tweezers, which looked useful - don't ask me where they came from, but I've had them for nearly twenty years, and I'm sure the statute of limitations has run out anyway. They probably snuck into my pocket and followed me home one day after a high school biology class, knowing that someday I might find them of use.

I walked to our green Escort wagon carrying the hemostats, a screwdriver, and a can of WD-40 in my hand, wearing a black "Chicago" toque on my head (the one that makes me look like a thug). The car was encrusted with enough road salt that it could be mistaken for a large teal pretzel; I unlocked the door and sat inside to have a look at the situation. Suddenly it occurred to me that I could easily be mistaken for a car thief attempting to hot-wire; so off came the black toque. The last thing I needed is a cop knocking on the window asking to see some ID.

When I peeked inside the ignition keyhole, I saw the broken brass end of the key taunting me - so close, yet so deep inside. No matter which tool I used - the small pointy hemostat, or the tissue tweezers, which have a small set of interlocking "teeth" to grasp soft objects firmly - I couldn't seize the key stump with enough traction to extract it. Crestfallen, I walked back home through the snow-packed alley with my WD-40. It was now about 9 o'clock, and I would have to give Cheng's a ring. *Cheng (not his real name, it's been changed to protect the blogger) is our neighborhood mechanic, a compact, personable man in his early seventies who likes to play tennis, ice hockey, and skis with his wife during his spare time. Where exactly does one ski in Illinois, the flattest of all the states? Probably Galena or something.
Rrring. "Hello, Cheng's Auto..."
"Hi, this is Lenka down on Winthrop. The green Escort? I've got a little problem...our key broke off in the igntion. Can you help us out?"
"Oh, yeah...can you drive it over here?" says Mr. Cheng.
"Eh, no...the key's broken in the lock..." says I.
"Oh yeah. That would be a problem."
We agreed a tow truck was needed, and Cheng gave his usual guy a call. The tow should have been completed fairly easily. Two hours later, I hear what sounds like hail, so I look out my living room window. It's snowing - hard. I better go to the parking lot to check if the car's been towed yet. The flakes are so huge, each one feels like a being slapped with a chilled frog. I look in the lot, and the Escort is still there.
Rrring. "Hello, Cheng's Auto..."
"Hi, this is Lenka down on Winthrop. The green Escort? Wondering if that tow was coming soon?"
"Oh, yeah. They came by hour ago. Couldn't get into lot because the alley's too small. All tow companies have these days are flatbeds."
Wonderful. If all the town trucks in town are flatbeds, how they hell do they get cars out of tight city parking lots and garages?
"So, how do we get the car out?" I say.
"Have to call around to see if anyone has regular tow truck."
It was 3:30 in the afternoon before we found a tow truck narrow enough to squidge into the alley beside the "L" tracks; there's generally about a foot and a half of space between my car and the concrete wall, so it's a snug fit even for a compact. Then it dawned on me. All the tow companies have flatbeds because that's how they get lucrative Chicago city contracts to tow cars off the streets. You can't do it easily with a small tow-bar truck: you need a flatbed with a hook winch to extract parallel parked cars tightly squeezed together. It all made sense now.

On any given street in the neighborhood you see cars with three, four even five orange-and-white citations taped to their side windows, each violation ka-chinking at least 35 dollars for the city coffers. Some drivers pull off the offending tickets and throw them on the ground in spite. Scofflawing in Chicago is not smart. This town'll getcha', eventually - next time you'll find a bright yellow steel boot on your car's wheel, and your hubcap tossed in the street, crushed by passing traffic.

So, the car's at Cheng's, and they're closed tomorrow. It's Sunday, and Mr. Cheng is a churchgoing man. We should have the car Monday, says he.

Told you I should have learned how to hot-wire a car, instead of ripping off hemostats in high school.