All this breaking down has reminded me of all the other times I’ve broken down. I think I’ve broken down in more states then most people have lived in. Why just in Arizona alone I’ve broken down four different times. There is something about Phoenix that makes whatever I’m driving fall apart, catch fire, or otherwise stop rolling.
The best breakdown ever was when I lived in the bus with my ex. She was driving us through those mountains between Arizona and New Mexico, and I was hiding in the back because her driving scared me, when I looked up and saw antifreeze coming down the aisle. I still remember running, slow motion, to the front of the bus to tell her to stop, and her turning back toward me and yelling, “it’s overheating,” just as I yelled “pull over!”
There we were, on the side of a rather deserted highway in the desert. We soon discovered that the antifreeze was coming from the fittings on our (luckily empty) vegetable oil tank. Further investigation showed that the polypropalyne tubing we’d used to make a tube-within-a-tube so that we could run the veggie oil through the coolant line to warm it up had melted when the bus overheated. We could solve this by cutting the loop open and splicing it together under the drivers seat to eliminate the now plastic filled loop to the extra tank. We’d need a few plumbing and auto parts. We made a list. I changed into my hitchiking tank top, and twenty minutes later when a car drove by I jumped out of the bus and stuck my thumb out.
They were recent immigrants from Mexico, carpooling back to town from their jobs at a plant. They dropped me off where they turned off the freeway right before the town, and I walked the mile into town in the crazy heat and found a parts store that didn’t have what we needed. It was only another quarter mile to the hardware store that did, though. I still remember that it was twelve dollars and some cents, and that on the way out of town I guiltily wasted the change on a bottle of water.
I walked and walked and walked with my thumb out. It got dark and, like the desert does, cold. Then I passed a sign: Federal Prison – Do Not Stop For Hitchikers. It was a cartoon moment. I sang with the coyotes, danced for the sliver moon, and counted to one thousand while skipping, but still the mile markers said I was forty miles from the bus. My spirits started to wane. I was worried about rattlesnakes underfoot in the dark, coming to the pavement for heat. When I reached the next mile marker I was 39 miles from the bus. That’s when I decided that the next car would stop. I’m not one to invoke magic for every little thing, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
When the next car came it did stop, right in front of me. I ran joyously to it (I wouldn’t be killed by a snake and eaten by coyotes!) and opened the door. A boy gaped up at me shocked. “Where did you come from?!” He had just pulled over to change the CD. He hadn’t noticed me at all.
By the time he’d explained that my butt was firmly planted in his passenger seat, so he agreed to take me up to the bus.
When I got there it was ten PM and my girlfriend and I climbed under the seat to start fixing. She could see what we were doing, and she directed my fingers. If you’ve never laid on your back in a puddle of anifreeze in the nightime desert cold-dark, let me tell you: it’s an experience.
There was the sound of a car stopping, a door slamming.
“Don’t move,” she said, “we’ve almost got it. Wait. Okay, now move your left hand up, no the other way, okay. Push that piece over this piece I’m holding and hold it while I tighten the hose clamp?”
“Hellooo?” someone yelled outside the bus, and the dogs started barking.
I was afraid of antifreeze falling in my mouth if I opened it, but I did it anyways. “Hii! We’re in the middle of fixing this, sorry we can’t come out.”
Their flashlight played over our legs.
“Yeah,” my girlfriend whispered, “just hold that… shit, where’s the screwdriver?”
“Um, is there anyone we can call for you?” the guy asked.
“No, we’re fine, thanks!” I yelled back out of the corner of my mouth.
“Hey. The cops are here.”
“Shit, the cops are here! Should one of us go talk to them?”
“Don’t worry,” my girlfriend whispered, “we’ll have this together before they can get a tow truck here.” We were still gunshy after a bad experience with the cops when we were broke down in South Dakota.
The guy explained our situation to the cop and pointed out our legs. The cop just asked if we were okay and said he’d check on us in the morning. Amazing.
Fifteen minutes later we were scrubbing each other’s antifreezed parts and getting back on the road.
Best breakdown ever.