Chapter 16
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Car Trouble

There are times when the only recourse to automotive despair is Neil Diamond

As a young adult living in Suburbia, USA, I’ve dealt with only the smaller problems of the “real world.” For instance, just yesterday my roommate, Chet, told me that he has taken all of six (six) showers since he moved in last fall. Again, this is a small issue, but it might present a problem if I ever wanted to do something like introduce him to my mother or invite guests over to our apartment or continue living in our apartment.

But recently I was faced with my first major obstacle as an adult: my car started making funny noises.

It started off with a low, quiet groan. The kind of noise my roommate, Chet, makes when I mention things like “utility bills” or “soap.” Although something clearly wasn’t right, I just didn’t want to spend the money to get it fixed. It was a subtle noise, and my approach was to drown it out—I turned up the radio.

So there I was, blaring Neil Diamond in my Honda and receiving less attention than ever from the opposite sex. Yes, the loneliness hurt, but my “cover up” approach was working. And I had almost declared victory when everything changed: the noise got significantly louder. Here I should note that the noise had, in fact, been getting louder for several weeks already, and so too had the music. After a few weeks my car sounded like Neil Diamond live at Madison Square Garden, and by the end of two months I couldn’t remember what female undergarments looked like.

Still, I had grown so good at ignoring the sound that at times I completely forgot it existed. Luckily my roommate, Chet, had grown very good at reminding me about it. Ironically, Chet was becoming a frequent passenger in my car because he was experiencing “car trouble” himself: he drives a motorcycle. So any time it was rainy or cold or “too early in the morning” (he used that one a lot), I would give him a ride.

“That sound,” he would say; “What is that sound?”

I took this as my cue to turn the volume up: “Hey, have you heard this one?”

“That smell!” he yelled over the music. “What’s that smell?!”

“Chet!” I shouted back. “That’s you!”

Anyway, the noise had gotten extremely loud, and it was time to get to the bottom of things. I hit Google in search of a solution:

     •What causes noises in Hondas?
     •Which car sounds are dangerous?
     •Is body odor contagious?

After an exhaustive five-minute search, I successfully diagnosed the problem. It was totally harmless, totally not a big deal, totally something I could fix at my own convenience: a tiny hole in the muffler. “Sorry about the ruckus,” I’d say. “There’s a small fracture in the muffler. It sounds a lot worse than it is. It’s totally harmless.”

“The whole car is kinda vibrating, too,” Chet would yell from the backseat. I didn’t allow Chet to sit up front with me anymore.

“Yeah, that’s just because of the crack in the muffler,” I said. “Nothing to worry about.”

This approach bought me another few weeks, but eventually I had to take action. I could no longer deny that my car would shake violently if I tried anything as basic as, say, pulling out of the driveway. I had get it to the shop.

But first I had to fund the operation, and to do this I implemented a complex financial plan that I originally developed in college: I waited for my next paycheck. It was ten days of waiting, and that meant ten days of white-knuckling the steering wheel as I drove around town. By this point, my little Honda sounded like a fighter jet, and I was consistently sweating through my khakis on the way to and from work. In these dark hours, I pondered my futile existence: Will I make it out of here alive? Why do we drive cars anyway? Why do women act like they don’t see me?

It’s sad that it took me so long to get the problem diagnosed by a professional. It’s also sad that I contribute to my savings account about as often as Chet cleans between his toes. But in the end I got it fixed, and that’s what matters.

What was the problem? I don’t remember. Something with the wheel bearings, I think. Some thousand-dollar thing with the wheel bearings.

After a few weeks of driving in a silent car, I’m able to reflect on the experience. This was my first struggle in the real world, and during it I learned a lot about myself. I also learned a lot about cars. I’m certainly no expert, but I’ve devised a primer on the five phases of car trouble: 1) denial, 2) loud music, 3) Google, 4) pant sweat, and 5) poverty. If you have any further questions, you might want to consult a professional. I’ll be pressure-washing my roommate.