Peter Shelton

The Zen Stick

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, Road Trips West, Watch columns by pshelton on May 20, 2010

There I was a couple of weeks ago writing about The Idiot’s Guide and taking care of our cars and how they’ve lasted so long with a bit of love and regular oil changes.

I should have known better. The law of the universe says that when you pat yourself on the back—whup!—here comes the Zen Stick to beat you back down again. Down to where you belong.

I humbly admit my error. And just in case the lesson wasn’t clear enough the first time, our faithful Saab, Footsie (“white girl” in Malagasy), broke down a second time in the last three weeks.

The first time was in Denver. We were staying with cousins while Ellen checked in at a new charter school that was tackling her Making Movies That Matter film editing program.

It was raining hard. E wanted get to the school early. I turned the corner a block from my cousin’s house, headed for I-70, and the gas pedal went floppy beneath my foot. I reached down to pull it back out, but it just sulked there, unresponsive, impotent.

We coasted to a stop. Through the rain, Ellen ran back to the house where she commandeered a young cousin once-removed, with a car, who wasn’t working that day, and made it to her appointment on time.

A cousin-to-be (fiancé) brought me a rain jacket and together we thrashed under the dash and under the hood until I pulled the broken, frayed end of the accelerator cable out of its housing.

There followed a fortuitous sequence of phone calls which led to this family’s mechanic (a neighbor of theirs growing up in the Golden hills) who recommended a towing company. The tow truck showed up within the hour. The garage was less than two miles away. The mechanic found the only replacement cable in Denver and had Footsie ready to go the next day.

Phew. The Zen Stick had come down, but not so hard. It could certainly have been worse. We could have been on the freeway in the rain. It could have happened the night before on our sloppy, scary drive down from Loveland Pass. There might have been no place on the Front Range with the right part. As breakdowns go, it couldn’t have been much sweeter.

The second one we should have seen coming. E and I were driving home from Lily’s birth week in Albuquerque, our grandparenting jobs completed for the moment. We spent quite a bit of the time betwen Bernalillo and Bloomfield discussing possible new or new/used cars.

My excuse now is that son-in-law Adam had been talking cars while we were at their house. He likes to talk cars, and he likes to investigate on line. We should look into the new VW diesel, he had advised. They, Adam and Cloe, have to do something to accommodate their growing family of four. Trade in the pickup? Trade in the Honda? They need space for two car seats now, and all the toys.

So, as we drove home Ellen and I talked about replacing Footsie, when the time came, which surely was not quite yet. But Footsie was listening, of course. And just past the last stoplight in Durango heading north toward the passes, shifting into fourth gear, the clutch went limp under my left foot.

First the right foot, now the left foot. The clutch connection was severed. We coasted over to the side and punched the emergency flashers. This breakdown time and place was almost as fortuitous as the first, although the tow driver was a little tough to listen to, blaming all life’s woes on “Obama and [Colorado governor] Ritter.”

Just before quitting time, we found a shop that would do the work. And Ellen’s college roommate, recently retired to Hermosa, picked us up, fed us dinner, and loaned us her car to get home in.

Phew. How lucky was that. We could have been descending Red Mountain Pass, where it had snowed earlier in the day. We could have been out on the high desert somewhere between the Apache Nugget Casino and Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle.

Now Footsie’s clutch cable is fixed and I’m about to drive down tomorrow to pick her up and return our friend’s car. The Zen Stick has been wielded again, but again gently. Footsie will roll on, a few more miles at least. There may be a message in this pattern. I just won’t talk about it, not even inside my head, as we cruise back over the pass.

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