21 Aug 2014
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It Could Be Worse (Requiem for a 1994 Volvo)

Putting it in perspective after a bad week.

It Could Be Worse (Requiem for a 1994 Volvo)

For me, it was one of those weeks — one that the universe puts in your path to make you appreciate the better weeks. It was the kind of week that would turn even a perky optimist into a bitter curmudgeon. I found myself complaining about every aspect of my life to anyone within earshot, and I started to worry I could lose my last friend because, frankly, I was even sick and tired of listening to myself whine.

So I promise to slap on a broad smile and ditch the self-pity … right after I fill you in.

Our old Volvo overheated and died on the westbound approach to the Bay Bridge, stranding our daughter’s Midwestern fiancé in a traffic nightmare. After the tow truck brought the car back to Alameda, our mechanic said it would cost about $500 to replace the radiator … so they could add coolant to the system … so they could conduct tests to determine if there was additional engine damage from the heat. Hoping that just a new radiator would fix it, my husband and I authorized the repair and told Emily we would cover the expense.

The next day, the manager called to say that they found traces of carbon in the system which, I learned, is not a good thing. It meant that the head gasket is most likely cracked — a $2,400 repair. When I asked if a new head gasket would give us a couple of more years on the car, the shop owner said, “Well … the next thing that could go would be its automatic transmission. And overheating tends to damage automatic transmissions.”

I trust him. He’s a nice fellow. He reads my Patch column regularly and makes a point to mention it whenever I am in his shop. His favorite piece is one of my earliest and also a personal favorite of mine — (Of course a mechanic loves a sexy truck story. Makes sense to me.)

So our beloved old Volvo is toast. I am no CPA, but I know that it makes no fiscal sense to put $2,400 into a 1994 car that could need another $3,000 in immediate repairs, when seat foam bulges through its cracked gray leather upholstery and random plastic bits fall from its interior whenever someone slams a door.

For now, Emily and I share a car. She is getting married in September, which means that she is saving every dollar to launch, while I am saving every dollar for her wedding reception. And it’s coming at me like a hardball off the steroid-infused arm of a Major League player.

Like every good ADHD poster child, I have missed every self-imposed deadline on the wedding master plan. I know there will be a wedding one way or another and eventually I will come out the other side. But in this moment I feel like the tiny Alice in Wonderland with the world looming large around me.

If I invite four people for a casual supper, my husband disappears for the entire afternoon to avoid the shrew who was once his darling bride. You can imagine what having family and friends arriving from several different states for several days will do to me.

It’s not pretty…

But you’re only given as much as you can take, and something happened on Sunday that snatched me from the depths of doom and gloom. Out on the tarmac at Alameda Point, I watched as an antiques vendor placed a thorny-crowned bleeding porcelain Jesus gently on her display table.

She said, “Now that guy certainly had a bad time of it!”

I laughed the full length of the aisle, and remembered the time when Emily was little and we were driving past Alameda Hospital in the Volvo. We watched a pigeon fall off an overhead wire. It was struck by an AC Transit bus and then immediately pancake-flattened by the next passing car. Ever since, whenever either one of us melts down, our family line is, "It could be worse. You could get hit by a bus and then run over by a car.”

And in the middle of this week’s meltdown, I found myself surrounded by both daughters, their arms entangled around me. I was an Alice sandwich on daughter bread. And for me, life doesn’t get any better than a moment like that.

So my smile is back where it belongs. Farewell, old Volvo! I will miss your admirable turning radius. Thank you for keeping Emily safe on all those I-5 Oregon to California road trips.

And bring it on, wedding. I know the bride and groom love me, and that’s all that matters in the end.

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