Archive for the 'The RB' Category

Out of Gas?

I was on my way to work one morning when I still lived in South Boston.  Along the way, I drove past a gas station (no great shock, as I drove past the same gas station every day on my way to work). I briefly considered stopping for gas, checked the gas gauge and saw that there was 1/8 of a tank in the RB (my now defunct, malevolent red Jeep).  Getting gas would have involved cutting through heavy traffic to take a left into the station, so I made a command decision to wait and get gas on my commute home (when the gas station would be on the right).

This was not an uninformed decision.  I had run out of gas in the RB before, so I knew that 1/8 of a tank was plenty of gas for the trip to and from work (8 miles each way).  Running out of gas once helps to make a person intimately familiar with the reading on their gas gauge. With that settled, I began trying to find a radio station that was not playing ads (no small feat during the morning commute).

The gas issue came back to the forefront of my mind about 5 minutes later.  I was traveling west on the Mass Pike Extension, happily listening to music, when the RB began to buck and stall.  The RB had a unique ability to ruin my good moods.

I tried to downshift and moved into the right-hand lane, but the RB continued with its allergy to forward motion. Eventually the Jeep stopped moving altogether in the right hand lane.  It was then that I realized that many sections of the Pike extension are not equipped with a breakdown lane (I would like 10 minutes alone with the person who made that decision). I looked at the gas gauge, and it still said 1/8 of a tank. Lovely.  Since it clearly wasn’t a fuel problem, I began to think about what else could be wrong that would cause the Jeep to stall in this very convenient location. Some bad words may or may not have been spoken aloud.

It is at times like these that I can never find the hazard lights on my car. Nervously staring in the rearview mirror for approaching traffic did not help my frantic search, but I eventually did locate the switch.  Once the hazards were finally found and set, I got out of the car and stood on the side of the road behind it, waving sleepy commuters out of my lane. I was terrified that someone would go into the right lane to pass (maybe come out from behind one of those wonderfully large buses) and smash into my Jeep. You are probably assuming that while I was waving traffic away, I was also calling the police on my cell phone, and believe me that I would have been; had I owned a cell phone (this incident was the impetus for me to actually acquire the ability to communicate in a cellular manner).

Eventually, after what seemed like months but was probably only a few hours, an unmarked police SUV showed up.  The SUV parked behind me with its lights flashing and protected me from the morning commuters.  When I walked up to the SUV’s passenger window, the officer asked me, “Out of gas?”

I replied that I didn’t think so, because the gauge read 1/8 of a tank.  I told him that the Jeep was breaking down constantly, so it was probably something other than an empty gas tank. He nodded his head knowingly and told me that a state police SUV would be along shortly.

When the state police SUV showed up, that officer asked me, “Out of gas?” I told him that I didn’t think so, because the gauge said 1/8 of a tank and this Jeep has had all sorts of problems and…he cut me off and instructed me to get into the Jeep so that he could use his SUV to push me to a section of the highway where a breakdown lane had been thoughtfully included.

Once I was safely in a breakdown lane, the cop took off and a wrecker showed up. The driver, a Richard Mulligan look-alike (obscure reference to the late actor from Soap), ambled over to me and asked, “Out of gas?” I replied, slightly less sure this time, that well, the gauge said there was 1/8 of a tank.

The wise old mechanic nodded and shuffled to the back of his truck. He returned with a gas can and dumped two gallons into my tank (Actually he probably put about 1.5 gallons in. The other half gallon was sprinkled liberally onto my shoes). He then instructed me to try to start the car. I did, and it didn’t start. I got out of the Jeep and was in the middle of explaining to the guy that I’ve had all kinds of problems with this Jeep and that it probably wasn’t the gas because the gauge read 1/8 of a tank, but he just nodded his head and shuffled past me with jumper cables in his hands.

Mulligan hooked up the jumper cables up to the Jeep’s battery and instructed me to start the car. I did as I was told, and it started right up. The ever-resourceful RB had found a way to risk my life, inconvenience me, and make me look like an idiot, all at the same time. I have to admit, the whole situation was well played by my old foe.  I hadn’t considered that the Jeep would change which location on the gas gauge meant “empty”.

Red-faced, I turned to Richard Mulligan as he was packing away the jumper cables, “I’ll bet you can’t believe how many idiots run out of gas on the Pike, eh?”

He smiled at me and said, “It’s people like you that keep me employed…”

The RB Tim 03 Aug 2003 No Comments

She’s Gone

The RBDing Dong, the RB is dead.  Ok, well maybe she’s not clinically dead, but let’s just say that I finally broke it off after a tumultuous 7-year relationship.  All of my friends told me that I should have done it years ago.  She wasn’t treating me the way I need to be treated, and so I dumped her.  After 7 long years of pain, unmet expectations, unfaithfulness, and general unloving behavior, I am finally free of my RB burden. It’s a good feeling.

I was trying to milk as many years as I could out of her, but the end of our relationship came into focus in the weeks leading up to my wedding.  The latest chapter of the RB started one day about three weeks before my wedding when I was leaving for work.  I tried to back up and couldn’t put her into reverse.  I was able to achieve reverse after a few tries, and went on my way to work, but I noticed on the trip that it was getting more and more difficult to put the RB into gear.  I couldn’t believe that I was having problems with the clutch, since it had been replaced less than a year before by my good friends at Smiling V’s Auto Repair (slogan “We may not be good, but we ARE conveniently located”).

One thing I should explain about the RB is that every time it broke down, I would get ruthlessly overcharged by whoever was involved in the process, whether or not these people bothered to actually fix the problem.  I’m not sure if there is a medical name for it, but dollar signs would actually appear in the eyes of whatever person I was dealing with, and I would end up paying way too much for every little repair.  The RB would generally be totally inoperative at these points, and that, added to the fact that I am lazy, limited my options for bargain shopping.  The RB’s usual mechanic, Smiling V, has perfected the art of charging premium prices for lousy work.  I’m convinced that he owns a private plane named “Tim’s Red Jeep”.

Because the RB was breaking down on a very regular basis, you would think that I would be proactive about it and simply find a new car during the periods that the RB was running properly, but then you would show that you don’t know me very well, because I am not wired that way.  During THOSE times, I was happy not to have a car payment.  I’m not well.

Anyway, by the time I approached work on that particular day, I was practically shoving the RB into gear and it was obvious that something was quite wrong.  I turned the corner in the crippled Jeep and right in front of me was Smiling V’s shop.  Anyone who has read this site in the past might ask me, “Tim, you freaking idiot, why in God’s name are you bringing the RB back to Smiling V?!!”  It would be understandable if they also slapped me around while asking the question.

The reason is first of all, laziness.  Smiling V’s Shop of Horrors is walking distance from my work, and despite the cloven hooves and whippy tail, Smiling V himself seems like a nice guy.  Besides that, HE had replaced my clutch when he replaced the engine the year before and I figured he would cut me a break on the price.  I pulled the RB into the spot painted “Tim’s Jeep”, and handed over the keys as Smiling V flashed me a wide smile over his pointed chin.

After spending the day poring over his golden goose, Smiling V called to inform me that the fluid in the slave cylinder was low.  It’s always a simple problem the first time he attempts a repair.  For some reason, I believed him and went to pick up the RB.  He showed me where he added the fluid and sent me on my way.  Everything was fine for the commute home, but on my way to work the next morning, I was suddenly unable to put the RB into gear as I approached a tollbooth on the Mass Pike.  This is a very uncomfortable feeling, because I was very close to being THAT guy, broken down in the tollbooth.  I was so distracted by my attempt to SHOVE the stick into gear (“Come ON you #@$%@#$%@#$!!!!”) that I went into the wrong tollbooth lane.

I have a FastLane transponder, which enables me to glide through tollbooths without rolling down my window to pay my $1.10.  I had accidentally gone into a non-Fastlane tollbooth lane.  I tried to explain this to the toll collector, who was very kind.  “$3.25,” he said, flashing his best “I know someone at the State House who got me this job that pays more than you make despite my 3rd grade education, halitosis, and lack of front teeth” smile.  I handed over the dough with my nicest “Toll-takers have a very high suicide rates.  Good luck” grin.

Violently jamming the RB into gear only worked until my progress was interrupted by a red light about .25 mile away from Smiling V’s shop.  Luckily there was a Mobil station right there that, it turns out, is owned by Smiling V’s cousin (no, I am not making this up).  With dollar signs in his eyes, Cousin V helpfully towed the RB to Smiling V’s shop for $25.  For a quarter mile.  I wonder if they talk about my Jeep at family reunions.

Smiling V explained that there was nothing wrong with the clutch, except for a lack of fluid.  He said this like it wasn’t a big deal.  Apparently it is normal behavior for year-old clutch cylinders to leak constantly, much like year-old children.  Right.  I see lots of people jamming their cars with year-old clutches into gear every morning on their way to work.  I held my ground and eventually convinced him that there might be a problem with the clutch, and he replaced the master cylinder for free.

I picked up the RB that night and drove off into the cool of the evening, satisfied.  Satisfied, that is, until I got about 300 yards away from his shop and wasn’t able to put the car into gear again.  Smiling V had gone home for the day, but I had by this point purchased some fluid for the clutch.  I filled up the cylinder (which was dry) and after pumping the clutch a few times to build up pressure, was on my way.

It only broke down about 4 more times on my way home, each time involving fluid refilling, clutch pumping and a fair amount of praying.  The cool of the evening had become 85 degree, 90 percent humidity, broken down on the side of the road heat.  The power of prayer got me to my apartment, where RB then died more seriously.  I couldn’t put her into gear, and the fluid was full.

Tired of Incompetent V (who was this time not conveniently located) I had the car towed by my good friends at AAA (slogan:  “It will be three hours”) to a Jeep dealership.  The Jeep mechanic looked the RB over and explained that the slave cylinder needed to be replaced (naturally, since Incompetent V had replaced the MASTER cylinder), and that it would cost quite a bit.  He was on the phone so I didn’t notice whether there were dollar signs in his eyes, but the dealership charged me twice for the diagnostic (to their credit, they caught it before I did and credited my card).

I called Smiling V, and he swore to me that he would fix it (he always tells me that, but he said the magic words…FREE LABOR), so I called AAA and had the RB towed from the Jeep dealership to Smiling V’s…and the (expletive deleted) AAA garage overcharged me by 50 bucks for the tow (I have since been reimbursed by AAA after only 17 phone calls and repeated explanations to people in the wrong department).  I’m telling you, it’s like some kind of curse.

So, anyway, Smiling V finally replaced the slave cylinder that he had installed last summer, and he actually had the stones to charge me for the part because it “wasn’t under warranty.”  The RB worked again, but I was beginning to have doubts about the future of our relationship.  This might have had something to do with the Megger yelling, “Sell it!” every time I mentioned my Jeep.  I figured that, at the very least, I would at least a short grace period of RB functionality.

Nope.  The muffler fell off.  Smiling V replaced the entire exhaust system (Yes, I went back to him.  Shut up.) and did such a great job that the there were only incredible noises coming from underneath the RB when she was idling or going up a hill.  Every time the man has tried to fix anything on that freaking Jeep, it has taken three to four attempts, and I just couldn’t bear to bring it back to him for this latest failure.

So the Megger and I bought a car.  It’s an as-yet unnamed 2002 Mazda 626 with leather seats, sunroof, alloy wheels, power windows, Bose stereo with CD and cassette, and 2700 miles.  This car is a bit of a departure from my experiences of the past 7 years; I almost don’t feel as if I deserve it.

We traded in the RB.  I held my breath while the salesman walked into the room to make me an offer on it, and the paper he put in front of me said $200.  I wasn’t surprised, after all, I know the RB is evil, but I was definitely unhappy.  Then I noticed that the paper actually said $2000.  Dollar signs popped into my eyes and I almost kissed the man.  “WHERE DO I SIGN?!!”

Later, the Megger asked me why I didn’t try to negotiate for more money on the trade-in, and I explained that I was afraid the salesman would say, “Well, let’s go out and take another look at your Jeep.”

So, she’s gone.  People have asked me if I am sad to part with a car that has been such a big part of my life.  I tell them, in all sincerity, “No.”  Sometimes while I’m driving to work in the Mazda, I will break out laughing with joy.  The Mazda is under factory warranty, so I never have to deal with Smiling V again.  Phew.

But, I don’t want to tempt fate by being too joyful, so now, ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present Hall and Oates:

She’s Gone Oh I, Oh I’d
better learn how to face it
She’s Gone Oh I, Oh I’d
pay the devil to replace her
She’s Gone – what went wrong?

She’s Gone

The RB Tim 06 Jun 2003 No Comments

The RB

jeep.jpgGiving a name to a car is a nice, folksy thing to do.  I’m generally in favor of nice, folksy things, so I have dubbed my car “The RB”.  R stands for Red, which is the color of my 1991 Jeep Wrangler, and B stands for a bad word for which one meaning is “female dog”.   I truly believe that my Jeep is a malevolent entity thrust upon me by the angry car gods as punishment for my past sins with previous cars (a story for another time, but the short version is that in my youth, I tortured my first car to death with mistreatment.  My mother stills gets weepy when she thinks about it).

I don’t want to hear any arguments about the fact that I chose to buy The RB with an exercise of my own free will, because if you’ll notice, all of those doomed characters in the Greek myths used their free will and still wound up with the outcomes that had been predicted for them.  I am convinced that The RB is a punishment, for no innocent vehicle would inflict so much pain and suffering upon its owner.

I believe that the used car salesman who sold me The RB must have had a sick sense of humor.  He asked me, “So, where are you going to take the Jeep on your first weekend with it?” as I was driving it off the lot.  That first Saturday, I was still glowing from the happiness of having a new (to me) car when I started the Jeep and attempted to put her into gear for a trip to the store.  

After I had the Jeep towed back to the dealership, the mechanic told me later that “somehow” all of the hydraulic fluid had leaked out of whatever part of a car allows it to be put into gear, which is why the Jeep had refused to allow me access to first gear.  Now I believe that this “hydraulic fluid leak” had been the equivalent of a dog peeing on a hydrant, with me playing the role of the hydrant. 

I should have backed out of the deal right then, but I had the hope that things would work out for the best, and maybe the problem with the hydraulic fluid was just a freak accident.  Besides the fact that I found nails in the spare tire, The RB allowed me to continue to feel good by acting innocently until the lemon law grace period had passed.

Once my window of opportunity to return her to the dealership had closed, The RB began to break down fairly regularly.  The pattern of the breakdowns, which still holds true, was that every time I was about to get ahead financially, my lovely red Jeep would suddenly require extensive repairs.   

First the entire exhaust system died.  Then The RB refused to start.  The AAA guy thought it was my starter, but the mechanic thought the problem was bad wiring, and removed quite a few wires.  For what he charged me, he must have replaced the wires with gold jewelry.  The washer fluid for the back window didn’t work. The heater blew air that could never be described as “warm”.  The gauges on the dashboard waved their needles around quite a bit, but not with any actual relationship to what was going on in the engine (I discovered this in the second month of ownership, when The RB ran out of gas on the highway on my way to work). 

For a time, the alternator would periodically stop functioning, and my mechanic replaced most of my engine while trying to figure out what was wrong.  He would replace something (probably chosen at random) and tell me that the problem was fixed.  I would drive for a while, and things would seem normal  until I drove into the middle of a busy intersection, when The RB would seize its opportunity and stall.  It would then refuse to start, causing every driver in the Boston area to honk their horns and make obscene gestures at me. I changed mechanics and the new mechanic figured out the problem, but by that time I had broken down in the middle of the three busiest intersections in the Boston area.                                  

More time passed.  Both headlights winked out.  The knobs fell off both window cranks.  The driver’s seatbelt (which regularly works itself into a position that prevents me from closing the driver’s door successfully on the first try) had the clip fall off.  Many batteries died prematurely.

My tires were twice punctured by people with ice picks. As far as I know, I don’t have any enemies (except for the people from those intersections), but twice I came out of my apartment to find my beloved Jeep quite a bit closer to the pavement.  I’m not sure how The RB managed to do that to herself, but I assume that she honked something insulting about some kid’s mother, then conveniently left an ice pick on the ground next to her tires.

The U-joints needed to be replaced.  Various belts were changed.  The brakes were replaced.  The lifters in the engine blew out.  A hole cracked open in the floorboard on the driver’s side.

During my first winter with her, I discovered that the seal between the fiberglass roof and The RB herself was far from optimum.  The screws that were tasked to keep the front of the roof attached to the windshield would, no matter what I tried, leap from their holes in the general direction of my head any time the Jeep got moving with any speed.  This was distracting at best, and if the screws found their mark it could be actually dangerous.  To this day, there are no screws keeping the windshield connected to the roof, and I wonder how long it will be before the roof flies off.

The worst part of the roof-Jeep relationship, however, was the shrill whistling sound that occurred at all times when the speedometer was above 20 mph.  The sound became so overwhelming that it became a habit to drive The RB with my face in a constant wince (I suspect that other drivers merely thought that I had an urgent need to go to the bathroom).  I somehow put up with this incessant, mind numbing whistling for a full four years before I finally came to my senses and filled every space between the roof and the Jeep with roofing caulk (including the holes where the screws belong).  This, to my shock, actually solved the problem.  I am not able to accurately describe the relief I felt when I was finally able to drive The RB without the equivalent of a 200 lb. bird screaming into my ear.

One time, The RB managed to turn on its interior light while parked overnight in a downtown Boston lot on the coldest weekend of the year.  I tried to coax The RB into starting on Saturday morning, but she would have none of it.  I was shivering with my girlfriend in her car (she has a car that works) waiting for the AAA truck to come, when one of those big vacuum trucks stopped next to us.  The driver was a friendly guy who offered to attempt to pull The RB with his truck while I popped the clutch in an effort to get the engine started.

This sounded like a good idea to me, since the AAA truck wasn’t due to show up until Wednesday.  We hooked a rope to the back of his truck and to the front of The RB, and he dragged me around that entire icy parking lot, with me repeatedly popping the clutch without success.  After trying this again and again for at least fifteen minutes, I noticed that The RB had somehow managed to engage its parking brake, and that the parking brake had been set for the entire episode.  How that brake cord didn’t snap, I’ll never know.  I had begun making hurried plans for an “accidental” car fire when the truck driver walked up and asked if I might want him to try a jump start using his truck’s battery (an option which had somehow not previously occurred to us).    Realizing the danger, The RB started right up.  My girflfriend was kind enough not to laugh at me out loud.

I won’t bore you with more of these stories, but trust me that there are more.  As things stand right now, The RB is paid for and running decently well, so I am going to see how long she runs before I have to commit myself to a new car payment.  Stop shaking your head in disbelief.  I realize that this decision does not say much for my intellect, but I have FAITH!!  Wait a second…what’s that rattling noise?

The RB Tim 03 Jan 2002 No Comments