Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bumble bugs

"One good thing about this cold weather: if you flooded your backyard rink last night, it's looking pretty good this morning!"

One hand emerged from the pile of bedding to switch off the radio before I tumbled onto the floor. It was cold, but what did I care? I was going to Santiago where the temperature was in the 30s (that's in centigrade for all you snow-bound East Coasters).

I was packed ... well, mainly. My seminar talk was complete... or at least, most of the graphs were done. The apartment was sorted.... actually, it was in complete disarray, but that was the task for the morning, before dropping the cat at the boarding kennel and heading to the airport.

Look for me, it really was quite organized.

In fact, it was so organized that I found myself digging my car out of the snow an hour and a half before I had to leave. I put the key in the ignition to start the air flows and set about scraping the ice off the rear windscreen. Once done, I was grabbing the keys from the ignition when I decided to turn the engine on.

This was a random, yet fortunate, decision since the car made a loud clicking sound, flashed a random collection of dashboard lights and failed to start.

..... Unfortunate.

I tried again. It couldn't be the battery because the lights and air worked fine. That was a pity because I knew jump-starting a dead battery was potentially a fast fix. I turned everything off and then back on again. Hey, if it works for a computer....

Apparently, Volkswagens are not based on Microsoft Windows.

So on the day I was traversing the length of the globe, my car had broken down. I couldn't even give it up as a bad job until I returned and take an airport shuttle because I had to take the cat to the kennels first.

Calm. Calm.

This was why I was a member of CAA (the sister of the USA's AAA and equivalent to the AA in the UK). I dug out my membership card and called the number listed under 'Emergency roadside assistance', which seemed rather extreme for a breakdown on your own driveway. Still, I certainly didn't want their Monday-Friday membership services number. I explained to the operator that while I was not trapped on a lone highway surrounded by ravenous coyotes, I did have a flight to catch and I'd really appreciate someone coming round in the next hour. Then, my head full of images of my yellow bug being towed away down the snowy road to be hijacked and devoured by said rampant coyotes, I started hunting for a back-up plan.

My first idea of such a contingency operation was to phone a friend who didn't have a car, but might be able to magically make one appear. He was British; I had complete faith in my countrymen. Anyway, I was panicked and rambling, so he was possibly one of the few who would still understand me in such a state.

While refusing to convert my car into a pumpkin and back into airport-bound Cinderella carriage, he did suggest a couple of our friends who he knew had cars and gave me their numbers. Meanwhile, CAA called back to say roadside assistance would be with me in 10 minutes.

I confess to being pretty impressed by this.

I went back out to the car and dully turned the key in the ignition again. The car promptly started.


In disbelieve, I drove up and down my driveway, almost crashing into the CAA van that had just pulled up.

"It's starting now?" The guy from the CAA seemed unphased by this development as he stepped out of his vehicle, the smoke from his cigarette barely curling past his fingers in the cold air.

"Yeah." I gazed at my car in a mixture of relief and confusion. "Is it possible for fuel to freeze?" It was the only idea that occurred to me that would allow to the car to recover on its own.

I knew that fuel freezing must happen, since I'd heard that elsewhere in Canada it was common practice to plug your car into the mains over night to keep it warm. Yet, surely the freezing temperature for petrol was well below water and it wasn't all that cold.

"Oh, yeah." The CAA guy nodded. "The fuel is mixed with a lot of water and that freezes. You should add fuel-line antifreeze to your tank."

I should?! Why did not one mention this before?! Like when I bought the car .... in Florida. Ah.

Left on my own once again, I took my car for a spin around town to check it was serious about moving. There were a few things that didn't add up about the frozen-fuel theory; in particular, my clock had mysteriously reset and my radio had lost it's pre-tuned stations. Still, I stopped at a gas station and bought a bottle of the suggested anti-freeze to add into the tank. It was covered with toxic warnings. I hope my car enjoyed it.

A few hours later saw me parking at one of the airport satellite 'park n' fly' car parks. I pulled into a space that had become a deep snow drift. What could possibly go wrong?

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