The brakes on my 2000 Beetle decided to stop working. Well, technically it was the ABS system, so I could still drive but without making abrupt stops. You can’t drive in LA without making abrupt stops. So I had to take the thing in to see my mechanic at Lube Masters. Yes, that’s what they’re called. An ex-boyfriend asked my mechanic if he was a master of lube and he laughed, so at least they have a sense of humor about their name. They don’t however have a waiting room that’s inside. In the summer it’s unbearably hot. In the winter it’s cold. My mechanic would need a week with the car, and it would cost $1500. In the meantime I would have to figure out how to live without the car.
I called in all the favors the first week–borrowed the roomie’s car and hitched rides. Then I rented a car. I found the cheapest rental place possible–$26 a day. I hear there’s a mythical place that’s $15 a day, but I couldn’t find it. Rent 4 Savings was cheap enough. In fact I can’t even imagine what the $15 dollar place is like. First of all, when I called them to reserve a car, John answered the phone and the first thing he asked me was, “How did you get this number?” “Online,” I said. “Which website?” “Yours?!”
He relaxed and walked we through the rental process. The car they gave me was an ancient Ford Focus the color of eggplant. Not aubergine, eggplant. John told me not to worry if the “check engine” light went on. It was just dirt collecting on something magnetized. I stopped listening to his explanation because the man’s eyes were alien. I was having a moment similar to that described by survivors of violent crime, the moment they sensed their attacker was dangerous. His eyes were so pale blue that they were almost white, and they were constantly moving. I thought he might be blind, but he was having no problem writing down my credit card number. That made me even more nervous. Did I trust this man, who was collecting empty Mountain Dew liters behind the counter, with my credit card? I thought he was the only worker around, but then he hollered for Juan.
After John had yelled five times, Juan came running in. He looked vaguely homeless, as if his days on the streets weren’t too far behind him but at least now he could shower at the halfway house. None of his clothes fit, and he kept pulling up his pants and itching his shaggy hair. He looked to be going through withdrawal. Juan immediately pushed a diagram of the car in my face and asked for a signature. I wanted to inspect the vehicle first, especially since they were rushing me and appeared to be straight out of a Dickens novel. I insisted on looking at the car, but it was dark and I made a cursory look at the thing and signed. Mostly I wanted to leave which contradicted my other urge to read all the fine print or call the police.
A week passed. The rental car was serviceable, despite coming with coffee stains and a mysteriously sticky patch on the shifter (this is starting to sound like a Yelp rant). When it was time to return to Rent 4 Savings, I needed a ride to my mechanic. John said this would be no problem. Juan would give me a ride. Faced with my options, maybe Juan was safer. You want a driver with trustworthy eyes, right? I greeted Juan by handing him the metal bowl of pistachio shells I had found under the driver’s seat. Juan threw it out the window. My mom thinks he was showing off, proving his masculinity. Whatever the desired effect, we remained quiet for the entire ten minute drive to the mechanic’s.
I stared at my phone for most of trip, watching the blue blip on the map move closer to the final destination. At the five minute marker, I realized I should have made small talk earlier in the drive. Now it would be more awkward if I remarked how the days were getting longer. Shrouded by silence, the remark would seem filled with subtext. Instead I tried to imagine what he was thinking about. I wondered if he thought I was racist. Did I need to talk to prove I wasn’t a snobby white girl? Juan dropped me off at Lube Masters. I did have to point the place out, and my sudden remark “Leave me at Lube Masters” seemed dramatic and momentous. I thanked him profusely and told him he was a “life saver.” He nodded solemnly and drove off.
At Lube Masters, I waited a half hour for my car in the cold, and then they told me it wasn’t ready. My mechanic gave me his Chevy Tahoe to borrow. Thing was enormous, and it felt so wrong, like I was pretending to be OJ Simpson. Also, it barely made it under the In-N-Out Drive Thru overhang. I regret not talking to Juan. That was a rare moment. We are two people whose lives aren’t designed to intersect, but we were thrown together by providence. What if we had had a deep connection? Mostly, I’m surprised how awkward I became around him. I guess it was the sudden intimacy with a stranger. I feel the same way when the hair stylist sensually massages my head. I feel incredibly vulnerable.
Unless you’re a recluse, everyday life is filled with these moments (especially in the elevator), and it’s funny how we choose to ignore them, mostly because they’re frightening. Although I’m not sure why.