PlazaJen: Passion Knit

Sunday, January 16, 2005

8 Track Flashback: How My Beloved Escort Died

The fateful day was around the end of January, in a very cold St. Louis. It was a workday, but I had stayed home from work, because I felt sick to my stomach. Eventually, I went out to Schnuck's to get soup & milk & such. By then it was dark, and I lugged the groceries up to my 2nd floor apartment. The kitchen overlooked the garage - there weren't doors, just spaces in the garage & behind the building for the residents. As I put the groceries in the fridge, I thought I smelled smoke.
Now, I've always been paranoid about fire, in every apartment I've been in - mostly because I liked to live in old apartments with loads of "character" and crown molding, and cared less about things like central air, dishwashers, and proper wiring. So I immediately got on my hands & knees and started sniffing the outlets in my kitchen. I don't know what I expected, but I didn't have time to think about it, because as I got up from the floor, I saw the source of the smoke from my kitchen window: the '86 Escort, parked in the garage.
Bright orange flames curled up from under the hood. Smoke was wafting out. I completely FREAKED out. I ran to the phone. 9-1-1. The operator answered, "State your emergency."
Me: "CAR! ON! FIRE!"
I figured using extra words would take more time. "Please hold while I transfer you to the fire department." What the ????? Obviously I am not schooled in how emergencies are handled.
"Fire department, what is the nature of your emergency?"
Me: "CAR! ON! FIRE!"
"What is your location?"
I staccato-burst told them, and after a pause, they informed me someone else had already phoned in the fire, and help was on the way.

I charged downstairs. My neighbor from the apartment below me was outside, too. His wife was out of town for a couple of days, and whenever that happened, he took full advantage of her absence by getting completely, stinking drunk. He was about 72 years old and walked like a cowboy who'd been riding a horse for a really, really long time. He also parked his car right next to mine in the garage.
"My car!" He wailed.
I looked at him, like, DUDE, are you kidding, do you not see MY car right there next to yours, slowly being engulfed in flames? Your car is not ON FIRE.

"She's gonna BLOW!" he started howling, waving his cane and shaking his head. He said this five or six more times, but I had no time to hold his hand. The idea my car could explode was even worse news, and something had to be done to stop the fire. The neighbors in the basement apartment had rushed up with a fire extinguisher, and the husband started doing the point & shoot thing. It was a really big fire extinguisher, and I thought we might have things solved. The fire died back a bit, but wasn't out. Smoke & fire extinguisher stuff was now clouding the whole back area behind the building. The sirens growing closer told me that the firetruck was turning on our street.

I ran down the driveway to meet them. I think I might have been talking, but I mostly waved my arms wildly, pointing in the direction of our hodgepodge group, all witnessing the death of my car.
Off came the hose. I was holding my breath, because I still believed my car could be saved.
Back came the firemen and the hose. "This hose is too short!" someone shouted. "WHA?" Now my mouth was open. They did NOT seem to be hustling to get the longer hose out, not nearly fast enough for my satisfaction. People! Seconds count! This is MY CAR!

Within five minutes, the fire was out. The fire chief, a large, tall, handsome black man, came up to me with a clipboard. "Was this your car?"
"I need you to fill this out."
"Is my car ok?" I asked, hopefully.
"No, ma'am, your car is gone. The fire started under the hood & burned through the firewall."
"Well, we can fix the firewall, right?" (I don't know anything about cars. The fact I had a firewall had to mean something. Fire + wall = fire protection that exists just for circumstances like this.)
"No, it burned THROUGH the firewall."
"But I can rebuild, right?" I was not letting go of my car repair dreams easily.
"Ma'am, everything under the hood of your car that wasn't metal is gone."
"That can be replaced, right? That's just .... parts!" I was unwittingly vying for Stupidest Victim of the Week.
"NO. You're not understanding me. It burned THROUGH the FIREWALL."
Well, when people start repeating things to me, and they're consistent in their answers, I usually re-group for a new approach. I couldn't think of anything, so I started filling out the form with my address.
"Sign right there."
Reality was starting to sink in - I was going to have to get a new car. I was going to have car payments. I had nothing saved up for a smoky day. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no idea how I was getting to work the next day.

"Are you gonna charge me for this?" I whispered, in a high tiny voice.

The fire chief looked at me with a mixture of amazement & pity. He paused. "No, ma'am. This is covered by your taxes." I had definitly won the Stupidest Victim title back at the firehouse.

I didn't care. It was a huge mental WHEW. I could only imagine how much a fire truck house call would have been. Probably less than a new car, which I've already referenced buying - and at some point, I'll compile BOTH my car shopping adventures into not only an entertaining summary, but I'll include pointers & horror stories that will make you never, ever want to buy another car again. Unless your firewall's been burnt through - and then? No choice.

posted by PlazaJen, 10:39 PM