A Comedy of Errors Which Has Me Contemplating Security, Safety Nets, and Preparedness While Sitting in a Train Station Parking Lot With a Dead Car Battery.
(If you take comedy in the Shakespearean sense that events become amusing because everything turns out okay in the end, but the whole thing could have been a tragedy if the end were different.)
Fact 1: I lost my coat two weeks ago. Through process of elimination, I’ve determined that it is not anywhere in the house and I probably left it behind at a doctor’s appointment. I currently only have the one coat. However it’s spring and I’ve been able to make do with some sweaters, so I haven’t gone to the doctor’s office to ask.
Fact 2: I needed to drop my oldest off to catch a shuttle bus in the early hours of the morning. I looked at the weather and it was only a little bit chilly, but I was going to be in my car the whole time, and the car interior can be heated up, so I didn’t bother to find a sweater or to do anything other than shove my feet into some sandals.
Fact 3: We’ve been trying to teach our kitten to not be afraid of the car. This process involves kids sitting in the car with the kitten while she explores and gets comfortable. During one of these sessions, a child became chilly. He put on the spare jacket I usually keep in the car. Then wore it into the house. So the jacket was no longer in my car.
Fact 4: Last Monday I was driving the family home from an event. Part way home we discovered that my headlights weren’t on. I flipped the headlight switch back to “auto” so the lights would turn themselves on as needed. We wondered how they got moved off of that setting and made a joke about how I will always forget to have the lights on unless the switch is set to auto.
Fact that made things turn out much better than they could have been: We got Howard’s car fixed yesterday after it had spent almost two weeks undrivable because it had a “check engine” light on. We didn’t want to drive it until we had the mechanic check the engine (per the indicator light’s instructions.) Mechanic gave the car a green light yesterday. This meant Howard had a car available this morning.
Fact that makes all the difference in this story: We live in a world where most people have cell phones. Including me.
My daughter and I arrived at the parking lot twenty minutes early for the shuttle. I parked so we could see where the shuttle would arrive. I turned the engine off. Only then I couldn’t see the dashboard clock to track the time. So I turned the key so that the clock lit up again. This also turned on the headlights. I considered turning the headlights off so that they wouldn’t annoy others, but I worried that I’d forget to switch them back to auto. I reasoned that the sky was bright enough that the headlights wouldn’t be too annoying. It didn’t occur to me that having headlights run off of battery for twenty minutes might have an effect on the battery.
Flashback which outlines why I really should have known better: In January of this year I accidentally drained my car battery dead by using the battery to run a tablet watching videos while I and this same daughter were waiting for access to her college apartment. We ended up getting a jump start from an employee of the restaurant we were parked outside. One would think this experience would teach me to recognize the limitations of vehicular batteries rather than treating a car as a magic box that can dispense electricity at will. Apparently I didn’t learn.
Just before the shuttle arrived, I noticed a change in the dashboard lights. I suddenly remembered that car batteries run dry. With a sinking lurch, I turned the key…nothing. So I calmly waited three minutes until my daughter got onto her shuttle, then called Howard to alert him that he’d need to handle the remaining school drop offs and that he’d need to bring some jumper cables to me.
Then I sat for another forty minutes while Howard went through tasks as quickly as he possibly could in order to rescue me. During those forty minutes, the chill seeped into the car. I contemplated how I would have to rescue myself if I hadn’t had a cell phone. There were houses within a five minute walk, including my sister’s house. The walk would have been unpleasantly cold, especially with the windchill, but it was completely survivable. In fact, I could have walked home in an hour had I really needed to. Though I would have gotten very cold. I thought that the day would warm up as the sun rose. Instead a storm began to blow in and the temperature dropped further. There were other people in the lot, but since it was a commuter lot, most of the people I saw were rushing to catch a train.
I thought about how comfortable my life is on a daily basis. So comfortable, that I have the luxury of forgetting that the charge on a car battery is an expendable resource. I can go from warm house to warm car and back again without needing to dress for the weather outdoors. I can have things go wrong and know that I have multiple people I can call who will gladly rescue me from my troubles. I can ask strangers for help and they will be kind and non-suspicious of me because I don’t look like a threat to them.
Not everyone has these comforts. For some people a dead car battery becomes a tragedy rather than a comedy.
I thought about all of that as I wrapped my arms around myself and jiggled my legs to stay warm. I wasn’t too terribly cold, but over time a slight chill seeps in.
Howard arrived with a warm car, heated seats, a jacket, and a hot fast food breakfast. I got to sit in his car with all of these things while he braved the windy chill to link our cars together. Inside five minutes, my car was running again. But Howard had me stay with him in the warm to finish eating. He ate too. “This way it’s like a date.” He smiled.
“We need to plan better dates.” I answered.
Then he responded with words I can’t remember specifically, but the words meant that while maybe this wasn’t a flashy date, it didn’t matter because being together was date enough. Dates are about shared experiences and togetherness rather than about the itinerary.
I’m back home. Surrounded by warmth and light, both of which are generated by electricity that I’m actively grateful to have right now. My car is parked in the garage and is restored to full functionality. In a few minutes I’ll go take a hot shower to chase away the last of the chill. All’s well that ends well.
But I’m going to put that spare jacket back in the car. And go see if my coat is still at the doctor’s office. And be better about dressing for the weather even if I’m only expecting a short trip. And remember that I should never use the car as a source of electricity unless I’m also running the engine to generate that electricity.
Lessons learned. (I hope.)