New Year’s Day

6 Jan

Here’s a story about what I did on New Year’s Day.

I celebrate this decade because there are no longer those glasses with the year and the 0's for eyes.

I celebrate this decade because there are no longer those glasses that spell out the new year with the 0’s for eyes

My neighbor is in a band. It’s a bluegrassy band.* His band will soon be playing on something called the Jam Cruise. This is a cruise on which a bunch of bands play a bunch of shows all the time and jam band fans buy tickets for the cruise and it’s a big party or something. I guess it’s like a music festival but on a boat instead of a fairgrounds or wherever. A hyper-specific theme cruise is interesting to me. I’ve always been dismissive of cruises in general. Then I read David Foster Wallace’s essay about luxury cruises, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, and I became extremely dismissive of cruises in general. A theme cruise could be interesting, however. If you’re really into the theme. If I were to go on a cruise it would be some kind of theme cruise. Maybe there could be a David Foster Wallace cruise where everyone would be encouraged to criticize cruise ships all the time. I might do that. That’s a very arch concept. I’m glad I thought of it.

*I say bluegrassy because I’m not confident about calling them an actual bluegrass band. They have a drummer and stuff. I get the impression that some bluegrass enthusiasts are very concerned about definitions in this area. So I’m calling them bluegrassy, like highly processed food products that label themselves as “chocolatey” or “peanut buttery” because they don’t contain any actual chocolate or peanut butter, respectively. Maybe that’s not very flattering to the band. I didn’t mean it that way.

So anyway my neighbor and his wife need to get from Oakland to the cruise ship. They’re making a stop in Western New York first. This trip involves airplanes, and requires someone to drive them to the airport. This is where my part of the story starts.

Flying into Oakland is cool. The runways are right on the bay.

Flying into Oakland is cool. The runways are right on the bay.

Especially sharp readers may recall an earlier story of mine in which my precious Volvo overheated. The car was low on coolant, so I added some more. Problem solved. Since then my car had been (very) slowly losing coolant. This is bad news. I had this problem once before, when there was a leak in the expansion tank. This leak resulted in a neon green puddle under my car whenever I parked it. That made me feel bad about local waterways. But the puddle made the problem obvious. This time there were no puddles. Also I never got around to buying more special Volvo coolant, so I didn’t have any more to add to the tank. Even so, the coolant has stayed above the “min” line on the expansion tank. I wasn’t worrying too much about it.

The Cadillac of automobiles

The Cadillac of automobiles

When we got off the highway and approached the airport, I checked my dashboard temperature gauge. Normally the needle sits about halfway. The red line is maybe 9/10 of the way to the right. The needle when I checked it was approaching the red line and wobbling. Yikes. Telling your passengers that you need to pull over for an indeterminate length of time to deal with an impending car problem is not what your passengers want to hear when they’re on their way to the airport. So I didn’t say anything. We were almost there, after all. I became very nervous and let off the gas a bit but we got there without crisis. After I bid them adieu, my brain went into problem-solving mode. I thought the drop-off area of an airport–even a relatively sleepy airport like Oakland’s–would be a bad place to park my car and start poking around under the hood. I decided to leave the airport and pull over at the first convenient spot and come up with a plan.

I left the airport and crossed over I-880 on 98th Ave. I turned off the main drag into a residential neighborhood and pulled over. I should note that some people would simply take their chances rather than get out of their car on 98th Ave. in Oakland. I should also note that by this time my car’s radiator was occasionally making a crazy noise. It was sort of a moaning. Hard to describe. Maybe a little like a plaintive Chewbacca. I hoped this was just the radiator working extra hard to keep my engine from bursting into flames. I didn’t have any coolant, but I did have a jug of distilled water in the trunk, so I thought I could add that if nothing else. I checked the coolant expansion tank and it wasn’t empty, as I had feared. Nonetheless, I added a bit of water. The radiator was also whirring loudly. I worked pretty slowly. I wanted to give the engine a little time off. The radiator stopped whirring presently and after another few minutes I started the car back up.

I think I see a single tear running down his cheek

I think I see a single tear running down his cheek

My goal was to make it home. I was on 98th Ave. I live on 14th Ave. That’s 84 blocks. I was pretty nervous.

I turned around and had to wait forever at a stoplight to turn left onto 98th. The temp gauge was holding pretty steady at about halfway. I thought driving fast on the highway gave me a better chance than 84 blocks of stop-and-go through East Oakland. Things were OK. I passed the Coliseum. That’s 66th. My exit is 23rd. My hopes were up. Then the needle started moving. The next exit was High Street, which is at the level of 43rd. I did NOT want my car to stall on the highway. Split-second decision time. I got off. Now the car was making the Chewbacca noise more frequently. The needle was wavering just short of the red line. I was hoping to get into a parking lot before the car died. There was a Burger King on one side of the street and a taco truck on the other. When I saw the food options I decided I would stop and get some lunch. I would let my car cool down for awhile and then set off for home through the city. I wasn’t going to risk the highway again. I went for Burger King. I would have rather eaten at the taco truck. East Oakland has many terrific taco trucks. However, they don’t have much seating where you can hang out and take your time while your car’s engine cools down.

I enjoyed Google image searching "East Oakland"

I enjoyed Google image searching “East Oakland”

I don’t like to indulge in lazy stereotypes about East Oakland. I live there and I like it. It’s a much more diverse and vibrant place than a lot of people give it credit for. However, the simple truth is that a Burger King in East Oakland is not the same as a Burger King in Suburbia, USA. It was around 1pm. The Burger King was pretty busy. I was the only white person there. There was a homeless guy panhandling at the door. The line moved very slowly when it moved at all. The floor was so sticky that I can only assume someone had mopped the floor with Coke instead of water. The crew was calling out the order numbers in Spanish. Et cetera.

This video of a fight in the parking lot of the Burger King in question does not dispel negative stereotypes about East Oakland

This video of a fight in the parking lot of the Burger King in question reinforces negative stereotypes about East Oakland

After I ordered, I was standing and waiting for my food. Fast-food restaurants really need to designate a place where people who have already ordered can stand and wait. This is a universal problem. I was standing in a place where I thought it would be clear I wasn’t in line to order when a guy came in. He was maybe 20 years old. He was very obviously drunk. He bypassed the line and went up to the counter. He was talking about how he had McDonald’s and it was better than Burger King and other such nonsense. I didn’t get a very good look at him because the number one rule in this kind of situation is not to make eye contact. If you do that it’s all over. Then the drunk guy at Burger King will not be talking to the whole Burger King, he’ll be talking to you. My order came up and I took it to a table very far away from the counter.

This is the point where Drunk Guy asked for a job application. There were signs advertising that Burger King was hiring on the counter. I don’t doubt that Drunk Guy genuinely wanted to apply. I just don’t think he realized what a bad idea it is to be drunk when you apply for a job, even at Burger King. The Burger King employees (who were all working hard and seemed pretty competent, I should point out) managed to dissuade him somehow. I wasn’t close enough to make out the details. I turned back to my Whopper and my thoughts returned to my car.

After a minute or two I realize that Drunk Guy had occupied a table near me. He was trying to chat up a couple who was eating at the next table. They were doing a pretty good job of deflecting him and he was mostly just sitting there. He had a big McDonald’s bag. This really explicated his McDonald’s screed from earlier. Maybe ol’ Drunk Guy wasn’t so bad after all. That’s when I saw him take a pull from his vodka bottle. Not an inconspicuous pull from one of those little flat bottles that you associate with alcoholics, but a regular 750ml bottle that he was brandishing around like some kind of weapon. Yes, this dude was just sitting in Burger King, eating McDonald’s, and taking swigs from a bottle of vodka. No one said a word to him.

I wonder if they serve vodka at McDonald's in Russia

I wonder if they serve vodka at McDonald’s in Russia

I was in Burger King for at least half an hour. I calculated that I was something like 40 blocks from home. I turned out of the parking lot and hoped for the best. The temp gauge held steady at halfway for maybe 20 blocks. Then it started rising, but not steadily. Up and down, still for a bit, up a little more. It never got to the red line, but it got pretty fucking close. The car didn’t stall. There was no smoke from under the hood. The Chewbacca noises didn’t get any worse. I had successfully driven home from the airport. I was quite relieved.

This detailed map will make you feel like you were there

This detailed map will make you feel like you were there

Epilogue

I took the car to a mechanic yesterday. Apparently the problem was a leaky radiator hose or hoses. At least that’s what the mechanic told me he thought it was. They’re not done with it yet. We’ll see. I’m hoping to get it back tomorrow. I’m hoping it will be as good as new.

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