Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Man versus machine.

I'm having one of those days where I'm being constantly frustrated. As I mentioned yesterday, my car has broken down and is sitting stubbornly in the driveway with a glare in its eyes and its jaws clenched. It's like it's daring me to even try to fix it. Furthermore, it's put out a call to its network of friends out there in the universe, exhorting them to help befuddle and frustrate my every move.

Now, in my family, cars are a thing of pride. We Long men do not go to mechanics. We fix them ourselves. Well, most of us do. I, of course, am the exception. It's long been a point of shame for me that I have trouble changing the oil. My dad's a genius with cars. I've seen the man do things with antique cars that would make Jesse James nod in admiration. I've seen him assemble cars out of nothing but piles of boxed parts, and seen him chop 'em back down again, like some kind of mad ginsu chef with a blowtorch. Somehow, though, that particular gene didn't make it down to me. All my kung fu comes in the form of words and pixels. When my cars break down, I find myself calling Dad and reverting back to a little boy, holding up my broken toy truck and pleading with him to fix it.

Since I moved from Ohio to Washington, DC, this has become something of a problem. Usually I can limp a dying car home, but this time the trouble is either in the transmission or the computer. I've destroyed one car's transmission before just by trying to limp it to a gas station, so I'm scared to try and even drive it to a dealer. The weather outside right now is awful, so I'm not about to ask Dr. Dad to come make a housecall in the middle of an ice storm. Besides, I'm twenty-six frickin' years old. And I'm a Long. And someone said something about this problem maybe being with the computer. I should be able to fix this myself, dang it!

No dice. Every way I've turned in the last week has been another dead end.

I drive a 1996 Ford Taurus, a car which ranks negative on the sexy scale but it's got a pretty good stereo and it's been decent about getting me to point A to point B. (Until recently, that is.) The trouble with this beastie is that it requires something called an OBD-II diagnostic scanner in order to figure out why it's acting up. AutoZone has apparently just started renting the ODB-II, but apparently not everyone on their staff had gotten that particular memo. I called every AutoZone in the DC area this weekend, and I either got adamant denials that this was an option, someone who didn't speak English, or – finally! – one place who said, yes, we do rent them. This place was in Hagerstown, an hour and fifteen minutes up I-270 on a good traffic day, but they were there. However, I – duh – didn't have a car. By the time I found someone who could give me a lift, they'd rented them all already.


At this point in the game, I'm beginning to research just buying one of the damn things. After all, this car may break down again, and God only knows where I'm going to be next time. Yeah. Great idea. Except that these bloody things sell for a couple hundred bucks. No thanks. I have found one that sells for way less than that, but apparently you have to import them from Europe. An option, but I'm not entirely willing to go that far yet.

So here I sit, staring out the window and glaring at the car, nursing my wounded male ego and thinking that it's long past time for me to start taking up the Long family traditions. Like learning how to fix old cars. You know, the ones that don't have hard drives. The way things are going now, I'm going to be driving down the road one of these days and get the blue screen of death plastered across my windshield. No thanks. This whole experience has made a '59 Caddy look pretty darn good.

Hey, dad? Pass the wrench.


You know, I say give up on the Taurus.

Sounds like it's about time for you to go out and buy that Mini Cooper...

Which I will do with the advance on my novel.


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