Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Greetings from Wethersfield Avenue

I had never heard of Wethersfield Avenue in Hartford until shortly after nine this past Sunday morning when a phone call from the Norwich Police Department advised me that the Hartford Police had located my daughter's 1995 Mitsubishi Mirage earlier Sunday and had it towed to a storage lot on that street. I called the number which turned out to be a used parts dealer (= cars, and lots of them) who confirmed the car was there and that I could come and get it Monday.

So yesterday morning my son, Patrick and I, made the trip to the outskirts of The Capital City to see what remained of the car that my daughter had regarded as her own for the last two years until it disappeared from in front of our house three Sundays earlier.

Jim and Betty are quite the pair behind the counter and the decor of the place is early car crash with some post-modern abattoir thrown in. The soda machine vends at seventy-five cents a can which hasn't been the case since, what, 1978, or so? The snacks in the neighboring machine look so old through the glass door you know better than to buy them. All around the walls are printed notices that 'loud, vulgar and profane language will NOT be tolerated." I soon learned why.

Jim wears the worst hairpiece I have ever seen. I'm not observant about this kind of stuff at all. One time, years ago, my wife had to tell me that a colleague with whom I'd worked for three years wore a hairpiece because I had no clue. Not this time. This guy's was so bad, I could barely keep myself from staring at it. It looked like a badger had died on his head, and no one wanted to be the first to admit to noticing it. I just played along.

Betty, who spends all day with very nasty people like the guy who came in about ten minutes behind us, is pre-emptively unpleasant (I assume to everyone). In less than one breath, after asking for my driver's license to prove I was who I said I was (there's a lot of faux me's around Hartford, I guess. Who knew?), she explained that I owed her $118 for the tow, the storage and the municipal fee and all payments were cash only. The notion of paying that kind of money for my own property struck me as slightly surreal-and she explained someone had to pay, and the thief could not be found, so why not me? I was struck dumb at that moment not so much by the eloquence of the argument as that I was close to one hundred dollars light on the fee.

Both of them became very nice people once they understood we, too, were nice people, though I think Betty got alarmed when she explained to me 'you can go get the car, but your friend has to stay out here.' I struggled, and failed, to successfully explain Patrick wasn't my "friend" but was my son--and of course he was my friend but not that kind of friend. She waited until I sort of ran out words and, exhausted from tripping over my own tongue, I nodded as she repeated her point.

We got the money sorted out (= I paid it with help from my friend, my son) and I got to hike, with Jack who seemed able to lift cars without benefit of a tow-truck, to the far corner of a huge lot with inordinate numbers of cars neatly racked and stacked and in various stages of undress. I hated junk yards as a kid--I understand the need and appreciate the savings they provide, but there's something so sad about a car in which you invested so much time and attention, that carried you to Grandma's house and vacations at the shore, now rusting away, unnoticed behind the tall, ugly fence under the big sky.

The car seemed lost besides the mountains of metal surrounding it, but from the outside seemed to be pretty much there. A walk around the car revealed the passenger side lock had been punched in, which is how the thief got in and, sitting behind the wheel with an ignition that had been been gutted, I realized I started the car the same way he did, by putting a flat bladed screwdriver in the starting assembly. The engine roared to life and the only hole in the dashboard was where the radio had been.

When I couldn't get the brakes to stop the car rounding the corner to bring the car to the front of the lock, I had a funny feeling. Hurray for emergency brakes. Popping the hood, Patrick noticed there was literally NO brake fluid in the reservoir and Jim obliged us with a complementary refill while I struggled to understand what kind of a lunatic would steal brake fluid. Turns out ZERO kind.

From the bubbles in the reservoir when I hit the brakes, to the sticky dark stuff that started dripping on the right front tire and out of a hose in the engine, I realized, albeit the slowest of the three of us peering under the hood, the thief had broken the brake lines and, no matter how many plans we had made for what to do next with the car, all were for nothing.

Patrick went back inside with the title and I signed it over to the Jim and Betty for fifty bucks. About half the stuff Michelle remembered being in the car was still in the car, in a brown bag in the back seat and I never did figure out if the Hartford policeman who found the car did this, the wrecker operator or perhaps the thief. Patrick and I drove away and I never looked back, not once. Did I mention how much I hate junkyards?
-bill kenny

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