Thursday, October 25, 2007

Article: Car trouble

Over the years, the unused 1/3 of the garage has become a pile of trash.

On Saturday my husband and I prepared to attend a friend’s birthday party. It was a fancy affair requiring Rick to wear a suit and me to wear a dress. I seldom dress-up and it almost seemed like too much trouble. But it was a long-time friend of Rick’s and the food promised to be good.

I went to pull my Prius out of the garage while Rick finished getting ready. With his disability, Rick finds it hard to navigate in the garage. This is at least partly due to the garage being such a mess. Cleaning it is on my long list of things to do this month but I was letting it slide off the bottom. I punched the Power button and the car came to life with a low hum. I shifted into reverse and started to back.

The car didn’t move. I looked at the instrument panel, it was still in neutral, I must not have shifted correctly. But even after a more deliberate shift, the Prius refused to back, remaining steadfastly in neutral. I noticed a warning light in the shape of a red triangle with an exclamation mark bisecting it. On the navigation display was another red warning, this one shaped like a car with an exclamation point.

Rick came out of the house and wanted to know what was going on. I explained the situation to him. He panicked. Suddenly he was scrambling around trying to figure out how we were going to get to the party. Apparently it was more important to him than I had realized. He insisted I turn the car off and on again to see if the light would go away and the car would shift. Predictably, this didn’t work. Then he went to his car and started clearing out the front seat.

I never ride in Rick’s car if I can help it. It’s a nice car--or it was when it was new.--roomy, leather seats, everything electric, fancy. But Rick is one of those people who eats in his car and he’s not very neat about it. Plus cleaning the car is hard for him because of his disability. Not-quite-empty food wrappers stay in there for long periods. So I wasn’t eager to take that step.

I decided to read the Prius’ owner’s manual to see if the red car warning had a simple resolution. When I opened the glove compartment to retrieve my manual, I was greeted by quiet squeaking. Nestled amid the shredded remains of my proof-of-insurance form were eight newborn rats. I sat back in my seat and stared in disbelief. Clearly the appearance of the rats and the car’s malfunction were related.

I went into the house and returned with a plastic bag and some paper towels. No use letting the rats go to waste, they’re just the right size for feeding to my little rainbow boas. I packaged them up and put them in the freezer. As I pulled the baby rats out, I realized that the nest was not composed solely of my proof-of-insurance. There was other stuff mixed in and that stuff was most likely insulation from engine wires. Looking at the glove box, I noted that when closed, it would be easily accessible from the engine side by an animal the size of a small rat. It didn’t seem that my Prius was going anywhere soon.

Still, I didn’t want to ride in Rick’s car. Luckily, Saturday night was one of those wonderful, warm, Central Texas evenings. That meant we could take my Jeep even though I can’t put the top up. The wind ruffled us and hay blew in our faces but we got to the party on time.

Monday morning I called the service department at the dealer and explained my problem. I’m pretty sure they’d never heard it before. A tow truck came and hauled my Prius in. He’d never heard it before either.

The next day the mechanic called to give me the good news, “only” $300 to fix the wiring although it could have been much worse. Especially, he continued, considering that they discovered two more rats’ nests, one in with the spare tire and the other in the engine for a total of fifteen more baby rats. Sadly, I did not get to save these for snake food.

Today I started cleaning the garage. Although there is some evidence of rats, I haven’t actually found any, dead or alive, adults or babies. I don’t get it. I mean, I kind-of expect some rats to be around. We’ve seen the small, brown native rats around the property before. And the horses’ grain is just outside, plus the horses are sloppy eaters, spilling food everywhere. In that way they’re like Rick.

So why were the rats in my car and not Rick’s? I keep my car clean. It’s just not right.


Photo: Before his paralysis Rick stored all kinds of junk in the rafters in the garage. It's still there but now I think it's full of rats.

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