Being in the passenger seat is fun. You don’t have to be the one driving, obviously, and it allows you to relax without worrying so much about where the car is going. I thought about this blog post based on a few things: one, my experience watching my friend Alex play Persona 5 the other day, and two, watching my girlfriend Alex doze off in the seat next to me while driving home a few weeks ago. She’s known to doze off in that seat, especially when we’re not listening to anything special. This past drive home, the one from Thanksgiving, featured Alex and I listening to the most recent Death Blart episode, the annual Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 podcast featuring the McElroy brothers. We are in love with the amazing tradition that is Death Blart, and we look forward to it every year without fail.
Being in the passenger seat means also feeling like you control part of the action, though. Alex is good about not directing me what to do while I’m driving, and I’m usually the one driving in these situations, but I’m the kind of person who becomes a backseat driver. It’s not that I like telling people what to do, I just get excited imagining everything going on and want to share it with others. I noticed that while watching my friend Alex play Persona 5; I was being a backseat driver. I kept telling him what strategy to employ, what baddies to beat up and how to beat them. I wasn’t trying to be obnoxious and in your face about it, but afterwards, when all was said and done, I definitely felt like I could’ve held back a bit and realized that the game is about experiencing it, including all the mistakes you make along the way.
Repairs are costly. Isn’t that the truth? Nothing in life is cheap, but when it comes to car troubles, you can feel the pain coming as soon as the car starts to struggle through its chugs. You know a big bill is on the horizon, and there’s nothing you can do about it except take it and get it done as soon as possible. There’s the stress from getting it repaired, but also the added financial stress, the mystery of it all, because who knows what it’s going to cost? The labor costs could end up amounting to anything, and the parts are insufferably expensive on their own, too. Buying a new alternator is about $400 on its own.
So when it comes time to get repairs done, there’s a lot going on in your head. The last blog post talked about the mental stress of getting work done on your car, and this post will talk more about the financial stress, while discussing the specific instance that happened in my case.
When we brought the car to the repair place, there was some stress caused by the questions asked by the guy at the desk, who needed to know everything and anything about the part that we brought in advance. Apparently we weren’t supposed to buy a part in advance, because of warranty purposes, but when Alex called the place the day before, they said it was fine and not to worry about it. The guy said he would call me after they diagnosed the problems with the car, but then the call never came, and Alex had to call them herself to get an update a few hours later while I was in the shower. It was a back-and-forth struggle to figure this whole issue out.
I ended up taking an Uber, for the first time, from the apartment back to the the mechanic, only to find out that they needed me to wait another 40 minutes for them to replace the battery. So I took up some space in the Popeye’s across the street and that was that.
So, on Wednesday, I went to the mechanic to get the car fixed. If you’ve been
following this saga over the past few days, you know how much anxiety and frustration this has given me, and it’s only compounded over time. The more I jumpstart the car, the more nervous I get that this will be the last time it works before the battery inevitably explodes or shuts off, never to be used again. Then I’d have to get someone to tow the car out of the apartment’s parking garage, but no tow trucks are allowed there! And what if I parked the wrong way? How am I supposed to get to the mechanic then?
Needless to say, these are all the thoughts that went through my head while contemplating what to do yesterday. We are lucky to not have more car trouble than we already have, but of course our first bout with car trouble became a nightmare, hence this blog’s title.
A couple of times while leaving school, I remember the car alarm slowly starting to go off, and then the lights flickered back and forth, and then the engine started to sound slower, producing a muffled noise that shocked me into even more fear. Would the car stop working in the middle of the highway? Would it not work the next time I tried to jumpstart it? Every time I jumpstarted the car, I had the fear in the back of my head that it wouldn’t work, that all this effort would lead to me having to take another day off from work because I couldn’t get there in time. I contemplated taking an Uber back and forth, but the idea of getting in a random car in the middle of Norwalk at my workplace didn’t sound great. We ended up settling on me taking the day off on Wednesday to settle our car trouble. I’ll talk more about that in the next blog.
Doesn’t everyone hate traffic, to some extent? I know I do, and I experience traffic pretty frequently, to varying degrees. Traffic is definitely the worst. I hate it so much. Today I’ll be talking about a very specific type of traffic, the traffic that follows you no matter where you go. That’s what I experienced on the way home on Saturday, continuing the same misery I had because the car wouldn’t start and its battery seemed to be shot.
Here’s what happened: the highway was closed from exits 11-7, and unfortunately, I needed to get off at exit 7. I knew this in advance, but I forgot about it on the way home with all the stress going on because of the car troubles. So as soon as exit 11 hit, I needed to get off the highway and onto some backroads home. It took a while to get there, though. Unfortunately, there was traffic on the way to the exit and traffic as soon as I got off the exit, because everyone and their mother were using Google Maps just like me to figure out where to go next. So everyone was holding up backroads and everyone was flooding the streets endlessly because of the traffic and road work taking place, during the day too! The traffic followed me wherever I went, and it added an entire half hour to my commute home that day. I was worried that my car, in all its battery-draining misery, would stall out somewhere because it ran out of fuel or something. Thankfully, that never happened, because my anxieties don’t know a damn thing about how cars work and probably never will.
At the very least, they know how to jumpstart a car now. That’s something I wouldn’t be able to say earlier, but I can say now.
The alternator is dead. The sequel to my most recent blog post is, of course, about what happened next. That’ll be about $400 dollars, out of pocket. Alternators are so unnecessarily expensive. I wish we didn’t also have to contend with the repair bill, too. If only alternators were easy to replace by yourself, then the manual labor would cover the repair bill.
Well, I drove home for about an hour after my friend jumped the car. I made it home safe and sound, and being the eternally exhausted person I am, I went to bed within a few hours after getting home. We didn’t test the car again on Saturday because of that. Maybe we should have, considering what we discovered afterwards, that the alternator, not the battery itself, was to blame for this whole mess. We called Alex’s dad, only to find out that it could be anything at fault with the car.
We waited in the garage for someone to arrive to jump our car. The first person to come help wasn’t able to reach our car, because of how we parked and the fact that there was another car next to us. The second person reached us, jumped us, and got us to the AutoZone in Stamford in time for us to figure out what was wrong. That’s where we discovered that the alternator was to blame. The guy who helped us took his time looking at the car while I sat in it and Alex talked with him about it.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any mechanics at AutoZone to replace the alternator for us. So, I had to contend with figuring out how to get to work the next day. Alex changed her shift from 8-4 to 7-3, to allow us to get to a mechanic in time together. Alex also bought a manual jumpstarter so I could get the car moving enough to get it to work and back. Here’s hoping that it works on the way back, because it worked enough to get me here!
Nothing like trying to start your car in the middle of nowhere, only for it to buzz, beep, creak, and stop in its tracks within a few seconds. Nothing else will set your mind at ease or make your feelings of anxiety any better in this moment than a complete and total fix to the situation, but you know in the back of your head that nothing will fix this quickly, let alone easily. You’re afraid of what to do, considering your state of mind and everything else going on the night before. The only way out is to phone a friend and hope for the absolute best.
A few seconds later, your call is answered. You wait in your sweatpants and sweater in the sweaty, steamy heat, amplified by your steel automobile, for your friend to arrive in time. You wait and wait and wait, hopeful that eventually the heat will die down or your air conditioner will turn on after twisting the knob to the left over and over. It never seems to turn on.
That’s when things start to take a turn for the better. Your friend arrives about ten minutes after you called him, and you wait in the car while he jumpstarts the engine. Nothing feels normal any more. You wait until the heat disappears, but it never does. Sooner or later, the engine is up and running, and your car is ready to go. You know that you’ve just been exhausted by stress, so you turn the car off and go back inside the house, only to realize that turning the car off ruins the whole ordeal you just went through. You call your friend again to come back, realizing how much of a nincompoop you are.
It happens. You never know what to do in a situation like this until it actually happens to you.
As I write this post, I’m hours away from heading on a long drive up to a different neck of the woods in Connecticut. I likely won’t have the chance to spend much time not driving today, considering the length of this drive. It’s a fairly normal commute that I take on Fridays or Saturdays, up to UConn’s campus and then a little bit further on the highway to a small ranch house where chaos looms and nothing else matters but what takes place in that location, for the short time that we’re there on the weekend before returning to work on Monday. It’s a short reprieve where the idea of reprieves is valued more than anything. It’s a world of total deconstruction; meaning is meaningless and nothing is everything to us.
After a long drive, the last thing I want to do is worry about what’s coming next, or what to do after this struggle is all done for. Driving fills me with patience, determination, and readiness. Long drives, the kind that really fill you with dread beforehand but during the drive itself you’re less anxious about it, can really drain you. Driving without traffic in the way, though, is the perfect, easygoing experience after a long day of work. I get to listen to music, podcasts, or other auditory entertainment on the way to a destination that I know will welcome conversation about all the weirdest and craziest things I heard. That’s one of the beauties of being friends with people who appreciate the small things; you can laugh and joke about whatever you want, and no one will judge you for bringing up a topic that’s a bit outlandish or unusual. In fact, it’s welcomed more than anything. The drive is all that separates you between that world and the world of work.
For a long time, I used to pretend that I was a good driver, even though the more likely situation is that I’m a fairly lucky driver. Except for one time when I accidentally bumped someone’s car in the Branford Starbucks parking lot, I hadn’t gotten in any major accidents or collisions. One time, when driving up to UConn, I narrowly avoided getting totaled on the highway when my brakes blew out, and I had to pull over to the exit ramp and wait, patiently, for AAA to arrive, as my phone battery slowly ticked away at its last life. Needless to say, I was pretty stressed out by this, and it transformed my evening into a night of driving home in the passenger seat of a tow truck. I remember stopping at a gas station and picking up hot fries.
So, when I say that I’m a good driver, what I really mean is that I know how to react in emergency situations to lessen the potential impact of whatever accident is about to happen, or won’t happen. But that’s not always true, especially not nowadays. Accidents happen all the time, on the highway, on the roads, anywhere. And it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the need to step out and talk with the person who hit you or whom you hit, especially while cars are blaring around you, sirens and horns and angry passengers on the road behind you. As someone with anxiety, that feeling gets stressful very quickly.
In reality, I’m not a very good driver. I still don’t know how to reverse that well, and when I take turns, it’s easy to forget to put my signal on when no one is around me. Obeying the rules should be easy, but sometimes they slip your mind because you’re so focused on other things that preoccupy you. It’s okay though. It’s going to be okay.
I talked about my commute in a separate blog post, but today I’ll be discussing, more specifically, the dreaded highway.
When I first started driving, at the age of 17, I was afraid of the highway. I never went on the highway during any of my on-road exhibitions before getting my license, so I had to learn the ropes after passing the driver’s test. To be fair, I haven’t reversed or backed up into a spot since I was 17. I’ve done plenty of three-point turns and parallel parks, but going backwards has never been a favorite of mine.
Nowadays, I rely on the highway for pretty much everything. It’s how I get to work and how I get home from work. It’s also how I navigated my way home when driving back from UConn many times without my GPS available; just knowing what exit to take and when to transfer onto which interstate highway was enough to get me home all those times. Being familiar with the highway gives you an almost unlimited freedom of travel. It’s worth learning how to drive on it, if anything just for that. I mention this because I know a few people who refuse to go on the highway, who are so scared of it that they will never be seen there in their whole lives. It’s kind of a shame, given the highway’s amazing utility.
When I drove to Boston this past weekend, we took I95 the entire way there, and then on the way back, we transferred all over the place: I90, I84, I91, route 15, I95. So many Is; it was mind-boggling to travel that way, but it was scenic and interesting to explore. Google Maps took us in a completely different direction from what we were used to, and we ended up driving past my friends’ place up at UConn.
The commute is a miraculous thing. It’s funny because, if you’re earnestly looking for work, the commute is one of the most underrated parts to consider. You need to think about what your commute will be like, how it feels to drive or take the train or walk or all of the above to your job. If you don’t think about it, you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by it, one way or another.
My commute to my last job was about 40 minutes long, which wasn’t that bad all things considered. The worst part was when I hit traffic on the way home, but thankfully I only worked there for a couple months before summer hit and I decided to do something different with my time. It could’ve been worse for sure. When I was first applying for jobs after college, I applied for a teaching job in South Windsor, which would’ve been about 55 minutes away. I couldn’t imagine commuting that far nowadays, especially with Alex practically living in New York half the time because of her job. It would’ve been completely incompatible with our jobs.
Alex’s commute is much different. She walks to the train, then commutes to Harlem, then takes the subway, then walks to her hospital. It’s a crazy commute to think about, and I can’t believe she enjoys it, but she does! It gives her the opportunity to read, listen to podcasts, and just generally relax before work starts or on the way home. It’s not that bad, I guess.
My commute nowadays isn’t bad at all. I drive about 15-20 minutes opposite of traffic from Stamford to Norwalk and then back to Stamford when school gets out. In comparison to my last commute, it beats that one for sure. I could’ve had it much worse.