Friday, August 29, 2008

Thursday night, downtown DC

It's 7 o' clock and I'm in a coffee shop at 17th and L. It's gloomy outside, and the sky is so overcast, so heavy and gray, it almost seems tangibly gritty. It's remarkably cool for DC in the last week of August. There's actually a breeze, and it drifts over the end of rush hour, a harbinger of the rain that will come again tonight and tomorrow.

I've bought the cheapest iced coffee they offer and I'm nursing it slowly as I watch the clock. There's a recycled shopping bag at my feet, stuffed with damp clothes from my late morning commute. My car has been in the shop all week - it'll be $850 to replace the radiator, water pump, hoses, thermostat... basically, the whole cooling system. It's at a new-to-me garage, but one that has more than 150 solid positive reviews on Washington Checkbook. The garage is tiny - smaller than my apartment, I swear. And they were willing to take the car as soon as I called on Monday. But I don't know their turnaround times, and I still don't know if I'll have the car back for the long holiday weekend. And so, I've been hauling my aching carcass to the bus stop and the Metro and walking more than would please my physical therapy doc. By Tuesday night, I was so crippled with pain, I was almost sobbing on the Metro. I felt terrible for the Sasquatch, who rode the Red Line with me. He was, in his incredibly generosity, driving me home from downtown Bethesda to my place after work. As we walked to the trolley shuttle to his apartment building parking lot, I hobbled and grunted and made horrid squeaking sounds, all I could think was, "Poor guy! People are going to think I'm mentally disabled, and he's my helper."

Seriously, I owe him so much. He puts up with a lot being my friend.

This morning found me waiting for the often-late (or missing) Ride On bus in my neighborhood in the pouring rain. The cold, pouring rain. Without an umbrella. My umbrella is in my car. Initially, a neighbor I'd encountered the night before in the trash room had offered me a ride to Friendship Heights. But she forgot about me and left early for an appointment.

So there I stood. In the cold, pouring rain. Without an umbrella.

I hadn't figured on rain when I dropped the car off for repair on Monday. When I handed it over for nearly a whole nonprofit paycheck's worth of repairs.

I covered my head as best I could with a kitchen towel, surely looking like some crazy cat lady, clutching my cane in one hand and a recycled, reusable blue Giant grocery store bag in the other, stuffed with a notebook and a clean, dry blouse. As the time ticked away on the late bus, all I could think about was how good it would feel to be in dry clothes again.

Someone walked past me wearing a sliver of a thin safety orange rain slicker as I waited. It barely fit over his head and only covered his shoulders. He noted my discomfort in the rain and said, "No umbrella either, huh? I don't know which one of us is worse off. This is my kid's crossing guard slicker."

We both looked like total suckers. But at least his head and shoulders were dry.

Eventually, I ended up on a dank Metro car - lights out, smelly, cold. The driver apologized at each stop for the darkness. I gave up on reading the soaking wet copy of Express I'd picked up at Grosvenor. I closed my eyes and tried not to breathe in the miasma that floated up from the wet floor. I felt dirty.

I've never been so glad to reach Farragut North. I hobbled to the elevator to K Street and, as the doors closed, I realized that this confined space had recently - and pungently - been used as a porta-potty some transient with serious digestive issues. I tried to hold my breath as I rose to the surface. K Street air never seemed so sweet and fresh as this morning!

But the stink was clinging hard to my wet shirt (and not to my hair, I prayed.) The rain had started to pour down again, and I gave up.

I took a taxi for the five blocks to my office.

It was worth the trouble to schlep a spare shirt with me. After this commute, dry clothing felt and smelled so good. It felt almost as lovely as pyjamas fresh from a hot dryer. It was, honestly, the highlight of the day. Possibly the whole week. That's saying something - and I'm not sure if it's good or bad - that a dry shirt is the high point in my life today.

I've had trouble focusing this week. Absent-minded. Downright forgetful. And so very tired. I get stressed out any time there is a financial bump in my path (and $850 is a fairly significant bump these days.) It just exhausts me. Defeats me. And combined with the total sense of defeat about my back, neck, shoulder... Oof.

I fantasize that the settlement for the first accident will be enough to take a real vacation. Alone. Alone. Alone. Like many of my most interesting travels. To a place with crystal clear water and lots of fish to join me as I snorkel. And fabulous cheap seafood. And an empty beach. Like Phuket used to be before that awful Leonardo di Caprio movie brought gazillions of young backpacking things to trample southern Thailand into decayed submission.

Ah well! That's the march of time and progress and the victory of cinematic truth, right?

I can still hold on to the fantasy.

For now, reality is about taking baby steps.

So here I am, drinking the cheapest (and yet, still overpriced) iced coffee Caribou offers, listening to some piped-in smooth jazz/adult contemporary music that makes me think this might be what they'd play for Kenny G if he was being euthanized. I'm waiting for the evening crowds to thin on the Red Line - fewer aggressive commuters to bump and jar my fractured shoulder as the evening wears on. Better chances at a place to sit and cut my spine a break. By the time I get to my stop, I'll have missed the last bus to my neighborhood, so it'll be another cab ride back to my place. I think both my back and my physical therapist would kill me if I walked the mile home from Grosvenor tonight. I feel like I'm tossing cash out the window, since the cab ride itself is less than three minutes. But that's life, eh?

I'm staring at the cell phone, willing the mechanic to call and tell me the car is ready, but the likelihood is that I won't have it back before Labor Day. I may go completely bananas without the car for four more days, but at least it will keep me from spending any money.

Yin, yang. Good, bad. Lemons, lemonade. I'll be opening my own stand soon.


Chuck said...

Unforecasted expenses always suck. Hope you get your car back and start feeling better soon. After a couple months with my current chiropractor/torturer (he's actually pretty good) I feel like I'm starting to make some progress here, although my minor backaches were never anything compared to what you're going through.

Cyn said...

Leave it to Ms. Merujo to crack me up in the middle of feeling her pain(that Kenny G line!!)

Is there something in the stars lately? My own mechanical failures in the past couple of months have left me wondering if I suddenly developed an electro-magnetic field that is destroying all I encounter. (But can't really blame that for daughter needing $5500 of orthodontia.)

Anyway, finger crossed here for your successful car repair, substantial insurance settlement, and generally sunny skies ahead.