Everything I know about cars, I learned from Springsteen songs. Help!

I know absolutely nothing about cars.

Okay, I guess that isn’t true, strictly speaking. I know how to drive them. I know that they run on gasoline. I know Bruce Springsteen likes to sing about them (even though he admits he doesn’t know that much about them either).  And I know that the second anything stops working in mine, I need to call my dad ASAP.

That is the full extent of my knowledge of cars.

I have no idea what goes on under the hood of my car. When I open it, it looks like an super-complicated game of Mousetrap, with lots of random doohickeys that make it run. But honestly, as far as I know, there could be little gnomes running on a hamster wheel who are REALLY the reason why my car goes when I push the gas pedal.

So when my “check engine” light came on last week, I did what any rational person would do.

I became convinced that my car was going to explode and began dictating a will to Siri. That’s legally binding, right?

Turns out, I just didn’t tighten the gas cap well enough the last time I filled my car up and apparently THAT causes a “check engine” light. But even once my father reassured me that no, my car was NOT going to explode (actually, his exact words were that it PROBABLY wouldn’t explode, which was somewhat less than reassuring), I still had to bring it to the dealership for them to reset the “check engine” light.

Luckily, I befriended the service manager at Toyota years ago, so that was a painless procedure. Until he reminded me that I need to get my car serviced before I drive it to Brooklyn to see the Gaslight Anthem in a couple of weeks. And unfortunately, it’s almost at 90,000 miles, which means that I needed to get the timing belt replaced.

I have no idea what any of that means. All I know is was going to cost me something like $1,100. Which is ELEVEN Springsteen shows! (Okay, not really. It’s three plus Ticketmaster charges. But in a perfect world, it’d be ELEVEN shows that I now can’t go to! Although in a perfect world, I’d be at ALL of the Bruce shows with no timing belt issues. I’d also be stick skinny, married to Leonardo DiCaprio, a world-famous author, and I’d have a shoe collection that would make Imelda Marcos’ look sparse. Clearly the world is not perfect.)

So, I cried a little, but agreed. Because I can’t afford a new car right now. And I DO love my car.

And in fact, I love my car more than ever now, because while it was in the shop, I drove my brother’s old Jeep.

Back in 1999 when my brother got the Jeep (from my uncle—it was already four years old then), he thought it was the hottest car on the planet. He pimped out the stereo system and you could literally hear him coming from about a mile away. Seriously. It was better than a LoJack.

Fast forward to Wednesday when my dad gave me the keys.

“We need to discuss a few things about driving it,” he said.

A few things turned out to be a lot more than I expected. For example there are warning lights on for parts of a car that I’ve never heard of. I don’t know what a rear cooling sensor is, nor do I know what it does or why it’s “bad.” Does it have tattoos and piercings? Does it need to go to the time out corner? And is it ACTUALLY okay to ignore it like my dad says it is?

The key fob works, he explained, but only if you’re trying to lock or unlock the rear passenger side door. It’s useless on all other doors.

The brakes are “slow,” he told me, “so leave about double the stopping distance you’d normally need.”

Air conditioning? Hah. That died years ago.

Planning to drive anyone else? Not a good idea. There used to be seats in the back, but they’re long gone.

Need to open the back hatch? Watch out because It doesn’t stay up. But there’s a pole in the back of the jeep that dad told me he uses to prop the hatch open with.

As he walked me through the basics of driving this relic of my brother’s adolescence, my eyes wandered to the spare tire holder, which looked oddly misshapen. “What’s wrong with the spare?”

“There is no spare. There are jumper cables and motor oil in there.”

“What happens if I get a flat tire?”

My dad just looked at me like I was an idiot. “Don’t get a flat tire.”

Needless to say, I was a little concerned by the time I got into the driver’s seat. Which wasn’t helped by the fact that I started the car, released the emergency brake, put it in drive, pressed the gas pedal and—nothing happened.

My dad knocked on the window and I rolled it down (THAT actually worked without me breaking out the 80s-style hand crank). “You have to put it in reverse for a second to go forward because the brakes lock up.” Silly me, I should have thought of that.

So, taking my life in my hands, I put it in reverse, then back into drive, and it mercifully lurched forward.

“This isn’t so bad,” I thought as I pulled away. It’s MUCH higher than my car and I DO like feeling tall.

That feeling of contentment lasted until I got it up to 30 miles per hour, at which point the car began to sound eerily like the Loch Ness Monster giving birth to a rabid elephant.

I quickly called my dad. “Is it supposed to sound like this?” I shouted over the car’s hideous cries of agony.

“Yup,” my dad said. “It’s fine.”

At which point, I realized that one of two things was going on. 1) My dad hates me and this was all part of a plan to kill me while making it look like an accident because there was NO WAY that this car was going to get me to and from school and the gym while mine was in the shop, or 2) the car ALWAYS sounded like that and we just couldn’t ever hear it over my brother’s subwoofers and ghetto fabulous music.

Right now, I’m leaning toward option 2, as the car DID safely get me where I needed to go. My hearing hasn’t quite recovered, but I’m pretty sure that old Nessie is either going to have that rabid elephant baby soon or else finally reach the end of her days. Nothing can make a noise like that for that long and live.

And my timing belt was replaced, so I’m back in my car with a new-found respect for the gnomes that keep it running so smoothly.

I’m poor. But I’m back in a hot car that actually works like a car is supposed to. Whatever that means.

And as my dad pointed out, if I ever DO want to run over that goose that stalks me in the mornings, I’m free to borrow the Jeep any time.

Why did the goose cross the road? Because it hates me…

Monday morning, as I was driving to school, I had a near death experience.

I almost hit a goose.

Granted, that probably wouldn’t have caused MY death. But it would have damaged my car, and at that point, I would have gotten out of the car and if the goose wasn’t dead, I would have made sure it felt the full force of my wrath.

But there I was, driving to school, following the speed limit exactly, because I’m never running late in the morning (yeah, I can’t even type that with a straight face. Fine, I was running massively late and therefore speeding. And on the phone with Darya telling her about some less-than-blog-appropriate exploits from my weekend. And putting on lipgloss. Texting while driving may be illegal, but I’ve never seen a law against applying makeup while driving. Which, to be honest, is probably more dangerous than texting while driving in my case), when all of a sudden, I’m forced to SLAM on the breaks, praying that there isn’t a car following too closely behind me, to avoid murdering this poor, bewildered creature that happened to cross my path on Montgomery Village Avenue.

Which I’m sure scared Darya as much as it scared me, because mid-sentence, I suddenly screamed, “GOOOOOOOOSE!!!!!!” Not what you want yelled in your ear at 7:15am.

I stop just in time. And so does the goose, which then proceeds to plant itself in the middle of the road and glare at me.

Now, I’m a teacher. I’m good at giving the glare of death. But I could learn a few things from this goose, because not only was it NOT budging, I was pretty intimidated by the way it was looking at me.

But I was late for school. (Or if my principal is reading this, I was on time and didn’t WANT to be late for school! Honest!) And that goose was in my way. So I did what any normal person would do. I ran the little bastard over.

Not really. I actually honked my horn.

Nothing happened.

I rolled down my window and tried to reason with it. “Hey goose! Get out of my way!”


And finally, the goose won, because I backed up, got into the other lane, and drove around it. And I swear it was glaring at me in the rearview mirror as I drove away.

But, with that behind me, I continued on my way to school, only mildly later than I had already been, and didn’t think more of it.

Until Tuesday. When I was driving along, late for school, applying my lipgloss, and rocking out to the new Bruce album, which came out that morning, and suddenly had to jam on the breaks again and scream “GOOOOOOOOSE!!!!!!”

Yes. There was a goose in the middle of the road. And I swear it was the same one because it was sitting there waiting for me. Glaring at me. Making it perfectly clear through its evil goose-telepathy that it was daring me to hit it.

And once again, I tried reasoning with it, I tried honking at it, but in the end, had to go around the goose.

I do understand that normal people would probably assume it was a coincidence. The odds of it being the SAME goose are pretty small, and clearly geese lack the intelligence to glare at me maliciously while shooting evil mental telepathy at me.

But I’m not normal. Because I understand that the avian world is out to get me.

Need proof? My first complete sentence was “duck bite hand,” which was the result of the first time a bird attacked me. Then when I was two, an ostrich attacked me for my peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a petting zoo. And there was the one that almost pecked my brother’s eye out at the San Diego zoo. And the seagull that pooped on me at the beach. And the one that defiled the inside of my new convertible the day that I got it. Birds are evil, evil creatures. And for whatever reason, they have identified me as their primary target.

At this point, the movie The Birds scares me more than ET does, and that’s saying a lot.  (I don’t care if you loved that movie as a kid, that little alien monster is freaky!)

So Wednesday, I left a couple of minutes early to foil the evil goose’s attempt to make me late to work again. And as I rounded the corner where the creature usually waits for me, I slowed down to avoid causing further damage to my brake pads.

No goose to be seen.

But now I’m worried. Because what if the goose WAS planning to ambush me again and didn’t foresee my ability to leave the house early? It’ll just be angrier now. And I’m completely positive that I’m going to go out to my car after school one day and it’s going to be sitting in the parking lot behind my car, leaving me with no escape route to avoid hitting it.

Or worse, be ON my car.

Not my car.  But clearly it CAN happen!

Or even worse, it will have left me a present on my car. And not the kind I want. The kind Rosie leaves on my rug when she’s angry with me.

Actually, now that I think about it, it might be worth the damage to my car to run the evil goose over.

Game on, evil goose. Game on.

I’m good at lots of things–as long as none of them involve car trouble. Or whistling.

As far as chicks go, I’m pretty tech savvy. I can do the updates on my computer, program my DVR remotely from my phone (when my FiOS is working… sigh…), hook up my own stereo equipment (usually), and when my Apple TV stopped syncing with my computer, I reset my router and restored all of the settings to my wireless network all on my own.

Which is why I feel like a moron when I run into situations that a monkey can handle but I can’t.

Like when anything goes wrong with my car. Seriously, I’m pretty sure Rosie could be trained to jumpstart a car easier than I could. (Although I mastered that not pooping on the rug thing WAY easier than she did, so I can still feel superior about that).

And unfortunately, Wednesday night was one of those nights when my car needed a jumpstart.

Which meant that it was time to call my dad.


At my age.

I called my dad to come jumpstart my car.

Never mind what age that is, just trust me that I’m at an age that makes that pathetic.

Luckily, my father loves me, because instead of telling me to call AAA (in which case I would still be waiting because I have no idea why I pay for a service that takes longer than the FiOS repair people to come help me), or reminding me that I have a set of jumper cables that he put in my trunk and that he’s taught me how to use them on each of the prior 72,896 occasions that I’ve accidentally left a light on in my car, he came over to help with his set of extra-long jumper cables and a car battery charger.

And he didn’t even mock me when it took a few minutes to remember where the hood release thingy was. Or when I opened the trunk, the gas tank, and all of the windows in my attempt to find the hood release.

Then he patiently explained (for the 72,897th time) how to hook up jumper cables. Not wanting to be embarrassed the next time this happened, I paid close attention.

Then promptly forgot everything he had just said. Is it red-to-red? Or red-to-black? And which car do you hook up first? And do you want the working car running while you hook up the cables?

Okay, I’m PRETTY sure it’s red-to-red and black-to-black, like when you’re plugging in stereo cables. But the rest is a mystery to me.

However, I don’t think it has anything to do with me being a girl or me being an idiot (because I’m not. Really. I promise. Despite how much Jersey Shore I watch). I think the that reason my brain is completely incapable of retaining information about jumpstarting my car is because my dad scared the hell out of me about it when I was learning to drive.

How could he scare me about jumpstarting a car? Easy. He pointed out that if you don’t do it in the right order and ground one of the cables first, you can get electrocuted.

And knowing my luck, if ANYONE was going to get electrocuted that way, it would be me. Therefore I avoid anything to do with jumper cables. I don’t even like accidentally touching the set in my trunk when I’m unloading groceries because in my mind, those wires are the inevitable purveyors of my eventual death.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. I’m probably not that likely to DIE from jumpstarting a car. But I really don’t want to wind up with Bride of Frankenstein hair considering how much it costs to maintain the keratin straightening that tames my Jew-fro.

So I stood at a safe distance of about 50 feet away just in case while my dad jumpstarted my car. And when it was once again capable of starting without his car wired to it, my dad decided it was probably a good idea to check on the other two things that I am completely and utterly unexplainably incapable of fixing on my own: my tires and my printer.

In theory, I know how to check my tire pressure. Just like how in theory, I know where my spare tire is, how to use a jack, and the value of pi to the 29th digit. In theory.

In reality, when there’s a problem with anything related to my car, my IQ seems to drop to the level of a starfish, which, contrary to what SpongeBob SquarePants would have you believe, is actually slightly smarter than a sponge (despite the lack of a brain in either organism) because a starfish can regenerate its own limbs. See? When it’s not car-related, I DO know things.

The problem is that the same day that my dad scarred me for life about the potential of electrocuting myself with jumper cables, he tried to teach me how to change a tire. But he probably would have had more luck teaching me to whistle (which I can’t do) or teaching my mom how to parallel park (sorry mom, but it’s true… at least you can whistle!)

(And on a side note, I called my mom to ask if I could put it out there that she can’t parallel park and she said okay, then laughed hysterically at my inability to whistle and asked what was wrong with me. Thanks mom. Really. Thanks. At least I can wink. And snap my fingers. Can you do that mom? No? NOW who belongs on the short bus, huh?)

(Just kidding, mommy, please don’t hurt me. I’m sure there are lots of people who can’t wink or snap their fingers or parallel park.)

Back to the tire story. Halfway through teaching me how to change it, my dad stopped and looked at me. “You’re never going to do this, are you?” he asked.


“What are you going to do if you get a flat?”

“Call you.”

He sighed, put the tire iron and jack away, and signed me up for AAA. Which was very sweet of him. Of course, I’ve never used AAA. Because their response time just isn’t as good as my dad’s.

Except he left yesterday for a business trip to New Mexico. So if I’m supposed to show up somewhere and don’t, you can safely assume that it was car trouble and that you’ll see me once my dad is back in town.

Or that my mom kidnapped me and locked me in her nightmare of a closet for making fun of her lack of snapping, winking, and parallel parking skills.

I’d whistle for help. But… well… yeah…