Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In loving memory of Deloris

I never thought I'd be a car person. Then I got hit by one. It's been a little over a year since I was struck in an intersection while riding my bike. The ways that this has impacted me are numerous, but this post is not about that, as much as how it changed my relationship to the automobile.

So as I said, I was struck, smashed from the side by a luxury urban SUV being driven through a traffic circle that crosses a bike lane and thrown to the road. I sustained numerous soft tissue and joint injuries, and my bike was close to totalled. It took me nine months of completely stripping down both my physical condition and also my ride to get them back on the road, and still, I have a limited capacity compared to before. About a month or 2 after the crash my parents told me that they were planning on scrapping their old car, and asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I was preparing to start a term of automotive class in January, where we were recommended to have a beater to work on. It all fit together quite nicely. I worked on the car, and developed a relationship with it. I hit the road in it in February to escape the Olympics, and found that her name was Deloris (or Del when feeling particularly butch). The first trip down the coast resulted in her heater core blowing out in Portland. I was lucky, and very grateful, for the man at the jiffy lube who showed me which pipes I could disconnect and bypass to avoid the 600$+ 2 day + repair. When I got back to Vancouver, my automotive lab partner and I disected the car. We took it apart far enough to get into the heater core (which sits under the dash, behind the instrument panels, past the steering column.) We got it apart, we put it all back together. It seemed like an endless project, and that made it that much better when we completed it. We put a new stereo in, as well as air filters, belts, a battery. We tweaked and tuned the accessories, replaced a couple tires, re-habed the brakes, balanced the wheels, replaced a CV joint on the drivers side axel. We went through the car finding problems, diagnosing them and fixing them.
All this was happening as I was going through physio, relearning ways to cope with stairs, sitting down for low things like toilets. Finding the right combinations of vitamins and pain meds to get through each day. I got to know Deloris as I got to know myself. Since the crash my medical situation has spiralled in complexity. As doctors try and figure out how they can classify my connective tissue problems I have taken at least 5 chest x-rays, 10 EKGs, 2 echocardiograms, a contrast CT, a spinal MRI, an abdominal and thorax aortic MRI w and without contrast, a stress test, numerous flexibility tests, body measurement procedures, opthomalgist's exam, a genetic screening, a chromosomal kereotyping, and have had my blood pressure taken at least 100 times. The doctors still don't know what's up.

After all the tests and repairs on Deloris we still had no idea how deep her problems ran. She was a life line for me, an access to mobility that I needed so much. She was a way for me to stay involved with community activities when the process of getting there was too much. I was able to become the sober driver. The helper who'd pick things up and make sure people could get home safe. I was the accompaniment to the big box stores, the access point to acquiring things that were just too big, too far for a bike cart or a transit trip. She was the easy ticket to the woods, making it easy to go berry picking, take dog adventure hikes, and go midnight swimming. I took her on my first date with my partner. Having a car played a big role in the role I could play in my community. As I had become the one who couldn't help move things, couldn't do the heavy lifting, the physically demanding, I had a tool, that even in a community of people who are "green" and socially conscious and don't like cars, they really appreciate having one around.

This past weekend I drove Deloris to Calgary. I was scheduled to have another series of tests done, still looking for answers to my body and it's challenges. I drove with a couple friends and as we crested the foothills and started the decent into Cow-town, she started to smoke. It was getting too hot, and there didn't seem to be much I could do to help. I added water to the coolant system, gave her a break and coasted in. We made it to 5 minutes away from our destination when she finally kicked it. We pulled over and added coolant, noticing that it was spurting out of the coolant flange. I got the part and replaced it. Probably one of the easiest repairs I'd done on the car, it had to be too easy. I went to start it up again. Dead. The battery had drained over night with an accessory left plugged in while I was in the hospital. Jumped. Still wouldn't go, we called a tow and then I noticed the broken wire between the starter and the battery. Reconnected these wires and then dismissed the tow. It was fine. Drove her down the hill and went in the house for dinner. I felt so relieved, as this was not just a matter of my car, my mobility, my way home, but also the way for my friends and the dog to get home. I had a sense of accomplishment that I had found, diagnosed and solved so many problems, all just on the side of the road, without help, with out a shop at my disposal. As I leaned over and fixed the wiring I was able to name and explain every part under the hood that my travelling companion inquired on. I felt proud and accomplished. After dinner we piled back in the car, and she was dead again. I The next day tried again, big jump from the tow truck got it going and we dismissed the truck, before noticing 10 minutes later as she sputtered and died that there was still coolant leaking from somewhere else. Somewhere less easily accessible. Luckily my friends mom purchased me an CAA membership on the Saturday, and by Monday morning it was activated and we were able to call the final tow on my account. We had it towed to a garage, and after a long day of waiting to hear the verdict, they finally told me, that her head gasket was most likely shot, and there was a possibility that her engine block cracked. Her water pump was gone and to fix everything it would take another day we didn't have and upwards of 1300$. There was no way I could rationalize spending that money. It was money I sure don't have, and more than the car is worth. She's old. She's tired. She's jenky and persnickity. So I took off her plates, pulled out that new stereo and drove away in a rental. I left her to be pieced off, or crushed, or maybe repaired on someone else's bill. But I had to leave her there.
The mechanic said that a lot of her little problems were attached to this big one. It was a number of symptoms that in a big picture were telling of something integral. It took so long, so many tests to find the problem, and even then, even at the giving up point, it could've been something bigger. Tests, tests, tests, small solutions to bigger problems. Big mystery problems that don't have names, don't have bounds, beginnings or ends.

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