Tuesday, December 18, 2012

One Headlight

I went out last night and, as I was parking my car, I noticed a woman walking to her car.

Instead of simply continuing on her way, though, she stopped and began hanging around my vicinity, as if she were waiting for me to shut the car off and get out.

In my inimitably humanitarian fashion, I noticed this and briefly wondered, "What's her problem?"  Then I cut the ignition and got out.

She was waiting for me.  She wanted to tell me my headlight was out.

I masked my internal reaction of "Shit" with a hearty, "Hey, thank you!  I thought it seemed kind of dark..." or some such stupid comment, a reaction which provoked an equally friendly and far less stupid response on the part of this Good Samaritan.

And then we parted ways forever.  Two ships that passed in a night that, unbeknownst to me, had been rendered slightly darker because I only had one functioning headlight.

I confess, after she left, I checked to make sure, because hey, you never know.  Maybe it was her eye.  Maybe it was just that one time that the headlight just kind of fritzed out, you know, in an electrical way, but then when I restarted the car, it would "get the juice" and be okay again.  Maybe I'd have the headlight that only seemed to burn out that once, but that was really okay all along.

It was out.

So I drove home later that evening and, as it turns out, it's true what The Wallflowers sang: we can in fact drive it home with one headlight.  Actually, if you're like me and paranoid about how bad things come in a minimum of threes and therefore firmly believe that you are 3x more likely to get ticketed by a cop for driving with a burned-out headlight within mere hours of discovering said problem, you put the highbeams on and pretend you don't know any better.

I had it all planned.  If stopped by Fate in the form of a Statie, I was simply going to tap into centuries of gender-stereotyping, open my large eyes wide and say, "My HIGHbeams are on?  Gosh... I didn't know...".

Because I hate to say it, but guys can be suckers for the "I'm just a girl" routine.  Like I somehow didn't realize that the big blue light in the shape of a big blue headlight right there in front of my big green eyes means that my highbeams are on.

I had no plan in place if I happened to be stopped by a female cop.  I think I probably would have just told her, "Yeah, you know, the sonovabitchin' thing blew out on me an hour ago" and hoped for the best.

Anyway, I got home and decided this morning that I would try to fix the problem myself.

Admit it: you saw this one coming.

So I went online and began watching videos about how to replace a headlight.  First off, I would simply like to send a big "HOLLA" out there to all of the good people making such videos.  You are helping each and every one of us stick it to The Man, and by "The Man," I mean all of those car manufacturers who know full well that they have most of us over a collective barrel when it comes to car repairs.

A few initial observations.  At one point, one of the steps of the process was openly identified by absolutely everyone as "tricky."  I confess, I felt a sinking sense of despair when I repeatedly saw, read, and heard this.  I immediately articulated that despair by thinking, "Shit," and this time I even said it out loud.  (I don't believe in bottling up my emotions.)

In my experience, when any set of instructions identifies any step in any process as in any way "tricky," you are essentially being warned that this step may well prove to be nearly impossible to complete.  You're being told in nice, roundabout way that you may end up huddled in a fetal position somewhere, quivering and whimpering, "I just couldn't... I didn't know how...". 

It seems to me that auto repair is frequently marked by all kinds of little secrets that only those "in the know" are allowed to know.  This bothers me immensely.  For example, it was pointed out that I should avoid touching the low-beam bulb itself because the oil from my skin would ultimately cause it to burn out faster.

Are you kidding me?  Who would just "know" that?  And how?  Where does one go to learn such things?  Tibet?  Detroit?  That's like... dermatology and auto repair, COMBINED.  I have a Ph.D.  I live in school.  I read all day long.  I didn't know that.

But it was the next point of the process that really had me punctuating my sentences with an expletive that rhymes with "duck."  Apparently, the "tricky" step of the process would be "tricky," I was warned, because to remove the burned-out headlight, I'd be "working blind."  I'd have to "do it by feel."

Having never felt up a low-beam light bulb, I was really not sure what to make of this.  It seems to me to be something quite characteristic of the automotive industry.

Who designs a machine such that you can't see what you need to see in order to repair it?  Apparently, a low-beam headlight bulb is held in place by a little clip, but if you don't know about the existence of this clip beforehand, you can't actually see it when it's in place--and therefore you can never actually learn of its existence on your own.

You'll just keep wondering why the DUCK the bulb won't come out.

This sounds to me like the kind of thing the Unabomber would design--and be quite proud of, in fact.

So that made me a little bit mad, actually, and as anyone can tell you, you don't want to make me mad.  One of my friends commented this summer that watching how my determination to fix my bathroom sink increased exponentially with each indication that I would probably have to call a plumber was "a little disturbing."  (She later told me, gently and kindly, "Normal people give up."  To which I immediately replied, "But I FIXED it."  To which she replied, with a sigh, "Yes, you did.")

In this case, I simply told myself, "Hey, come on try a little, nothing is forever.  There's got to be something better than in the middle," recognizing that in this case, "in the middle" meant "sitting at the garage for an hour and paying $50 for a $5 part that takes less than 2 minutes to replace, if you know what you're doing."

I took deep, cleansing breaths.  I made a mental note of the fact that, in some ways, the existence of that tricky little clip could be seen as analogous to faith in the existence of God. (Both are unseen, both potentially hold everything in place.) 

Then I high-fived my kitty cats (imaginatively), went outside, and just did it.

And wouldn't you know it, me and Cinderella (that's me too, in this case), we put it all together.  I no longer need to drive it home with one headlight.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."