Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Car Is Born...Again: Running on empty, but still running from A to B

When I made the brilliant move of enrolling in a master’s degree program that would require me to leave what was--if nothing else--a stable teaching job, I moved to Hyde Park so that I could be close to campus.  Anyone who's been to the Hyde Park neighborhood knows how hard it is to park there and has at some point embarked on the epic journey of discovering, battling for, and hopefully squeezing into that elusive parking space (which, for me, was always on a curvy, impossible-to-back-into street). 

Because Adam and I both had our own cars, having to find two spaces at various times during the day became more of a hassle than it was worth, especially after I went out to my car  one morning, only to find that my little Chevy (whom I call "Sassie") had been broken into, driven to God knows where, and then parked in a different spot down the block.  At that point, we knew that having two cars with nowhere to put them was not going to work, and as mine was apparently the highly sought after commodity of joy-riding hooligans, mine would have to be the one to go--somewhere.

Being the outrageously generous soul that I am, I decided to “lend” my prized possession to a “friend” (try as you might to make me, I’ll never divulge the rapscallion’s identity!).  In exchange for maintaining the vehicle, keeping it up to high-performance driving standards, and paying the insurance each month, he would have a car for the duration of my graduate school career--approximately one year.  To me, it was a win-win situation:  I was saving money on storage and didn’t have to worry about its being defiled, or worse yet, stolen by good-for-nothing street thugs, and I was helping out a “friend” who was transportation-ally challenged. 

Of course, there was a plethora of people who discouraged me from doing this.  I was told, more than once, that I was being naive and that some tragedy of biblical proportions would ultimately befall me.  

As it turns out, they were right.  (God, I HATE when that happens!!)

Upon graduating in June of 2008, I climbed down from that ivory tower and inhaled the fresh air of real world stuff, as my head was finally cleared out of the academic fluff that had cluttered it.  One by one, I watched theories and theses float out of my mind and into the air like blown away dandelion spores--poof!  Now back to earth.

My thoughts immediately turned to finding a job and retrieving my car from the rapscallion.  At first I had no idea just how bad it was going to be.  For most of that year I had been under the impression that my friend had been taking decent care of the car, paying the insurance, etc.  Much to my dismay, though, I found out that he’d been doing just the opposite, and that poor little Sassie had been rendered un-driveable, practically left for dead.  The lousy rapscallion had even left the poor girl on "E." 

So with virtually no gas in her tank and no oil in her engine, Sassie went into my sister’s garage where it remained until just recently, when our other car began to show signs of old age.  We decided, immediately, that we should try to salvage old Sassie because prior to the rapscallion’s recklessness, my car was solid and ran quite well.  Adam and his friend--both handy with loud, spinning tools that frighten me--were eager to see if they could resuscitate the old girl.  Surely enough, on a cold October morning, full of car exhaust fumes and dreams, Adam and his buddy revved up old Sassie and off she went!  She was purring like a kitten after spending more than a year, cold and alone, shivering through dark, blustery winters.  

Now, although she still needs some finishing touches, old Sassie is on her way to reclaiming her former greatness as a solid, reliable, no-frills vehicle that got me from A to B.  

*   *   *
It's funny, you know--how we get from A to B.  In the age of cell phones, SUVs and satellite TV, we're left with no shortage of ways to accomplish necessary tasks. It seems that everything is always within our reach, whether we're reaching out or trying to reach a destination. Without a car, I felt vulnerable, as though without one, I wouldn't be able to accomplish anything.  

I wound up taking a lot of public transportation for those things I had to accomplish--visiting my parents, my friends, or going to the grocery store.   

Or, I would simply walk.  I remember feeling grouchy at the thought of having to trudge down the street, lugging cumbersome bags full of food as I boarded a sticky CTA bus--who DOES that, anymore?  I went through the "why me?" stage of whining until I had a moment--not to be too dramatic--when I watched the Chicago Marathon firsthand.

The route ran right down Halsted, so on my regular morning run, I was able to stop by and watch as the sea of humanity poured into my neighborhood.  While every runner inspired me, the one who choked me up was a young gentleman running--fast--on prosthetic legs.  I'm sure he wouldn't ask for pity or praise for what he was doing.  In fact, he probably wouldn't even like being singled out.  But to me, he is absolutely singular in his determination to reach a goal.  "Why can't I be like that?"  I wondered.

I watched the young man run and as he sped past I clapped as loudly as I could, trying to hold back tears. I thought to myself, "Shut up and start running," so I did, and I still am--not quite sure where I'll wind up.  

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