A Broken Car, A Happy Kid, and A Patient Wife

Behind every absent employee is a happy kid and a worried spouse. – Me.

 

As our young boy puts it, ”Daddy, you have an extra  Saturday!” This he said  after  learning  that  I won’t be  able to  report to work because my car’s  air conditioner conked out on a high noon yesterday. This is why children,  no  matter how  annoying  they could  get, are  little  angels—or  clowns—who possess the ability  to make  us  smile  whenever  we  need to  have some. It wasn’t the extra Saturday I wished I had but there was no choice.

The car’s Pandora’s box. (Image from Honda.)

After having  nightmares  about car  repairs  and empty  wallets,  start  of the  day  today I faced my  fear head on. I went back to the aircon repair shop anticipating a long day ahead, another day of waiting for a Pandora’s box from the car’s hood to be spread its ugly surprise. But God must have heard our bedtime prayers and must have checked my bank account balance. The mechanic made a quick bypass of the compressor’s wiring and voila, cold air from the vents.

Returning home  a  lot earlier than expected,  I  found myself seated  across  wifey who was then  busy  with  her  regular  task of  cleaning Marcus’ Legos and other building  blocks. Besides being impressed  by her patience to  place everything back  in  order  despite  knowing that  it  would  be  a  matter of time when our young boy disassembles everything according to his own liking—which did happen—I noticed something that captured my attention. A nice Lego hack. There’s no need to wait for the next Mothers’ Day or Valentines’ Day to give compliment for this one little trick…plus the fact she paid most of the car’s repair.

Lego Hack, Lego Sword Rack

A sword rack using an 8 X 2 Lego piece.

***

This is the first time the car’s air-conditioning got busted. It was due to a loose compressor bearing that eventually resulted to the wheel grinding on the magnetic coil set. Repair costs us Php 6,000 plus. I might need more carpool passengers or those who could pay more.

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks! (I was expecting to take public transpo for a week but I’m not.)

An Open Letter to My Carpool Passengers

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an  understanding  of ourselves. – Carl Jung, Swiss Psychologist

 

Dear passengers,

I love driving. There’s something about being behind the wheel that makes me relax. My daily commute allows me to be just on my own and be in control although every now and then my patience and tolerance of other drivers would be tested. When I’m inside, the car becomes my personal space—my mobile man cave.

Don’t get me wrong though. I also love driving for other people. In fact, I have driven several times for friends or relatives without me charging them. Sending anyone to the airport are my favorite trips—looks like I enjoy sending people away. There were also countless times I offered to help people who were stranded or in need of road side assistance and there were even instances when I have helped people reach the hospital.

The idea of a carpool, however, is a different matter. It’s something I find difficult to commit but it’s also something that seems inevitable. So I think it is about time I set some rules that would make our trip bearable to avoid any awkward moments, especially those I encountered from previous carpools.

Your friendly carpool driver.

Let me make it clear that my car is messy. You may find shoes and socks, blankets, and books in random places. To make it worse, I stopped using car freshener as the doctor advised to prevent our kid’s asthma from being triggered. You are under the mercy of the power of the baking soda that has been around since January. You may use mask, I won’t mind.

My days of reckless driving are over. I drive so slow that I seldom hit 100 kph. And in this era of social media and dashcams, I don’t want to be that one bald guy in a car with a handicap sticker recorded crisscrossing the expressway and be featured on either TopGearPH’s or James Deakin’s Facebook page. I have my own bashers so let’s not add more to it anymore. If we leave late, we will be late.

I am no Uber driver—not yet—so don’t trust me to check my phone for your whereabouts. The rules making it illegal to use the phone while driving was also recently approved and I don’t want to get a ticket just because I picked up your frantic call. If I don’t see you around, I go. I bet you’ll find friendlier jeepney drivers to drive you to work.

Contrary to popular rules of riding shotgun, I prefer my passenger to be less chatty or better yet stay asleep. The AM station feed should be enough to keep me up. I warn you though that I sometimes sing along when I hear my favorite song on FM stereo so deal with it. Try to stay or pretend to be asleep nevertheless. Don’t sing along, you’re not in James Corden’s show.

Sick people will not be allowed. Please don’t show up if you have any hint of infectious disease. Do not add up to the existing molds inside the car. I may have become immune to these but not to the common cold. Don’t worry, it’s more likely that your seatmates at work would likewise appreciate your absence.

My ageing sedan sits only four people, me included. Extra baggage will not be allowed entry. If you plan to bring bulky stuffs to sell in the workplace let me know so we can go through the process of Big-Brother-like eviction of people in the carpool. Bags of herbal supplement or whitening soap will be reconsidered but talks about me joining your multilevel network will evict you out immediately.

Lastly, if you don’t see it in me, I’m also broke. The only difference between you and me is that I have my own car and you don’t have one for now. Maybe your networking business will get you one soon but until then I would be very glad if on your way out you leave something monetary. My car has several compartments and cup holders where you can place your bill discreetly.

Like any other, driver or not, I know you understand that feeling of resentment when your personal space is intruded. Come to think of it, this must be the very reason road rage happens when people feel that someone crosses that line into what they perceive as their own space or comfort zone. I would love to give you a lift but if you find any of these carpool rules hard to follow please let me know. Driving alone is always an option.

Sincerely,
Cris

 

***

Electricity was out yesterday so I took the opportunity to practice backing in and out our very tight parking space. Wifey was my coach. Of all people.

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks! (Cool and gloomy Sunday.)

The Handy Manny and Guido in me

Our transfer to Batangas has made me do more things on my own. The first few weeks I got myself pretty busy. I became the real Handy Manny, I can be seen with tools that where never out of the toolbox for so long. I got drill, screwdrivers, hammer, and ladder as my usual companion—they don’t talk though unlike in the cartoon show. There were fixtures to caulk, frames to hang, curtain rods to install. All these I did even on weekdays just before or after I report to night shift.  I was a regular at the hardware stores.

Then there’s our car to take care of. I realized that I actually have an answer to wifey’s question: “Do you miss Cavite?” I used to say “no” without any hesitation but now I seem to wish I am still close to Honda Cars Cavite. The car dealership wasn’t perfect but it was home for our Honda City for almost six years. There’s a Honda dealer here in Batangas but I decided against availing its services after talking to one of its service advisors. He doesn’t not show good customer service, he gave a pricey quote, and he spelled spark in spark plug with a ‘u’. Yes, I get easily turned off by price and wrong spelling.

Soon I found myself under the hood of the Honda City, this time I become Guido. After eight years, I am taking over the car’s preventive maintenance. I discovered that the task wasn’t easy. I had to familiarize myself with the car and had to read its manual more thoroughly for the first time after I almost loosen the wrong nut thinking it was the oil drain plug. The design of the City’s engine also made it harder to access its eight spark plugs as these are deeply seated unlike the ones in our Kia Pride (duh). I almost quit changing the four spark plugs located behind the engine block. That week I went to work showing everyone a dirty finger, fingers to be exact. I will wear gloves when changing oil next time.

I need my own lift.

But other maintenance jobs are better left to the experts and the better equipped. Yesterday, I watched a car parts store’s mechanic figure out how to change the car’s gear oil. He later conceded that they do not have the tool to drain the oil. It was about an hour and a half wasted. With my temper running low, I drove a few meters to a Caltex gas station where I found someone in greasy overall uniform who did the job in barely 30 minutes. I gave him a tip.

While our routine has normalized, there are still lots of things waiting to be done. For one there are still boxes in our other room with its contents waiting to be transferred to their proper cabinets and shelves which are yet to be made (hint: budget). Others need to be disposed. Then there’s also our parking space that we plan to have cemented. Who knows I could do less messy and faster oil change when I don’t have to worry about the jack stand sinking into the loose soil.

***

Car talk

Marcus and I stayed very late last night. He played Roblux, I watched TV. I landed on a channel that shows Formula E and watched it for the very first time. I learned that Formula E is similar to Formula One except that the cars are electric but just as fast. Since there is no fossil fuel to pump, the driver transfers to a fully-charged car on scheduled pit stops. Marcus was right to remark that the Formula E cars sound like those in Star Wars. How soon would mankind be driving 100% gas-free cars? Tesla is  around so the answer should be sooner than we expect it.

***

Mood: 3/10 Honks! (Regular Sunday: no more fiesta, no more outing.)

Oh my gash

Scratches, scratches, and more scratches. It has been more than a month since I have been dealing with lots of it, left and right, front and back. Some of unknown reason, some almost obvious. The most recent is a huge scrape on my front left bumper which I noticed after we returned home from watching Batman V Superman. It is the nastiest so far since we had the car as applying rubbing compound just didn’t fix it this time.

A close inspection points to only one culprit–the wall perpendicular to our parking space. When the snafu happened wasn’t immediately clear though. Initially, I thought it was on our way back–it was my first time to back up into the tight space on a night time plus Marcus kept on annoying me with his series of questions about Batman, past and present. However, things begin to fit like a puzzle the next morning.

Curious where the bumper actually hit, I checked my sister-in-law’s wall again when I gave Marcus a stroll in his wheelchair. Nothing was obvious at first, the wall and its paint seem intact just like after I checked last night.

A few seconds of head scratching (that word again) soon pointed to a tell-tale clump of gray paint. I felt like Frank Hardy. The scrape shows that the bumper made contact on my way out which explains why a guy at the car wash where we stopped by before proceeding to the mall asked what happened to the car. I dismissed his inquiry, didn’t even bother to check the car, thinking he was referring to a damage on the rear door–one that happened more than three years ago in the same area but due to a tree’s fault.

So it wasn’t Marcus after all. My ego scratched.

I do cringe at this new unsightly mark on my front end but I know that I’ll get over it soon. It’s just like how it was with some other scratches made by envious neighbors, playful kids, careless shoppers, disappointed beggars, reckless bikers and motorcycle riders and cats, dogs, and chickens included. Name it, the car has it.

The bright side here is that I had something to draft at a parking lot while waiting for someone. I offered to drive for my brother-in-law and his family for the wedding they attended to this Easter Sunday which by the way is the main reason I decided to leave the house and have the car washed on the afternoon the car scraped the wall–and the very next day after I said the car survived unscathed its week of being parked in a tight space. Spoke too soon. Ti abi.

***
Not all scratch stories are the same.

The day we moved into our new house, we observed details that seem off: the windows’ screen frames were interchanged; bits of screen were in the sliding window’s rail; a portion of the wall had uneven gray patches; and, the front door had scratches on the bottom part. All seem to be hints of sloppy workmanship showing up. But it wasn’t.

We soon learned that someone left the dog unnoticed inside the house and it eventually panicked and tried to escape and made a total mess like the Tasmanian Devil. Fortunately, help was available in short notice and everything was restored somehow. The dog now stays just outside our front door serving as our own sentry.

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks! (Back online. We now have internet connection.)

Zen in Car Wash

There was once a time when finding time to wash the car leisurely was no big deal. I can do it anytime, I can do it even every day. But that was then for this activity has taken a backseat among other priorities. When I do get time to do it though, thoughts about the past with it would seem to come by. It’s like there is Zen in squeezing the sponge and applying bubbly car shampoo solution on the car’s cold silver gray surface.

Our car turned eight this year and everything has remained stock just the way I prefer it to be. Last year I was lucky to receive a dashboard cam which is the only significant change that has happened to our Honda City so far. And this month, exactly on its anniversary, we gave it an RFID toll sticker—one that has already helped us breeze through toll gates during our weekly trips to Batangas. Take note, weekly. We have been that busy.

RFID transaction took less than 15 min.

It will be two months since I have been driving almost daily, weekends included. And there have been lots of instances when driving was stressful and judgment fails despite best effort to stay focused. Like recently, a motorcycle rear-ended our car after I tried to overtake a slow moving jeepney. The car had a very minor scratch, the motorcycle rider had a nervous escape, and I had nothing to blame but my sleepy and reckless self. Sometimes bad karma could happen that fast.

I have been wishing to be on a long road trip to break the boring routine trips to the malls, more so, to and from work. This last weekend, that road trip finally happened. The trip to Kamay ni Hesus was nostalgic, the last time I was behind the wheel to Lucena was more than 10 years ago. Not much has changed though except for some completed road improvement as well as perpetual road repairs which give the hint of an incoming election period not to mention the substandard materials that our dear government officials and their contractors love to use.

It was a road trip around Mount Banahaw.

The drive back home was more interesting as we took a different way plus the fact that it was my first time to pass through what drivers refer to as little Baguio or bituka ng manok route.  Named for its undulating and twisty road that resembles the curves of a chicken’s intestine, the route was challenging as expected and every now and then it was tempting to push my driving skill to the limit. It took us almost an hour of twists and turns before we see straight road again. We got out of it intact, no dizzy wifey, Marcus and his cousins didn’t require barf bags.

The last time I washed the car was before New Year and it was also when I had it polished and waxed. I could be that detailed when time and resource allow it. Yesterday, I had the energy to pick up the sponge and bucket once again, thanks to a graveyard shift cut short by two hours, but just to realize that I have ran out of Turtle Wax car shampoo. So for the very first time in my entire life as a car owner I bit the bullet and used a Dove body wash just so our dusty car could have its much deserved break. The bright side? It was the most fragrant car wash it ever had.

Works for humans and cars.

Come to think of it, a car could remind us of how life is. That life will never be perfect, it is never perfect, and if it seems to appear like so, we must accept that it won’t remain perfect forever. There is no point in fretting over minor dents and scratches. As long as the car’s engine keeps running, then so be it. Same goes with life.

***

Mood: 3/10 Honks! (Home earlier than yesterday. If I go offline tonight any longer, I might as well work at LTO.)

Dealing with a seven-year old

Our seven-year old is acting up lately. The past week has been a struggle especially for me as there were so many issues that I have to deal with. It is some sort of tantrums, or as my wife puts it, ‘a sign that it is seeking attention.’ Whatever the reasons are, it is becoming obvious that this one has seen better days. Nope, it’s not our son but our Honda City.

On hump day morning right out of work as I happily imagine a hearty breakfast at home I found a screw—a screw stuck deeply into my left rear tire. Needless to say, I had to change the flat tire while tired and sleepy and hungry. Good thing I was able to summon my inner pit stop crew skill and I was out of Nuvali after less than 15 minutes which is not bad given my then present condition. (The vulcanizing shop guy was able to pull out a four-inch screw which he said must have fallen from a motorcycle brake adjuster.)

But, just like that overused TV shopping line, wait there’s more. That night, I had to deal with several rude drivers on my way to work. Oncoming vehicles flashed their headlights; some even had the nerve to honk as I get near them. Just rude, inconsiderate at the very least, right? Well, it was midway of my trip when I realized I was at fault—I was running with one headlight on the passenger side only. It would have been cool if I were in the music video of that Wallflowers’ song but in real life it’s really not. Anyway, I made it through the dark stretch that I regularly take and I even had the time to drop by True Value Solenad to grab a replacement which I was able to install the next day. Another problem solved, comes the next.

When it rains, it pours—in my car’s case, it leaks. The recent rainy days have exposed a leak on the driver side.  I thought at first that it is coming from under, that there could be a hole, that whenever I pass by this flooded part of my trip water comes in. The good news, I discovered, is that there isn’t one right below but the bad news is that it is coming from a breach either in the gasket where the wires and hood cable from the engine side go through or from an unknown location. So yesterday I had all my tools out—hydraulic jack, jack stand, hand tools, and a caulk. The front of the house was a repair shop for hours while I am trying to beat the hot rising sun.

All the caulking I made under the left fender weren’t successful though. It rained hard in the afternoon—hours after we arrived from buying Marcus’ CoQ10 and Alpha Lipoic Acid at Healthy Options ATC—and this morning I discovered the leak is still there. But I now think that I have found the culprit which is a small gap where the windshield and wiper panel meet. Another caulking session took place while I was all sweaty right out of my workout session from the nearby gym. Fingers now crossed.

I would say that if there were cars during Jean Valjean’s time then ours could be his. I know it’s an exaggeration but such inconveniences had me relate more to Les Miserables which is a story I read while killing time at the parking lot—while in my car, our seven-year old car.

Either I win the lotto or join a networking group to make his last year’s wish a reality. There are other options but would be against the law.

 

***

Wifey bought a DVD of Les Miserables which we watched yesterday while rain poured hard outside, while I was wondering if I was able to fix the leak of the car.

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks! (A part of me wishes for the El Nino to persist.)

Offline

It is another work day again so off to work I go. I arrived at the office on time, actually earlier, just like how any good employee should be. I am all fresh, spic and span, and my barong and pair of slacks neatly pressed. Of course, black shoes shiny and bright.  Our day officially starts with a prayer, then a flag ceremony, and followed by a pledge of service to the public. All of it happen in front of our office, right outside where everyone can see, right in front of our clients who eagerly wait to get their business with us done so that they can finish their other plans for the day. They are here to deal with their licenses, car registration, and the likes. Yes, I am an LTO employee.

Finally seated at my post, computer’s up and running, and about to start work then I heard the word passed around. It spread inside the office fast yet faster outside. In minutes everyone learned about the word.

Few more minutes and clients outside my window filled the blue adjoining steel seats. It didn’t take any longer before sarcastic remarks fly by. Remarks that, while from different faces and ages and walks of life and on a different day, are very similar in nature. But man, I have gotten used to these somehow. Over the years my superiors have told me that to survive I have to ignore unsolicited advice from senior citizens who don’t understand technology; from the young ones who are arrogant and seem to know better as if it’s a matter of pushing the reset button and everything goes back online. We consider these as trivial job ‘hazards’ and I have learned to let each pass through the other ear. All in a day’s work.

My name is posted outside, right in front of my stall, on the MV registration workflow. I am very aware of that. In fact, I told my family all about it the very first time our office placed the tarpaulin there and they were so very proud of me—my child especially. He has told his classmates about it as well. The workflow states that transaction time ends after 90 minutes. But does it? Sometimes yes, sometimes not. Blame it on the word.

The clock is ticking, didn’t realize that almost two hours have passed, and I looked out my window again. People are getting restless, more restless than the time they first heard the word. Some have returned with something to munch on just as if they’re on a DVD marathon.

Some have entertained themselves with something that is of no cost. I can see some staring purposely on the no noon break poster. The assurance of it doesn’t help I know. I imagine some planning something sinister if only they can get away with it—like a car jack smashed into the glass or a flash bang being tossed inside our office just to awaken our senses. If they do that I actually can’t blame them. I believed though that these people, however fidgety they start to get, are civil. Up to when, however, that I don’t know. For example, any moment from now and this one bald man in black shirt and faded camouflage cargo shorts could snap. Heaven forbid. His queue number shows 26 and half more behind him looks just as irritated.

He has actually started a discussion around just to take a break from what seems an ebook he was occupied with a while ago—back when he seems to show some patience. How inept this government agency is; why wonder how EDSA and other highways are full of reckless drivers when in the LTO compound alone are people who drives in and out with total disregard of the law—motorcycle riders without helmet, cars with tinted plates, drivers who do not know how to park. Everything happening right in front of our senior officials. Those were some of his ice breakers and others do agree with him. He may be a politician in the making. Someone please make him stop.

Wait, I heard a familiar voice on the public address system. There is an announcement, the queue numbers are being called, they are not offline anymore. Back in business. Back to being me, for I am just an ordinary citizen, never an LTO employee, just someone trying hard to understand what it feels to be like working in an organization that is almost synonymous to this one word. Come to think of it LTO must stand for Land Transportation Offline.

So when do I see you again LTO? Maybe after 45 days as promised on your memorandum on new plates? Or would I be too naive to expect that from you? By the way, I checked your list of newly released plates while waiting to pay at the cashier and I saw that these are from people who renewed their car registration in January. Yes, I know the answer.

My SMS with wifey during that day at the LTO.

Revision: Added this pic because as always my wife demands an image on my post.

***

Smile, there’s a light at the end of the LTO tunnel. Read this LTO chief: ‘We’re looking at processing licenses in 10-15 minutes by November’

***

 Mood: 2/10 Honks! (Eager to go back to the gym.)