Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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My Adventures in Automobile Towing

When I drove my car to work this morning, it seemed fine - but when I drove it home again, it inexplicably wasn't fine anymore. Whenever I stopped at a stop sign, it had trouble starting again - the engine didn't die, but it just moved very slowly at first. I thought at first that between stop signs it was still working normally, but upon further experimentation (not really necessary for traveling my normal very short route home; I was just testing to see how much was wrong with it) I found that it won't go much above 30 miles per hour. In fact, during my mere three minutes of further experimentation, it performed so shockingly badly that I turned around within one block of my apartment and was not at all sure that my car would make it back home. It did, but only barely, at an abnormally low speed. I managed to park it in its usual parking space, then came inside to research towing services. I rapidly learned that there is no such thing as websites that divulge the prices of towing services. Either you call every towing service in town one at a time and ask them all for their pricing rates, or you just pick a random one and hope for the best. I did the latter. The price ended up being $125, which, to judge from the ads in the telephone book that said "prices starting at $50" (I didn't call those places because their offices were further away so I figured they'd charge me more), is a little on the high end for the short distance we went, but not extremely on the high end.

But this journal entry is not about the price. This journal entry is about the experience of an hour worth of small talk with the tow truck driver.

The tow truck driver appeared to be well over 70 years old. He was of Indian descent, with all black hair (not a grey hair in sight) but an extremely wrinkled face. Over the telephone, I found it almost impossible to understand a single word he said because his accent was so thick, yet he seemed to have no trouble understanding me. In person, that situation was strangely reversed: I suddenly had no trouble understanding him at all, but he had plenty of trouble understanding me. Especially at first. Yet whereas I would have been entirely happy to never say a word the whole drive, he felt the need, as apparently everyone but me always does, to make small talk. Are there countries where people don't believe in small talk? I frequently hear Americans described by people from other countries (usually Europe, but sometimes other places too) as being extraordinarily "friendly" to strangers. Whenever I hear this, I think that I belong in some other country where the people won't keep trying to talk to me so much.

This is how my conversation with the tow truck driver proceeded. And, yes, it did occur to me that I could have asked him some questions in return, to make it more of a two-way conversation, and that this might have been more the polite thing to do . . . but I don't particularly believe in feigning interest in finding out things about someone when I don't actually feel any such interest.

Him: So what were you doing all day that prevented you from calling me before most of the car repair shops closed?
Me: Working.
Him: You were working! What do you do? [He seemed strangely shocked by the idea that I would have any need to earn money to support myself.]
Me: Editing.
Him: What?
Me: Ed-it-ing.
Him: What's that?
Me: Um . . . correcting . . . written papers. [I highly doubted that anyone could possibly not know what editing is if he had heard me correctly, but I was also unable to see how I could possibly enunciate the word more clearly than I had already done for him.]
Him: Oh, in an office?
Me: Yes.
Him: So, you must make a lot of money at that!
Me: Uh . . . enough, I guess.
Him: Enough! How much is enough?
Me: Enough to stay alive?
Him: Oh! [brief silence] Do you have anyone to help you with car repairs?
Me: No.
Him: You don't! Where is your family? Your father should fix your car!
Me: They live an hour away . . . in the mountains. [My father would not have the slightest idea how to fix my car anyway.]
Him: Don't you have a boyfriend? Where's your boyfriend?
Me: No, I don't have one.
Him: Why not? Don't you want one?
Me: Um . . . I guess not? [Explaining that I am rather picky would probably have led to questions as to what traits I am picky about, and answering such questions in conversation with a heterosexual would have been hopelessly awkward.]
Him: You live all alone?
Me: Yes.
Him: Do you have any pets?
Me: Yes, I have a kitten.
Him: What's your kitten's name?
Me: Stardust.
Him: Stardust! Why is your kitten's name Stardust?
Me: Oh . . . she's named after a . . . singer . . . a song. [I contemplated naming David Bowie, but small talk with someone who actually knew anything about me seemed like it would be even more intrusive than small talk with someone who knew nothing about me. Especially considering his firm convictions that I ought to have a boyfriend, and that fathers inherently know how to fix cars.]
Him: How old is your kitten?
Me: She's three months.
Him: Only three months! What did you have before then?
Me: No pets.
Him: Oh, no pets! Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Me: I have a brother.
Him: Do you have sisters?
Me: No, just a brother.
Him: Oh, so you're the only one! What does your brother do?
Me: He . . . he works with computers.
Him: Oh! What do your parents do?
Me: They're retired.
Him: Oh, your parents are retired! That's nice! What's your education? High school . . . ?
Me: College.
Him: College! What college?
Me: Sac State. [thinking: Well, now he knows just about everything about my economic class status. I wonder if he sets his prices accordingly?]
Him: Oh! [brief silence] What did you cook for dinner tonight?
Me: I didn't cook anything yet.
Him: You didn't eat? Why not? What time did you get home from work?
Me: 4:00.
Him: So why didn't you eat? What were doing for all that time before you called me?
Me: Uh, worrying about my car, I guess.
Him: See, you need a MAN! [reaches over and slaps me enthusiastically on the shoulder several times] You need a MAN! Then he would fix the car for you, and you could cook dinner!
Me: . . .

[At this point in the conversation, it occurred to me that this guy had loaded my car onto his tow truck, rainbow bumper sticker and all; he couldn't possibly have not seen it. Apparently either he has no idea what rainbows bumper stickers are for, or else he forgot all about it very quickly, or else he was thoroughly shameless about totally disregarding it. I lean more toward the first interpretation.]

Him: So what are you going to cook?
Me: Pasta, I guess.
Him: When are you getting a new car?
Me: Not for a longggggg time.
Him: You bought this one used?
Me: Yes. [thinking: He asks so many of these questions that I think he really must set his prices based on what people seem like they can afford.]

[We arrive at the car repair shop. He unloads my car, parks it, telephones the mechanic (who had already gone home for the day) and instructs me about what to write in a note to the mechanic, which he then leaves in a drop box along with my car key. He then drives me back toward my apartment, beginning to explain to me in detail how to find my way back to the car repair place.]

Me: I know how to find it. I've actually been there before. It had a different name then, but it was the same building.
Him: You've been there before! Have you had your car towed by us before?
Me: No, I've never needed my car towed before.
Him: Oh, it's your first time! You're lucky, huh?
Me: [not sure whether he means I'm lucky to have not needed it towed before, or unlucky to have needed it towed at all, or lucky to have called him instead of someone else - but leaning toward the latter interpretation and deciding I might as well not insult him] Uh . . . yeah.
Him: So how old are you?
Me: Twenty-nine.
Him: Oh!

[We arrive at my apartment, and I pay him $125.]

Him: So, when am I going to see you again?
Me: Um . . . hopefully never!
Him: What, you won't go on a date with me?
Me: Nope.
Him: So I guess I am not a lucky guy, then!
Me: I guess not! Bye!

(Now if when I pick up my car tomorrow, I announce that I have abruptly decided to marry the auto mechanic so he will be around to fix my car regularly, you will all know that it is the fault of the tow truck driver who educated me about my need for a man.)

In retrospect, I think that for someone with a rainbow bumper sticker on my car, I managed to carry on an awfully closeted-seeming conversation. Maybe I should have told him I have no boyfriend because I prefer women. The trouble with that is that it wouldn't be true, and if he asked me why I prefer women, I wouldn't have any answer, because I don't. The trouble with bisexuality is that informing men who tell you that you "need a man" that you are bisexual is not very effective at all at making them understand that you don't want a man unless he is a queer man and cooks dinner himself regularly, and that such men are not often experts at fixing cars, nor do I expect them to be.

And now, it looks like I'm going to end up walking 1.4 miles to work tomorrow morning! Not that there aren't buses that would take me there, but the buses travel such ridiculously circuitous routes that it'll actually be faster to walk. I wish the bus routes were saner.
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