Talk about ageing, it’s not just me who’s getting old, it’s our car too – Rob’s car, actually. Mind you, the old Subaru Forester, 1998 model, with over 200,ooo km on the clock, is in better shape than I am, and easier to repair. Not that it’s needed much work done – just the odd oil change, a radiator flush, a new set of shocks; give her a pat on the bum and off she goes! (Oh dear, in the current climate, does that sound sexist? Is a little levity all right, d’ya think?)
Except, of course, when you’re on holiday. There we are, sailing along the winding byways of upstate New York, admiring the scenery, spinning out the most positive stories we can about the fall colours, which are late this year but have begun turning even as we watch (and the more intensely my son watches the more convinced he is that the leaves are turning), pulling over to take photos – only to see what looks like smoke leaking out from under the bonnet. So I pop up the hood, and take a look – me, motor mechanic! – and can’t see anything, other than ooze everywhere. So I drive down the hill, back into the metropolis of Watkins Glen, in search of a garage.
The first guy I find gives me a blunt ‘no’ when I ask if he can take a look at my carriage. ‘It has to go up on the hoist, and the hoist is busy.’ Where then, can I find a motor-doctor? He points. ‘Up the road. About half a mile. A green building. You’ll see it.’
Well, Finger Lakes Automotive can’t help me either, at least not immediately, but I can come back at 3.30. ‘Three thirty,’ I say, to Hayley and Jonathan. ‘That gives us time for a quick trip to a wine farm.’ So off we go – all of three hundred yards. At which point I happen to glance at the dashboard, and see that the temperature gauge is racing towards red. Up with the bonnet again. This time I see there is no liquid at all – not a drop – in the overflow bottle. I trudge back to the green place. Buy a gallon of coolant. Trudge back. Insert coolant. Fire up the engine – and off we go again. For another hundred yards, and then we are back in the red. I sit there, wondering: water pump, perhaps? Head gasket? Dollar signs dance in the afternoon sunlight.
Turns out, thank gawd, it’s nothing like that – just a bust radiator. A new one will have to be brought in in the morning. No car today, but I can have it tomorrow.
Okay, so how do we get back – with our cameras, snacks, water bottles, purchases – to our idyll on the lake, 10 miles out of town? Turns out Watkins Glen has no taxis. But hey – hallelujah! – the owner of the green place, Mike, is going our way, and will drop us off. And the next morning Jono and Hayley’s friends from New Jersey, Steve and Amelia, will arrive by car, so there will be wheels and we will be able to get back into town again.
Here is a shot of the workshop, on the outskirts of town – notice the Blues Brothers on either side of the truck – which is not ours, by the way. The Blues Bros kind of summed it all up, I figured – a crazy kind of day, all round. But a happy ending. And thanks, Mike, for the ride.