Great Barrington, Massachusetts is one of those New England towns that appeal to people from places like Boston or New York — in other words people like me. You can park the car and walk around. There are cute stores: expensive kitchen supplies, jewelery and textiles crafted by artisans, meditation mats. There is a movie theater. There is a legitimate theater. There is high test local ice cream (So Co Creamery). And there are great restaurants.
I decided to make it my destination for my first excursion with my new car. My idea was to head to Rubi’s for lunch — Rubi’s being a coffee house and sandwich shop attached to Rubiner’s, a gourmet grocer in a building that was once a bank. A modest plan, as I have been there many times before, but it was a seriously rainy day, albeit not as rainy as it was in New York City the day before, when the amount of rain that typically falls in two months fell in one day. Better to take it slow.
I very much enjoyed my lunch of wild mushroom and eggplant soup, a halloumi sandwich with Cypriot cheese and preserved lemons, a cup of strong coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. I took out my computer and worked for a while. As I walked back to my car I was feeling — it must be admitted — pretty smug. Look how nice things are outside the city, I thought to myself, as I walked through a gentle rain, got into the car. Terrific food, no floods, and even though it’s August, the streets don’t smell like pee and rotted garbage. A person could live here. The only difference between this and my life at home in Manhattan was that I had to drive a half hour in the car from my weekend house to get to lunch and coffee. No big deal.
And then came the hideous scraping sound.
I pulled over, got out, and here’s what I saw:
Last week, I mentioned that the car I’d purchased was old and had high mileage. Very high mileage. On my way to Great Barrington, I watched the odometer click to 250,000. That was also, apparently, the life span of the voodoo doodads that secure the muffler.
I drove slowly to the auto repair place hastily located via GPS, but when I was almost there, I noticed that the hideous scraping had abruptly stopped.
I didn’t stop the car. As should now be quite clear, I am not a car person, my only goal was to get to someone who was as quickly as possible. My honest interpretation of the new silence was that perhaps the thing — I hadn’t yet been formerly introduced to its proper name, “muffler” — had hit a bump the road and lept back into place.
That is not how gravity works, apparently.
“It’s gone all right,” the repair guy confirmed, after a quick look under the car. I repeated the diagnosis to my husband via cell phone — as it was midweek, he was uselessly working in his Manhattan office, far away from me and my car trouble. They concurred that it was safe for me to drive the car back to the house.
It was then that my husband impressed upon me the importance of finding the muffler, as he, having received via text message the picture you see above, theorized that it was just some sort of connector that had rusted clear away and perhaps the muffler itself could be saved, indeed if this was the case he could reattach it. Sort of like putting a severed thumb on ice for the surgeon.
My response, I’m afraid, was not my most mature. It was probably close to the reaction as I would have to an instruction to find my own severed limb en route to the hospital. I was still fairly rattled by things making unnatural sounds and falling the hell off my car. I wasn’t sure where the muffler had fallen off, I didn’t think I could spot the muffler in the increasingly steady rain, I was fairly certain I’d get hit by a car during the recovery attempt.
Within a few moments of driving, though, I did spot the muffler on the other side of the road– I think someone might have moved it over to the shoulder, thank you kind person — and so I pulled over and parked.
In weather conditions now something closer to a monsoon, I waited for a break in the traffic to dart across the road. My pretty charcoal grey sweater that just screamed “weekend in the country” when I bought was quickly sodden — but that was not nearly as bad as what happened to it when I scooped the rusty, dirty muffler into my arms.
Let’s just say the sweater is genuine country now.
As I waited to cross the road with that muffler in my arms, an act I’ve never before performed or ever contemplating performing, I did not kid myself into thinking that I, too, was a genuine country person.
But perhaps I’m a little less city now.
Alison J. Stein
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