Every once in a while a guy can be going along, carefree as the wind, when the equivalent of a small snowball starts rolling downhill and eventually buries him in an avalanche.
That happened to me the other day when I was driving my VW Passat to Reno – to be a confirmation sponsor the next day for my granddaughter Hanna.
On the way, I decided to stop for some coffee in a city that, mercifully, I will not identify. I had stopped in this same spot before, because it has a Starbucks next to a bank in a tree-shaded parking lot.
I pulled my car under a large tree, until my front tire rested against the curb. I was feeling good. The drive had been smooth, and I was on schedule.
After I took a 15-minute nap and bought an Americano, I got back in my car, turned the ignition key, and then heard a small siren inside the car.
As a backed out, a large flashing word appeared on the dashboard by the speedometer: “STOP!” That was followed by another message: “You are losing coolant! Do not drive!”
I pulled into another nearby parking spot and turned off the car. A friendly fellow in a mechanic’s uniform stopped his truck and said to me: “You’re losing a lot of coolant. It looks like when you pulled up to the curb, the underside of your car hit the curb and cracked your radiator.”
OK, I said to myself. I know enough not to drive a car when it’s leaking coolant. That could destroy the engine in a hurry. So I pulled out my AAA card and called for a truck to have the car towed back to Los Banos.
Fortunately, I had just increased my coverage, so that my car could be towed all the way back to the Los Banos shop owned by Clyde, the mechanic I’ve trusted for years.
This setback wasn’t going to get the best of me. I’d go with the flow, get a tow, then start off fresh for Reno the next morning in my wife’s car. I’d still make the confirmation ceremony.
The Triple-A dispatcher told me it would be 45 minutes for a driver to arrive, since he would be involved in a long tow. I said, “Fine. My car’s in a parking lot. There’s no danger. And I can drink my coffee inside.”
And so I did. I took my iPad inside, had a pleasant cup of coffee, and checked my email. After three-quarters of an hour, I got a call telling me the driver was outside.
I walked out and saw the yellow truck next to my car. Psychologically, I thought to myself, I’m handling this well. But as I approached my car, it looked like the front passenger window was down. Funny, I thought I had rolled up all windows and locked the car up tight.
When I came closer to the car, I realized the window hadn’t been rolled – it had been smashed. Small pieces of glass were all over.
In the short time I had been drinking coffee inside, someone had walked by my car, noticed something he thought might be valuable, and smashed the window.
I didn’t notice anything missing at first. My clothes were still hanging in the back seat next to the window. I opened the glove compartment, then the trunk. Nothing in those places had been touched.
Eventually I realized a briefcase I had left on the front seat of the car, in which I had carried my iPad, was gone.
James, the tow truck driver was a calm, amiable fellow, who gave me some comfort. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “I don’t park my car any more in any public lot in this city.”
I went back to Starbucks to report what had happened. I met a security guard, who was standing near the entrance, and told him my window had been smashed. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “It happens in this lot about two or three times a week.”
(More in a future column.)