2019 Doesn't Seem So Bad After All



I'm not one of the hundreds of thousands of federal employees affected by the shutdown standoff that began before Christmas over President Trump's border wall.

I'm a journalist.

And although it's my job as a radio newscaster to keep tabs on the financial markets, I didn't develop a nervous tick in December, when the markets began bouncing up and down like two kids on a see-saw.

That's not to say that I started the new year free of trepidation. Rather, it's just that my worries were more automotive in nature. 2019 arrived with my car in the shop and my overactive imagination convincing me that it needed thousands of dollars in repairs.

To fully understand the situation, you should know that I am what they call an extreme commuter. Four times a week, I drive 90 miles from my home in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle to my job in Washington, D.C. That's a 180 mile round trip for a grand total of 720 miles per week. And that's not counting trips to the grocery store on my days off.

In other words, I probably rely on my car more than our Big Dog Rodney relies on my wife and me to clean up after him when he poops in other people's yards.

For the past several months, though, I've been worried about my vehicle. It's been burning oil.

I probably should not admit this, but I've been guilty of abusing the crap out of my vehicles. But out of all the cars I've ever owned, I've taken care of this one the best. Which is why I don't understand why it has an oil problem.

It confounds me, but to corrupt a line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's iconic poem "Charge of The Light Brigade," my role now "is not to reason why, but to check the oil or die."

For months now, I've been obsessed with staying on top of oil changes and making sure the level is adequate. The last thing I want to do is throw a rod and complete the job of ruining the engine.

Now that you've got the background, let's go to the Friday before the New Year holiday, when I truly believed my car had charged headlong into Tennyson's "VALLEY OF DEATH."

I had an oil change scheduled that morning. And once our cats were fed and the dog taken around the neighborhood to poop, it was time to take my car in for its regular service appointment.

There wasn't anything regular about it.

When I turned the key to start the car, it blew out a cloud of exhaust, the engine felt like it was going to shoot through the hood like a cannon ball aimed at the six-hundred, and the engine light blinked ominously on my dashboard.

I may have freaked a little.

Okay, I freaked A LOT.

But when the light stopped blinking, I pulled myself together. The shop where I take my car is a short, five minute drive. I resolved to risk it.

The car shook, shivered and trembled the whole way. It was so spasmodic that I found myself giving it the sort of encouragement that's only born of complete and utter panic. "You can make it. You can make it. You can make it," I told it over and over again.

The guy who runs the shop was wide-eyed and sympathetic when he told me what was wrong. He said the engine codes that came up suggested that it had dropped a cylinder and that my car nearly threw a rod. I'm no mechanic, but no car owner ever wants to hear anything about a cylinder, much less a rod. 

EVER.

But that was 2018.

The mechanics at the shop were too busy to give it a thorough diagnosis on the day I took it in, so I left it there and spent the next several days dreading the phone call I knew would come on the Wednesday after New Year's Day.

When it finally came, I didn't want to know. I let the initial call go to voice mail. I was sure I was on the hook for thousands of dollars.

So imagine my surprise when I called back after an hour or so and was told to "come and get your car. It's running fine."

I was shocked.

Again.

But in a relieved way.

Turns out all that shaking, shivering and trembling may have been due to - wait for it - WATER IN THE GAS TANK.

My mechanic said he couldn't be 100 percent sure of that, so he cautioned me to keep the car local for the time being.

I have. And, so far it's been fine.

My luck seemed to run out at the end of 2018. But the year turned and it appears I've caught a break.

So far, at least.

I'll feel better if my rickety old heat pump makes it through the winter. It's been acting up lately, but that's a story for next week.

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