Tuesday, January 16, 2007


No, your scribe has not been to the race track, betting the rent money on horses that are scratched at the post. Rather, he is the somewhat proud, but definitely poorer, owner of a car with a starter that works.

Such was not the case for much of yesterday. In common with many people in this town, I view a car as a machine which you enter, fasten your lap strap, and turn the key, at which point it takes you where you want to go. Simple and effective. Most of us don't need or want to know much more than this.

So you can picture the blank look on your scribe's face when he gets into his car at the Food Mart garage, buckles up, turns the key, and - nothing. Well, not quite nothing: the headlights come on (they're the automatic variety), the dashboard illuminates, the heating fan whirrs; but the engine doesn't make a peep. Not even the clicking sound that can indicate a dead solenoid. Just dead silence.

Clearly it's all just a bad dream. Let's try again. And again. And a few more times. Now I know what they mean by the sound of silence. Not a happy sound, in this case, at least.

In a daze, I wandered over to a nearby store, thinking to call my local service station to give them the news. As I explained my plight at the counter, a woman next to me said, "Let me drive you to the garage." It didn't matter that she was planning to go eastward, and the garage was two miles to the west - she was clearly the angel-in-disguise type, and wouldn't take no for an answer.

What a delight she was! As she drove carefully and courteously along the Post Road, she told me about her daughter at St. Paul's School (her own alma mater), and we quickly established that we had several good friends in common. Meeting that wonderful woman restored my flagging faith in humankind in general, and in Greenwich residents in particular. This, I thought, is the way it's suppposed to be in this town. (Which is why I grumble so much when I encounter the rude and pushy types who have flocked here in recent years.)

At the station I ran into a friend who knows cars. He grabbed a battery pack and a pair of jumper cables, and drove me back to the Silent Wonder. Which continued to perform (not!) as advertised. After half an hour of trying everything he could think of, including reading the owner's manual, he gave up, and we went back to the station.

The manager got my insurance company on the line, and I was informed that a tow truck would be at my car within the hour. So my friend drove me back, and I hung out at the Food Mart comtemplating my fate.

This is what I contemplated: my car had died, but it had died here in town instead of hundreds of miles away. People were being extremely nice and helpful. Food Mart was providing samples of chicken salad and warm poached salmon. It was not raining. It was not cold. All in all, I had no reason to complain.

As I stood outside waiting for the tow truck, friend after friend passed by. Sandy Evans (of Vineyard Vines fame, as you may recall), introduced me to her youngest boy, Chase. Judge Martin Nigro of the Stamford Superior Court paused to chat. Talented artist Ilse Gordon made a cameo. But the tow truck itself was doing a Godot act.

At the end of the promised hour, it was still nowhere to be seen. The parking lot attendant pulled out his cell phone and offered it to me; I called, and was told it would be another 20 minutes or so. "Promise?" I asked. This seemed to catch the gruff towing service operator by surprise. But he did.

As he was as good as his promise. The truck appeared so quickly I almost missed it as I scarfed a bit more of the yummy salmon. And then, of course, the ironic denouement: the tow truck driver got in the car and turned the key - and the car started right up.

So I was able to drive to the station without the ignominy of a tow. Leaving the engine running, I went to tell the service manager I was back at last, and he immediately found me an empty bay. The mechanic drove the car in, turned it off, and turned the key again. It started, of course.

But on the next try it didn't. So he asked me to get in the car while he put it up on the lift to see what was what. "Try it now," he said, so I did. It started. "Booger," he said.

"Try it again." Nothing. I heard a loud clank from underneath, and the car started. "What did you do?" I asked. "Hit it with a hammer," he said - "old mechanic's trick."

But it was clear that the starting motor was on the fritz and needed replacement. I would have to leave the car for an hour or so. So I walked home, puttered, and walked back at the appointed time, only to find the mechanic sitting in the back seat reading my book about Greenwich. Turns out he had a local history question, and was hoping to find an answer in it. Well, there was a partial answer, at least, and oh, by the way, he said, the car was working fine.

So there, gentle reader, is the story of your scribe's holiday. It didn't go exactly as planned, but then, life rarely does. The nice thing about the day was all the nice things that happened in the course thereof, none of which would have happened if the car hadn't conked out.

Was it worth the repair bill of $355? Let's not go there. The day was what it was, and in all candor, if you ask why I enjoy living in this town so much, this was a pretty good example. Sometimes Greenwich can surprise you by showing its better side, and when it does, there is no finer place in the world to be.


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