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10:19 p.m. 2010-02-21

Three break downs on the way to adventure

Every day is an adventure. The other day I was in a car that broke down three times. How many times have you been in a car that broke down three times? How many times this week?

By way of background: my life in travel is very small right now. I live on one island. I work on another island. Between those two islands is a bridge that in the day time is covered in traffic and at night in police check points.

I was riding in an old Volvo with a friend of mine. This old Volvo is the sensitive type of car where you know exactly the octane of the gas put into it. We did an errand, and then we headed across the bridge to a birthday party on the other island.

This old Volvo has been in the consulate community for a while. It has passed from person to person, and its drivers know its reputation. That is why when it first died going across the bridge, the driver didnít blink. He pushed in the clutch, shifted into neutral, and hit the ignition. Still going along at 20+ mph, he knew that it usually would start up again. It had a history of doing exactly that.

This time it didnít. Old Volvos have power breaks. That means when there isnít any power, the breaks donít work so much. That face became a very important piece of trivia to us as we started rolling down the bridge. Fortunately for us we had both had an adventure when the patrols that monitor the bridge had waved us over to the side, so we knew a place to go off the road and out of the rush hour traffic. Standing on the breaks gave us a little stoppage, the emergency break gave us the rest of the way.

We were confused on the side of the road with a car that died for no apparent reason. Especially when the solution that had worked so many times when the car had died for no apparent reason didnít work. We pondered, speculated, and then tried to start the car again. This time it worked

For a block and a half. Then it died again and we pulled off onto theÖ sidewalk? We pulled off onto something that is a cross between a lightly covered sewer, parking lot, side walk, prayer space (carpets facing Mecca in abundance near by) and garden (if you donít want people parking in front of your building, put out some plants!). The car pulss us over because it isnít working, and this time we notice that the temperature gage is off the charts. And then we notice the smoke coming from under the hood. That is the beginning of identifying the problem.

However, we were not the only people to notice the faint wisps rising from the Volvo front. A helpful local came over and was frantically signaling to pop the hood. This brought some more, and soon we had a squad of about 6 guys, all of whom had been just hanging around on the street, and all of whom seemed to have a better idea of how to get the car running than either of us did. They diagnosed problem 1 right away, no fluid for the radiator. The provided a solutionÖ let the air cool the engine for a little bit, then add water. The got the tools to implement the solution, a bucket of water. Very helpful guys.

Of course, it wouldnít be problem 1 if there wasnít a problem 2 going along with it. When we poured in the water we found that somewhere in the cooling system was a leak. Not so big a leak that all the water was going away right away, but enough of a problem so that it wouldnít stay around long. However, the bucket was enough to get the car back in running shape, and we didnít have far to go.

This car, by the way, is a leased car. Its actual owner was called, and he said he would dispatch help to our destination.

But in the mean time we said good by to our helpful group of side walk hangers outers and went off down the road. We made about 6 blocks before traffic started to get bad and the temp gage redlined again. It has crossed from evening to dark, and event he biggest roads here really donít have street lighting. We pulled over again near a road side stand, and I bought some bottled water.

The driver of the car had never been to where we were going. His car was breaking down under him. Traffic was bad, and darkness had fallen. I was calm. I knew that before the car had broken down the first time, we had gone a long way with a very hot engine. I knew where we were going. I knew that the road side vendors werenít going to hack me to pieces with their shawarma knives. He wasnít certain of any of that.

But another gallon of water into the car and we were on our way again. When we were stopping in traffic, he was turning off the engine. He thought this would cool it down. I thought that the starting and stopping, because that would mean more fuel used, there would be more explosions in the engines, which would mean more heat. I donít know which one of us was right, but I was pretty sure we would get there either way and so decided not to argue about the solution.

Three blocks away from our destination is what I would call a traffic cluster fuck. Yeah, I use swear words sparingly so you know that I mean them when I do. Cluster Fuck. This a movie theater/mall located the major boulevard with no parking lot. The only parking comes from turning directly from the street into parking spaces. I spent one summer in a village planning office, I have taken one class focused on urban planning. From the way this thing was designed, I can tell that nobody in the Lagos city government or any civil engineers associated with the project could match my extensive experience. BBBBAAAADDDD PLANNING leads to my third dropped F bomb: ClusterFuck traffic every day. And this was Friday.

But my friend was having none of it. Cars pulling out in front of us, policemen stopping motorcycles, ladies with huge hips being to cool for the side walk, all of these and many more were narrowly missed as my friend aggressively maneuvered through the two and a quarter lanes of pot holes that passed for a street.

Around the corner and finally to our destination. A good party was had, and a crew of 4 worked on the car while we indulged in the buffet. The car was good enough to drive home, although when crossing over the bride, the temp did red light again. The great thing about that is that there are police patrols on the bridge at night, and nothing will save you from having to pay a bribe if your car dies in front of them. But he didnít, the car made it home, and more work was done on it the next day.

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