"When your ride goes out, you’re screwed

Life brings with it a whole host of minor annoyances, things which aren’t major tragedies but cause you to get stressed the hell out and unable to function rationally.

One example is having your car break down. The brakes on my 1990 Toyota Celica went out and I was left carless, miles away from any useful bus line and with no way to get anywhere.

When you live your life ghetto-style, paying cash for everything and living check-to-check, you don’t have emergency funds on standby, so I had to improvise.

Luckily, I have a few buddies who are handy with cars so I called in a favor and got them to agree to put new brakes on my car, which is sitting immobile at home. After jacking up my car, they found that the driver’s side caliper had seized up and was useless.

Working in 90-degree heat, they weren’t happy about this development and it took many bottles of Budweiser to appease them. “I want to replace all the water I’ve sweated out with beer,” my friend said.

OK, so now I have to find a simple part. After calling up every auto-supply store in town, it became apparent that nobody in Indianapolis carries the part and it’d have to be special-ordered. But most of the places required pre-payment to order the part, and with no way to get to the store, I was still screwed.

Here’s something I hadn’t realized before last weekend: You won’t find many auto-parts stores in nice neighborhoods. Almost all of the stores I called were either in the hood, close to the hood or within walking distance of the hood.

Given that half of Indianapolis, including where I live, could be described as ghetto, that’s not saying a lot, but it’s still a telling point.

“Rich people can afford to take their cars to the dealership,” my friend explained. “They don’t work on their cars. Poor people work on their cars.”

Then there’s the question of whether my car is even worth fixing. I bought it in 1994 and it’s survived, barely, through the years. Sure, a burglar bashed in a window, but I fixed that with a stylish application of duct tape. The duct tape identifies me as a rare and discerning person with a “can-do” attitude.

The radio and AC haven’t been in operating condition since the Clinton Administration. And the mountains of garbage in the car act more effectively as a theft deterrent than the most expensive alarm system.

Nobody can break into my trunk, because it’s been broken for at least three years. In other words, my car is crimeproof because even the most desperate crackhead won’t steal garbage.

I looked around for a replacement vehicle, without much luck.

My neighbor had a ’93 Dodge Ram pickup truck for sale. The bottom is rusting out, there’s some body damage and it looks pretty weathered. It also has the distinction of being possibly the singularly most redneck-looking vehicle in existence.

I fancied the idea of my love and I cruising down the road, a Dale Jr. window decal in the back window, a George Bush bumpersticker affixed to the back and the windows rolled down. Add a rebel flag to the mix and I’d have turned into Larry the Cable Guy overnight.

But the guy ended up not wanting to sell his truck. So I was back to square one. My dreams of instant Red State America citizenship had been dashed.

Meanwhile, I was still stranded. Being carless is like being stricken with erectile dysfunction or being unable to walk. For the last decade-plus, I’d drive by stranded motorists and feel confident in the fact that no matter how ugly my car looked, at least it was moving, unlike theirs.

Like Nostradamus, I foresaw this development. I’d stopped using the car for anything other than driving to and from work. “Every mile I drive now is one more mile I’ll be walking later,” I told people.

Being stuck without a car means having to do without anything not within walking distance. Luckily, I could walk to CVS for the essentials: cigarettes, ice and beer. I had enough packages of ramen to withstand a national disaster, so food wasn’t a concern.

I used the occasion to master my World Cup videogame. I was using the French national team because of my new hero, Zinedine Zidane, the Ron Artest of soccer. I was able to reverse centuries of losses and surrenders for the French and lead them to victory in the tournament, beating the hell out of Germany in the finals.

I listened to mountains of CDs and re-read a few books. I still felt helpless. Visiting friends could only sympathize with my plight. As of NUVO press time, I was still seeking out the elusive caliper. One day I shall prevail and be back in the club of motorists. Hopefully.

Sissom, the ace detective

Longtime readers of NUVO will remember Carol Schultz Sissom, who wrote a series of cover stories in the 1990s about the notorious LaSalle Street murders, one of the biggest unsolved murder cases in city history. I’ll be doing a feature on her soon, but I wanted to plug her book signing at 1 p.m. this Saturday at the Waldenbooks in Greenwood. For more information, visit carolsissom.com.