Pope Francis made me late for work on Wednesday.
Let me explain.
My old Saturn finally died in early October, with 247,000 miles on it. It rode like a tank and burned oil, but it just kept going, and when the mechanic quoted me a price of over $300 to repair the water pump and the timing belt, I decided to junk it. I got $200 for it, which I considered pretty good.
So I needed another car. I could not afford much, and ended up buying another Saturn, a 2002 with 157,000 miles on it, but it handled nicely, and appeared to have been better cared for than my old one. I figured it would be good for another 100,000 miles. Whoever owned it certainly did not have small children, for the interior was in great shape. And the price was right: $2000, which works out,with the credit union loan, to about $50 a month.
I drove it to work, than back again. The next day, cruising along, about half way to Wooster , with the CD player cranked up, playing a CD of 60s psychedelia I picked up at a garage sale, the engine coughed, then died.
I called a tow truck and had it towed to the mechanic right across from the post office.
The next day they said that all they could figure out was that the engine was full of carbon. They said that the only thing to do was to disassemble the engine and clean it, a labor intensive process.
The cost: $900.
I am no mechanic, but this did not sound right. It ran smoothly right up until it broke down; it seemed to me that if this diagnosis was correct that it would have run roughly for a while before giving up the ghost. Plus, I really could not afford $900. I thought I should get a second opinion.
So I had it towed again, this time to an auto shop that had a good reputation. They are so busy that it took several days for them to get to it. When they did I got a phone call: the problem, they said, is that the gas gauge does not work. It had run out of gas.
One of the last thoughts I had before the breakdown was “Wow, this car gets even better mileage than my old Saturn. I don’t think the fuel gauge has even moved since I got it.”
All it cost me was $75 for the time it took for them to figure it out. To say I was relieved is an understatement. What’s more, I was happy to find a skilled mechanic – this would have eluded most- who also was honest. After all, he could have told me that I needed a new fuel pump and charged me $500 and I would have been relatively relieved.
When I told some friends about this one of them said that he had owned a car with a broken fuel gauge and that he was always running out of gas. I wondered to myself how anyone could be so stupid. I mean, really, all you have to do is set the odometer and keep an eye on it.
Tuesday night I drove home in a snowstorm, driving at about 30 miles an hour. I noticed that the mileage was over 300, which is when I fill the 12 gallon tank (the car gets over 30 mpg), but I was so eager to get home that I did not stop at the gas station a block from home. I’d get gas in the morning.
So on Wednesday morning, excited about Evangelii Gaudium, which I had read the night before, I was busy writing my first impressions of the letter, and ended up leaving the house a bit late. Hurriedly I got in the car and headed onto the freeway instead of taking the lovely back road that I usually travel.
A mile and a half past Dalton, the tiny town that is about the halfway point, I looked down at the odometer and realized with a start that I had totally forgotten to get gas. I did the math: the odometer read 347 miles. 30 x 12= 360. Wooster was about 10 miles; maybe I should turn back toward Dalton, where there is a gas station.
Just as I thought this, the car stalled, then went dead.
I began walking back to Dalton, thinking that it would be easy to hitch a ride in my postal uniform.
Wrong. I stuck out my thumb, but car after car whizzed by. When I was about half way to town a Jeep finally stopped. The driver was a guy in his late 30s, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He offered to wait while I bought a gas can and gas and give me a ride back to my car. That was really nice, I said, but wouldn’t he be late for work? He said that he was on his way home from work, that he worked third shift. I asked where, and he named a factory in Wooster. He said that until a few months ago he had worked in a steel mill in Canton, the only union mill left, but the company had been bought in a leveraged buyout, and assuming that they would restructure and lay off the union workers and rehire a lower paid workforce, he got out before there was a glut of unemployed steel workers and found a lower wage job in Wooster. He had the union steel mill job for 15 years.
Welcome to Ohio, USA, circa 2013.
So in the end I was only 45 minutes late for work. I didn’t call to say I was going to be late, as my phone was dead and I did not want to ask to use the steelworker’s phone, as he had already been so generous to me.
Fortunately, my boss is benevolent, not hostile, and I was greeted with bemusement, rather than threats.
But it was all the Pope’s fault….