I sat at the light, listening to the radio and wondering if Staind had ever, or would ever, come out with a song that didn't sound exactly like every other one of their songs, when I noticed an unpleasant orange glow coming from the dashboard. CHECK ENGINE. Oh jeezly shite, what now? Last I checked, I had $132 in my bank account. When taking into consideration the bills that needed to be paid in the coming week, I pegged my net balance at -$310. Not good. Not the time for car trouble.
I pulled over into the nearest Amoco station and got out of the car. How long had it been since my last oil change? Two months? Four months? Six? Eight? No! You're just counting by twos! Focus! I unlatched the hood and peered inside, unsure of what I might be looking for. Coolant level? Eh, I guess...that's...fine. Hmm, better check the oil. I did so, and it appeared to be low. Okay, then that was probably the problem. I would just buy a quart of Texas tea and everything would be all right. No need to panic.
I added the oil and slammed the hood down, pleased with myself for performing this complicated bit of DIY auto repair. I started the ignition and frowned at the CHECK ENGINE light, which was still burning bright, taunting me with its lack of decent information on how to proceed. Well, that was that. I would have to take it in. Perhaps I could talk the management of the dealership to accept one of the car seats as payment for services rendered.
"What seems to be the problem?" the gruff mechanic asked as I approached the Service counter of the Honda dealership.
"Well," I said, trying to muster all of the authority I could bring to bear from such a weak, un-knowledgeable position. "That, uh...that check engine light came on--heh--you know...cars."
He just stared at me.
"Anyway," I continued, "The check engine light came on, so I figured...better, uh, find out what's wrong."
He began typing some things into his computer, and I stood back, trying to convince myself he wasn't writing "Sucker: take for all we can get."
"What type of vehicle is it?"
"A, um, Honda Civic."
I muttered a response.
I pretended he wasn't smirking as he noted the information.
"It's freezing in here," I mentioned.
"You think so?" he muttered, still typing.
"Yeah!" It was. You could have bred polar bears in this type of climate.
"Hmm." He stopped typing and looked directly at me. "I'm not freezing."
"We'll take a look," he said. "You can have a seat in the waiting room."
"Oh, there's something else," I said. "It's been making a weird rattling sound for some time. You know, like...rattle, rattle, clink...rattle, rattle, tonk. Like that."
I cleared my throat.
"We'll take a look."
I took my seat in the waiting room and watched "The Price is Right" for the next half hour, convinced that I had conveyed the sound without sacrificing my dignity.
If I had preserved any dignity, however, in explaining what was wrong with my car, it had been lost at some point between the time I sat down and the time the mechanic came back to retrieve me from the waiting room. Now there was not even a faint attempt to hide the smirk.
"Well, we found the problem," he said.
"Loose gas cap. It happens."
"Wow, that makes the Check Engine light come on?"
He nodded, giving me a receipt that read "No charge".
"All right, well, I appreciate it. Oh, did you look into that rattling?"
At this point he turned his back to me, seemingly occupying himself with something at the back of the counter. I only realized later that he was probably trying to hide the fact that he was about to burst into laughing tears. His face was remarkably red when he finally turned back around. "Yes, we did. There was an empty Coke can in the backseat. It was rattling up against your...extensive...collection of cassettes."
"Mmm," I said, feeling both relieved and starkly unamused. I thought about informing this know-it-all that Warrant's Cherry Pie album was just as good in tape form as it was in MP-whatever-the-hell, but it didn't really seem worth it.
Next time, I'm ignoring that light.