Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Wheels On The Car ...

Today was rather a dramatic day.  James has been away on a business trip since Monday and today (Wednesday) it happened to be a half day at school for the girls.  I was not overly enthusiastic about this since it meant more hours in which I would be trying to entertain the kidlets in my sleep deprived state.

I got Emily on the bus after giving all the kids a hearty breakfast of porridge.  Quite an exceptional feat I thought considering how tired I was.  I had gotten an email the night before from Emily’s teacher reminding me of a field trip she was supposed to take that day which I had failed to acknowledge with her fee.  I found the note about it in a stack of the kids art work which explained that a science museum was bringing the museum to the school and it would cost $8 for my child to participate in the experiments.  

I emailed the teacher back and explained that I would have to drop the money off in the morning since the kids were already in bed and a nocturnal visit to the ATM was not top of my list of things to do for the evening.  She seemed ok with this.

So I had Kaitlyn and Abigail in the car as Emily stood at the end of the driveway waiting for her bus.  I was armed with the hairbrush and a couple of hair ties as I parked the car behind Emily and pressed the button for the garage door to close.  I got out and started putting Kaitlyn’s hair up and pretty soon the bus arrived, scooped up Emily and went on its way.

Now the trick to driving anywhere after the bus leaves is to leave immediately.  The bus takes a right at the end of our street and picks up a couple kids before turning around and heading back towards the school.  If you’re not quick enough to get out onto the main road you end up being stuck behind the bus all the way through town.  It is illegal here to drive past a bus that is taking up or letting off children.  You know this is happening by the way the lights all over the bus flash and blink.

I was just about to get back in the van when Kaitlyn said “wait, I have to go get my packpack”.  What did she mean?  We were all ready and had gotten in the car.  Apparently she had been rushing and even though she knew she’d left the “packpack” behind she didn’t think she had time to go back in and get it.  I am not sure where my kids got their logical deduction skills but lets just say, I don’t think that way!!

The fact that she now had to go back in the house and retrieve the missing “packpack” meant that as we sat at the bottom of our road trying to turn left we watched as Emily's bus cheerfully sailed by and came to a halt a little further down the road, lights flashing and blinking, causing an instant traffic jam.  

I fumed all the way to the bank to withdraw the science money and headed over to the school.  Once I had successfully deposited both the money and Kaitlyn into the care of the school system I continued on my way to find new shoes for my car.

When we bought the car back in January we thought the tyres looked a little worn.  It passed the inspection, much to our surprise, and we’ve been driving around ever since.  We have noticed, though, that rather than the tread getting deeper it has become more and more apparent that we are driving around on completely bald tyres.  I made it my mission today to fix this problem.

Now I have to stop here and just explain.  I don’t actually drive a car.  It’s a minivan.  I never wanted to drive a minivan but I’m afraid it has happened.  I have a mummy car.  In New Zealand I proudly drove around in my Honda Odyssey and I could with all honesty say it was not a minivan because on the registration it was classified as a station wagon.  That is almost as bad but at least I didn’t drive a minivan.  The one I’m driving at the moment, though, is a very big, very American minivan.  It was a necessity when we had child number three and it became obvious that no amount of pushing and shoving and grunting was going to make three carseats fit across the backseat of any self respecting “normal” car.  

We are even on to our 2nd very big, very American minivan.  The first one lasted a year and was really running on prayers by the end of its time in our family.  The new one is wonderful (except the tyres).  The saddest part of all of this is when James and I go on a date (very rarely) and have to drive around trying to feel romantic in a minivan.  It’s just not the same gazing at one another on a moonlit drive knowing that behind you there are 5 empty seats silently mocking you with their reminder that they make the car ‘big enough for the whole team’.  

So anyway, there it is, I’ve said it out loud.  I drive a minivan.  Well I drove my minivan up to the tyre shop and walked in there with Abigail.  By this time, in typical style, it was pouring with rain.  Great, not only am I driving around on bald tyres I’m now doing it in torrential rain.

The guy behind the counter looked a little scared when I said I wanted 4 new tyres.  Turns out he wasn’t really scared of me it was just that he wasn’t usually working in this department.  I got to talk to the boss guy and he asked me what kind of car I had.  I managed to rattle off all the details perfectly and then he asked if it was all wheel drive.  I looked at him and thought ‘well all the wheels go round’ but knew that wouldn’t cover it.  I opened my mouth and said “its brown”.  He kind of chuckled and headed outside to have a look.  He came back in exclaiming at how bald my tyres were and he never did say whether it was all wheel drive or not.  Oh well, not to worry its probably not the kind of information I need to be retaining in my increasingly sieve-like brain anyway.

We agreed upon a tyre which they had in stock and I paid my bill.  As it turned out since it was a half day at the kids’ school I now didn’t have enough time for them to change the tyres before I would need to pick up the kids from school.  I would have to come back.  With all the kids.

I drove back to the school trying not to think about how tragic it would be to have an accident caused by bald tyres on the slick roads whilst so close to having new tyres on the car.  I got the kids picked up, although not without having to wrestle Emily out of the bus line where she had been erroneously placed due to my earlier message left with the school office about picking her up being misplaced.  

By this time with all that driving I’d done my poor bladder had become horribly irritated.  It was about to burst and I knew I couldn’t make it back to the tyre place without having a different kind of accident.  I had to go home, race into the house and then leap back in the car to carry on.  By this point the baby was totally confused about what was going on and whether she was going to get lunch at all.  She screamed for most of the trip back to the tyre place (about a 25 minute drive).  

We dropped the car with the lovely tyre guys and headed over to the main shop to have lunch (did I mention I was at BJs - a great big huge American warehouse discount bulk buying club place for all you non Americans).   

It was still pouring down with rain and I had my purse with the broken straps (another story) tucked under my arm, Kaitlyn with the diaper bag on her back, Emily with goodness knew what stuffed inside her ladybird raincoat, holding onto the giant umbrella in one hand and Abigail’s hand in the other.  We walked at a snails pace due to the fact that Kaitlyn walked directly in front of me and wouldn’t go fast because apparently that makes the umbrella not work (mostly due to her walking faster than the umbrella holder on the few occasions she unexpectedly walked fast).  But I had learnt not to try to argue with the almost 5 year old who’s logical thinking defies logic and walked slow instead.

We made it inside and found the food.  We also found that Emily had been harbouring a stuffed toy, a tiny book and a strawberry chap stick inside her raincoat.  After eating I had promised the girls that we would visit the book section of BJs which we did.  I had to get a giant American trolley (shopping cart) to carry all of Emily’s things, my purse with the broken straps, the diaper bag and the wet umbrella.  The kids had a great time looking at the selection of books on offer and since I can’t resist a good book and there were some good deals we ended up walking away with quite a number of them.  I had failed to remember how we got there and only after going through the checkout did I realise that we now had to carry all these books back to the tyre place in the rain.

We reassembled our little convoy and were almost ready to set off when Abigail decided it was a great time to try out a new word.  I asked Emily to hold her hand while we walked since mine were now full of the books, the strapless handbag and the umbrella.  She stomped her little feet, threw her arms down and said quite clearly “NO!” I fought back my first instinct to praise her for such wonderful pronunciation and instead gave her “The Eye”.  To my horror it didn’t work.  The books were getting heavy, we had to get moving so I just told Emily to grab her hand and not let go.  Abigail struggled a bit for a second then realised she was about to be left behind so her survival instinct kicked in and she toddled along.  

It seemed we were going slower this time around and the rain had certainly not let up at all.  Emily insisted that she didn’t need any part of the umbrella over her since she had a raincoat on and Kaitlyn complained that she was feeling damp even though she stood under the umbrella.  I tried to explain the realities of wind shear but it didn’t impress Kaitlyn because her own personal form of logic says that if you stand under the umbrella you should remain dry, end of story.

We shuffled along and got to the vehicle bays where they do the tyre changes.  We were just shuffling past when the tyre guy started trying to talk to me.  I really just wanted to get to the waiting room before I dropped all the new books in a puddle.  I managed to convey this need to the poor guy who was rather intent of having a word with me.  As soon as we arrived at the waiting room Emily and Abigail went in and started amusing themselves.  I stood there holding the door open, still carrying the books, the strapless purse and the umbrella which wouldn’t fit through the doorway.  I was stuck.  I asked Kaitlyn if she would mind grabbing the books which were quickly slipping earthward.  She grabbed a couple of them and dumped them on the wet doormat before reaching for the rest.  I called out to Emily to get her to relieve me of my purse and then the tyre guy came through the internal door obviously bursting with news and started trying to talk to me.  I was still stuck in the door because the umbrella was caught on the door jam and I was having difficulty getting it to collapse.

I finally managed to get myself in the room in one piece with a properly collapsed umbrella and get the new books off the wet floor.  The guy was bouncing from foot to foot by then and I was pretty sure if he kept doing that he was going to set my bladder off again.  I finally looked at him and encouraged him to tell me what he obviously so desperately needed to.  He tripped over his words in his excitement but the short story is that during the removal of my wheels he had run into difficulty getting the lug nuts off and this had alerted him to a possible problem which had, in fact, played out as he suspected it would.  He had broken off one of the bolts (lugs?) and one of the lug nuts was now securely wrapped around said bolt in his hand.  He handed it to me since it was mine.  He explained that there are five of these lovely bolts holding the wheel on and he had managed to get three of them properly tightened but the other two had been over tightened in the past which had stretched their lug nuts and now the result of trying to tighten one of them lay in my hand, the other he had not tightened to the factory specified torque.  He advised me to get this fixed asap and to drive in the slow lane on the way home.

I actually felt a bit sorry for the poor guy.  He looked so worried about it.  After a call to his manager he was able to tell me that they would pay to have the broken one fixed but not for the one that was not properly tightened since it wasn’t them that had over tightened it in the first place.

I got the kids loaded up in the car.  They let me walk through the workshop and load them up in there so we wouldn’t get wet going out in the rain.  The tyre guy even carried the pile of new books for me.  They all waved goodbye as I reversed out into the rain storm.  

I drove cautiously.  I drove in the slow lane behind the truck that kicked up so much water behind it that I couldn’t see anything.  For most of the way home I sat there thinking how horrible it would be if the wheel fell off while all I could hear was “blue, blue, blue, blue, blue, blue, blue, white, blue, blue, blue”.  I’d like to know who invented the talking books for toddlers.

I noticed that the car gripped the road better in the corners and I no longer did mini peel outs when I took off at intersections.  For a while now we’ve noticed a kind of scraping noise when we come to a stop.  It always seemed to be coming from the front passenger wheel, we’d had the brakes checked and it wasn’t them.  I decided to test it out.  I tried stopping quite fast at a few intersections.  No noise.  I tried a long slow stop at another intersection.  No noise.  We got home and I decided to try one more thing, “hold on girls” I called over my shoulder as I accelerated up our driveway and then slammed the brakes on.  Instant stop and no noise.  

So although they broke one of my bolt thingies, it seems the tyre guys have fixed my allusive scraping sound.  They said they’ll re balance (or align, or both?) all my tyres when we get the bolt fixed too.  We won’t know ourselves, we’ll be driving that minivan like its a racing car before we know it.

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