This post continues a series on our experiences under COVID-19, inspired by the realization that “we are all field collectors” in the effort to someday tell the story of what happened in 2020. The essays I post here are drawn from First Monday, First Person salons since last spring. I’m sure we all experienced a memorable series of events as the world changed last March, as Kay did. Consider this an invitation to write your own stories of pandemic life, and to submit for publication on this blog–guidelines here.
By Kay Frazier
No chirp welcomed me. No little light flashed in its eyes as I approached. Indeed, my car was dead. In the middle of “Stay at Home”, Covid-19 pandemic in Wisconsin, my car was dead.
I was scheduled to meet a friend in fifteen minutes at Blain’s Farm and Fleet three miles away, to pick up a mask from her and my drive-through order from Farm and Fleet. First things first. I called my friend, telling her “Vicky, my car is dead. I’ll be walking to Farm and Fleet. I’ll call you when I get there.”
The weather was crisp and dry. I hadn’t had a good hike in several days and my route took me mostly past empty industrial business parking lots. No problem observing the 6–foot distancing, since I only encountered one other person on the hike. I got to Farm and Fleet’s drive-through and told the attendant, “My car is dead, so this is a walk-through.” (She didn’t laugh, either. Do I need to work on my delivery of the punch line?)
I accepted the bag, walked to a more visible spot on the sidewalk, and called my friend. She arrived, driving her car, and we exchanged bags – her bag for me with a mask and a few carrots and mine for her with cookies, old dish towels, elastic and thread to make more masks. She asked if I wanted a ride back, but I declined, partly because I wanted the hike and partly because my friend is 79, with several health issues and I wanted to help limit her exposure.
The hike back was pleasant and uneventful; I saw no people, but I did see a number of birds, squirrels, daffodils, and other spring flowers. Now, what to do about the car? Let it sit until a more opportune time? My friend had recommended that I check to see if I carried emergency roadside assistance on my car insurance. I didn’t think so. However, checking into that, I did and it was at no additional cost to me. Hmm. Should I chance an in-person encounter in what had been one of my safe zones?
Yes! Fifteen minutes later, I called the service, Jack Rabbit. A young man, Chad – well, young to me – and his wife came. I flagged them down from the parking lot outside my underground parking. She stayed in the car, dealing with business on the phone, while he attempted to apply electric shock to my car. First, there was the matter of reaching the battery, which is situated by the right rear headlight of the hatchback. Having no electricity or key entry available, the hatchback door would not unlock. He was going to climb over the back seats until I pointed out that “They do fold down and there’s the buttons to do that.” I paced anxiously the prescribed six feet away. Chad finally managed to reach the starting battery and apply the electric shock.
No luck, only a warning from his system. He tried an alternate possibility through something under the front hood of the car. Again, no luck, only a warning from his system. He turned to me and said, “Sorry, Miss Kay, but your starting battery is dead and needs to be replaced. I think you have Smartkey. The battery costs about two hundred dollars. If you pay for it at X auto parts store, I’d be willing to pick it up and install it for X$. Just let them know at the store that Chad and Erica will be picking it up. I’ve worked with them before, so it shouldn’t be any problem.”
“Thanks, I’ll let you know,” I replied. I called the auto parts store and found what appeared to be the right battery. It was a little over two hundred dollars. It was in stock. Do I let the car sit or do I run up another bill on a credit card?
Within an hour, I called Jack Rabbit, the emergency roadside assistance. “Chad, let’s do it.” We arranged for him to come at 9 AM the next morning, with a confirmation call at 8 AM.
I called the auto parts store again.
“ Hi. I need a starting battery for a 2009 Toyota Prius with smart key.”
“Sure… got it. I can’t hold it till tomorrow morning unless you pay for it now. Can you give me your credit card info?” I relinquished it.
Robin, the clerk, came back. “Sorry, phone charge system doesn’t seem to be working; you’ll need to go online and order it. Here’s the part number.”
I turned on my laptop. One and one-half pages of security updates to be applied, even though I had just turned it on a day or two ago. It was now 5:30 pm. At 6:45 pm, the updates were finished and I ordered the part the clerk had told me I needed. It looked like the right part. The pickup process, according to the online information, required that I show up with driver’s license and credit card used.
I called the store again. “How late are you open and when do you open in the morning? I just ordered a part for my car. It looks like I have to come in in person, but Chad was going to pick it up for me and install it. I can’t get there because my car is dead. Can you put a note on the part to that effect?”
“7:30 pm tonight, 7:30 AM in the morning. I’ll put your name on the reserved part, but I can’t put a note about Chad and Erica picking it up. If they have your name and the part information, though, it’ll be okay.” Cheviah reassured me.
The next morning, at 8 AM, I called Chad from the road service. “I bought the part and it’s at X, waiting for you. Here’s the order number, in case they give you any problems picking it up. Could you please double-check and make sure I got the right part?”
Twenty minutes later, I got a call from Chad. “Miss Kay, I’ve been on the phone with Toyota and everyone else I could think of since I talked to you. I can’t confirm you have smartkey access. Even knowing the year and the VIN number of the car, Toyota couldn’t confirm that you have smarkey access and that this is the correct part. I’m pretty sure it is, though.”
“Okay, let’s do it.”
At 9 AM, I got the call. He was here with the part. “Chad, give me two minutes and I’ll be downstairs and open the door to the underground parking.”
I grabbed shoes, went downstairs, and opened the garage door expecting to see Chad waiting in his car for the door to open. No car, no Chad in sight. The door closed. I opened it. The door closed. I opened it. The door closed. Finally, I opened the door, peeked a little further out and saw Chad’s car headed out of the outdoor parking lot. I quickly called on my phone, gasping, “I see your car, turn around” and started wildly waving my hand.
He came in, parked near my car, pulled out his equipment, and spent the next hour or so taking out the old battery and installing the new, while I decided to get some exercise, by briskly walking laps in the underground parking lot of my condo building.
Finally he said, “Okay, Miss Kay, see if you can start the car. The car alarm might sound.”
I sat down in the driver’s seat. Now, I saw one of the lights on the dashboard lit. Hope was high.
Yes, it started up fine – after I remembered I needed to put my foot on the brake while starting the car. (In my defense, I hadn’t driven the car in 1 ½ weeks.) No alarm sounded.
Still anxious, I requested “Will you follow me out the garage? I want to make sure it actually moves.”
“Sure, Miss Kay, and then you can pay me,” Chad obligingly replied.
My car and I emerged, triumphant, from the dim light of the underground parking to the bright sun light of a new day. I breathed the air of Freedom, paid Chad and thanked him, and waved as he left. I embarked on two hours of joyously jaunting fifty miles, taking care of five errands over hill and dale in various parts of Dane County. I laughed at the outside temperature gauge, now stating the temperature in degrees Celsius, instead of Fahrenheit.
Oh, and the alarm – it did go off, after I returned the car to my building’s underground parking and walked away. Somehow, I did get that resolved. And the next day, when I drove for groceries, the temperature was now, once again, magically noted in Fahrenheit.
© 2020 Kay Frazier
Kay has been writing in various forms since a child, beginning in elementary school with creating and telling fantasy stories to a captive audience on the long ride of a rural school bus. She has had published a scattering of poems and articles and has given a few church talks. So far, though, the only money she has received was a dime from Bobby in the seventh grade for writing a story for him in English class. (I wasn’t pulled in later by the teacher; I don’t think he was, either.) Ten cents bought a lot of penny candy at the small neighborhood grocery store. However, for now, shared enjoyment or a new perspective is enough. Kay also enjoys hiking, biking, singing, reading (of course!), swimming (with friends), some social justice activities and the small adventures to be found in everyday life.