It was a Saturday – sleep-late, no-shave day. It began, as is our custom, with breakfast at one of our favorite fast-food eateries, a stop at the bank and then on to the pumps.
“I’ve got to get some gas and I’ll check the oil while we’re here,” I told Susan after our 15-minute stay at the bank where I’d had a nice chat with Our Mayor, The Honorable Gippy Graham.
“Okay,” she said, “but let’s not make a day of this trip. I have things I want to do at home.”
After waiting patiently for our turn, I pulled in, killed the engine (so to speak) and popped the little gas lever thingee down by the seat, wedging the whisk broom handle under it to hold it open – one of the many joys of driving a 1999 car with nearly 220,000 miles on it.
I started the pump and went to check the oil. “I don’t even see any oil on the dip stick,” I reported. “Must need two quarts at least.”
I purchased a couple and they gave me one – and I emphasize one – of those one-time-only paper cones to help get the oil where it’s supposed to be instead of all over the engine.
Like any good do-it-yourself car owner, I opened the hood and removed the oil cap that gives the life-giving black stuff access to vital engine parts.
As My Late Pop used to tell my brother David and I, “Run ‘em without gas, boys, but don’t run ‘em without oil.” I think of that every time I put oil in any internal combustion engine from the lawnmower to the tractor.
I put the cone right straight up and down in the orifice and started adding the 5W-30 oil. It was going in very slowly.
“I don’t know what’s up,” I told Susan, who was patiently sitting in the car on the passenger side where the window won’t go down. “I hope there’s nothing blocking the engine.”
Being far too kind, she suggested maybe I needed to tilt the cone just a little to allow better access.
I removed it and noticed a little ledge and then the hole, kind of like a half moon. I made the adjustment and the oil went lickety-split into the engine.
By then the tank was full, the checking account had taken a hit, I slammed the hood shut – rather it slammed itself – jumped back in the car and we were ready to head on.
“Philip,” she says, “did you put the oil cap back on?”
I scowled. What a question. What self-respecting macho self-styled mechanic would fail to return the cap?
But I thought I’d better check and opened the hood.
She was right; I was wrong: The cap was sitting right there were I’d left it. I screwed it back down, checked the dipstick again to make sure it was in place and got back in the car, by now more than a little embarrassed.
I started the engine, put the car and gear and drove off.
“What’s that terrible noise?” Susan asked, speaking of the clattering behind us. “Please tell me you took the nozzle out of the gas tank.”
Panic caused my brow to furrow and bead with sweat as I glanced up in the mirror to see the nozzle bouncing on the pavement, expecting the whole place to turn into a blazing inferno at any moment.
I started to back up.
“Philip,” she says, “park the car over there and go back and see what the damage is.”
All I wanted to do was get away but I thought I’d best face the music and correct my ignorance – if, in fact, that was possible.
I walked back to the pump as non-chalantly as possible. A guy in a big SUV was getting ready to pull into the spot. I picked up the hose and nozzle and returned them to the pump.
A cursory examination revealed nothing seemed to be any the worse for wear – including but not limited to the nozzle, hose and my car – and the guy was giving me the thumbs-up while all I wanted was to be face down somewhere out of sight.
Back in the car we exited the area as quickly as was possible.
I looked back to see he was out of his vehicle and talking to the attendant. Maybe it was my imagination but it appeared as if he was pointing toward us as we drove away.
I guess I should have gone and reported my faux pas but the better part of valor at the moment seemed to be to escape the premises.
“Well,” said Susan, “I hope the rest of the day goes better than that did.”
“The oil’s good, the tank’s full and no one’s hurt. All that’s good!”
We drove on home from there.