Saturday, January 22 2005
In preparing for our trip to Ecuador, we also needed to prepare for an onslaught of winter weather. Gretchen had arranged for a friend to come up from the city to housesit in our absence, but we'd also be driving down to JFK to catch our plane and the news was all abuzz about a massive snowstorm on its way. In the pre-departure division of labor, it fell on me to take the Honda Civic in to have its snow tires installed. (We have the tires, but they're loose because we don't have an extra pair of rims.) As usual I went to Mavis, which is generally a lot faster and cheaper than a place like Sears. The only thing you have to be careful about at Mavis is that the guys there seem to be working on a commission, and they're always eager to suggest additional things that they can do to your vehicle.
I'd had it in my mind that I'd be spending all my time in the dismal Mavis waiting room as the tires were installed, but when I learned that the wait would be two hours, I knew I'd be venturing out into the cold, even though temperatures were not much above zero. The alternative was madness. What I'd failed to consider was the riot of new stores just to the south of Mavis on the site of the old Woolworths. This new strip is like a slice of Northern Virginia dropped in the middle of Route 9W's faded glory. All these new stores are high end franchise shopping experiences, laid out temptingly behind tastefully-colorful postmodern façades. On the end nearest Mavis is a Barnes and Noble, bane of mom and pop booksellers nationwide. Gretchen refuses to purchase anything from a Barnes and Noble, but even she concedes that their stores are like indoor parks, where one can idle away hours in interesting, climate-controlled comfort. It certainly makes the Mavis waiting room seem sad.
But I only stayed long enough to warm up, take a leak, and read a little of the Lonely Planet Guide to Ecuador. I was sitting just outside the inevitable Starbucks area as I did so and I could overhear a mother cooing in baby talk to her toddler about the unpleasant particulars of his sinus infection. It was so disgusting I had to cover my left ear. Directly in front of me an attractive woman in her mid-20s was filling out a job application. Surprisingly, she was the only attractive person in the store at the time. Nearly everyone else was either obese or had that vaguely-deformed look familiar to me from such places as the Hudson Valley Mall.
I ended up walking all the way to the Mid Hudson Valley Credit Union to deposit a check. Then, on my way back, I ducked into the establishment on the far end of the new strip of glitzy stores. This one was a Panera franchise, a sort of restaurant/bakery, and I was famished. There was a long line of people at the counter, so I had to assume the food must be fairly good, at least for the well-scrubbed Old-Navy-wearing white people of Ulster County. But by the time I got to the counter, I sensed something was wrong. This was confirmed when I asked the teenage employee if she had lox spread. Her response was as follows, "What?" For some reason I got an everything bagel anyway. It was the most pathetic bagel you've ever seen. As I told Gretchen later, "Hannaford bagels are ten times better."
Despite the unjustified crowding and the bad food, there was one good thing about Panera: it had an open WiFi hotspot. I'd brought my iBook and was able to drink my coffee and surf the web as if I was still at home.
I was sitting by the fire and an oldish woman kept looking at me and I wondered if maybe she knew me. She didn't; she was just lonely. "That's a nice hat," she said, after first trying to interest me with her difficulties at the hands of Panera dining protocol. I was still wearing the floppy stovepipe hat that is so good for keeping your ears warm in this brutal weather.
On the drive home some guy was flashing his highbeams behind me and acting like something was wrong with my car. So I pulled over on the shoulder and looked at it and everything seemed fine except that one of the rear tires (not one that had just been put on) was really low. Maybe all that fuss had been about the political bumperstickers, though the guy making the fuss had pretty long hair and looked like he might live in Woodstock. So I went to the Stewarts at the crossroads of Zena and 28 to get air (since they have the only free air in the area). But of course their air pump was broken. Luckily I have a light-duty air compressor back at the house. Somewhere on the way home the snow storm began as predicted.
But far more difficult in these conditions was the task of changing the truck's oil, something I've been procrastinating about for months. Since I'd be leaving the truck for our house sitter to use, I thought I should leave it in top working condition. So there I was out in the brutal cold trying to find the correct screw to drain the oil. I ended up making the same mistake I made during my first oil change, draining out a pint of Robitussin-colored transmission fluid before realizing it was the wrong juice. It's a nasty job to change the oil in such conditions, but it definitelty can be done. And it provides an even greater feeling of accomplishment when done in the face of such adversity.
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