Loud Thump Jolted More Than Car

The author’s car gets towed | Jane Esaki photo

The author’s car gets towed | Jane Esaki photo

I have a list of things to do: Make it to the bank before closing, get some cardio at the gym, take my first salsa lesson. I turn onto Kuhio Highway, but suddenly the front end of my car emits a huge burp and a distinct sigh. It does not kill the engine, but the jolt is enough for me to pull over immediately on the narrow grassy shoulder.

I leave the car running and go outside to inspect it, as if I would know what to do if the problem is more than a flat tire, a squashed wild pig or a dangling muffler, which I am pretty sure it’s not. Nothing seems unordinary around and under the car. It is either a costly internal problem or maybe nothing at all — just an astrological symptom of “Mercury Retrograde” or some paranormal glitch.

If my car does not succumb to this momentary lapse, then I promise I will be a better steward of my vehicle from now on. The guilt resembles that of writhing in pain on the bathroom floor from a tummy ache and vowing that if I survive this ordeal, I won’t eat three-day-old leftovers get back onto the road. Five miles later, it does the same thing again. I pull over immediately on a large grassy area to minimize future damage, then call the repair shop and a tow truck.

I watch the tow truck operator hurriedly hitching my SUV to his truck and taking longer than usual, mechanically lifting all four tires off the ground so as not to damage the transmission during transport. As I wait and stand idly watching, I feel uneasy, downcast and guilty, like watching a loved one being placed on a stretcher.

I look at the fading white paint, the small-but-pervasive rust spots, and dirty patches where I missed the last time I washed the car. I think about the half-inch tear on the driver’s side leather seat which has now grown to almost 2 inches. I look at the oil-change sticker and notice that the last time I went in for maintenance was 10,000 miles ago. I have been shamefully derelict.

I want to rub my car to say I’m sorry, but there isn’t enough time. The ambulance driver, er, I mean tow-truck driver, is already in his truck ready to pull out onto the road, and all I can do is watch sadly as he speeds away with the vehicle that, for eight years, had taken me to work, done my errands, transported things, let me play in paradise and just been there for me when I needed it.

The bank is closed now, and no workout or dance lessons tonight. I now am stuck in town without a car and incredibly helpless. Without hesitation, Mom is the first person I call and, of course, she is always there at a moment’s notice.

She isn’t the only one. There’s always someone on Kauai I know (or even don’t know) who would gladly come to my rescue, and at times like this, I realize how fortunate I am to have loved ones and to live in this close-knit island community.

The next day, the repair shop calls me to tell me that they’ve done every test and inspection and even test-drove the car several times, and can find absolutely nothing wrong that would’ve caused the noises. I am flabbergasted, because I know what I had heard and felt. And it happened twice within 10 minutes. I won’t accept the diagnosis, so I look in the manual and ask a lot of questions.

I finally concede that it was indeed Mercury’s tricks or supernatural.

Either way, I got the oil changed, diagnostics done — and ultimately a wake-up call. But the call involves more than just diligently changing the oil every 5,000 miles and keeping up with maintenance.

Emergencies like this evoke images of stretchers, ambulances and mortality, so it also is a call to be kinder to people who carry us through in life who might have burps and sighs of their own.