The other night The Queen Mother and I found ourselves in possession of an expiring Groupon for one of your finer dining establishments in downtown Minneapolis. For those of you unfamiliar with the Groupon concept, it is a discount coupon that you purchase, then forget you own until it expires in 45 minutes, at which time you scramble around and rework your entire life so you can redeem it and save the $17 you had so coveted six months earlier.
This particular Groupon was for one of the more trendy Minneapolis eateries, and by ‘trendy’ I mean to say we were among the most heterosexual of patrons. The idea was to have a nice half-price dinner for two, then meet our various offspring for an ice-cream chaser all for under $40. We were even being so economical as to opt to drive our 20-year-old puddle jumper as opposed to our planet-killing gas-guzzling SUV, which in a politically correct nod to the Sierra Club we affectionately refer to as “The Axles of Evil.”
Dinner was lovely and all was going according to plan until we departed, at which time said puddle jumper had had enough for the day and decided to take a nap in the middle of one of the more dangerous of high-speed downtown intersections. Never having trouble in the previous 20 years of ownership, I assumed the best from high-quality Japanese engineering and turned the ignition repeatedly, only to be mocked by all 180,000 employees of the Honda Motor Company through a high-pitched starter whine. As it was becoming increasingly apparent that we were not going anywhere very soon and knowing almost enough about cars to properly wash and dry them, I sprung into action by flipping on the hazard lights. I then turned to The Queen Mother and flexed my considerable machismo by saying, “I don’t know what to do.”
“Why don’t you open the hood and take a look at it?” was her reply.
Yes! Genius! I will take a look at it! Why hadn’t I thought of that?! What does one do when something hurts? You have someone take a look at it! This is what I will do! Of course, ‘taking a look at it’ assumes some sort of remedial knowledge. I was sincerely hoping something obvious would pop out at me like a broken engine block or maybe a forgotten cheese sandwich.
So when I noticed a spark plug wire disconnected from the distributor cap, I was elated. I found it! I am a mechanical genius! Smugly replacing the wire, I said in my best Car Guy voice, “Try ‘er now.” (We skilled and proficient mechanics always refer to cars as “ ’er.”) Unfortunately, even with my superior mechanical know-how having been put into action, the result was the same: mocking whine.
Now, this might come as a surprise to some, but I am no Austrian body-builder turned blue state governor; the fact is I usually have to take a soak after an hour of Wii. But, wanting desperately to save our lives and with The Queen Mother behind the wheel, I summoned a minor hernia and single-handedly pushed said Vehicle of Betrayal out of the death-defying intersection (uphill, mind you), across three lanes of on-coming traffic, and into the parking lot of the state headquarters of the Episcopal Church a block away, after which I quietly vomited my lovely half-price dinner into their Anglican-bred bushes.
So there we were alone with car trouble in a dark, deserted parking lot. 25 years ago, I would have relished such a situation; middle-age however, has a way of taming one’s shrew. But we made the best of it. Sure we were stuck 30 miles from home and I had just pushed my car to the point of a mild heart attack, but at least it wasn’t raining. Then it started to rain.
The Queen Mother was quickly on the phone to our insurance company’s very personal emergency roadside assistance division and made her way through to an actual human after only 12 automated questions and a somewhat Rainman-esque repetition of the word “representative.” For the sake of brevity, I will relay the gist of the numerous conversations that took place between an increasingly irritated Queen Mother and the nameless insurance company dispatcher who had no soul:
TQM: We need a tow-truck.
Dispatcher: It will be about an hour.
(One hour later)
TQM: Where is our tow-truck?
Dispatcher: It will be another 110 minutes.
(Two hours later)
TQM: Where is our tow-truck?
Dispatcher: Almost there. Another 5-10 minutes.
(Twenty minutes later)
TQM: Where is our tow-truck?
Dispatcher: Looks to be about an hour yet.
One thing the astute reader will notice about these exchanges is that I have omitted the expletives. Let’s just say it’s a good thing we have a moon roof because The Queen Mother went through it.
It was also at this point when we fully realized our tactical error of not using the restrooms at the restaurant before our departure, and as a result The Queen Mother was a bit—how shall we say—‘squirmy-wormy antsy pants.’ And the rain running down the windshield in small, trickling streams wasn’t helping.
Having spent the past three hours watching local residents bring their dogs to defecate on the grassy knoll belonging to one of our nation’s largest mainline protestant denominations presented us with an idea born of desperation. First, I scanned the area for security cameras and uniformed peace officers. Second, The Queen Mother nonchalantly made her way toward the bushes where my lovely dinner lay dying. Third, The Queen Mother, the mother of my children, the woman I love, the preacher’s kid and Sunday School teacher, dropped trou and let fly. Relief washed over her like the golden tributary she released over the colorfully landscaped river rocks.
The only problem seemed to stem from a lack of experience. For upon return to the car and further waiting she came to the unnerving realization that her jeans were abnormally wet. Surely it was from the rain and the moisture of the bushes, but there was only one way to find out for sure. Bottom line: they failed the sniff test. Miserably. And wouldn’t you know it, here is the tow-truck driver!
“Hello! Thank God you’re here! Please pay no attention to the unsightly and malodorous stain on my wife’s trousers! May we ride in your cab?”
“Certainly!” said Steve the Tow Truck Guy. “I will bring you home just as soon as I go on one more quick call to unlock a car.”
Resistance was futile. Of course, the person making the so-called ‘quick call’ had given Steve the wrong address and we drove around a two-block residential section of South Minneapolis for twenty minutes looking for her before she called back with the name of the bar from which she had stumbled and which SIRI said was a mile away. We eventually found her and Steve made speedy work of her Buick amidst a throng of drunken patrons while we took selfies and posted them on Facebook. When he returned to the cab I remarked how exciting it was and that I had never been on a ‘ride-along’ before. He responded by singing “Bad boys, bad boys. Whatcha gonna do?” I liked Steve.
We dropped the car and got home shortly before 2 a.m. to start a load of laundry before going to bed. Turns out it was the distributor and not the cheese sandwich as I had hoped. With the tow, parts and labor, the whole thing cost us just under $500. Luckily we saved $17 on dinner by using our Groupon before it expired.