Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Odyssey in a Box, Part II

Miraculously, the mechanic neither explodes nor succumbs to the chemicals he swigs so nonchalantly from our car's internal organs. Instead, he spits, takes a drag of his cigarette, and announces in a sandpaper voice that there is no gas in the tank. Zero. Zilch. Which is a source of great puzzlement to us, as Levent had already put 20 lira worth of gas in the tank (see previous chapter) and had only driven a handful of kilometers on it. Chalking it up to an inefficient engine, or the high price of gas, we shrug, and take up the dolmuş driver on his offer to bring us some gas (for a fee, of course). We don't have a great many other options. LPG gas is not transportable -- you have to get your car to it. Normal gas, or towing, therefore remain the only possibilities, and since we find ourselves on this particular day in severely financially straitened circumstances, we of necessity opt for the former. The dolmuş driver departs, returning 20 minutes later with 5 lira worth of gas, for which he charges us 25 lira (there is a fee for his and the mechanic's efforts built in to the price). The mechanic has fiddled with something inside the engine (forgive me, mechanics out there -- I know nothing of these things), and he assures us that the car is now good to go, and that this gas will get us at least 30 km, before which time we will surely have located an LPG station. Exit dolmuş driver and mechanic, stage left.

To our immense relief, the engine roars to life when Levent flips the ignition switch. We pull out into the spring sunshine and traffic, a few hours delayed, but glad to be mobile again. We pass the ferry terminal, leave the bustling downtown, get onto a clear stretch of coastal road. We are maybe ten kilometers from the site of our breakdown, just entering the city forest, when to our horror we hear a hiccup, and the car makes a frightening lurch. No, no, no, I close my eyes and chant. Not now, not again, it can't be, CAN'T BE. Another lurch. Another 10 meters covered. Violent shuddering. We are coaxing the box, flattering it with all our might, yes, King of Automobiles is the Tofaş, an elegant and highly engineered piece of machinery you are, and so on. Around us is nothing but cool green forest. We are better able to appreciate the cool quiet of the woods and the sweetness of the birdsong when the engine finally goes silent, impervious to our flattery, leaving us stranded at the side of the road.

A collective sigh is heaved. (I think even the car participated in that one.) We get out and peer up, then down, the long, straight road. Not a hint of a gas station, or even a building in sight. I momentarily forget our quandry as the spring sunlight begins to warm the top of my head and a butterfly makes an inquisitive tour around my feet. The blissful revery is nearly complete when the wooosh of a passing automobile snaps me back. I hurl a reproachful look at the 'car'. There's nothing for it now but the old heave ho, it seems, so Levent takes his position at the driver's side door, one hand on the wheel, one on the car, and I install myself at the rear.

Pushing is surprisingly easy, and fortunately for us, we are dressed in our running gear, having planned on a run on the beach in Çeşme. It is actually nice to be out of the car and moving, and gradually our pace quickens, until we are actually jogging along with the car. Cars -- sleek, expensive, new ones -- honk as they drive by, passengers stare out their windows, but not one person stops to help. I start to break a sweat. The good thing is, I'm getting my workout after all, Çeşme or no Çeşme. A group of flamingos in a nearby marsh look up from their breakfasts and crane their long pink necks in our direction. I can almost hear them tittering to themselves. We must have covered at least two kilometers, when a primer gray, beat up vehicle of Eastern European persuasion pulls up ahead of us. The logic is lost on me as the car passes us, pulls to a stop a very short distance in front of us, and proceeds to back up rapidly. Bear in mind that we are proceeding at a goodly trot, so what with us making a quick advance, and our would-be rescuer making a quick retreat, the gap between us closes remarkably rapidly. It is all that Levent can do to fling the door of our Box open, leap inside, and hit the brakes. Our cars stop, inches apart.

Our Knight in Shining Armor has arrived on a steed that makes the Tofaş look good. It has no paint, is sagging low to the ground, and gives the impression that a slightly too-hearty slam of the door might reduce it to its component parts (a la Inspector Clouseau, if you're a Pink Panther fan). Added to that the fact that this trusty steed is currently carrying five -- yes, five -- people, and my eyebrows begin to arch in a mute skepticism. The driver, a cheerful sort, produces a frayed towrope from the trunk of his car. It is alarmingly short, allowing for perhaps two meters of space between our respective vehicles. We get underway, and immediately our rescuer accelerates to a petrifying speed, given the difficulty of steering and braking our own car. Our rescuer also does not have the advantage of having brake lights, so it is always a surprise when he slows down, and a test of Levent's reflexes and subtlety on the brake pedal. The challenge is to slow down enough not to hit the car in front, but not enough to put additional strain on the rope which might either break the rope or damage the car in front. It's a tricky business. I, passenger, am helpless to do anything but white-knuckle it and wish we were still pushing.

Turns out, it would have been an epic push, had we been left to our own devices. We continue another three kilometers or so, and not a gas station in sight. There is a terrifying moment where we are caught in traffic and our tower elects to change lanes, and a hot-shot driver behind us wants to cut us off before we can change lanes, too, not realizing that we are connected to the car in front. We chug up a hill (amazed that the Eastern European steed can make it at all, let alone with 5 passengers and us in tow), over a freeway, down a hill (terror) and around a corner into a gas station, at the entrance to which our tow rope snaps. We hop out, old hands at this by now, and push our tired Tofaş the last few meters to the LPG pump. Our last ten lira is passed to the station attendant, our rescuers thanked profusely, and we drive back to the forest, too late for Çeşme now. We arrive just as the sun is transforming into a brilliant crimson orb and sizzling into the sea. The lagoon is absolutely still and its surface is a perfect mirror of the riotous hues of the evening sky. Caught in the reflected light, the flamingos seem more fuschia than pink. We watch them, as the sky turns from tomato to aubergine, listening to the soft lapping of the water on the shore. The day was not as we had planned it, but nonetheless, I have to think, it wasn't too bad, either.


At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Mum said...

Lovely writing, as always: alternately terrifying and hilarious, always reflecting your keen eye for detail and a sense of the absurd. Were you able to make it back home without further mishap?

At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Mum said...

This situation provided many wonderful photo ops. Were you able to shoot any, or were you too busy honing your basic survival skills?

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Kate's Blog said...

Alas, as is usually the case when 'Kodak moments' arise, we discovered that we had not brought the camera. I'll make a mental note to have the thing permanently attached to my body. - Kate


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