One of the things I remember best from my time in the business school is how our law professor, who apparently was very famous in Finland, told the packed classroom that “a lawyer’s best friend is the telephone.”
Now, I’m no lawyer, but I always thought it was a clever thing to say, and I’ve always remembered it. Especially when I’ve had car trouble.
I know nothing about cars, so my best friend has been the phone. Most often the call has been placed to a person I like to call “Dad”. The car doesn’t start? Dad walks me through it.
“OK, give it gas, reeeeeally pump some gas, and then turn the ignition,” he’d say.
There’s a weird noise? Dad knew the cause.
Oh, and if the car still wouldn’t start? Dad always knows a guy who can come and tow me.
Last week, I was driving through the city with my Mom, and Son and Daughter in the backseat, when I suddenly heard a noise that hadn’t been there before, and – as far as I could tell – probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place. My first instinct was naturally to call Dad, but I decided to wait until I had dropped off Mom and Son and Daughter at the ferry terminal, and then get on the phone.
It sounded like something was hitting the ground every once in a while. And then it would disappear. Because I am so useless with cars, weird noises always annoy me and make me nervous. What made it even more annoying to me this time was the fact that the car had just been serviced, and we had paid big bucks for all those “brake pads”, and “brake fluids”, and “windshield wipers”. Well, I’m sure the windshield wipers were for real.
And now, just two days later, a noise?
We stopped at a red light, and the noise went away. I held my breath when the light turned to green again, then I shushed Daughter in the back seat, and I listened very, very carefully.
“Huh, I don’t think I can hear it anymore,” I told Mom.
“You’re right. Me, neither. Interesting,” she said.
And then we both heard it again.
“Maybe it’s your exhaust pipe,” said Mom. “Maybe it’s hanging loose down there.”
“You think? It does sound like there’s something hanging from the floor,” I said, and added optimistically:
“Maybe it’s a twig?”
“I think it’s the exhaust pipe,” Mom said.
“If it is, you’ll have to do what Dad’s friend Jorkki did once when the exhaust pipe broke in his car. He put it back up using a pair of suspenders,” she added and laughed.
She would laugh, because that’s the kind of thing she would do herself. She’s always building new pieces of furniture, except that she doesn’t really build them, she just combines parts of existing furniture, adds a piece of plywood or something, an voilà, a new table is born.
She’s always been good at fixing things. When I was a toddler and wanted to play indians and cowboys, she took the blanket from the world-famous maternity package all Finnish mother gets, cut a hole in the middle, and a poncho was born.
When I was in ninth grade, on the day of school we were supposed to wear a costume, and as I often do, I had procrastinated until the last moment, and then decided that I would wear a costume, and that would be that of a clown.
Mom pulled down our orange kitchen curtains, then she pulled up a sewing machine, and made me clown pants. The makeup on my face that day was her make up of course. Good to go.
“But Jorkki’s car was a Mercedes,” she added.
The closer we got to the terminal, the louder the sound got. It had not gone away, it had gotten worse. As soon as I got the car parked, I got out of our Volvo, and looked underneath it, still hoping to emerge with a tree branch in my hand.
Instead, I saw that a big piece of plastic that’s protecting the engine was hanging very loose. Of the original six bolts, just one was still hanging in there, gritting its teeth, giving its all.
Now, I wasn’t wearing suspenders, so I got up, and looked inside the car, trying to find something to tie the shield back on. I found a rubber band, got back underneath the car, and tried to get the rubber band through the fairly big hole in the shield and the rather small hole where the bolt had been.
“How’s it going?” Mom asked.
“Not well,” I said, and then cursed the service company to the lowest levels of hell. I walked around the car, and opened the trunk.
“Yep, nothing here. Those are the bolts for the tires, I don’t know what that is. A pair of gloves…”
I closed the trunk, and went back to the front of the car, and back underneath it, even though I had no idea what I was going to do. Well, I knew what I was going to do. I was going to drive the car, very slowly, back home.
When I got up, Mom was standing right next to me.
“Maybe you can use this?” she said,
In her hand, she was holding her white iPhone sync and charging cable.
“Seriously?” I asked her, and she told me she was serious.
I got back underneath the car, got the cable through the big hole and the small hole, and tied it into a nice knot, so the engine protector was fully in the air again.
“Well?” said Mom.
“Works,” I said.
“Excellent,” she said. “Let’s go then.”
A couple of days ago, I was back underneath the car, trying to find a better solution to the problem. The garage was closed for the weekend, and Wife and I were supposed to go to a dinner party some 40 kilometers from the house.
I took out the iPhone cable, and tried to replace it with a screw instead. When that didn’t work, Wife gave me Daughter’s colorful cable ties, but I couldn’t get them to work, either, so I took the white iPhone cable again, tied it into a tight knot, got into the car and drove to our dinner.
This morning, I was back at the garage. They were very understanding, very nice, and a little apologetic.
Ten minutes later, a tall man walked up to me in the reception area, with our car key hanging from his finger.
“Your car is ready,” he said.
“Excellent. Thanks,” I said.
“Um, there was a cable there, but I had to cut it in half. Sorry about that. Great idea, though,” he said.
“That’s fine. It was my mother’s idea, she’s a bit of a MacGyver,” I said, took the keys and drove home.
Just as I got back, Dad called me, and I told him about my car troubles, and – proudly – how Mom and I had fixed the car last week.
“Or, mostly Mom,” I said.