8 am. My phone rings. My alarm is set for 9, and everybody knows there’s no use calling me before 10. It’s not my usual ringtone. Ben.
“I’ve been in a car accident. I’m okay. The other driver is okay. The airbags went off. We were merging onto 395 when it happened, so we pulled over onto a side street. She had just dropped her daughter off at daycare, so she was the only one in her car.”
Two weeks ago, he took the Civic in for a oil change, and the hood wouldn’t open. We took it over to the dealership, figuring if anyone could get the hood open, they’d know how. $700 later, it was open and the oil was changed, but they also found a whole list of things wrong with the car, starting with a check engine light for the catalytic converter to a missing engine mount. Total estimate: $3740. Current blue book of the car: less than $2200. So we’d been car shopping over the weekend, which was exhausting and exciting. After test driving a Versa, a Yaris, a Mazda2, and of course, my Fit, Ben fell in love with the Mazda2. I would call it the only serious competitor to the Fit, and its handling fits Ben’s driving style better than mine. We were on the hunt for a green one, which are nearly impossible to find. The dealership told us there are currently none on the east coast anywhere, and they’d just brought a blue one down from New York for a woman, so they really were checking a large area. We asked about getting a blue one instead, and it sounded like that would be possible. We were supposed to sign papers on Tuesday night. In the meantime, we’re down to one car, so Ben was driving the Fit back and forth to work. Which is what put him on 395 at 8 am.
There was a police officer there, who he needed to go speak with. I sent him a photo of my AAA card, since I had a plus membership and his was only a regular, so we could get it towed back up to Laurel somewhere. We got off the phone so he could start dealing with things. I paced the living room for a few minutes. I had to talk with someone, and the cats are terrible at listening. 8:15am. Dad would be awake, so I called.
Dad was just about to leave for work; I’d caught him just in time. He suggested he drive down to my house and I could drive him to work, so I’d have use of his car for the day. He’d be here in twenty minutes. I fed a pair of very confused cats, got dressed, and tried to sit down in the living room. I switched chairs. Still couldn’t sit still. Switched again. Ben called back. He was having problems with AAA: I needed to be present to use my car. Okay, use yours and have them tow it somewhere close. I’ll drive down and get it towed up here. He calls back; his membership expired at the end of July. Okay, we’ll add you to my plan today and see what happens. Dad arrived and I caught him up on the latest details. We got Ben added to the plan. Plus membership doesn’t take effect for 10 days. Okay, fine. Back to Plan B.
I am clearly a mess. Dad calls the office and tells them he’s going to stick around until I get this all settled. I call the insurance company and get that ball rolling. Liberty Mutual is great. They are a wonder to work with. We get the details squared away to get the car towed to a shop up here. They’ll even cover the towing. I have rental insurance, too, so we arrange for a rental car, pickup around noon. Ben is still waiting with the car for the tow truck to arrive. His plan is to head in to work as soon as the truck gets the car, and I’ll pick him up at 3, the end of the day.
Noon. Dad and I head over to the rental facility, which is inside the VW dealership. I’m supposed to be getting a call from the Mazda dealership about the status of our blue 2. I tell Dad I don’t even know what to say to them at this point. “You buy the car. You still need it.” Oh. Right. That was obvious. We get the paperwork sorted for the rental and are told it will be a little while before the car will arrive from their other facility, so Dad and I went to look at the showroom. When a salesman walks over, I tell him the cars are lovely, but I can guarantee he doesn’t have anything in our price range (I did my homework, you see). He assures me that I’m wrong, and they certainly do. I tell him our price range. He suggests a pared down Jetta. I tell him we need a hatchback. “Oh. Yeah, we don’t have anything for you.”
1:00 pm. Our rental car arrives, and it’s a Chevy HHR. I think that stands for Huge Hulking Roadobject. It has the tiniest windshield I’ve ever seen. I feel like this is some sort of assault vehicle, trying to minimize the vulnerable glass areas to protect against attacks. It’s half again as long as my car and ugly as sin. When I take a left out of the parking lot, I whacked my elbow on the door. Oh yeah, we’ll do well together, this car and me. Dad heads off to work, and I head home to grab some lunch before I need to run down to Arlington to pick up Ben at work. I call my grandparents while fixing some food, then call Mom. I sort of picked at my food; my stomach was feeling off. 1:50. I need to be out the door at 2 to get there in time, and I’m running behind. I’ll get directions upstairs, go see Ben, and finally this damned day will have a breath of normalcy. I will be able to relax, to finally breathe. Still on the phone with Mom, I ran upstairs to load up a map. I turn on the computer and sit down. Nimitz comes dashing into the room like her tail is on fire (Nimitz is 10 months old. This is considered normal behavior), then runs behind the guest bed, which she only does when she’s terrified. I hear a rumbling outside, like a big truck idling. Perfectly normal sounds, with our thin walls. Then I feel a vibration in the floor. That part is not normal. I stood up and looked around. The vibration gets stronger, shaking.
“Mom, my house is shaking.”
This can’t be an earthquake. We’re in Maryland. We don’t have earthquakes here. I’m having a rough day and losing my mind. There’s a perfectly logical explanation. Mom will know what this actually is.
No, that can’t be right. The shaking is getting worse. Somewhere in all this, I’ve moved and am standing in the doorway, although I don’t remember moving. Everything in the house is rattling. It’s so loud. The ceiling fans are all shaking, the railing to the stairs. It’s getting worse, and I don’t know when it will stop. Should I be downstairs in a doorway there? We don’t have earthquakes. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do! Lilit is in the hallway, standing in the bedroom door. Brilliant kitty, even she knows you’re supposed to be in a doorway! I think. Is that even right? This is not on my list of natural disasters to prepare for! Fifteen seconds, twenty seconds, an eternity later it all stops.
I think it stopped. “I’m shaking so hard I can’t tell. Is it still shaking, or is it just me?”
“It’s just you,” Mom says, “It’s stopped here.”
I have to go get Ben. The neighbors are all outside, and I have this irrepressible need to be face to face with people. I talk with the neighbors. I get my things together, including my phone charger, since now my poor battery is dead. I’ve been on the phone all day, it seems. The drive down to Arlington is long, but thankfully uneventful. The radio is full of confusion, and phone calls getting through are sporadic. A lot of texts fail, but most get through. At stop lights, I send off quick replies.
Ben and I look at the traffic maps and decide since it’s going to take us four hours to get home anyways, we ought to call Amanda and see if she wants to grab dinner. She suggests a fabulous Chinese restaurant, where we have a lovely meal despite flickering power problems. Ben and I get home around 7:45. The phone lines are clear enough we can check in with everyone we haven’t already checked in with. We talk until there are no more words to be said, and then we just sit in silence together. A day like this makes everything so clear, what’s important, what isn’t. I finally crawl into bed, Ben on one side of me, Lilit pressed against the other, and I close my eyes.
We had a historically huge earthquake hit our region today, and that was the small event for me.
I have been sadly remiss in updating on our car situation. April is a busy month for us. I’m not sure why, but it always has been. At any rate, late it might be, here is your update.
Ali was able to take us to the towing lot, where we ran into a family picking up their two cars. They were also renters in our neighborhood who’d had their cars towed away. We got our cars back, although the shady gentleman behind the desk was not prepared to give us a receipt until I asked. Cars (and set) thus retrieved, we returned home.
Did I mention the set before? Right, Ben’s current show (with the company Ali owns) is a two-actor tour where the actors each have half the set in their personal vehicles. Which meant that when Ben’s car was towed, so was half the set. Which was the other half of why Ali was so amazingly great in helping us retrieve the cars: she had a professional interest in the matter. The other half is that she’s just awesome like that.
So, now we had our cars back, we had to make sure they wouldn’t go wandering off on us again. That meant more phone calls to the landlord and the management company. I just want to state now that our landlord has been amazing and 100% supportive through this whole thing. When we moved in, she said they had been talking about new parking permits and would let her know when they planned to put them into effect. She even called them before they sent out the letter, and the management company gave us nothing.
Ben had an MRI scheduled with NIH that afternoon (part of a paid study, not a health concern), so I was on my own. Calling the management office told me that their physical office was in Wheaton, half an hour away. They said we’d be able to fill out a “reimbursement form” and pick up new permits that day. So I drove down.
The address was confusing, taking me to a high-rise apartment building, who told me what I was actually looking for was in a suite around the side of the building. Once I got in, the receptionist was friendly, but didn’t really have much information. The “reimbursement form” turned out to be a form for a letter of inquiry to the Board of Directors, requesting they consider reimbursement. I had three lines to describe the problem, and then the management company would represent my case to the board. Right. I filled it out and turned it in, then was taken to another desk to actually get our new permits.
I spoke to a wonderful woman who not only got the permits, but also answered my many questions. For one, our landlord had been told letters were sent to her and to us. The woman at the desk told me that couldn’t possibly be true since they did not have authorization from the board to spend the money to send out additional letters, so tenants did not receive notification. She handed me a copy of the letter that was supposed to have been sent to our landlord. It said that parking permits would not be mailed and were instead to be picked up at the community center on two dates. The community center that is across the parking lot from our front door. On two different days in March. And no signs were ever posted.
Ben and I lost a day of work each, $350 in towing expenses, a day of driving around and dozens of phone calls because the board of directors was too cheap to put up a piece of paper taped to a stick that said “New Parking Permits in effect 4/15.” Or “New Parking Permits at the Community Center 3/15.” Either of which would have caused us to call our landlord for more information, avoiding this whole mess. A piece of paper, a roll of tape, and a sharpie.
I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.
The other thing the management company told me is that the board meetings are in our neighborhood at the same community center across the parking lot, and the next one is May 10th. As a tenant, I do not have a vote, but I can attend and voice opinions. I have an outlet for this rage that is building inside me. The meeting is tomorrow night, and you bet I will be attending.
Oh, and the kicker to all this? Last week, we received a letter from the management company about pool passes. Apparently, they can find funding to notify us about the really important things.
I woke up this morning to the sound of voices downstairs. Ben was having a meeting about a play he’s writing for next year, which I vaguely remember him warning me about. I got dressed, went downstairs and offered coffee, then started the brewing process. As the water was boiling, I glanced out the window and saw it was a beautiful day outside. I ground the coffee and cleaned out the grinder, but something nagged at the corner of my brain and told me to look outside again. Oh yes, that’s it. There’s an awful lot of parking spaces in front of our house and an awful lack of orange and red.
“Ben, where are our cars?”
We dashed outside (and then Ben dashed back in to apologize to Ali), and went over to the permit parking sign, which had a phone number. About an eternity later, a woman answered and I explained our cars were not in front of our house and I really hoped she had them: an orange Honda and a red Honda. She put me on hold and we went back inside.
(If you’ve never woken up to find your car missing, you may find it difficult to understand why the thought “Oh please, I hope my car was towed” is a good one.)
The lady came back on the line as I poured the water over my coffee grounds. “Okay, one of them was a Toyota?”
“Oh, right. And one of them was white?”
“Orange and Red.”
“Oh. Let’s see… Black Honda, Silver….. Ah yes, orange Honda. Silver… mumble mumble… And a red one. Yes, we have them.”
Relief. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really think someone had gone through the lot and walked past the Lexus and the SUVs and decided to go take a 2000 Civic with a dent in the front and half a set, mostly consisting of pool noodles, in the back. But when you’re staring at empty parking spaces, the imagination wanders.
It turns out that sometime around the 15th, we were supposed to get new parking permits. They gave it extra time for everyone to get the new permits up, and then began towing last night. We had heard nothing about new permits except that they might be coming sometime soon and our landlord would keep us updated. Which she did not. I left her a voice mail, which she usually returns as soon as she gets out of work, so we’ll talk details this evening. Fortunately neither Ben nor I had work outside the house today, although he does have an appointment in Bethesda this afternoon. Also fortunate, Ali should be able to help us retrieve the cars.
What a way to wake up!