too many words by laura lemay

The giant drill bit

I have a new car. Actually, I’ve had a new car for a while now. Because every time I mention the new car in polite company, people say “Oh Laura, you *didn’t*,” in a pained voice, I will conveniently neglect to mention the make or model, but I will hint that I am neither a Nazi nor a soccer mom and its a good car so shut the hell up.

Said new car has been in the shop twice in four months, but for things that apparently have to do with some strange curse against me and this car, and not to do with it falling apart or anything. The first time it was in the shop was because I got a rock stuck in the brake caliper (I took my offroad vehicle offroad. silly me!). The second time was because of what we will call The Giant Drill Bit Incident, and it is the subject of this here essay.

After having the car a mere few weeks and after it already been in the shop for the rock in the brake caliper incident, I was off running errands one day. It was an ordinary day, like any other day. I had gone into town to visit the bookstore and the coffeehouse and to pick up some stamps, I had bought some lunch while I was in town (some chinese noodles and a half pound of really stinky cheese), and I was on my way home.

So there I was driving home, minding my own business, and I turned the corner onto my road as I have done a gazillion times before. Minding my own business, as I said, with my lunch on the seat next to me.

WHUNK THUNK CCHCHHHHHHHSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH went my car from the back and underneath.

Eeee! Bad noise. Very bad noise. Not a good noise at all. I pulled over. Fortunately there was a little dirt turnoff right there I could pull over safely onto.

I got out of the car. I looked under the car behind the rear bumper. Nothing there. I looked under the car from the right side. Nothing there. I looked under the car from the left side. There’s an eighteen inch hunk of metal sticking out of the bottom of my car.

Huh. That doesn’t belong there. I look closer. Its a 3/8″ drill bit, the 18″ long kind, with the pointy end facing down. I must have run over it, it popped up, and lodged itself in the undercarriage of my car….and yet was long enough to still be scraping the road after it got embedded under there.

So. Do I pull it out? I can’t leave it there. Maybe, I thought hopefully, its stuck in something nonimportant, and I can just pull it out and drive home. Yeah. I tug at it. Its really stuck. Its stuck in something plastic. I tug harder, wiggle, yank, get down on my knees, take both hands, and finally, it…..comes….loose!

And gasoline immediately begins to pour out of the hole.

I put it back. Too late, the gas is still coming. Great. Fine. Terrific. Note for the future: DO NOT pull embedded objects out of the bottom of your car.

OK. This is what cell phones are for. I call Eric.


“OK, just calm down,” Eric says reassuringly. “Are you standing away from the car?”

I’m standing next to the car. FWOOF BOOM goes my subconscious and I see me and my lunch, stinky cheese and all, up in flames. I move away from the car. “Yes,” I whimper.

Eric is totally sensible. Call 911 and have them come mop up the gas, he says. Call the nice 800 roadside assistance line for your car and have them tow it, he says. Call me when you get done and I’ll come pick you up, he says.

“OK,” I whimper. I call 911 first. Cell phone 911 goes to the CHP, where they put you on hold. I sit there on hold for HALF AN HOUR. By the time I give up, all the gas has run out of my car and has soaked into the ground. It is a good thing that I am not actually in a REAL EMERGENCY, because cellular 911 SUCKS SUCKS SUCKS. Note for the future: don’t get into a real emergency when all you have is your cell phone.

I walk up the street a quarter mile to the nearest house and get on a landline, where 911 picks up before the first ring. They send out the fire department.

The fire department YELLS at me for dumping gas all over the road. I’m SORRY, I didn’t do this INTENTIONALLY. They also yell at me for not calling them earlier. EXCUSE ME I would have but 911 cellular put me on HOLD for half an hour. Next the CHP shows up, and I’m figuring, GREAT, now I’m going to get a ticket for unlawful dumping of gasoline or something, but the CHP tells me this wasn’t really an accident (gee, thanks) so they won’t file a report. They also give me the helpful advice not to pull embedded objects out of the bottom of my car (gee, thanks).

The fire department asks me if I’ve called a tow. Well, uh, not yet. They look at me like I’m a moron. I call the nice 800 roadside assistance number. While I’m on the phone the fire department plugs up the hole in the tank, which is rather pointless at this point, because there is no gas left in the tank. They also tell me when the tow guy gets here to have them bring some absorbent to mop up the gas. I say, uh, can’t you do that? They say, no, the tow the guy will do that.

Oh. OK.

The fire company and the CHP leave having done little but make me feel like an idiot and a criminal. The 800 roadside assistance number calls me back and they’re very nice. I tell them about the absorbent. They say the fire department didn’t do that? I say they said the tow people would do that. They say that’s wierd. They say they’ll send a tow.

An hour later the tow guy shows up. Its rained on and off, but I’m too scared to go sit in my car so now I’m wet. Its hot and muggy and my stinky cheese is getting stinkier all the time.

Tow guy has absorbent. He looks at my gas puddle, which has sunk into the dirt. “I can’t use absorbent on that,” he says. “Its too late.” “Yeah,” I replied. “I thought the fire guys should have thought of that.” “The fire deparment was here?” the tow guy said. “Why didn’t they just mop up the gas?”

Damned if I know.

So me and my lunch get a tow to my dealer. I had to apologize for the stinky cheese. Repeatedly.

“What happened this time?” the service guy asked, who remembers me from the rock in the brake caliper incident.

“Ran over a drill bit,” I replied. The service guy looked unmoved. I pulled out the drill bit from my bag. The service guy’s eyes got really big. “Punctured the gas tank.”

“Ah,” said the service guy. “You’ll be wanting to call your insurance.”

Here’s the funny thing, about car insurance. There is comprehensive insurance and there is collision insurance. I had always assumed that collisions were accidents involving running into other cars and walls and trees and things. Actual *collisions.* And I had assumed that if I was dumb enough to run into a tree that I could darn well pay for my own bodywork. For everything else including bizarre freak accidents involving giant drill bits in the road leaping up and lodging into the car, I have comprehensive. I had assumed. And so under this theory I had a fairly high deductible for collision and a low deductible for comprehensive.

But that’s not how it works, as the insurance gal explained to me later on. The actual breakdown is that if the object is in motion when it hits your car, its comprehensive. If the object is stationary, its a collision.

So because the giant drill bit was sitting in the road when I ran over it, it counts as a collision. If the giant drill bit had fallen from the sky, that would be different. If the giant drill bit had fallen off a moving vehicle, it would be different. But no. (of course, in either of those cases the drill bit might very well have come through the windshield and embedded itself in *me* instead of in the gas tank, but I’m ranting here and don’t want to get distracted my minor details). Because of the nature of my encounter with the drill bit, my cost for this freak accident after ten years of total claim-free insurance payments was miraculously four times what it would have been otherwise.


The gas tank, in addition, is some sort of fancy plastic space-age polymer that can only be replaced, not patched, and one of the disadvantages of owning a car from the particular manufacturer of the car which I’m not revealing to you is that the parts are lovingly assembled by hand by elderly European craftsman and then shipped by luxury liner to the US, or so it would seem by the cost of the $(#*)@*# gas tank and the time it took for the damn thing to actually show up. While the car was in the shop, however, I got to drive my Miata again, which was in and of itself an amusing experience, for having gotten used to driving the other car and then going back to the Miata was somewhat akin to moving from a large comfy mohair sofa onto the back of an excessively caffienated mountain goat. But an excessively caffienated mountain goat that handles really well, I grant you.

But I have my new car back now, the insurance paid for their portion and didn’t even raise my rates (bless them), and hopefully my service guy will not be seeing much more of me in the near future. I still drive that corner almost every day in that car, although I do admit to watching for rogue drill bits each and every time.

And I’m a lot more careful about bringing stinky cheese home, let me tell you.