column 4 Juan


"I used to be a bad boy," said Juan, who had just opened his own car with a length of wire. We were walking back to our camper to fill it with sufficient coolant from his jerry-can.
"If you can open cars as easily as that why do you ride around in such an old banger?" I teased.
"I used to do that but not any more. This is my good deed for the day. To make up for the past."
We had just driven over the upper deck of the George Washington Bridge. The engine had slowly but surely overheated. Driving through the Bronx on a six-lane highway during the rush hour is an activity guaranteed to raise the adrenaline. This was more than Anita, in any case, really needed at that moment. At the end of the bridge we look the first turn off and found ourselves trapped on yet another six-lane carriageway. With the needle of the cooling system already past the H for hot we managed to get onto the parking lot of the Mariot Hotel. On the notice board it said, "Only for employees", but rules are made to be broken.
A few seconds after turning off the engine a stream of green cooling fluid leaked from under the hood. This was not good news. In the distance we could see an employee of the Mariot Hotel approaching us carrying two chairs that he intended to throw away into the container on the parking lot. I went up to him to explain that we had problems with the car and for that reason we had been forced to park on this lot.
"Let me have a look," was his first reaction. "Would you open the hood?"
I told him the whole story and according to him the vehicle had not been moved for some time which had caused the anti-freeze to thicken and this in turn had caused a blockage.
"How come you know all this stuff? You work in a hotel."
"I used to have my own garage but my wife didn't like me coming home late with my hands still dirty from contact with oil and axle-grease."
I asked him if there was a telephone nearby so that we could telephone the camper company.
"Sure. Use mine."
I asked what it cost, but Juan wouldn't hear of it. After a short conversation with Ernst, I handed the telephone over to Juan. I couldn't follow much of the conversation. It was too fast and technical; two mechanics talking to one another. But their joint conclusion was that the thermostat couldn't work properly because of the dried-up antifreeze. Th advice was to go back for forty kilometres. Juan told us to drive slowly and stop regularly to refill the antifreeze. "But wait till the engine has cooled off before you do that; my sister threw cold water over a boiling engine and the metal burst with a loud bang."
With a "Be careful and God speed" we said goodbye to him, our guardian angel. Having bad luck is one thing but to be so fortunate that the very first passer-by had run his own garage is more than just good luck. At half past ten in the evening we drove again onto the TransAtlantic terrain and Ernst was ready to connect us to the electricity cable. We told him we wanted to get away from Peekskill.
"But you're homeward bound." He spoke with a hint of a sing-song Swiss accent that even after sixty years had not been wiped out. Peekskill was beginning to feel a bit like home. Early tomorrow morning we'll drink yet another coffee in the coffee shop.