"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
"How come you know all this stuff? You work in
"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.