As you may know, this summer I’ve been driving a vehicle previously used to transport livestock.
You wouldn’t be able to tell this from a casual glance at the machine, since it seems, at first, like any other SUV. But on closer inspection, you might notice the stray hay Bob was unable to vacuum off the upholstery, or the photograph of a goat in a granny-cap that serves as the front license plate. Evidence of a secret purpose at work.
I call it The Goat Van, and I’ve lived with the knowledge that I would have to give it away all summer: It’s due to be traded for a Jeep that we actually own, once we return the van to the cool homesteading couple who let us borrow it in the first place.
That thought made me sad at first; I knew I would miss having a real Goat Van. But over the course of the summer, and much like an actual goat, the vehicle has found creative ways to make itself unwelcome.
For one, it lost its air conditioning: That option faded into nothing during our first drive out to Lonesome Valley, leading to heavy use of the power windows, and more than a little speeding to keep the “summer breeze” up.
Then the van’s battery died, mere minutes before the fireworks display started on July 4th evening–and then again the next day, while Bob and I were looking at pre-fabs, far from home. Both times, we were rescued by a samaritan jumper, and we’ve since gotten jumping cables ourselves to pay it forward (not to mention a new battery).
But the battery wasn’t the last of it: Lately, the van has developed a dangerous habit of kicking forward when it’s going up a hill, more than once convincing me that it had been rear-ended by an invisible bus. And for those of you unfamiliar with that adage about mountains: They’re just another word for hills.
So today, we packed into the van and drove into The City for the first time in months, getting a little under halfway to the owners’ compound, which is down south. Tomorrow, our plan was to drive the rest of the way, pick-up our Jeep, and return The Goat Van–before it burst into flame, ha ha.
The first length of the trip went by in a heartbeat, feeling more like a commute than a journey after all those weeks of back-and-forth at the top of the summer. I drove to my sister’s house and dropped Bob off, along with our dog, then went out to give my sister a drive home from work.
It was on our way back from her job that the car began to slow down.
I thought that maybe we were experiencing a heat-induced recurrence of the famous “phantom crash” syndrome, only it never kicked forward, just kept slowing. By the time we got on the highway, I was finding it hard to get the vehicle to top thirty miles an hour. Then twenty. The hood began to smoke, the car now crawling along the shoulder, and making the kind of whirring noise a car makes when it breaks down. Then it did just that.
My sister called a friend of hers from work, named Willa, who came by and surveyed the sorry scene. She helped me verify that the trouble wasn’t something as simple as low coolant. Then I got a tow to a nearby garage, where Willa knew the mechanic. He spoke only Spanish but Willa is fluent, and flirts shamelessly; in the end, he checked our car out for free, and pronounced his assessment quietly, just to her.
Willa’s face went blank when she heard what the mechanic said. Then she looked over to me, burdened heavily by the act of translating such lousy news.
“He says it’s the transmission.”