Moments of Heat

It’s summer, it’s supposed to be hot.  At least north of the equator.

The Shanghai area, with very high humidity, can seem like a steam bath some days, with temperatures hovering around 100 deg F, and the “feels like” higher than that.  That’s fine by me, no complaints.  It’s just that the other day I was late for an appointment and had to jog a few blocks, in street clothes during midday, which turned the perspiration glands on high.  It’s not ideal being in a meeting with sweat rolling down your face and back.  But, ideal may be overrated.

It brought me back to the first time I had a taste of real heat.

A good friend, B, and I decided to take a road trip to California from eastern Pennsylvania.  We were 21 years young.  B had saved up and had just bought a new MG Midget.  He was so proud of his new purchase and kept it well buffed, always a soft cloth handy to banish any bug or dirt marks.  The British made sportster, an appealing dark olive body with a black canvas top, fit two comfortably, possibly a third with the top down. The engine sounded throaty like a sports car should.  It was without a doubt a cool car for two young East Coast studs to drive to California and back.  We had only two plus weeks, and our sights were on the Pacific Ocean, from San Diego to San Francisco, so we aimed to drive straight through, day and night, rather than dally along the way.

For some reason, we started our excursion on a mid-week just after sunset.  In celebration, we foolishly packed a cold six-pack of beer along with a couple of hefty, expertly-rolled joints.  Being his car, B started the driving trip.  We made it to the middle of Virginia that first night before he turned the driving duty over to me at about 2 am.  The beer was finished, and we had burned through one of the joints.  B said he was tired.  I happily, although reluctantly because I was also sleepy, took command of the new sports car while he slept.  In retrospect, how he might not have imagined, after partying with him up to that point, that I wasn’t also tired, was, unfortunately, not beyond me.

This MG Midget was significantly cooler in the early 70’s.

It was somewhere around dawn when the rumble of the interstate’s shoulder woke me up, just as I was about to smack into a thin reflector post.  To try and avoid it, I over compensated with the steering wheel and the car lurched back into the highway, spinning counter clockwise a couple of times until we landed back on the shoulder, just as a tractor trailer wailed past.  While we were spinning B was screaming, which added drama to the already confusing few seconds.  When the car stopped, we both looked at each other,  steam oozing from the car as I realized I hadn’t missed hitting the post.  We got out of the car.  After surveying his new baby, he was distraught.  The impact with the post cut the front bumper in half, creased the front grill, and the bounce of the reflector landed an ugly dent in the middle of the hood.  I apologized as much as I could have and tried to persuade him to see the bright side, that we were alive and the car still worked.  B was despondent nonetheless as his brand new wheels were suddenly disfigured and we had barely begun our journey.

Fortunately, the damage was mostly cosmetic, so we continued.  But the next few days were accompanied by an umbrella of gloom.  It was like his newborn had been assaulted.  In those tight quarters, I could feel his pain.  Whenever we stopped I tried to steer B away from staring at the car’s new defective look.

By the time we reached Arizona, oil had started spritzing onto the windshield.  WTF, I thought as I happened to have been driving again.  I pulled off at the next exit which luckily was on top of us.  We popped the hood and could see that the oil cooler, which sits right inside the front grille, was leaking, more than likely from the jolt a few days earlier.  We could not continue, especially in the desert heat, without fixing it.

It was late Saturday afternoon, and we were in some podunk town in central Arizona. But luck was with us as we drove slowly and found an auto parts store that had the foreign part we needed.  The problem though, was they were closing in 5 minutes, and we didn’t have tools.  They didn’t install.   The sales guy suggested a garage on the other side of town if they were still open.  We decided to split up.  B stayed to purchase the oil cooler, and I hoofed it to the garage.  I remember a thermostat reading showing it was 120 deg F.  This was no time for walking so I ran block after block trying not to stop, hoping I could get to the garage before they closed.  The next day was Sunday, and we didn’t want to burn two days staying in a small desert town. Bathed in sweat I barely made it, but mister garage guy wasn’t about to stay open to do the work.  However, he was kind enough to lend me a wrench, if I promised to leave it by his door, which meant climbing a fence when we were finished.  No problem, I assured him.

I lightly jogged back to the car-parts store armed with the wrench I hoped would work.  The two non-mechanics in us somehow successfully managed to change the radiator-like filter in the parking lot.  After refilling it with the not-easy-to-find special oil, which we stocked up on just in case, we were ready to go.  We drove back to the garage so I could return the wrench where I climbed the fence and, with pleasure and relief, placed the tool by the guy’s door with a note of thanks.  But what garage guy didn’t tell me was that there were dogs loose after hours.  One of them spotted me and started racing toward me, fangs out, barking like he found an intruder (?).  I ran and leapt to the fence, climbing fast, managing to clear enough elevation before the K9’s teeth were able to chomp on its unexpected invader.  I never jumped a fence so quickly.

We both laughed.  I was just happy to see B in a cheerful mood and his baby running well.  It was all hilarious, and lucky.  I was drenched as I tucked myself in the passenger seat.  Even though the sun had gone down, it was still over 100 deg.

Running through a sleepy town in the Arizona desert in full sun during the middle of summer was my first experience with real heat.  While feeling dribbles of sweat during the meeting the other day, I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that at least I didn’t have to rush to change an oil cooler or outrun a mad dog to jump a fence.  It was just another moment of heat.

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