Murphy Row: Check Engine Light

Highway ahead, speckled with guiding taillights.

Asphalt carving the best path through formidable landscape.

Yellow lines and white dashes suggest limitations and guidance.

Only around deceptive turns of final resting places is a concrete barrier erected,

an unforgiving backstop to replace the guilt of too much speed running it’s course.

A black ’88 Honda Accord with a brown fringe of rust along the wheel well travels 8 mph above the speed limit,

Burning more fuel in favor of shaving a few moments off arrival.

Combusting low grade fuel, the engine struggles to stay in the sweet spot pushing the limit without producing red and blue lights in the rearview.

A high clinking rattle echos through the cabin on every left turn like the cup of an exit ramp beggar.

The windows won’t open unless the radio is off.

The car won’t stay straight without slight constant pressure on the wheel to compensate for the lefthand pull.

The whole car shakes like the bristle of fear upon breaking when going faster than 60 mph.

A death trap for any drive used to a functional ride.

But I know how compensate in order to arrive at the next stop.

My only death trap,

The flutter of a thought dancing across my brain, ‘It would be so easy to yank the wheel right into this bridge abutment.’

In the concentration to prevent the pull and subdue the shaking,

The check engine light blinks on in silence, the bell long since muted amongst crossed wires.

The malfunction goes unnoticed until the symptoms start to manifest.

The power steering fails and a slight pressure turns into a raging battle against the pull.

The small muscles of my arm battle to stabilize the wheel and remain within the white-stripe path.

A manageable malfunction has me debating whether a stop is really necessary.

My strength focused on maintaining course, I lose speed and in the deceleration the car begins to shake menacingly.

The wheel reverberates through the white-knuckle force attempting to hold it steady.

The constant vibration infuses my fingers with a frosty numbness.

My brain has processed similar fear before.

Seeing an animal rush in front of my car, feeling the break failing under foot, hearing an ominous rattle below.

The piercing odor of burning plastic and metal begins to suffocate the calm of known issues.

This new and terrifying stimulus seemingly out of nowhere brings the impetus of action.

The is no compensation from the cab that can extinguish an engine fire.

No exits in sight, no clever solutions to maintain course, only the obvious answer.

I pull over to the side of the road, open the hood and feel the rush of heat and smoke on my face as the engine gushes the instant relief of finally stopping to address the issues.

I stare blankly at a thousand moving pieces I don’t understand. I can see which ones are smoking at the surface but know nothing of their function.

I watch hundreds of cars speed pass me, knowing some drivers would help if they could but plenty would chuckle at my misfortune comfortably sitting behind an engine that only takes premium gasoline.

The tow truck will come to forcibly take the car where help can be offered.

A licensed mechanic can identify and address the underlying problems.

As I wait for help, I am forced to accept that I will not reach my destination today, or even anytime soon.

What will it cost to fix an engine that will never be safe on the highway again?

How long will it take to reach my destination sticking to back roads and locals?

Or is the ’88 Honda finally totaled…

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