Shake the Dust

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 10 2013

Failing Well: Volvo Edition

I’m the only Midwesterner among my Marked Tree CM colleagues. We have a few New Yorkers, like real city kids, and last night I held a crash course in car disasters. I can tell you they were all for sure missing their public transportation.

It went down like this: after wrapping up our community visit in MT last night, I discovered my car battery was dead. If you know anything about my car, this shouldn’t surprise you. I once had to drive 100 miles with the hood unlatched to get it repaired outside of my small Missouri college town. This is standard procedure with my car. My manly-men MT colleagues jumped my car like good neighbors (we’re all picking up some small town swagger) and we were about to be on our way… except you know how you have to drive around a considerable amount to re-charge the battery? Well, because we were running late to our community visit yesterday morning, I didn’t get gas in Little Rock. MISTAKE.

The gas light was on, and we’re in the middle of rural Arkansas. Cool. I had enough gas to roll into a gas station in the neighboring town, 20 miles away, BUT my Volvo has this terrible quirk where the gas tank can only be accessed when the car is unlocked. I can manually unlock my car but the tank needs to be unlocked electronically. This can’t happen because my battery died taking out all of my automatic locks. And I can’t recharge the battery because I don’t have enough gas to drive around.

You still with me? It’s nighttime. I’m in Northeast Arkansas. I have no gas, broken locks, and no battery. I’m driving a foreign car that expensive to fix that no small town mechanics will even work on.

Despite this, I set out for a gas station in Earle, Arkansas just in time to realize that one of my headlights is out. Maybe my locks will magically work after a 30 minute drive? Possible. Anything is possible. One of my MT manly-men offers to go to the gas station with me. We get separated on the rural highways because I’m driving like a granny because I’m afraid I’ll get pulled over for my headlight and he’s driving like a New Yorker experiencing open road for the first time. I truly didn’t mind… I’m always living for the story and this one is turning into quite an exciting one.

I call my Mom on my way and she tells me to tow my car when I run out of gas. I’m not against this idea except for the fact that I DON’T LIVE IN ARKANSAS. Where would I tow it to? MT- the town I’ll live in beginning in August? Tennessee? We leave for Cleveland, Mississippi on Sunday and everything I own is in my car. Everyone else’s car is full of everything they own as well so even if I found a way as a passenger I’m possession-less. It’s okay, I didn’t want to wear business casual anyways. By the way, our call is dropped because I’m essentially in the middle of a cotton field. At this point I’m laughing, especially when I realized I didn’t have the MT manly-man’s phone number.

I found the Earle gas station just in time to be surrounded by a bunch of local teenagers. In a town of 3,000 you better believe they knew I wasn’t from there beyond the reality that I looked nothing like them in more ways than one. Luckily, my 18 years in St. Louis prepared me to politely decline requests of “Baby, can I talk to you?” and “Come on over here, girl.” The kids really were harmless and I handled it like a pro just in time for my MT colleague to pull up and dissipate the situation even further.

 We decided to just rip off the gas tank door. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Except we couldn’t get it off. Typical.

Luckily, I had enough gas to make it to the community member’s house who generously offered to host five of us for the night in Old Earle so we decided to split and go at it again in the morning. My mom called later and offered the following advice on disconnecting the electric from YouTube user moondogy2045:

“Open the trunk and look to the right for a handle used to release the rear seat. Next to this handle is a knob. Turn the knob counter-clockwise to release the vertical carpeted truck panel, then pull the panel from the top to expose the wheel well/sheet metal. Use a flashlight if needed and look for the area inside the trunk where the fuel door is located outside the car. You should see a black solenoid-operated lock. There is a small white plastic ring around the movable locking shaft. Just pull this backward (toward the back of the car) to release the lock. If you do not plan to replace the lock (and to prevent it from re-locking the door) just disconnect the electrical connector. The lock may be removed by simply removing the electrical connector and the 2 mounting screws that are accessed from outside the car, inside the fuel filter door.”

Okay. Yes. I understood about 75% of that.

I slept on moondogy2045′s information, unwilling to tamper with electrical components at night with the one billion Delta mosquitos. The next morning I was woken up by the current CM who hosted us in Earle around 8 o clock. She had found two guys who were doing lawn work who knew things about cars. Was I interested? Definitely. After a short while, two men I’ve never met used a screw driver to smash the hinge off my fuel door. It was freeing, simple, successful and a very real example for me of what community partnership could look like.

In TFA style, I feel like reflecting over what I learned: Being flexible and “failing well” doesn’t apply just to Delta classrooms but also Delta living. I need a new car but not new colleagues. My mom is a rock star. People in the Delta are resourceful, willing, warm, and incredibly giving.

Here’s to the years to come. Next stop, Institute.

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