October 11, 2008

Recycling Warning

Recycling dumpsters for paper seem to have sprung up in every parking lot lately, and I have begun taking my old newspapers to these cheery green containers to rid myself of the unneeded trash. Usually, I drive to the paved parking-lot-cum-playground of the Catholic elementary school two blocks from my house. The other day, however, I discovered that the nearest public library, about 8 blocks further away, also has a couple of green dumpsters in its parking lot.

This week, after a bit of soul searching as to whether supporting the library, which I use, justified the use of extra gasoline required over that needed to support the Recycling symbolelementary school, to which I have no connection, I decided to take a substantial collection of old newspapers to the Castle Shannon library.

Bad decision. The library has about half a dozen parking spaces at the side of the building and a rather substantial parking lot at the rear. During library hours, there are usually a few cars parked in the small parking area, but I have never seen cars in the larger lot, where, as it happens, the paper dumpsters are located. As I am used to doing at the elementary school, I drove into the parking lot Wednesday and maneuvered my car so that my trunk was as near as possible to the openings in the sides of the dumpsters.

Since the lot was otherwise empty, I paid no attention to the location of the marked-off parking spaces. Just before I brought the car to a stop, I heard my car scrape against something. A quick glance to my left made it clear that I had driven over one of those low concrete barriers that are placed at the ends of parking spaces. Such barriers are intended to be struck by a car's tires. At slow speed, this is an effective way of warning drivers that they have driven as far forward as need be into a parking space. Alas, since I was trying to park near the dumpsters and was oblivious to the layout of the lot, I had driven over the barrier at an angle nearly perpendicular to that at which cars are supposed to approach it. As a result, my front tires missed the barrier completely, and the concrete scraped against the lowest equipment underneath the front-end of my car.

I was not pleased, since I hadn’t even seen the barrier, but I stopped the car, opened the trunk, and disposed of my newspapers. When I got back into the car to leave and started the engine I immediately became alarmed. My car suddenly sounded like a jet plane, as if its muffler had been removed. I tried to convince myself that the sound wasn’t too loud, but it was difficult not to think that I had either displaced or destroyed part of the exhaust system. I drove my car for another couple of days before becoming resigned to the need to have it looked at by my local mechanic, my own visual inspection had been inconclusive.

I dropped the car off at the garage yesterday, expecting a repair estimate of $100 or so. I got the bad news late in the afternoon. I had opened a small crack in a flexible steel pipe. A replacement part was not even readily available, but I was told that the garage could repair the pipe for about $250. Ouch! I picked up the car today, and it now sounds as it did Wednesday morning, that is, perfectly normal.

I want to find someone to blame for my $250 misfortune, but I suppose the lesson here is simply that, when driving into an unfamiliar parking lot, one should be observant enough to construct a mental model of the space qua parking lot before tending to one’s business.

I think I’ll help out the Catholic elementary school next time.

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