The sun sneered down at me, with the wrath of a thousand carcinogenic volcanoes. (Didn’t know that did you? I’ll bet volcanos are totally cancer-causing. That is, if you survive the slight burn you get from the magma)
I was on my way to a birthday party, and this was the second car of the day. And I was late.
The first car – a Mini Cooper – had betrayed me in the worst possible way. It had winked its “check engine” light at me. At least, I think it was “check engine”. Might have been “engine is on its way to blowing up big time and you have ten seconds to get out”. I have no idea. It was just a symbol, really. It looked like what some engineer thought an engine should look like. If I wasn’t a guy, I might mistake it for a badly cut piece of pie though.
(Wordage helps, people. Let that be a lesson. Say what you mean. Don’t just draw a stupid picture and hope your readers can glean the meaning.)
Oh and the light behind the symbol was yellow. Which means “caution”, I guess. It wasn’t glowing red. It wasn’t pink either. “You have a ridiculously sparkly and entirely fabulous piece of pie waiting for you, right where the engine should be.”
Anyway, it was a rental, and so the rental agency offered to set me up with a replacement Mini. “After you drop it off, you’ll have to go to one of our other lots to pick up the replacement Mini. It’s all set up for you.” And with that, they gave me the address and off I went.
The lot was (they said) at the corner of Finch and Yonge. They were right. There surely was a parking lot there. It didn’t have just one rental car though. It had pretty close to a million shiny cars, all parked cheek by jowl. I was supposed to go to the section of the lot that had the rental agency’s cars, but I didn’t know where that was. Usually the company has signs up near the cars, featuring the name of the company emblazoned in hard to miss lettering.
I looked at that vast vista of chrome and sunlight and wondered where to start. Did I mention the carcinogenic light? Okay so it wasn’t a volcano but it was just as bad. It was the sun. That thing I used to worship when I was younger, which all of the doctors now say can kill me.
I remember the time I went to a dermatologist.
“Have you used a tanning bed?” he asked.
“Why yes, I have” I answered proudly, as I turned my profile so he could better glimpse all of my tan beauty. “Why do you ask?”
“I ask because you’re a moron” he grunted. “Those things will kill you.”
“Oh” I said. “I didn’t know that.”
“WELL DON’T DO IT AGAIN” he barked.
Seriously, the guy was upset with me. Like I’d stabbed his grandmother in the eye or something.
I took his warning to heart and, since that time, I’ve been religious about applying sun block before heading out the door in the summer time. Every time.
Except that morning. I was in a rush, and I figured that my sunlight exposure would be minimal: I’d be either underground or on a bus until those few minutes when I would move from the bus to my rental car.
Never realized I’d have to spend an obscene amount of time under the blazing meatball hunting down an elusive tiny little car in a reflective death chamber parking lot.
Ten minutes into my concrete nature hike a mildly helpful thought sauntered brazenly across my consciousness, hands in its pockets. “Maybe” it said “you should call the rental company to get their help in finding at least the correct quadrant of this maze.”
Like all good thoughts, it didn’t intrude too far. I replied with “I’ll find it. I don’t need anyone’s help.” The helpful thought wandered off while whistling a carefree tune, unoffended by my manly obstinence. Clearly it knew I needed help but wasn’t yet ready to admit it.
Anyway, I was in luck. I had an app on my iPhone that would allow me to unlock the rental car, or honk its horn. I took it out and pressed the horn icon. The car horn honked twice.
“There!” I thought. “I heard it!” I was overjoyed. This wouldn’t take long at all. I knew where the car was. It was down on the bottom right quadrant of the lot, about a mile away from where I started. So I began the walk to that point, using the app to re-honk every few minutes.
Weird thing. As I got closer and closer to my destination, the honks began to change. They were no longer emanating from the northwest corner, so much as the north-middle corner. So I changed trajectory and headed due north, honking all the way.
When I reached the northern limit of the lot, and pressed the horn icon again, I heard the sound coming from the exact opposite side of the lot. The southern side, middle. So I started walking toward it again, still honking.
As I progressed, the honking changed direction and this time, it was back at the northwest corner again.
About a half an hour later, the concept of “echo” finally dawned on me. So I broke down and called the car company.
The lady was nice. “Are you at the corner of Yonge and Finch?” she asked.
“Well yes.” I answered. “Sort of.”
“The instructions said to go to the subway station at Finch and Yonge, and that’s where I got off. Directly across the road is a parking lot. But I just noticed that there are no signs for Finch. Is it possible I’m in the wrong lot? I keep honking the horn with the app, and I hear it.”
“You hear it? Then maybe you’re where you should be. I’ll stay on the line and honk the horn from my console until you find it. How about that? Would that help?”
“Tremendously” I replied. “Thank you so much.”
“No problem” she said. “I’m honking now.”
“You’re honking? Have you seen a doctor about that?” I blurted.
“Sorry. Nothing. I don’t hear the car horn though.”
We finally figured out that I wasn’t in the right lot at all. Forty-five minutes had passed under the blazing evil orb and I was in the wrong lot. I had to walk a full block south to get to the right one. And there it was, sitting in the tiniest little parking lot ever. And it had signage! Big bold signs. “Here’s your rental car, dude. Right here. Right between these two signs. Honestly, I couldn’t have made it clearer if I’d painted little devils all over the place, with their pitchforks all pointing at the car”.
(Not really. The signs just had the name of the rental agency. But yes, it was pretty obvious.)
I pressed the horn icon just to make sure. The replacement Mini honked back with severe cheerfulness. It sounded different than what I’d heard before though. Seemed kind of odd. And how could I hear this tiny little horn honking from such a great distance away, yet not hear it when the help line woman honked it from her application?
I squeezed my sweat-soaked sunburnt body into the seat, started the car, turned on the air conditioner and took off.
A few hours later I realized that the horn I had heard honking wasn’t coming from the car, nor was it coming from an echo of the car. It was coming from the iPhone app itself. The app mimics the sound of a horn honking. I had been following my own silly ghost around all afternoon.