Once upon a time in the tranquil village of Ipswich, Suffolk, there was a group of friends who decided to go to the movies to spend a nice evening out, watch the latest blockbuster, and chit-chat about the actors’ performance on the silver screen.
Jesus, our cinema mastermind, astutely chose (500) Days of Summer, a promising rom-com by Mark Webb. And so, come eight PM, I drove from my place in my new rickety VW Golf Boston 1992 (yes a car from last century – if it were anywhere close to fast, I’d call it a blast from the past) down Foxhall Rd to pick Jesus and a fellow friend Xabi who – for once – decided to watch a movie at the theater rather than download one (ahem). I’ve had my driver’s license for as long as I can remember but never actually owned a car so these last few weeks have been sheer moments of glorious pride and elated joy in spite of the ruckus caused by my wobbly exhaust pipe. I could now give lifts to people, take them places, and boast about my rusty red roamer. However, I still cannot focus on the driving of the vehicle and on the in-door entertainment or airing system at the same time. And so, steam having built up and slightly dimmed the visibility, I kindly asked Jesus to look at the dashboard and figure out which of these darn knobs would clear up this condensation. Being a clever man, he soon found the right combination, and the windshield was quickly crystal-clear.
A mere few minutes later, we were driving round and round the cinema’s parking lot in a desperate attempt to find a spot for my four-wheeler. This reminded me of a buzzard in a Texan desert circling around a prey, a cactus in the background gloomily dropping its shadow on the hot sand. We eventually managed to tuck our car in a small spot by the local Mcdonald’s, turned the headlights off, locked the doors, opened the doors again for Jesus to wind up his window tight, and dashed off to the cinema. We were greeted by a long queue of patient customers piling out through the cinema doors and outside in front of the building.
Once we made our way up to the cash register, we were greeted with a slightly sarcastic “sorry, it’s full” message. What Jesus had failed to mention – his Dad bless him – was that this was no ordinary screening. Oh no, Lord Almighty! It wasn’t even the Premiere. Better yet, it was the nationwide pre-premiere, in plain old English, the day before the Premiere. Yes, they do that in the cinema industry. I wish I’d been to the day before the premiere of The Day After Tomorrow for the sole sake and pleasure of telling the story.
The day before the Premiere is traditionally a fairly busy day for the movie in question and (500) days of Summer being a fairly well-rated movie with great expectations, it seemed all of Ipswich had piled in to get a piece of the action. No rom-com tonight, Jesus, shame… We eventually fell back on a slightly less romantic, slightly more active movie called The Hurt Locker where the good guys (American soldiers) go about disarming bombs in a war-riddled Iraq. And in lieu of love sparks, we had a Hollywood-load of explosions of cars, buildings, and people. Near misses and not-so-near misses… To be honest, as far as American Hollywood Iraq war movies go, this one was fair, even potentially good, and didn’t fall into any complacent message or improbable acts of super-heroism drenched in patriotic music meant to wrench out feelings of pride from the spectator.
As the credits rolled out on the screen, our ears still buzzing with the sounds of ack-ack and blasts, we piled out of the cinema and headed to the car. Jia-Yan who’d joined us wisely chose to make her way home while Gogo, Xabi, Jesus, and I went back to my car. In we went, noted the ventilation was still on – but you know it’s just air and a small fan right – buckled our seatbelts, inserted the key in the ignition, and turned the engine on…
And turned the key again. And again. Another try? Yes, the battery was dead flat. All this because we’d left (or should I blatantly accuse Jesus and say he rather than than we) the ventilation on, this wheezy little flow of air that sounds more like an asthmatic patient on his deathbed than a decent car ventilator made in Germany. I snapped the ventilation off, bringing the car’s purring to a stop, and tried to start the engine again. A sputter, a faint roar (more like a cat meowing) but no more. The bells of midnight were now tolling inciting us to make our way home. But how? A quick call to my fellow house dwellers confirmed none of them had jumper cables (yes apparently that’s the technical name. I suppose they can double as a skip rope at the weekend for the kids to enjoy). Luckily we remembered Sergio, our savior-to-be and fellow friend from Brazil, was well-equipped (car-wise). A quick call got him out of his house and on the road to the cinema to pull us out of this prickly situation. We then struggled to get my car hood (bonnet I reckon in UK English) open and read the cable instructions twice over for fear we should wrongly connect the ends. The last thing I wanted was to suck out Sergio’s battery too. At this point, Xabi took over the maneuvers. It seems that apart from being a programming geek and virtuoso, he’s also at ease behind the steering wheel, under the car, and beneath the hood. After several tentatives groping about in the dark (remember it’s midnight and I can’t use the car lights, we really shouldn’t tease the battery any more than it has been) under the steering wheel, Xabi finally found the lever to pop open the hood. Aha, Open Sesame.
Connecting the battery was yet another challenge. We started by looking at the battery-engine cables and trying to decide which was black and which was red. But at such an early hour of the morning, in a soot-laden engine, it was hard to reach any conclusion. Luckily, one of the knobs came with a plus sign – which was a plus in our battery-charging mission.
Once all cables were duly connected, we waited for a few minutes and started my poor Golf’s engine. No result. Another tentative? Still flat. Billions of blue blistering barnacles! Xabi craftily fiddled with the cables, checked the connections, and gave the go-ahead thumbs up. A few minutes’ wait to let my battery soak up some electrons. Another try was finally answered with a triumphant roar from my car. The once silent exhaust pipe rattled once again not unlike Arizona snakes, we bade Sergio farewell expressing our deepest gratitude to tonight’s hero. I lost my faith in the process for I realized Jesus was not our savior at all. If anything, Sergio helped us out.
We all drove home, relieved we had pulled out of this electrifying situation. The car hoisted its way up Back Hamlet, I dropped battery scavenger Jesus, and cable wonderboy Xabi, and soon arrived home.
Home Sweet Home. My comfortable bed. My soft bedsheets (ugly ones Maria would interject) for which I had been yearning. And the Sandman soon dropped by to work his magic on our household.