A few days ago, a car parked on my very quiet street went on fire. The sound of a heavily wheezing engine drew my attention to the window, where I saw a fire truck in the middle of the street, a police car a few lengths behind, and the two guys working on my back garden, Tom and José, out on the front sidewalk, looking down the street.
White smoke was billowing out the windows and from under the hood of a blue Ford Escort, 50 feet away. The police were knocking on house doors, trying to find the owner. The firemen were circumspect, leaving the initial sussing out to the police, who circled the car purposefully, looking for clues. Eventually, however, we the gawking neighbors were rewarded with firemen in full gear breaking car windows, wrenching up the hood and turning on the big hoses. “They’re going to need a new car,” said Tom, laconically.
Insider info revealed the car belonged to “the family that everything happens to,” including an explosion (really?) at their previous residence. In the near aftermath of the Ford Escort autocide, the grieving family introduced a fabulous vintage Pontiac Bonneville convertible–literally twice the length of my Subaru–to the street. Make of it what you will. I, personally, am making nothing of it as those folks have always been nice to me.
I’ve had one other notable experience with flames and automobiles. I was visiting my friend Gail in London, in 1998. She was subletting an apartment from her friend Gary and I had just moved to Ireland. We were sitting up in the apartment late one afternoon, low-light sunbeams streaking the walls, summer breezes wafting through the open windows, about to open a bottle of champagne (note to self: reinstitute practice of drinking champagne for no reason). There was a commotion outside. When we looked out, we saw flames pouring out of the industrial building across the street. A crowd was gathering.
Something else we saw was Gary’s car, directly in front of the flaming building. In one of those “it made perfect sense at the time” calculations, we decided we had to move it. Grabbing the keys, we ran down to the street. Up to this point, I had assumed that Gail, the sub-lettee, would do the actual car moving. But “I can’t drive a stick!” she said, once we were on the spot. That left me. I remember a moment’s hesitation. “Is it wise,” the painstakingly-evolved-over-millenia section of my brain was saying, “to get into a gasoline powered vehicle just feet away from a building shooting flames from every window?” Did I mention that this building was a paint factory? The answer was obvious.
I am, however, often subject to a mental forward momentum that pushes me to carry on with a spontaneously conceived plan, no matter how dubious it begins to appear. On the positive side, I see things through. On the negative side… I unlocked the car, jumped into the driver’s seat, started it and slid the gears into reverse. I stalled it. A male onlooker shouted “What are you doing?” and I took a brief moment to consider what he meant. What was I doing in the car at all, or what was I doing, stalling the car? I believe I actually answered him. “I’m trying to move the car!” Seconds later I got it in gear and reversed at speed down the block to a point of safety.
I emerged from the car in hero form, high-fiving Gail. Survival mode finally kicking in, we got away from the fire and went back up to the apartment where we could watch from the windows. A few moments later, fire trucks screeched into the place recently vacated by the threatened car. We were just in time! We saved Gary’s car! We cracked open the champagne.
Gary’s car was blue, like the car that went on fire on my street. A nondescript, blue, sedan-like car. It may well have been a Ford Escort. Two experiences with what may well have been Ford Escorts and fire in the space of 15 years!
Coincidence? I think not.