Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Klaus' New Shoes

I awoke early and straightened up a bit, for at 9:00 I expected our friend and landlady Victoria Moldovan to visit, as Florin had called last night to tell me that she wanted to be here when the Gas Company men came to check the gas lines for proper installation. I did not realize it, but not only the refrigerator and microwave were new for our tenancy, but also the gas range and Junkers heater/hot water system. And after only six months, the gas company was here to make sure they weren't leaking.

By nine the place looked presentable, and I answered Victoria's ring of the doorbell. I offered coffee and a snack, but Victoria declined, and we sat in the kitchen and had a good chat. She is nervous today because her daughter-in-law in New Jersey is due any day to give her a grandchild. She will be flying to New York this weekend to spend two weeks with the young folks, and help her son Mihai and the new mother with their baby.

But life is a cycle. Victoria also told me the bad news that my next-door neighbor Gheorghe recently lost his 40 year-old daughter Dianna to leukemia. She was diagnosed only four months ago. Dianna's teen-aged daughter will now be living with her grandparents here in the building. I had noticed that Gheorghe had not looked himself the last couple of times I had seen him, but I hadn't known why.

Victoria stayed with the gas men when they came, while I went across the corner to mail a letter to Mihai Moroiu at the Fulbright Commission, then we both left the apartment for our respective day's business.

I went to the Faculty of Economics to turn in the first semester grades, then waited for the Erasmus student who had asked to meet me. He did not show up, but I got a start on one of the Self-Studies I need to read in preparation for my duties as an ACBSP commissioner. Then, on the way home, the adventures started.

I have owned Klaus now for five months and about 7000 Km. As I am a religious oil-changer in all my vehicles and other piston-powered machinery, I had bought six liters of ridiculously expensive oil for Klaus on Sunday, along with a filter two days earlier. I was planning to change his oil this week. But first, I decided to check out the route to the University apartments, where at 9:20 on Wednesday I had agreed to pick up Kathy O. and her luggage, and help her schlep them to her new apartment, which she has now rented. So, I mounted up the GPS, and it found the area for me. But the building I had seen Friday was nowhere in sight. A woman on Strada Propilor saw me looking around, and kindly asked me in Romanian and in German (Klaus' "D" license plates often educe that reaction) if she could help me find something. I asked in English if there were a Babeş-Bolyai apartment building nearby. She said "Da," then put one finger in the air to tell me to wait, and called her daughter from the house. The tall and nice-looking daughter turned out to be a law student at UBB who speaks English. She walked me half-a-block, and pointed out the white-and-blue buliding a block west and across the main street from where I was parked. Perfect. I knew where to come in the morning.

It's still early. Let's do some exploring of the west side on the way home. I am south of the Someşul Mic. But Klaus' parking lot at the Faculty of Letters is north of that river. I am at the west end of town, so I must head east, and cross the river. Let's follow that taxi, and take this left. Hmm. This seems to be a big parking lot of some kind. The taxi pulls off toward some big low buildings to the left. Keep driving south. There is a way out at the back of the lot. It seems iffy. But, the river is just at my right, so if I keep going I'll find a bridge. The pavement is getting rough. Good old Romanian potholes. Klaus knows how to dodge those. Oh, oh. It is now a mud road, and the holes are bigger in diameter, and filled with water. No telling how deep they are. Finally, there is no visible right-of-way ahead, so we turn around. As we retrace the muddy path, Klaus bottoms gently a time or three, but comes through it dirty but unscath... whoops. What is that scraping sound? Could it be the muffler dragging? We are back on the main street to downtown, and Klaus feels and sounds unhappy. Better turn off on a side road and check him out.

I pull over, put on the parking brake and flashers, and get out to look under the car. But no need to kneel. The left rear tire is flat as a pancake. "Whew." say I. "Just a flat." But it is rush hour, and I don't relish the idea of changing the tire in the street right now. Then I look at the store on my right, and it says, in Romanian, "Filter and Oil Changes." I go in and explain my predicament to the kindly, fat, 48-looking attendant. He does not understand, and thinks I need an oil change, right away. He finishes up the car in his one service bay. I go out and open the trunk, set up the reflective triangle, pull the spare tire out, and start to search for the jack and lug wrench. I remove the wheel cover, and discover that I do not have a 17mm wrench long enough to loosen the lug nuts. I go back into the shop to ask to borrow one, and my recent acquaintance motions me to bring my car into his newly empty bay, with a service pit in the middle. "OK," I say, because I could use the help, and wanted an oil change anyway. I can probably return the oil I bought, and I can use my new filter. And, most especially, I can change my tire in safety.

We succeed in finding Klaus' camoflaged jack and lug wrench, then get the like-new spare onto the axle, and tightened down. My friend goes to work draining the oil, and I go into the store (magazin) to buy the oil. I pick out the best... Mobil synthetic 5W-40, six liters. Big bucks. I whip out my BancaTransilvania VISA card. "Nu, nu," says the lady, "Cash. Only cash." She directs me to the nearest Bancomat (ATM), "Only 500 meters away, at the Faculty of Agronomy." I walk. A nice fellow who happens to be also in the store, but who speaks no English, escorts me all the way there, then refuses a 5 Lei note which I offer, "Pentru un bere." The machine yields 400 lei, and I walk back, managing, somehow, not to get lost, for it is anything but a straight route through city streets and across a bridge and past an old factory building, etc. I pay 265 lei, including service, then go back out to the service bay where my friend makes a point of showing me that he has, in fact installed the new filter I had provded, then has me watch as he pours the new oil into the crankcase. (That sort of makes one wonder, doesn't it.) I put the old wheel into the trunk, bid the oil shop good bye, and go looking for a Vulcanizarie, as I am not going to be long without a spare tire.

I had seen a sign for a tire store on my way to work, so I drove downtown to Piaţa Avram Iancu, and headed on east on Str. Dorobantilor. Sure enough, there was the Vulcanizarie. I parked, pulled my damaged tire (on which I had driven several hundred meters, and which I did not expect to be reparable), and wheeled it into the shop. The owner spoke quite good English, for which he apologized, as do many such Romanians. He asked where I had left my car, waving his hand at all the parking space he had available. Okay, I went and drove the Km of one-way streets necessary to bring it into the shop. When I returned, his employees had removed the tire from the rim and determined it to be unsalvageable, no surprise. So, we went into the office and discussed options and prices. Winter or summer tires (Klaus was wearing winter treads)? Contis or Michelins or no-names? I picked a pair of middle-grade (190 KPH-rated) winter tires. Might as well keep the four consistent, and had them mounted on the front, and the others rotated to the rear. VISA Debit Card? "Nu, Cash." Three hundred meter walk to the Bancomat, and another 300 back.

Klaus came home muddy, but freshly oiled and newly shod.

I considered driving out to the mall where I had bought my own jugs of oil to attempt to return them, but I was by that time sore, tired, and hungry. So I took Klaus home to his lair, put him to bed, then strolled yet another 700 meters home in the dark of 6:25 PM.

When I entered the building, I found Gheorghe standing in the foyer by the mailboxes, where the light is dim. I looked him in the eyes, gently touched his arm, and said, "Gheorghe, I am so sorry to hear about your daughter. This morning Victoria told me of your loss." Gheorghe does not speak English, but he understood my words. We two walked up 60 stairs slowly, side by side, in silence.

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