Just Shelley


Golden Girl has been slightly sluggish the last week, and I wondered if I had taken too long for the last oil change. It just turned 50,000, so I imagine that problems will happen but I’d hoped they wouldn’t happen just now. Tonight, however, when I was driving to the park to walk, the “Check Engine Light” came on. Well, a light in the dashboard came on, but since I had lost my owner manual over a year ago, I wasn’t sure what it meant.

I pulled over immediately and did like I’d seen countless men of my acquaintance do in the past: I opened the hood and stood there, hands on my hips, looking down at the engine and waiting for enlightenment. Sure enough, enlightenment came. I shut the hood, walked to the back of the car, opened the trunk, pulled back the trunk carpet, and there on top of the spare tire was the owner’s manual.

(Later when I was telling my roommate the story, he didn’t bat an eye when I told him the manual was under the carpet in the trunk, lying on top of the spare tire. When I asked him why, he replied, “Well, I was married to you for almost twenty years.”)

According to the manual, the “Check Engine Light” doesn’t necessarily mean a serious problem: it could be caused by water in the gas, poor gas quality, and even a gas cap not shut tightly enough. As long as the light isn’t blinking, there’s no harm in driving the car for a time and the manual recommended driving the car through three complete fuel cycles. If it’s still on, then take it into the mechanic.

When I got home, I searched for information related to a 2002 Ford Focus and the “Check Engine Light” and in most cases, poor quality fuel was the cause. A couple of people had problems with a “EGR valve”, which I guess is also called the “O2 sensor”. A couple of others had some problems with the fuel intake system, but I didn’t have any of the other symptoms to match the problems they experienced.

One person in a car forum suggested unplugging the battery and then plugging it back in. In response, another reader wrote:

Last year sometime I had the same thing happen with the engine light, except when I unplugged the battery and then hooked it back up it still stayed on. When I took it into the dealer they said that a vacuum hose had caught fire and melted.

I agreed with the third person who replied, well that’s not healthy.

I searched some more and found a paper that explained how the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system works. The paper is for a Chrysler, but the architecture is consistent with most late model cars. I then found another site that discusses how to use diagnostic tools to determine the problem. Did you know that when a light is signaled in your dash, a code is recorded in software indicating the origin of the problem? When the mechanics hook up the gadgets, what they’re basically doing is downloading this code. (And we thought that mechanics would just listen to your car and know, magically, what the problem is.)

During my search, I remembered that my last trip out I had to fill up my gas tank at a little no-name gas station in the back woods. And my car had been in for a tune-up not that long ago and other than two of my tires getting mighty worn, the car came through with flying colors. Ipso facto: bad gas.

Of course if after three fuel cycles the light doesn’t go away, I’ll take it in. Or park it until I can afford to take it in. Until then, there’s nothing I can do about the light so I’m not going to worry about it.

Problem. Enlightenment and the Search. Acceptance. I have become, in effect, a self-taught mechanic.

Let’s consider a reevaluation of the situation in which we assume that the stuckness now occurring, the zero of consciousness, isn’t the worst of all possible situations, but the best possible situation you could be in. After all, it’s exactly this stuckness that Zen Buddhists go to so much trouble to induce; through koans, deep breathing, sitting still and the like. Your mind is empty, you have a “hollow-flexible” attitude of “beginner’s mind.” You’re right at the front end of the train of knowledge, at the track of reality itself. Consider, for a change, that this is a moment to be not feared but cultivated. If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then you may be much better off than when it was loaded with ideas.

Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavors. It’s this understanding of Quality as revealed by stuckness which so often makes self-taught mechanics so superior to institute-trained men who have learned how to handle everything except a new situation.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig

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