A nearly two-hour commute through the desert, in August no less, is usually a harrowing ordeal filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic, blowing dust, heat lines, mirages and Saguaros as far as the eye can see. From the moment your office-cool hands reach for the steering wheel, knowing damn well that you’re going to burn off your fingerprints quicker than J in “Men in Black”, to that crucial belly-sucking trepidation of clicking a molten metal buckle around your already sweaty middle, the minutes turn to hours as you progress down the broiling asphalt that paves the way through hell. Or at least, that’s what happens on the sunny days.
On the days where whispers of “Haboob” – those giant harbingers of dust, wind and sand – are filled with nervous giggles, and your co-workers are taking bets on how high the plague-inducing, Pharaoh frightening wall of dust will be, the only thing on my mind is this: will my windshield wipers stand up to the test? Will I be left with the horrendous squeal and squeak of metal on glass while I fight for my life amongst those brave enough to confront the eleventh plague.
For those of us in the know, windshield wipers last in the Sonoran Desert about as long as spilled ice cream on a summer sidewalk. That long. From the minute you disinter their soft, pliable, rubbery little bodies from the dense Plasticote® casings of yesteryear, they have already begun to die. Without rain, unlike their cactile-like counterparts living in the sand, these soft squeegees of despair have only weeks, maybe months in which to live. Like all of God’s pliable creatures, they need water to survive, and there just isn’t enough to go around.
So on this day of bilious thunderclouds and portents of dusty disaster, I was asking myself the same thing that you would if you’d ever been caught with rotting windshield wipers in the middle of an epic Arizona Monsoon – will I survive? Deriding myself with a nervous chuckle and a foreboding sense of things to come, I surmise that, in all of my years as a Mad Max-like barren wasteland dweller, I must make one life-saving stop before heading out on my suicidal commute – Auto Zone.
Cumulous clouds forming in a bizarre pattern of cottony-billow-meets-ritualistic-doom, the sunlight is blocked out nearly completely as I reach my destination. It is still broiling outside under these tumultuous skies, and my hair is whipping my face like “50 Shades of Medusa”. I enter the store with the confidence that can only come from Someone Who Is Solving a Problem. I know my auto parts, oh yes indeedy I do.
Being a self-taught pseudo-mechanic and a connoisseur of crappy automobiles, I am confident that my friends behind the counter, disarmed by my knowledge, grace and charm will subsequently stumble over themselves in an attempt to the be the first in their charming blue shirts with the catchy stitched-on nametags to install these wipers for me. Wrong is such an ugly word that I hate to even use it here. Maybe mistaken, naïve, foolish or perhaps freaking kidding myself – but never wrong. I purchase the wipers from “Carlos”, a swarthy ne’er do well in his khaki pants and stitched on nametag, with hints and cute little twirls of my hair, and even resort to asking if these will be “like, too hard to install?”. Twirl. Giggle. Flip. “No ma’am. You can do it. Next?” Ugh. “Ma’am”. That hateful word that we all know is retail lingo for “bitch”. Wow. I snatch the bag off of the counter with an “I’ll show you!” flip of the wrist, neatly flinging one of the wipers out of the bag and onto the floor. Of course.
Bending down past the cardboard pine tree forest, pausing to inhale a quick whiff of wild cherry and knock-off “Drakkar Noir”, I reach for the wiper to realize with embarrassment and dread that the dress I have chosen to wear has wedged itself quite neatly in the warm and sweaty well between my cheeks, and there is nowhere to go but down. I’m kicking myself for thinking that a thong was ever a good idea. I rise quickly and give a quick tug as I stand, casting a glance over my shoulder. No one has even looked in my direction. For a hot lady in a roomful of testosterone, this is certainly not panning out as it does in my daydreams.
I’m sure by now that “Carlos” has moved on to his riveting task of counting brake pads, or polishing wheel nuts, or whatever it is he’s doing while NOT assisting desert damsels in distress in the installation of their wiper blades. I am tempted to point out the small sign in the window that extolls the great customer service I can expect here – “YES! We install windshield wipers and batteries FOR FREE!” – but I carry on. After all, I am capable of this. I am a Grown Ass Woman with the strength of a lion, the courage of a gladiator and an affinity for Doing It Myself. Today will be no different.
As I approach my car, now with visible heat waves rising up off of the trunk despite the cloud cover, I notice that the packages encasing my little harbingers of sluice have no perforations. No problem, I’ll just rend them open with my mighty woman muscles. Fifteen minutes go by. My hair, which was formerly a mass of feminine waves and billowy softness has now plastered itself Trump-like to my head – only pausing to flap in one gigantic salt-licked piece when a particularly strong gust hits. I have broken three nails – one to the quick – cut my lip and sprained my elbow trying to wrestle this package open. My dress – in defiance of all natural law – is subsequently flapping up and away from my butt, while still managing to stick between my cheeks. That’s it. I’ve completely had it and I’m going to go in there and insist that someone help me get this open.
Marching back into the cool anti-freeze-slicked air, which is an incredible feat – have you ever tried to march in sweaty flip-flops? – I slap my wipers onto the counter with an exasperated sigh, and try to look angry instead of pathetic. Epic fail. Carlos looks up with a mixture of boredom and amusement that can only be found on a person with years of customer service experience. “Can I help you?”
“Yes. I need to open these wipers. Do you have scissors I can borrow?”
“Nope. You need a knife or something. We don’t sell scissors.” You have got to be kidding me. I’m sure I saw him grin, or wink or something.
“Fine. I’ll take the pocket knife.” I lay out the cash – the equivalent of another set of wipers – on the counter and turn to go back outside and then it hits me. I spin around with the packaged knife in my hand – its contents wrapped tighter than Fort Knox after the Gold Rush. “How do I get this open?” I can hear the near hysteria in my voice and I’m trying every mantra I’ve ever read from Eat, Pray, Love to help me through this moment.
“You need a screwdriver for that.” Wunderbar. I’m going to assault a stranger. Surprisingly, in all of my fantasies, going to jail for windshield wiper induced rage never even occurred to me. Interesting.
“Can I borrow a screwdriver?”
“I’m sorry ma’am but we…”
“ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME?”
What happens next isn’t entirely clear. I remember dialing my husband in some sort of Lizzie Borden-Meets-Lorraine Bobbit kind of frenzy – my whole world turned to crimson with black spots swirling behind my eyes. I vaguely remember my bewildered spouse saying to me “aren’t they supposed to install those for you?” I may have blacked out. The next thing I remember is being in the car with the cool life-giving air-conditioning vents blowing on my face while Carlos is outside of my car installing the wiper blades. I cackle out loud – despite my desperate need not to do so – when he has to go inside not once, but twice in order to get the right tools just to open the packages. “Flirty-Girl 2.0” reinstalled in my brain, I flit fingers in a wiggly-wave in his direction upon successful wiper installation and I aim for home – the desert awaits.
Heading off into the sunset, with the dark clouds looming overhead and a hint of gold, crimson and magenta all streaking the sky, I nearly swerve off of the road with this final realization. It never even rained. Not. One. Drop.