Where there's smoke...

The inside of the car was hot, as usual. I had purposely parked Little Beastie, my car, in the shade at the school to avoid this, but with no avail. The day had been gloriously sunny and warm. I even toyed with the idea of wearing shorts, but decided I wasn’t brave enough to face the pointed stares of the Italian mothers at the school while I picked up the children.

“Brooooookeeeeee,” whined Bianca from the backseat. “Roll down the window! It is so hot!”

“Yeah,” agreed Emilio from under his jacket. He’s embarrassed by the car and insists on covering his entire head with his jacket until we are at least a kilometer from the school.

“I am guys, just give me a second,” I replied as I started the car and started the music again. We were a just a few minutes into our drive home when I saw it. Smoke started to rise out of the hood of my little maroon beast like smoke from a dragon’s mouth.

Crap. Well, honestly I’m surprised this hadn’t happened sooner. Engine light isn’t on, that’s good. The heating gauge is off the charts. Probably just out of coolant and need to add some water.

We were stuck at a stop for what seemed like ages. The man behind me felt the need to come over and knock on my window and say (in Italian), “Excuse me, but your car is smoking.”

“Lo so. Grazie,” I said as I continued to scroll through my contacts to find my host dad’s number to let him know what was happening. I felt rude just saying, “I know, thanks,” to the man but really, if I couldn’t see the smoke pouring out from my hood, I’d be worried about how I was even driving in the first place.

I pulled into a parking lot, waited for the engine to cool and talk to Carlo on the phone.

“Pronto,” answered Carlo.

“Ciao Carlo. La macchina…… overheated? Come sei chiami….molta calda macchina?” I stumbled through what little phrasing I could possibly think of to tell him that the coolant was out and that I was going to be late bringing the children home. “La luce de temperatura…. is on. Ma non la luce per il motora.”

Gosh, why haven’t I learned more Italian?!?  I thought as I scoured my brain for any more words that I knew and came up with nothing. Carlo was getting frantic on the other line. I may not know a lot of Italian, but I do know a slew of cursing when I hear it.

“Non preoccuparte! Here, talk to Emi.” I passed the phone to the backseat, nearly smacking Emilio directly between the eyes because I hadn’t noticed he’d moved closer to listen in.

“Tell your dad that the engine light isn’t on, just the temperature light. I’m pretty sure we are just low on coolant for the car. It’s not a big deal the car just overheated.”

“Va bene,” said Emilio. “Allora…..” Emilio then proceeded to tell Carlo the exact opposite of what I said. Something that was not a big deal was turning into a nightmare situation. I stopped Emilio and corrected him and Emi fixed what he had said. 

“Emi,” I said, getting his attention. “Tell your dad we are going to the gas station and asking for water. It should be fine.”

My 5th grade translator in tow, we got some water into the car. Carlo called back about 10 minutes later to let me know that my car was going to be towed – in 5 hours and that I was to take a bus home with the children.

HAHAHA NO. OH H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS NO! By the grace of God I had been blessed with patience and a sense of humor that afternoon but me trying to figure out how to take a bus 20 kilometers with 2 children, 2 backpacks, 1 swim bag, 1 dance bag and my personal items was asking too much. Also thankfully, I hadn’t brought any money with me that afternoon – only enough to pay the highway toll between the two cities.

“Carlo, I have no money for bus. Solo un euro with me,” I continued in my made up language of Englitalian. It seemed to be understood as another string of profanity greeted my ear and I stifled a giggle.

“La nonna arrivo,” said Carlo.

“Grazie, Carlo! What do I do with the car?”


“The car. Where do I put?”

“No, don’t drive the car. We send truck.”

“No, Carlo. I am parked illegally.”

“The truck comes at nine!”

I couldn’t hold it in. I burst out laughing as I handed the phone to Emilio to have him translate that I am illegally parked.

“Dad says just leave it where it is,” said Emilio. 

“Thanks dude. Ok, you and B go play at the park,” I pointed toward the grey gates leading to a lush green park filled with kids playing soccer and mom’s pushing their strollers in the warm afternoon sun. “I’ll stay with the car and let you know when Nonna is here. Come back and check in with me in 5 minutes, ok?”

“Si, si,” Bianca and Emilio yelled in unison as they made their way to the park.

Almost exactly 5 minutes later, the nonna was pulling up next to me and honking her horn, clearly agitated that she had to come get us.

She rolled down her window and yelled something at Emilio and Bianca in Italian. I couldn’t help but continue to stifle another laugh. I started to text Paolo the play by play over whatsapp.

4:36 – Car Breaks Down
4:45 – Nice shop guy adds some water, works a little but not as much as we need to get home.
5 – Carlo is sending a tow truck and Sabine.
5:05 – Sabine won’t be here for at least an hour. Crap.
5:15 – PLOT TWIST! Nonna is coming to get us!
5:40 – Nonna is here! And Nonna is mad.
5:42 – Oh my gosh. She drives like a maniac. Also, we have like 40 km to empty in terms of gas.
5:50 – We are headed on some wild goose chase to pick up a new dog collar for Sherry. 30 km of gas…
6:10 – We have given up on the dog collar due to lack of parking. 25 km left for gas…..
6:30 – We have arrived home! I feel safe on still ground! Oh, and with 5km of gas left.

I had quite the laugh with the car breaking down. It wasn’t exactly the most ideal, but we made it work! Thankfully it was just a quick fix. A little coolant and a new engine light later and beastie and I were reunited!

Brooke JohnstonComment