“You Got a Bucket There, Mamacita”

My car’s front bumper is being held on by zip ties.

I tend to forget about this until I catch someone staring. Sometimes there are laughs and points. Children seem to really enjoy this spectacle. I bought the car in this condition- I swear on the life of my first puppy. I’m really a fantastic driver, but people tend to assume otherwise when they see my zip ties.

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I’ve only had one unfortunate driving related incident in my nearly ten years of driving – Two years ago, I pulled up at the Women’s Resource Center to drop off bags of clothing to donate to their store (I think it’s worth the extra 20 minute drive because proceeds go directly to their shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse). As I pulled up at the store, I noticed that the only parking spot available was next to the pop up stand of an elderly woman selling flowers. I inched carefully into the spot and smiled and waved respectfully at her, hopefully implying “Hello, ma’am. I see you and your lovely stand and have no intentions of running it over with my high class automobile.”

I dropped my donation bags off and returned to my hot rod, blissfully unaware of the world around me. I put Her in reverse and edged out of my spot and then cautiously proceeded in drive as I rolled forward to exit the parking lot. Suddenly, there was a horrific scraping noise and I felt my face turn to hot liquid lava beating beneath the surface of its skin and my infamous facial sweating commence. My bumper must have fallen off (Yes, I am familiar with that exact sound…Make of that what you will). I pulled off to the side of the parking lot to examine the damage, painfully aware of stares and chatter growing around me. It was one of those parking lots, nice and cozy so that something like this couldn’t have gone unnoticed. I also happen to stand out a bit in this particular part of town simply based on my physical appearance; I have light-ish hair, light eyes, freckles. The majority population in this shopping center does not.

After I’ve pulled my sweet whip over to examine the bumper situation, I am puzzled. My bumper appears to be perfectly intact (please remember that “perfectly” is a relative term here). So, where the hell is that noise coming from? The sweat continues. I have a moment of wild, insane bravery and peek under the bumper.

Daaaaamnit.

A perfect, white painter’s bucket, the most standard, nondescript thing you’ve ever seen seems to have jammed itself all the way underneath the middle of my car…the part that gets stuck if I go over too large of a speed bump without taking it on an angle. The only possible explanation I can imagine is that while I was sneaking very cautiously into my coveted parking space, I failed to notice that there was a bucket placed at the very edge of the spot on account of all the smiling and waving I was doing. I apparently pulled into the spot a little too far. In hindsight, the smiling and waving I received in return from the nice old woman at the flower stand was not a “welcome to the neighborhood, please enjoy your time at the Women’s Resource Center” and was probably closer to “you’re about to hit my bucket, you dumbass.”

I did what any rational person would have done: I got flat on my stomach on the scorching hot pavement and climbed all the way to the center of the car. I pulled with every ounce of strength until the bucket shot loose. At this point, I’m doing the kind of sweating no one even likes to talk about. I didn’t want the woman, who was now watching with great trepidation from the threshold of her flower stand, a wrinkled hand sheltering her tired and concerned eyes so she could watch my fiasco with greater clarity, to think that I was stealing her bucket. With that spirit in mind, I chose to walk the bucket all.the.way. back across the parking lot and return it to her by hand. I apologized to the woman for giving her bucket the ride of its life and returned to my car, my face, hands and clothing smeared with oil, sweat, and humiliation.

This final segment is the part of the story I’ve tried really hard to forget and still gives me awkward butterflies as I write, two years and many strange encounters later.

I’m nearly running back to my beautiful Corolla, three long strides from the door of my car, my beloved safe place, when I hear a whistle – loud, intentional. There are hearty laughs from a corner of the parking lot. The whistler, a young Hispanic man in his early twenties shouts: “You got a bucket there, Mamacita!”

And I’ll bet you never guess what I did in response (because to this day, I find it hard to believe).

I saluted.

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