Of Mice and Maintenance

Oftentimes in our personal and professional lives, we are faced with unexpected obstacles and unlikely foes. Let’s face it—the world is an imperfect place, full of surprises that can be unwelcome.

While I am not foolish enough to presume that we can prevent anything unpleasant from ever happening to us, I am a firm believer in conducting regular maintenance whenever possible. I go to the doctor for check-ups, I replace the batteries in my smoke detectors, and I take my car into the shop for regular oil changes and inspections. I simply do what I can to find potential problems before they become too serious.

Earlier last month, the indicators on my dashboard lit up, informing me that I needed an oil change and tire rotation. I took The Nimbus (yes, that’s the name of my car) in for a 7:30 service appointment a couple of weeks ago before work. I checked in at the front desk, handed the mechanic my keys, and retreated to the lobby to drink my coffee and catch up on news articles.

After sitting in the lobby for about an hour, the mechanic came to speak to me. I started to get out of my chair, and he held up his hand and said, “You’re not done yet. I just need your approval for something.”

I sank back down in the chair. “Great,”  I thought. That’s not what you want to hear.

It turned out that I needed a couple of filters replaced, and this was typical for the mileage on my vehicle. I agreed to the additions, signed the clipboard, and resumed scrolling through my Twitter feed.

Another hour passes, and I start to worry. Other customers have come and gone, leaving me alone in the lobby watching muted close-captioned talk shows. No one was ahead of me in line. An oil change really shouldn’t have taken so long.

Just as I am about to investigate, the man from the front desk walks over to me and says, “Miss? Would you mind coming with me for a second? There’s something you need to see.”

“Okay, this really isn’t good,”  I thought to myself.

I leave the warmth of the lobby and follow the attendant into the unforgivingly cold garage, ducking under lifts and stepping over equipment and tools in the process. Since I was bracing myself for the “How much do I owe you?” conversation, my stress must have shown in my facial expression, giving me an anxious, frazzled look. The mechanics seemed concerned as to how I would take this news.

Now, in my experience, whenever I have looked like I am about to cry, and I happened to be in the presence of a man (or God forbid, a group of men!) they all seem to have the same reaction—fear. Men simply don’t know what to do when you cry. It usually isn’t an easy problem to solve. I can feel the tension building in the garage with every second. I look from the mechanic to my car, to the attendant, back to my car, and back to the mechanic again, ready to just get it over with, for someone to break the news to me, to tell me what in the world is wrong with my car.

That’s when the mechanic looked at me, shook his head, and said in a somber tone…

“Ma’am, I think you’ve got a mouse.”

I stared at him in disbelief. I expected to hear a mechanical term I didn’t recognize. I vaguely wondered if “M.O.U.S.E.” was an acronym for something technical and important, and then I realized that he was actually referring to the small, whiskered rodent that likes cheese.

I couldn’t help it—I lost it. I burst out laughing, and my laughter reverberated throughout the entire garage. The men must have been bracing themselves to endure my tears, and from the looks on their faces, my laughter was even more alarming to them. They began to chuckle as well, but theirs seemed to be nervous laughter, as they kept looking at each other and back at me almost as if to say, “Heh heh… is she mad? What do we do?”

Once I regained composure, the mechanic popped the hood and showed me the clear evidence that something had indeed been chewing through the insulation at the back of my engine bay. I then learned that apparently, if you park your car outside, there is a chance that small animals will crawl up into your engine bay to keep warm during the night. They might even make themselves at home and stay for a while, munching through your insulation and other important things under the hood.

The mechanic then went on to advise me on how to catch this mouse—or whatever it is.

“Ma’am, do you know where Ace Hardware is?”

I wanted to say, “Sir, do I look like I know where Ace Hardware is?”  but I refrained. “No, I’m not sure,”  I replied.

“Well… there’s one right down the road. You need to go there and get three mouse traps. Put one under the hood and two outside of your car at night.”

I’m still waiting for the hidden cameraman to jump out from behind another car, but he doesn’t. I still couldn’t help but see the humor in this situation. Really, a mouse?

However, when the mechanic told me that he has seen rodent damage on brand new vehicles that has cost the owner over $4,000 to repair, my smile faded. Not only could this mouse potentially cost me a lot of money, but it could chew through some wiring in my car, rendering it unsafe to drive.

The mechanic reinforced this point by saying, “You better catch ‘em quick, ‘cause we ain’t got no warranty for mouses!”

The grammarian in me died a little when he said that, but I really did appreciate his advice, so I didn’t correct him. When I woke up that morning, I certainly didn’t expect that I would need to trap a mouse anytime soon, but that is what the day brought me.

I’m telling you this story to illustrate a point. The only reason I discovered the damage from this elusive creature is because I was proactive and subjected my car to proper maintenance. I could have disregarded the indicators and driven along, blissfully unaware of my Stuart Little stowaway, who all the while was feasting upon the very equipment that enables me to get to work every morning.

Although I have yet to catch this mysterious beast, this creature has taught me to be on the lookout for the metaphorical mice (not mouses) in other aspects of my life. I have since scheduled an annual physical with my primary care physician and I have scanned my computers for malware. I have reorganized my desk and closet, and I have been going to the gym more often. I want to be as prepared and equipped as possible to deal with whatever comes my way amidst the randomness of the universe.

We all are faced with unexpected, bizarre, and even face-palm-inducing challenges from time to time. I encourage each of you to be proactive enough to identify these obstacles early through scheduled maintenance, and to try your best to have a sense of humor along the way.

As for the mouse, I’ve set a few more traps. I’ll keep you updated on the status.

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