Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

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Next Week's Column: Car Tunes, or: Why No One Loans Me Stuff Anymore


One of the worst feelings in the world is when your car starts slowing down by itself, even though your foot is still on the accelerator. Then the red lights on the dash start flashing, and you experience a true “Oh crap” moment. Only crap isn’t the word I used.

In a way I consider myself lucky, because I was still in town. “Lucky” is a relative term. In the passenger seat, my youngest had that wide eyed look she gets when she knows something is horribly wrong, but hasn’t figured out what. What she did know was that she had to get to school -- and Jillian hates to be late.

The car lost its power steering just as I turned the corner, but I levered it around and managed to roll within a block of the Albion Municipal Building. Pushing it the rest of the way was a fairly easy proposition, considering the amount of adrenalin surging through my system.

I hit the key and the engine made that happy “I’m trying to start” noise that means you’ve got electricity and a starter. That was very good. Then it kept making that noise. That was very bad. The problem was that my car – and I’m trying not to get too technical, here – wouldn’t go.

I called my son-in-law, who knows a great deal more about cars than me. Well, everybody knows more about cars than me. My request was simple: Get Jillian to school and figure out what’s wrong with my car. The next order of business was to call the school, and let them know she’d be late.

The irony is, she made it to school on time … that was the only good thing that happened to me, not just that day, but in all of January.

I’m one of those owners who hover. You know the type: We have no talent to actually fix anything, but we feel guilty about our cluelessness and so hover over those who are trying to repair what we screwed up. I had a bad head cold (cause hey – January), but I stood outside and … hovered. With that level of uselessness, I was a shoo-in for a United Nations post.

Finally Bo, my son-in-law, turned to me. “It won’t start.”

“Am I paying you for this?”

Two things guaranteed that this would happen to me. First, the car was paid off. Second, I bought a computer a month earlier. At the time, I actually said, “This is a flat-out Murphy’s Law guarantee that something’s going to break, and cost me the $750 I’m paying for this to repair it.”

I have a gift for prophecy.

Bo brought out two short lengths of tow strap. Put together, I would be about a foot behind his car. I don’t do the whole towing thing, but we had about five blocks to go to the repair shop, and I don’t do pushing uphill, either. “It’s real easy,” he said, “I use the gas to go, you use the brakes to stop us.”

“Is this legal?”

“It’s more legal than robbing a bank to pay for a wrecker call.”

Can’t argue with that, except that we had to go right by both the police department and the sheriff’s department. I drove real quiet-like. Which was easy, considering the friggin’ car wouldn’t start. Shockingly, that trip went without incident, although I did get a bit dizzy from holding my breath.

Within a couple of days, the mechanic showed me the inside of something called a rotor, which, um, rotates, or something. Even my untrained eye could see that it was worn inside, which is no surprise considering my car is 95 years old, in car years. He put a new one on and happily turned the key. The happiness lasted all of five seconds, because he’s an experienced mechanic, and could tell by the way the car still wouldn’t start that the car still wouldn’t start.

When I asked how long it would take, he checked the tread on my shoes. Not a good sign.
So for a few days I shared a car, and sometime during the course of that time someone got into that car and stole several things from it. In retrospect it seems pretty clear that Murphy’s Law had gone into overdrive. Good thing somebody could.

When scheduling problems prevented me from using that car I borrowed a pickup truck from a coworker. Picture this: It’s a cold, snowy night when I hitch a ride to the home of the coworker, who kindly offered me the use of the pickup for as long as I need it, except for one brief period later in the week. I can’t see out the rear window, but I know the drive is straight behind me, and confidently began backing right up until the moment the tires start spinning.

By the time I realized the drive actually veered off to the right, the truck wouldn’t go forward again. So I twisted the wheel, trying to steer back onto the drive. The revving engine sounds strangely like … laughter. I hadn’t even reached the road before I had to ask for help in towing their truck -- out of their lawn of the very people who loaned it to me.

I used it without incident for the next two days, but couldn’t help thinking that was three vehicles down. Later that week I gave the truck back and hitched rides for a couple of days, then got a loan of another pickup from a friend whose home was, literally, on the way from where we were to where I lived. This will come as a shock, but with that truck … nothing went wrong. Of course, I only drove it once.

The next day, my car was finished. Turns out the problem was a doohickey on the distributor, a device which, um, distributes. The doohickey is cheap – but you can’t buy just the doohickey. You can only buy the entire distributor.

Total price, as predicted: $750. Loss of pride not included.
Tags: new era, slightly off the mark, weekly column

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