It turns out my youth wasn’t wasted after all.
I was on the interstate entrance ramp when a taxi cut me off and then hit its brakes. I slammed on mine and avoided rear-ending him, but when traffic started moving again, my car wouldn’t go.
It was dead. No power. No clock. The transmission wouldn’t shift to park so I could try to restart it.
Shit, I muttered, forgetting my anger at the taxi and concentrating on my car.
I can’t afford to buy a new car right now. So I had to think.
Transmission won’t shift. I pulled out my pocket knife and popped the tab off on the console, depressed the button underneath with my knife and moved the shifter to park.
How’d I know to do that? 1982. My 1981 T-Bird. I ran over a school crossing sign with it in the middle of the night, back in the day when mothers weren’t mad and I thought I was about the best drunk driver on the planet.
The tow truck driver showed me how to make a transmission shift when it doesn’t want to.
Back on the interstate ramp, I tried to start the car now that the transmission was in park. Nothing. I pressed the button again and pushed the shifter to neutral, opened the door and pushed the car to the left side of the road.
As I was bending down to pull the hood latch, a police officer rolled up and asked if I was OK. I recounted the story of the taxi and the sudden death of my car.
“I need to look under the hood. I think my battery is messed up,” I told him.
How’d I know that? 1976. My ’69 Ford station wagon.
I was paying for college and working part time but my money wouldn’t stretch like I needed it to. The battery died and I needed a new one, so I bought the cheapest, not knowing they come in different sizes.
The battery I bought was too small for my car. So I looped some scrap wire from work around it to hold it into place and headed to school. It worked great until I turned from Menard Street onto Audubon Drive. The wire broke in the turn, the battery shifted and shorted out on an engine bracket.
The car died in mid turn and white smoke started to pour out from under the hood.
It looked like a new pope was elected, only I’m not Catholic or a cardinal, so I couldn’t vote.
I threw open the hood and yanked the battery from the bracket. The smoke stopped. I used my pocket knife and some electricians’ tape (this was before the advent of duct tape) and put the battery back in place (and extra tape on those engine brackets).
I eventually figured out I could use the scrap wire to replace the wires that fried when the battery shorted out. Once I was done, I went back to the fraternity house for a drink. It was 10 a.m.
Back on the interstate ramp, the officer told me I needed to get to the right shoulder since there was more room to work and it was safer. He stopped traffic and told me to drive while he pushed.
Thankfully, the ramp was downhill. In short order, I was on the right shoulder and I let it coast to the bottom of the hill.
The officer had to be in court, so once he helped me get to safety, he was on his way, telling me to call the station if I needed a tow truck and dispatch was waiting to help.
I thanked him again and as he drove away, I popped the hood open and saw right away that the battery had shifted when I slammed on the brakes. The positive wire had pulled loose from the battery terminal.
I grabbed some wooden paint stirrers I keep in my car and a scrap piece of 1×4 lumber from the back seat floor board. I used the stirrers to put the connector back on top of the post and drove it in place with the 1 x 4.
The car started and I was on my way. To work. I wasn’t even late because it took less than 5 minutes for me to figure out the problem and fix it since I’d been there before when I was younger and somewhat dumber.