Cars, car troubles can inspire funny stories
Monday, May 06, 2013 4:07 AM
One of my favorite radio shows is Minnesota Public Radio's "Car Talk," which airs on Saturday mornings. For a whole hour, I get to laugh along with the Tappet Brothers as they answer people's questions about their cars. The two real-life brothers' infectious laughter is a great way to brighten up any late Saturday morning. Often I learn something new about cars, or driving.
I also hear great car stories. Everyone has at least one of those from their past lives, quite often from early driving years. The guys on "Car Talk" confirm that every Saturday morning. Of course that got me to thinking about all the car stories from my own past.
Because part of my parents' business was a new car dealership, we had a ready supply of cars to drive, but not the new ones. The trade-ins provided wheels for all three of us at the same time.
We only lived six blocks or so from the school, but usually we each drove separate cars to school. I am sure that one of the reasons was that it was good visibility for Dad's used car sales. That was probably especially true when the vehicle was a little exotic, like the yellow Mercury convertible that I got to drive for a short while.
The funniest car incidents in my life have been because something has gone wrong. In my earlier married life, we drove a 1949 Ford from Minnesota to Oklahoma to New Jersey and back to Minnesota. Former spouse was based at each of those locations for a while. That car was in really good shape for an old vehicle, clean inside and out, and it ran well. We frequently drove from Jersey into Philadelphia to visit friends who were also in the Navy, based at the Philadelphia shipyards.
One Sunday afternoon we were tooling along the Jersey turnpike on our way back home. Suddenly I saw a tire, on its rim, pass by the car on the right hand side, going faster than we were and picking up speed. All of a sudden, our car dropped on the right side, along with a lot of screeching sounds. Obviously, we slowed down very rapidly and pulled over to figure out what was going on.
I don't remember now if that wheel had come off because maybe we'd had a flat tire sometime in the recent past and the nuts had not been tightened properly. Or maybe for some reason the bolts broke off. Either way, I recall that it required spending money that was never in huge supply. But no one got hurt and it turned into a very funny memory.
Just a few years after that we had made a transition from a usually-broke Navy family to an even more broke married-student family. The 1949 Ford had been traded to my father a couple of cars ago. He was always a source of unusual but great-running vehicles for us, and now we were the frugal owners of a black 1939 Buick. It was pretty big compared to that '49 Ford coupe, and it too was clean inside and out.
One weekend we were on our way to visit my parents in Red Wing. That was always a productive trip, because my father would do anything that he could possibly do to our car, and my mother always sent us home with what I called "care packages," food from the freezer and homemade bread.
We were just headed down the hill approaching Hastings, not going terribly fast but it was a steep hill. Suddenly, again I saw a wheel on its rim rushing by our vehicle on the right side. And again, the car dropped on that side along with the screeching noises right out of our past. We made it through that incident too with no one hurt and no other car damage. And it gave my dad a specific task to do on our car that weekend.
It's possible that my early experience with that yellow convertible had an impact on me, because since then I have owned two yellow convertibles. While my current one is not yellow, it has been with me a long time, 33 years, and it too has provided me with fun car stories.
This car is only one of two in my life that I had purchased new, and it took me awhile to finally decide to buy it. Not long after, I was driving along and suddenly it quit, just like that. I coasted to the side of the road, and tried in vain to get it started. But no such luck. I wasn't far from home, so I walked back and called my friend, the dealer! He came himself in the tow truck; it almost broke my heart to see my new baby in the indignant position of being towed away.
That happened on a Saturday, and he obviously had to keep the car all weekend. On Monday, he called me at my Chicago office and after the usual niceties, he said, "Jan, you have to put gas in your car if you expect it to run!" My excuse was, and still is, that every car's gas gauge is a little different, and sometimes it takes running out of gas to know just where "empty" is! But the real reason was that I hadn't even looked at the gas gauge.
Over the years I have often wished I had a good question to ask the Tappet brothers so I too could call in. But because they're now supposedly retired from doing new shows - current ones are re-runs - I'll bet I could call in anyway, just to talk about cars, and of course to share some laughs.