Thursday, March 13, 2014

Due for Service

Last week I found myself having The Discussion no father ever wants to have with his daughter. Actually the topic was so critical I sat down and hashed it out with both my girls.

"Do you know what to do if the brakes on the car ever give out?"

My youngest, who has only been driving for two or three months was aghast.

"That can happen?"

Indeed it can.
And I know from experience.

When I was their age I was driving the cheapest cheesebox I could afford. That's right, I come from a time when teenage kids worked -- and I worked a lot -- saved their money, bought their own cars, paid for their own gas and covered their own insurance premiums.

The very first car I owned was a $400 Plymouth Valiant. It was built in 1966 and by the time I got the keys, the odometer had already circled past the 100,000 mile mark. Possibly even twice.

But it was built like a tank. And while it wasn't pretty, it did the job of getting me from Point A to Point B. And if the carburetor wasn't flooded or the alternator wasn't a little wonky, sometimes to Point C.

One memorable day, I had three buddies in the Valiant with me. We might have even shared some non-legal, non-medicinal marijuana.

We were heading down a huge hill on Rt. 59 towards Spring Valley when I pressed on the brakes to slow down. The pedal offered no resistance. I pumped it again and now the pedal went straight to the floor.

"Shit!" I said.

To the delight of my fellow passengers who thought I was joking. But I wasn't.

The brakes had failed. I yanked hard on the emergency brake and the Valiant continued to pick speed on the steep decline. Low on options, I threw the transmission into park. And by that I mean I pushed the Park button on the push-button transmission.

There was little grinding noise but hardly enough to break through the blaring of Foghat through the aftermarket 8-track player.

Suddenly I was turned into Mario Andretti. I weaved in and out of cars. Blasted through two red lights and steered the car to a steep uphill grade that siphoned off the speed until we could all stick our feet out the doors and bring the car to a stop, Fred Flintstone style.

A few years later, lightning struck twice. This time in Syracuse. In a 1964 Dodge Coronet. Again I was at the top of a hill and recognized the dilemma as soon as it happened. Unwilling to test my luck for the second time, I found a sturdy maple tree and greeted it with a 20 mph hour kiss.

Most people skate through life never having had this awful experience. I've had it happen to me twice. I'm hoping the folks in the Department of Karma take this into account and spare my daughters the trauma.

In light of this I've rewritten an Old Irish Blessing:

May your Check Engine light never come on prematurely,
May your brake lines be airtight,
May your Master Cylinder be free from leaks
and always, always be filled to the brim.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Coronet? The thing you need to put the brakes on is buying Chryslers.