Monday, April 19, 2010

The "Check Engine" Incident

I just finished a blog about how my car was past due for its 3,000 mile oil change, and it reminded me of a story when I was in college that I wanted to share.

I didn’t own a car in college. Heck, I didn’t own my own car until I was 23 and realized that it was taking me 45 minutes to get to work – and I only lived about 5 minutes away. I even had to transfer buses downtown! (I didn’t know how close to work I actually lived because of, again, that whole “directionally challenged” thing. But that’s another story…)

Anyway, in the years before I entered the world of car ownership, my parents generously allowed me to borrow one of their cars, usually without requiring me to sign promissory notes. More often it was my dad’s ugly green Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler/whatever car and not my mom’s sporty cream-colored Mustang, but I was happy to borrow any wheels at all, so I didn’t care all that much.

Their only requirement was that I had to put gas in the car. And they wanted me to keep it dent-free, but that was pretty much an unspoken assumption.

So one Friday night, my girlfriend Diana and I decided to drive to Salem to go dancing at a place called, “The Hunt Club.” Yes, I’m ashamed to say, it really was called that. What’s more, we went to this club whenever I came home for the weekend, which was fairly often – so we must have liked the joint.

(Oh, and just so you know, I wasn’t into “hunting” all that much. I was, after all, a serious college student and didn’t have time for silly things like chasing boys. Um, yeah. Okay, the truth is that I wasn’t into long-distance romances at the time.)

Anyway, we never made it to the Hunt Club that fine spring evening.

I had asked my dad if I could borrow his car and without hesitation he handed over his keys. That was easy, I thought. So I picked up Diana and, dressed to the hilt in our finest dancin’ clothes and high heels, we took off for Salem.

Between Alliance and Salem is (or was back then, anyway) a long stretch of 2-lane country road without streetlights.

There we were sailing along the road chattering away without a care in the world when about 5 miles before reaching our destination, the “Check Engine” light came on. I said to Diana, “Hmmm…wonder if that’s serious?” Diana, clearly not a car expert either, shrugged and said, “Dunno.”

So we kept on going. I figured I would call my dad once we reached the Hunt Club to ask him what we should do.

Oh, the irony of hindsight.

A few minutes later, we realized it was sort of serious when the car stalled and then died.

This was back in the day before cell phones, so I couldn’t whip out my trusty iPhone and call home. Instead, there we were on a dark, lonely stretch of road too far away from the Hunt Club and too far away from home. We sort of thought we remembered seeing a pay phone about half a mile or so back at a deserted gas station, but we weren’t positive.

For about five minutes we sat in the car debating what to do, but since no one passed our broken-down ugly green car the whole time, we realized we were going to have to hoof it back to see about that pay phone. Diana didn’t want to stay in the car by herself, so we carefully locked the vehicle and started teetering down the road in the dark in our high heels. There was no berm on the 2-lane road either and, again, no lights.

Now I realize you probably don’t know my friend Diana, but let me just say that the girl could talk. When I first met her in grade school she was shy and quiet, but then at some point in high school, the dam broke and all the things that she’d been holding back came out in a torrent. And she didn’t ever really stop talking. It’s one of the things I loved about her because I could pretty much just toss in an occasional “uh huh” and a “yeah” and she’d just keep on going.

So there we were click-clacking down the road in our heels. I was slightly worried about the car and praying that we’d find a pay phone once we reached the deserted gas station, and also hoping that maybe it wasn’t anything serious so we could still possibly get in some dancing and not waste our cute outfits. All these thoughts were going through my head when I took a step…and then landed flat on my back in a ditch! One minute the road was there, and then suddenly it wasn’t.

And as I was lying there on my back, I knew for SURE that we weren’t going to be dancing that night as my entire back – from my carefully coiffed head to the heels of my strappy lavender sandals – was now covered in mud.

Diana, oblivious, kept on walking and talking. After a few more steps, she must have realized I was no longer beside her. The next thing I see is Diana’s face looming above me from the roadside. As she peered down at me in the ditch, she said, “Jane! What are you doing down there?!”

Like I’d done it on purpose.

I said, “Well, I was getting tired, so I thought I’d take a little break and…what are you – nuts? I fell! Get me outta here!”

Right then the absurdity of our situation hit me and I started giggling. Then I started laughing. Once Diana realized I wasn’t seriously hurt, she started laughing, too, and it got so bad we couldn’t catch our breath. She just kept pointing at me and howling.

Finally, she managed to pull herself together and reached down to help me climb out of the ditch. Then, she looked at me and said, “Jane! You’re all covered in mud! We can’t go dancing now!”

That did us in. We were both doubled over laughing so hard we had tears running down our faces. Which ruined our makeup, but was sort of a moot point by then anyway.

I don’t remember what happened after that, except that we did reach my dad who came and picked us up in my mom’s sporty cream-colored Mustang. Probably he brought a towel so that I didn’t get the interior muddy, but again, it’s all sort of a blur.

It turns out that Dad’s car was out of oil, which he’d intended to replace, but had forgotten about before handing me the keys.

Filed under the category of “Duh,” a car without oil is not a good thing. And, yes, we fried the engine. And I never saw that ugly green Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler/whatever car again.

Surprisingly, my parents didn’t give me a lot of grief about killing their car, but I suspect that my dad felt responsible and was willing to take the blame for the incident. They did, however, impress upon me the importance of immediately stopping if ever the “Check Engine” light comes on again in any vehicle.

This has happened a couple of times since then and, you should know, I positively panic. My instant reaction is to stomp on the brake in the middle of the freeway in rush hour traffic and stop the car right then and there. Fortunately, I am able to realize the foolishness of such a decision, so I pull over to the side of the road. But I do so immediately. And then I whip out my trusty iPhone to call for help.

Oh, and I rarely wear high heels anymore. If you’re ever forced to walk down a dark, lonely country road, it’s far better to be wearing flats.

1 comment:

  1. OMG!!! made me laugh so hard, that I almost peed in my pants!!! :-)