If only my car could make it past Pemberton

Published 8:41 am Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I had a 1963 Chevrolet that I had installed a shortwave radio in so that I could listen to the BBC as I drove between work, school and home.

My car had more miles than it was willing to admit—evidenced by its non-working odometer. The car was one of those blue colors that really didn’t want to be blue.

My 1963 Chevy was anything but trustworthy. I never needed to hang one of those air fresheners like a bad necktie from the rearview mirror. The car had a fresh lemony smell. Car trouble tumbled so regularly out of Pandora’s Box that my carpool crew had deserted me, saying cruel things like, “We’d rather crawl naked through broken glass.”

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I was cruising home from college listening to bad news on the radio when my car sputtered to a halt. The bad news on the BBC didn’t seem so bad in comparison. Bad can be good when worse happens.

I was running late. My day had not gone as planned. Trouble rains on those who are already wet. Broken automobiles never make anyone but a mechanic happy. If my teeth had been made of steel, I could have chewed rocks.

My 1963 Chevy stalled each time it got near Pemberton, Minnesota. Pemberton is a wonderful small town. Apparently, my car loved spending time there. I don’t know if cars can fall in love, but if they can, mine had fallen in love with Pemberton.

Each time it happened, I wished I had a new car. A new car was out of the question. I didn’t have any money. I was a college student who occasionally whined that it could not be nearly as good with money as it was bad without it. They were pinchpenny times for a whippersnapper newlywed like me. If the refrigerator quit working, I hoped it would do so in the winter so we could keep the food cold. If my wife and I pooled our resources, we could have easily been able to buy a glossy, 8 x 10 photograph of a new car. Nothing seems expensive when bought on credit, but borrowing money for new wheels was not an option. We’d been raised to use it up, make do or do without. That’s difficult guidance to overcome. New cars were something that showed up in flocks at dealers’ lots once a year. They were to be examined, identified and drooled upon, but never owned. I had been the last owner of every car I’d possessed. They went directly from my garage to the junkyard.

The car’s problem had something to do with a fuel line filter. I had gotten some dirty gas, but what did I expect? The gas was only 34 cents per gallon.

The car‘s engine gasped to a stop near the same house each time. The people who lived there became my friends and worried when I wasn’t there to breakdown at my normal time. I would open the hood of the car and stare at the offending motor. I’d attempt repair by staring at the engine as if I knew what I was doing. I hoped that I would make the motor uncomfortable by my glare and overcome with guilt, the engine would start.

I checked the muffler belt, tightened the earlaps on the radiator cap and wiped the windshield wipers. I was my own mechanic in those days—the kind who had that rare gift of making a difficult situation impossible.

The car needed a fuelinectomy. I would grab a wrench and take the fuel line apart. I would remove the misbehaving filter. This process allowed the gas to flow. I’d put in a new gas line filter. I carried more filters than the number of baseballs carried by a Major League Baseball home plate umpire. The new fuel line filter installed, I would prepare to start the car.

By this time a crowd had gathered. The family that had befriended my balky car had called their friends and neighbors. They had set up lawn chairs and begun to grill burgers. They gathered around my uncooperative automobile like vultures around an opossum carcass.

I grasped the ignition key, said a little prayer wherein I promised to not do the same things I had promised not to do the last time the Chevy stalled, and I turned the key.

The car would cough up a hairball, spit and wheeze its way into hitting on at least half its cylinders.

The crowd would erupt in cheers. Balloons, butterflies and doves were released. A double rainbow appeared.

I’d wave and gallop on down the road.

I could hear someone yell, “Tell poor Mrs. Batt ‘hello’ from us.”

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.