Al Batt: Emergency car kit more than ice scraper, hat

Published 8:08 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tales From Exit 22 by Al Batt

An automobile can be a fair weather friend. So can the weather.

Most folks think bad weather comes by the truckload and nice weather comes in on a wheelbarrow the size of a thimble.

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My father knew a lot about cars. He was an excellent driver and could parallel park with ease. He could fix cars, too. He knew how an engine worked and why it didn’t work. He taught me to change the oil regularly. “Too often is better than not often enough,” was his advice. He trained me to keep tires properly inflated and to check radiators.

I listened intently to his instructions as evidenced by my occasional nod or slight shoulder shrug. I thought I drove with fender-loving care, but my cars might not have shared that belief.

I was in charge of the maintenance of my car. My father offered counsel and an occasional helping hand, but the bulk of the wrenching done with oily hands was left up to me. Thanks to my incredible expertise, my cars ran like tops. Each remained in one spot as its starter was spinning.

  When the temperature hit “I can’t feel my face” degrees, one of my father’s suggestions bordered upon an order. It was to put a winter emergency car kit in the trunk of my car. This kit nestled between the oyster shell bags carried in the hopes their weight would increase traction.

That kit was an endless supply of things. A shovel was foremost because there was no doubt I’d get stuck, as I tended to take the roads less traveled. The shovel plays an important part in the life of a Minnesotan. When Minnesotans reach a certain level of maturity, many of them strap snow shovels to the tops of their cars in the fall. Then they drive south until they encounter a person who points at one of the shovels and asks, “What is that thing?”

That’s where some Minnesotans will spend the winter.

Gloves, boots, scarf, wool socks and a stocking cap. The uglier and scratchier the cap, the better. If a fellow wanted to be warm, he needed to be willing to suffer. The cap was necessary because in the time of my youth, wearing a cap wasn’t as cool as it is today.

Other items in the kit might include ice scraper, matches, chains for tires and for towing, candles, a flashlight holding dead batteries, first-aid kit, food that could survive freeze and thaw cycles (typically cherry-flavored cough drops), a compass with a broken needle, blanket and a Bible in case all else failed.

Jumper cables were vital because if your battery didn’t need a boost, someone else’s would. The story was told of a fellow carrying jumper cables who walked into Hartland University, the local dispensary of adult beverages. He asked for a Grain Belt beer and was told by the bartender, “OK, but don’t start anything.”

Today’s winter emergency car kit would include duct tape and various phone chargers and portable power stations, but still no pitchforks. I wanted to toss in a pitchfork to prod a car stuck in the snow and a rake in case I encountered a feral leaf, but the trunk was crammed full like an overhead bin on a flight filled with bowlers.

I put a flat wooden paddle with a small rubber ball attached at its center by an elastic string into my car’s kit. I tried to hit the ball with the paddle as many times in succession as possible. I thought this one-person game might come in handy if I went into the ditch and the car sought sanctuary there. The paddleball would give me something to do while I waited for the winter to end. It was either that or fold fitted sheets.

There are those who advocate never leaving home in the winter without a dog in the car. The never-ending rock band, Three Dog Night, got its name from a magazine article about the indigenous Australians of the Outback, who on cold nights slept in a hole in the ground while holding a dog. On colder nights they slept with two dogs and, if the night was freezing, it was a three-dog night.

We have three-dog nights in the fall. We have nine-dog nights in the winter. Twenty-nine dog nights if you have Chihuahuas.

Such winter nights are the reason why many winter emergency car kits today consist of only one item. An airline ticket to Phoenix, Arizona.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.