Today I pushed my luck. I knew it would run out; it did. Alternators are generous little pieces of machinery, the way they keep life humming along – lights, radios, heaters, music – and there are warning signs that the energy they’ve generated and stored is not being replaced. Today I wished my car operated like my body. When I stop feeding it, it draws on reserves, then cuts back on consumption, then uses up every available resource until there’s nothing left. Maybe it was doing that and I was ignorant of the signs, but then again maybe I certainly was not. I saw it coming. And I recognized when it happened that I’d pushed my luck just a little too far.
So, alongside the road I died. Or my little Ranger did. It sputtered weakly, feebly carried me a hundred feet further, and slowly rolled to a stop. The engine quietly struggled and eased to silence. The dash lights went out, the radio and clock went blank, and even the flashers slowed to fewer beats than would keep a heart alive. I wasn’t going anywhere anymore on those four wheels today.
It’s springtime here in the Interior. Roads up til now have been paved with ice, and as the sun warms the day it also warms the ice. Roads are treacherously slippery, dangerously coated with inches of winter weather frozen and scoured smooth by minus temps and frigid winds. Today, however, the temperature was sublimely in the 40s, skies were blue with hazy clouds and, for the first time in months, the pavement was dry. My good luck was just beginning.
The first lucky thing was knowing I was pushing it, knowing the one sure thing would happen sooner or later. It did. No surprises.
The second piece of good fortune was rolling to a stop where the road my friends live on meets with the main road. I was 200 yards from assistance. It was at that exact location where two lanes become four, with a wide shoulder to pull onto. Bingo. Couldn’t have happened in a better place.
A day earlier and I’d have been sidelong to an icy luge path at a point where faster drivers can hardly wait to pass the slower grannies in front. With ice and warm temps, my little truck would have been at risk for sideswipe or being slid into. Not today – lots of clear pavement for passing me by.
I was able to call the friends, who came right out and took me the rest of the way to work. When my shift was finished, I’d intended to walk the 2 miles back to them but my boss’s wife stopped and offered me a ride. Lucky me.
Then my daughter had time between her split shifts to pick me up, run me to the bank for enough cash to pay the mechanic a relatively princely sum for whatever he might find needed the fix, and get back to her job after returning me to my friends’ to wait for the mechanic.
Hours and hours later, still waiting for the mechanic, I decided to try starting the car. I wanted to get it off the main road, out of danger’s way, and at least as far as my friends’ driveway. Voila’ – it started, and I got it off the road and right in front of their house. And then the battery was dead again. Such luck.
Five minutes later, the mechanic’s son showed up on his snow machine. We talked, he went back to get a car to jump the battery, and then I drove it to his shop – one driveway away. His yard is full of old cars, pieces of old cars, and pieces of what used to be pieces of old cars and trucks. The old mechanic, his son, and a friend all set upon my little red Ranger and went to work. I walked back to my friends’ and waited.
The old guy determined an alternator from another little Ford Ranger out back would work – the real factory thing – did I want it, or did I want a reman from Napa? Old man, use your best judgment; I’m in a position to trust you and you’re in a position to do a good turn. An hour or two later, I was in the shop, noticing all three of them were hanging in and out of my truck with cigarettes, and I deemed it a small price to pay for getting home. We gathered round as the mechanic’s son took apart my old alternator, and oohed and aahed at the brush that was completely gone – nothing there to make electricity.
Now that the work was done, the young bucks disappeared. The old man and I jawed a bit about his shop and the way permafrost caused it to sink more and more every year, about how many automobiles he had towed onto and off of his property, about his reputation. I asked if it was good, and he said he’d had no complaints. I had no complaint about the $125 he charged me, either. We chewed the fat about driving through Canada in winter, about being prepared, about paying attention to things that are important, and not getting into situations generally avoided by those not considered fools. Uh…yeah. Well, that would be me today. A fool. But a lucky one.