Yesterday my starter went out in my car but fortunately I drive a stick shift so I knew all I needed to do to get it home was pop the clutch.
This happened once before when I lived in Texas. I was leaving my orthodontist and had only been in the office for at most a half hour. I got into my car and turned the key over but the car just clicked. I knew it wasn’t the battery because the lights came on and so did the radio. So when I called road side assistance, I just hoped the person they dispatched could at least tell me what was wrong with it. When the guy showed up, I could tell he was clearly not from Texas, as his accent made that pretty obvious. He told me this kind of thing would happen to him all the time “back in [his] country” when it rained. I thanked him in advance knowing that if my car started up, I wouldn’t have a chance to do so after. He told me to hold in the clutch, throw it into second, then come off the clutch to start it, and then he began pushing me in my car. It started right up just like he said it would and I was on my way.
Yesterday was a little different. I was out collecting supplies to make a prayer necklace for my Vision Quest. I’d already gone to JoAnn’s Fabric and purchased the various colors of cotton material and just needed to find loose tobacco to fill each of the 1.5 inch pieces I was going to cut and tie. I didn’t even walk into the right place at first, as I stepped inside a barber shop instead, clearly out of place. The guy working there asked if I’d like a drink or snack, to which I politely said no and walked out the door. As I entered the next shop over, I saw the sign on the door that said Psychedelic Shack. I remembered how it used to be pretty difficult to shop at a store that sold smoking products, and not want to get high. Since I quit, I hadn’t been to one of these places, but I was already planning to buy enough tobacco to have some left over to smoke.
The guy behind the counter broke the news to me that my Google search had led me the wrong way, as he did not have loose tobacco. He gave me the name of a place where I could find it and I thanked him and left. There was a young guy standing outside both stores waiting for his ride. I walked past him and got in my car, went to start it, and it turned over but not in a very promising way. So I turned the key back toward me and attempted to restart. I got nothing, which put me into troubleshoot mode. I had learned from the mechanic that replaced my starter that hitting it with a hammer could also do the trick, but I wasn’t clear exactly where the starter was. I pulled up a video online and realized it wasn’t as easy to locate as the mechanic had made it seem. I took my travel mug with me under the front end of my car and just started banging a lot of places, but tried to not draw attention to myself at the same time.
I got back in the driver seat and turned the key over and still got nothing. I realized at this point that I was going to have to get the car rolling in order to pop the clutch. I weigh just over a hundred pounds and while my car is pretty small, I struggled. With the emergency brake off and the car in neutral, I guided the wheels backward to the highest spot in the parking lot. There was a drainage depression which immediately inclined once I got past it, so I knew it was going to be difficult to keep enough speed, still I was determined to do this on my own. I pushed from the back of the driver-side door frame and my shoes slid across the loose gravel, but I finally got it to the top of the incline. I closed the door as the car rolled down the hill and attempted to pop the clutch, but to no avail. Several people pulled in and out of the parking lot, a few just watched me, but finally a guy walked up and asked if he could help. By this point I was exhausted, sweating, and out of breath, but I told him I would be so grateful if he would.
After a couple failed attempts, going over the drain vent proved to be more difficult than I’d anticipated. By this time, I’d already called my dad who was at the shop waiting for a customer that was driving from a long way away to have a salmon fin restored. Dad put a sign on the door and headed to me without hesitation when I told him my situation. When he arrived, I had already had the one guy and his friend push me back to the high point of the parking lot. As soon as my dad got there he assessed the scene. He looked over a ledge at a neighboring parking lot with a much more open runway and said “That’s where we need to be.”
This led me to realize that those two guys from before might have been able to get me going fast enough if we’d just turned the car to go down a longer side of the parking lot we were in. So dad and I pushed my car to the start of that runway and tried to get the car going fast enough so I could pop the clutch. The problem we then faced was that my dad, while once an avid runner putting in at least 30 miles a week in his prime, got gassed pretty easy due to the after effects of Covid. Fortunately, a tall guy with a high and tight haircut approached and said he could provide some muscle. Sure enough, their combined full sprint got me rolling to the point where my car started up after stalling and I barreled out of the parking lot.
I went to my dad’s shop and waited with him for the expected customer to show up. We had burgers and looked up online where the starter was so that we could try to hit it with a hammer if my car didn’t turn over. When the man we were waiting for arrived, he was with his wife. Both were very pleasant elderly people that talked with us like we were their friends. “I wanted to tell you about my grandkids” she said to me in a sweet southern accent. I had only just met her and she was already talking in past tense which I found to be endearing. She and I talked about how different life was when she was young. She used to meet her dad with a jar of water while he was tilling his field using a horse drawn plow. She remembered watching her parents work on the farm and had learned some things herself before going off to work for an airline in Atlanta. She told me they used to make group reservations for international travel, but back then Delta only did domestic flights. She said that people had to request a rate, send it in and wait for it to be approved or denied. Then the reservation would be made for New York and connected to Pan American. I enjoyed visiting yesteryear with her, especially considering the state of affairs we are in now globally.
When they left, dad and I tried to get my car to start with the hammer, but ultimately had to push it again. I arrived home and grandpa was outside which took me back to the conversation I’d just had with Loretta about the good ole’ days. He used to be a mechanic on the Navy and Coast Guard ships and also became a car mechanic after 11 years of serving in the military. Since his dementia has progressed, and he collapsed one day trying to work on something electrical, we’ve been doing our best to hide projects from him that will ultimately just frustrate his scattered mind. My mom and I tried to troubleshoot for a bit but it was hopeless. Even though mom was always grandpa’s assistant, she didn’t have the experience he had acquired from his time serving.
I was in a bad place mentally afterward, knowing that shutting my car off meant I wasn’t going to be able to get it started up again. Then I started to realize that my grandpa might enjoy fooling around with it. What’s the worst he could do… break it more? So he and I will be trying to fix it together and hopefully I can learn something from him in the process.
Originally written in Collective Journaling at The Stoa