Monday, March 11, 2013

Civic disobedience

“Good luck today,” my wife Kara whispered into the darkness.

“You’re going to need the luck,” I said, leaning to kiss her goodbye, then tiptoeing out the bedroom door, abandoning her to a few more moments of sleep before the morning routine with our two kids would begin, a ritual that requires the assistance of a small team of live-in nannies, but which we somehow juggle between just the two of us anyway.

I checked my tie in the mirror one last time, grabbed a granola bar off the kitchen counter, patted our dog on the head and dashed down the stairs, determined to catch a train for once in my life without the usual headfirst slide through closing doors.

After four months of planning and countless calls and emails with my fellow organizers, our big work conference was finally happening.

I hopped into Kara’s Civic in the pre-dawn gloom of the garage, proud of myself for departing in time to stop for gas on the way to the train station.

“Let’s do this,” I said, turning the key.

“Let’s not,” the Civic replied, adding, “Click-click-click, CLIIIIIIICK, click.”

The dashboard lights flickered then went dark.

Since Kara and I carpool to work in the big car, dropping the kids off at daycare on the way, the Civic usually sits in the garage, waiting for one of us to go on an errand without the kids.  In this way, it functions less as a car and more as an escape pod.

But on that morning last week, the Civic decided that the garage was a splendid place to spend the day.  It was cold outside, after all.

“No, no, no.  Not today,” I said, turning the key again, panic slithering up the back of my neck.

“Yeah, today,” the Civic responded, speaking in clicks.

I had two options.

Option 1: Get that car working.

Option 2: Flee into the woods, leave civilization behind and subsist for the rest of my life on my neighbors’ rhododendron.

Giving Option 1 a whirl first seemed like a good plan, so I put the Civic into neutral, leaned on the hood with both hands and pushed with all my insufficient might.  

“Come on, you weigh like three pounds.  Why is this so hard?” I said.

Finally, the wheels began to budge, and after much grunting, swearing and scuffing of wingtips, the Civic rolled to a stop in the driveway.

My automotive knowledge starts at changing a tire and ends at jumping a dead battery, with nothing in-between.  Hands shaking, I popped the hood, clipped the jumper cables to the battery and ran to retrieve the one functioning automobile from our garage, the one I needed to leave for Kara and the kids.

“Who cares?” I thought as our cars nearly collided in the driveway.  And I really didn’t care.  Getting the Civic running was the only thing in the universe that mattered.

I popped the hood on the big car and peered inside, using the flashlight app on my iPhone.  And what I saw was nothing.

“Dude, where’s the battery?” I said.

A few years ago, when we upsized our family car, we bought a hybrid, mainly due to its best-in-class smugness-per-gallon ratings.

“Stupid Earth!  I don’t even like you anymore!” I said, frantically Googling “jump a regular car with a hybrid car” on my phone.  I landed in a Car Talk forum that mentioned something about an auxiliary battery in the trunk of some hybrids, but we didn’t have one of those.  With a sinking feeling, I realized that I was going to have to do the unthinkable: read the owner’s manual.

In my mind, I could hear that train a comin’, and I wasn’t going to be on it.

In desperation, I jumped back into the Civic and turned the ignition again.  Click, click, click, VROOOOOM!  And then, with knuckles still white, a headfirst slide through closing doors.

You can defibrillate Mike Todd at

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