My loose screw

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It's been almost three weeks since we moved into our new apartment, but I remember it like it was ... well, twenty days ago.

Things were going great. Three strong men had made short work of our boxes, which were now stacked neatly in the truck. Laura and her mother were ready to follow the truck to the new place in her mother's car and oversee the start of the unloading. The dog and I were going to stick around for a bit to tie up some loose ends, then join up with everyone else at the new place.

Changing Spaces Good thing I slipped behind the wheel of our car to take the prime parking space my mother-in-law was about vacate. When I turned the key, nothing happened. Not a click.

I should have known this was coming. For a week or so, the car had been taking longer and longer to turn over, the starter motor hacking like a heavy smoker. This time the battery was obviously completely dead. My mother-in-law had no jumper cables, and neither did the movers. But at least I hadn't discovered this with Ella on my hands after everyone else had left.

Still, we didn't have a lot of options—the movers were on the clock, and our car was already loaded with stuff that I wasn't willing to leave unattended for any significant length of time. We sent the moving truck on ahead, and I sent Ella with Laura and her mother to follow them. I walked a few blocks to an auto-parts store, where I bought a new battery, a socket set (since mine was already packed into the moving truck somewhere), and a portable jumper kit (for future emergencies only—it needed 36 hours of charging before it was usable).

A car battery is a heavy damn thing to carry a quarter mile, even without two other purchases to worry about, but I made it. It took me some time, what with the rusted bolts I had to deal with, but I managed to switch out the batteries and tighten up the leads just fine—or so I thought.

The car started right up with the new battery in place, and I set a course for Dunkin Donuts to pick up a dozen for us and the crew. On the way I reset all the preset stations on our radio, which had vanished along with the battery's juice. At a red light a few blocks from the doughnut shop, though, the engine started to sputter a little and felt like it was going to stall out. I was in a left-turn lane, where stalling would be rather inconvenient, so I put my left foot on the brake and moved my right foot to the accelerator to keep the engine just above idle. I made it to the Dunkin parking lot and turned off the car. When I flipped the switch that works the locks, nothing happened. The electrical system was dead again.

Of course, the mechanical locking system still worked, so I was able to get out of the car. I bought my dozen—priorities!—then came back to the car and raised the hood. The problem was staring me in the face. I hadn't tightened the positive lead well enough and it had jiggled loose somewhere along the way. No problem. I slipped it back onto the post, tightened it up a little more, and closed the hood. Back in business.

I tried to maintain a sedate pace, not wanting to take a chance on knocking the connection loose again. It's about a five-mile drive from the old place to the new, and the fastest route is to take Western Avenue north for most of that distance. Western becomes an overpass for a few blocks to jump over its gnarly intersection with Belmont and Clybourn, though, and there's some awfully rough road at the start of the front slope and the end of the back slope. I tried to take it gingerly, but halfway up the rise all the instruments on the dash board died out for an instant. The lead was off again, though it had likely bounced up and come back to rest touching the post. I couldn't pull over on the overpass. No choice but to maintain my somewhat low speed and try not to let the engine stall again.

That went well enough until I crested the overpass and saw traffic stopped ahead at the red light at the bottom of the slope. I gently pulled to a stop behind the car ahead, and I tried my brake-and-accelerator trick from before, but I still stalled out. Just as I was turning the starter key in vain, the light turned green.

Again, no choice. Good thing I had the window down already, because there is no mechanical handle for it. I stuck my arm out and waved the traffic behind me around. I couldn't put my flashers on, so I just hoped a) that I could be quick, and b) that the drivers coming over crest behind me would be paying attention. I popped the hood, ran around the front of the car, raised the hood, jammed the loose lead back down on the post, slammed the hood, raced back to seat, and started the car.

New joint: dog on deck I turned off Western at the first opportunity and took smaller streets the rest of the way. I kept my speed around 20. My hands were clenched on the wheel. But worst of all, I had lost my reset radio presets again.

I made it to the new place fine, but it took a while for me to unclench everything. I had missed the most exciting part of the move, when the three dudes had to hoist our couch straight up over the railing of our back deck on a rope to get it into our second-floor apartment. But that's okay because, boy, watching that would have reduced me to a bundle of crazy nerves.

I'm happy to report that this was the only remotely ominous occurrence that day, or since. I tightened up the battery lead a whole lot more, and it's been absolutely fine since then. We love our new place, and being here has made all the difference in our outlook on this city. Even Ella likes this place. She and I are sitting on the back deck right now, and squirrels are running back and forth along a power line strung down the alley just above our eye level. And it doesn't look like that power line is going to jiggle loose.

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William Shunn

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on October 10, 2008 4:13 PM.

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