Or So it Seems … Roadside Rescues

Our daughter Nicole looked grim as she shared the news.

“It slowed, started shaking, and made a roaring sound,” she whispered. “Then it got real quiet.”

Nicole’s car—The Green Monster—died in the slow lane of westbound Highway 44 on a hot August morning. Numerous witnesses drove past, none stopping to help.

Minutes later, I got the call; “Daddy… my car quit.”

Funny how, when it comes to car trouble, parents are always the FIRST to know…

So Karin and I raced to the rescue. We pulled up and saw Nicole standing in the break-down lane, looking sad.

I shifted into problem-solving mode and began peppering her with questions.

“Did you look at the gauges?” I asked. She nodded.

“Good,” I rubbed my hands together. “Was it overheating?”

Nicole shook her head.

“Did you smell anything?” She looked puzzled, and shrugged.

Karin tapped me on the shoulder.

“Why don’t you ask her how she’s feeling?” Karin suggested.

“Oh, yeah.” I ruffled Nicole’s hair. “How were you feeling when your car croaked?”

“Really?” Karin sighed, and gave our girl a big hug.


I’m no stranger to roadside emergencies. In the days before GPS, cell phones or prepaid towing, my transportation was a Triumph Spitfire. The question wasn’t IF YOU’D BREAK DOWN it was, rather, HOW COLORFULLY? The owner’s manual had plenty of pithy advice on solving problems “under the bonnet.”

Sadly, this had nothing to do with dating.

Instead, you got practical tips on how to rebuild your transmission using bubble gum, a wrist-watch and bailing wire. There also was a color-coded chart for detecting the 1,233 most common mechanical problems in British cars. You just matched it to the smoke and flames shooting from your engine compartment. But most important of all, you learned how to properly curse in the Queen’s English. With practice, it’s bloody-easy.

My Spitfire was quite small when compared to American cars. Many people think it’s because gas is so expensive in England. That’s true, but the REAL reason for their diminutive size is so they’re easier to push.

And the simplicity of the Spitfire made it a snap to repair—once I found the parts. I’m not talking about finding a store that SOLD “British Auto Parts,” I’m referring to the stroll along the highway looking for the parts that fell off the car. This could involve miles of backtracking. Fortunately, the Spit’ ran more smoothly when it discarded non-vital components—such as the engine.

Just kidding.

The most common thing for it to lose was the carb linkage. Or, more specifically, the screws that held it all together. But the Brits were wise; they provided spares. All I had to do was dispense with optional equipment such as the parking brake, heater, windshield wipers or steering wheel.

Even so, there were times that I couldn’t get the Spit running again, and I had to find a phone and call home. Then Dad would come with his truck, trailer, and an annoyed expression.

His greeting was always short and to the point: “Why do you drive this damn foreign shoebox?”

“Because it’s FUN,” I explained.

“Hmmph! Maybe for YOU.” He shook his head, and then ruffled my hair. “You won’t get me in one of these death traps.”

There’s nothing like the father—son experience of riding home with a man who has been extracted from a Barcalounger during his day off.

“One of these days,” he grumbled, “you’re gonna wake up and buy American.”

And he was right! When I became a father, I decided that my daughters were going to drive BOACs – Big Old American Cars. They’re cheap and safer than my old Spit.

But reliable?

Mostly yes, but not when they’ve got two gazillion miles on the odometer. And unlike the Spitfire, I can neither repair or push them.

So I have my auto club tow-a-clunker-card.

I used it to get the Monster off the road and into the hands of our mechanic. He called me later with his diagnosis.

“It’s terminal,” he said.

I wasn’t surprised. The Green Monster had warned us. Piece by piece, its innards vaporized. First the radio blew up, then the cruise control. But it got downright painful when the A/C crashed AND the electric windows fried.

At least they were rolled up.

To her credit, Nicole never complained. She coaxed every last mile out of The Monster. But, finally, the grim reaper came and towed it away, leaving an empty space in our driveway. Nicole filled that void with a Honda Fit. She says her new set of wheels is “blue and zippy, like a superhero.”

Superhero? No more distress calls with Dad-to-the-rescue?

Strange, but this makes me sad.

I’ll miss ruffling her hair on the roadside.

Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. He has two humor books in print, The Doggone Christmas List and The Stupid Minivan. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County, Northern California.

Robb Lightfoot is a humorist, author and educator. He and his wife raised a family of four kids, a dozen or more dogs and a zillion cats. He has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to teaching at Shasta Community College, and his former column on A News Cafe - "Or So it Seems™" - Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the "Funny Times". His short stories have won honorable mention in national competitions. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-10 finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives and writes in Chico where he manages ThinkingFunny.com. He also hates referring to himself in the third person, and will stop doing so immediately. I can be reached in the following ways: Robb@thinkingfunny.com PO Box 5286 Chico, CA 95928 @_thinking_funny on Twitter
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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Patricia crow says:

    Good and Plenty truth in-the-experience funny. Keep on writing !

  2. Avatar Janet says:

    Great read for parents! Been there, done that for sure. Love your observations Robb.

  3. Avatar Dave K. says:

    The other reason that the Brits make unreliable cars is that a broken down car doesn't use any gas at all. Think of the savings…

    • Avatar Robb says:

      I heard that the MGs and such did so poorly was that you never drive more than 50 miles at a go in England. My favorite British-car jokes all deal with their legendary, lousy Lucas electrical systems.

      Question: "Why do to British drink warm beer?"

      Answer: "Because Lucas makes refrigerators."

  4. Avatar Ron Chiodo says:

    Brings back memories of my 67 Ford Falcon, 289 cubic inch engine. 8 miles to the gallon. Basic transportation. New when we married. Years passed. Things died. Water pump every 25 thousand miles. Moisture would enter the distributor. Short term death. I used to carry a complete set of tools in the trunk. My best moment: radiator belt broke late at night on a long trip. Pulled into a closed gas station. I had a spare belt in the trunk. She held the flash light. I the torque wrench. Fixed and home. I'm now too old. Carry a AAA card. Prepared to take the license plates off and just call a cab.

    • Avatar Robb says:

      Ah, the tools-in-the-trunk. I'm going to write about that in a short while. They tell a tale, too. I didn't worry too much when I drove a sedan, but when I started driving a wagon, and then a minivan, I feared the box. I could just see it flying forward in a collision–and my skull pieced by screwdrivers.