I think I’ve mentioned in the past that my beloved 1994 Isuzu Trooper has been gradually shedding certain “nonessential” functions as it approaches the quarter-million mile mark. Things like the radio, interior lights, the dashboard clock and my ability to electrically control the passenger side window have all gone south, as the mighty 4-wheeler conserves its energy and resources for the long drives ahead. Last summer, in an apparent attempt to conserve fuel, the vehicle presented me with a choice: Air conditioning or the ability to reach the speed limit on hills, which explains the sweaty, wind-blown look I cultivated on some hot August days.
But a certain quirkiness in the relationship I’ve had with my cars is nothing new. In fact, it’s a part of my family history. Take, for instance, this reference to my paternal grandfather in the pages of a book called “Homeburg Memories,” written in 1915 by George Fitch, a well-known writer and humorist of the early 20th century who was born and raised in Galva.
“Our oculist was our pioneer automobile owner. He bought a home-made machine and a mule at the same time, and by judiciously combining the two, he got a great deal of mileage out of both. He would work all morning getting the auto down-town and all afternoon getting the mule to haul it back.”
Years later, my other grandfather helped to develop and market a device that would periodically start a car throughout cold winter nights so it would be warmed up enough to go in the morning. As the story goes, though, there was a fairly serious design flaw: The devise would start the car all right, but would sometimes fail to shut it off, so the owner would be met with a dual early-morning problem: A car that was both cold and out of gas.
My father was known for a time for owning what may have been Galva’s largest and smallest cars at the same time, a 1951 Packard and a 1959 Volkswagen, while I followed in the same strange path when I owned both an ancient Mercedes Benz and a new, but highly flawed, Yugo.
But back to the Trooper.
While absent radios, dome lights and clocks are more annoying than anything else, the Trooper has, more recently, developed another bit of aberrant behavior that combines a bit of inconvenience with a distinct element of danger. Apparently, the car has decided that a fully functioning driver’s-side door is a little more luxury than I require. It’s the result of a high wind several years ago that caught the open door and sprung its hinges. Since then, I and other more capable craftsmen have worked to keep it opening and closing on request, rather than on its own volition. It currently takes an entire sequence of actions to get the door to close securely from both inside and out. Best results from the interior of the beast require a rolled-down window and a series of mighty upward slams, while getting it to close tight enough to actually engage the door locks from the outside demands the same upward push, plus a solid hip check much like the ones employed by NHL defensemen to send their opponents careening into the boards.
She: “That’s a nasty bruise on your hip. What have you been doing, wrestling steers?”
Me: “No, I just had to lock the car.”
Sometimes, if I forget to carry out all the steps properly, the door swings open anyway, oftentimes due to the wind and bumps encountered at highway speeds, along with the inertia provided by a right-hand curve. It’s a disturbing phenomenon that, apparently, presents an interesting view to cars following behind.
“I thought you were lowering your flaps so you could come in for a landing,” said one wit who was treated to the sight of me frantically trying to reach and pull the door shut while swinging onto the eastbound Page Street blacktop one afternoon.
Autobody maven Kerry Anderson tells me it’s probably reached the end of the tinkering stage, and likely requires a bit of spot welding. In the meantime, I’ve decided to look at it as a highly interactive safety feature. It is, of course, the ultimate reminder to always fasten my seatbelt.
After all, “Click it or ticket” is nothing compared to my new reality:
“Click it or get run over by a Buick.”