A Carmedy of Errors

I get a little charge every time I walk out the front door and see my little red miata sitting in the driveway. Quickly I drop the top, hop inside, and zoom-zoom away. Except when the car has no charge. It won’t start.

This happens when I leave the key turned on overnight. Because I have to lower the windows to pull the top up and fasten it in place. And then I need the key to be on so I can raise the windows again. Very occasionally, after raising the windows, I forget to turn off the key and take it. Really, it’s a muti-step process. Forgetting the last step is only human.

So, when I came out on Saturday and found the key on and the battery dead, I wasn’t surprised. I was a little disgusted, but not worried. I went into operation jump-start.

I have a battery pack! That little box will jump-start the car in a jiffy. I went to fetch it.

Hmmm. The battery pack was not plugged in. It was discharged. This was a clue that maybe the morning was not going to go my way. I tried to remember what I last did with the battery pack. But it didn’t matter.

I walked back out and looked at the car, stubbornly motionless. I was not defeated. I had the last resort: the push-start.

I am very practiced at the push-start. Starting with a Fiat roadster when I was in high school, I have mostly lived with cars that, from time to time, needed the push-start.

Generally, the push-start is performed with a push-start crew of two or more strong men. The push start crew leans against the back of the vehicle and starts to push, gathering momentum. The driver sits behind the wheel, steering, and waiting for the proper moment to “pop” the clutch. When the clutch is popped, the engine bucks and roars to life.

On Saturday, I had no crew. But I had potential energy. My car sat at the head of a gravel driveway that sloped down to the street. The street had a sharp slope running downhill for almost two blocks. If I could get the car out into the street, headed downhill, I could jump in, push in the clutch, put the car in gear, coast down the hill with gravity’s pull, and then “pop” the clutch. I would be on my way.

There was one danger point and one challenge. At the point where the driveway met the street, there was a trough that must be negotiated. And once in the street, I had to line up the car facing downhill and jump in for the ride. Piece of cake!

I turned on the key and put the gearshift in neutral. With the driver’s car door open and ready for my jump in, I faced the rear and began to push. The car rolled down the driveway, picking up speed. Pushing all the time, I progressed from a shove to a trot. This was going well.

I neared the street. I turned the steering wheel to allow the car to back out into the street on an arc that would leave it facing downhill. Very skillful. I was at the critical maneuver.

Then, uh oh! I stumbled. Dern it. I was losing momentum.

Then, oh hell! I was going down. Damn it. This could go really bad.

I fell prone to the gravel. My right foot was under my left calf. I watched the doorsill go past my face.

Physics took over. Yep, the front tire, angled for a turn, caught my left foot. The wheel rolled up my leg almost to the knee. It slowed, paused, and rolled back down my leg and off my foot. I scrambled up off the gravel.

Sure enough, the car was at rest in the trough between the driveway and the street. All my potential energy was spent. I was stuck. Operation push-start had failed.

I slowly began checking in with the pain signals coming from my legs. Yes, there was some pain, but it didn’t seem excruciating. I was standing, and that was good. I put my weight on each leg, just testing. Seemed okay.

Back to operation jump-start. I walked back into the house to plug in my charger. In a couple of hours I could jump-start the car and go.