A Pontiac Sunbird was the first car I ever owned. It left me high and dry a couple of times but I want you to know that it was a relationship of mutual apathy. At least a half a dozen times (likely more) I left the lights on in the car so there was no power left the next morning, at the end of the day, or when I eventually returned to the car, no matter where I’d been in the interim.
Another staple of my late teens was the Cineplex Odeon Cinema City on the south side of Edmonton. For a 25-minute drive, a viewer could take in a movie a half a year old for two dollars. That was a deal, especially since the next cheapest theatres were all charging four times that, in the city. Granted, the Leduc theatre was five dollars but most of my friends lived in Edmonton and were much less willing to come to me than I was to them.
A number of times, I went to the movies in that theatre with my friend Rob, who would go on to be the best man at my wedding, with me the best man at his. It was a summer night, cooled down significantly from the day that came before when the tendency to leave the lights on collided with the Cinema City tendency.
It was dark out. The movie had gone on until eleven and the two of us were eager to get out of there and back to our respective homes for a long sleep. Finding the car was no difficulty, but once it was found, the aforementioned difficulty came to the surface. I turned the key. No dice.
“All right, Rob, take the wheel. I’ll try to push-start it.” I was no stranger to popping the clutch, having done this at least three times before.
“Do you think we should maybe ask someone for a boost?” Rob asked. “People are leaving and if we can’t get this to work, they could be all gone by the time we’re ready to ask for help.”
“This’ll work. Trust me.” I was a veteran of this. And it had to work. I’ve always been a little stubborn like that.
“Okay,” he said, not convinced.
He got into the driver’s side and I gave him the instructions.
“Push in the clutch. I’ll push the car. When it gets going good, pop the clutch out and the rest should take care of itself. Just remember that when the car gets running, you push the clutch back in, put it in neutral, and stop the car.” He understood. We were going to do this. And it was going to work.
I started pushing. The car started moving. It went a little faster, and when I was jogging a little to keep up, Rob popped the clutch. Just in time. But the car sputtered to a stop and it wasn’t running.
“Try again!” I called, and started pushing the car again.
Once again, when the clutch went out, the car stopped.
Apparently, when I’d push-started the car before, with someone who had done it in the past, they knew enough to put the car in fourth gear to get it running. With no experience behind the wheel (I had strong legs and never minded pushing, especially since it was my fault, the state the car was in), I assumed they’d put it in first gear. After all, that’s the gear that you use when you start driving. Unfortunately, that’s because it has the most torque and in order to use the gear to push the car’s engine to start, you have to overcome the torque and keep pushing until it starts. And that wasn’t happening with just me pushing the car. None of that knowledge was available to me and the two of us puzzled over the unstarting car. We looked out over the parking lot and there was one car left. Thank goodness. Rob and I scurried over to the car where two ladies, ten or fifteen years older than us, sat.
“Car won’t start?” the lady in the driver’s seat asked, amusement plain on her face.
“No,” I said, rueful at the thought of asking for help.
But I did ask for help and she and her friend were more than willing to help Rob and I. We got things hooked up and the Sunbird started without a hitch.
We thanked them profusely and they left while we were still stowing my booster cables.
“You think they waited around because they saw what we were doing?” Rob asked.
“Probably,” I replied.
“You know, they were probably having a good laugh over it,” he continued. “Reminiscing over how they killed the battery in a car or something.”
It made me think of my friendship with Rob. He was my oldest friend. We’d been friends since I moved to Leduc well before my ability to remember. Over thirty years now, for sure. Will we be sitting in a car in our later years, laughing at a pair of idiots trying to push-start a car in the wrong gear? I hope so, even though I always look bad when he tells this story. For good reason, I’m sure.