You don’t light up my life

I think I own the only car in the world that does not automatically turn off its lights when I park it and cut the engine. For some unknowable reason, that does not qualify my car as a clunker, and I was not eligible to put $4,500 of your money toward buying a clunker of the future.

Now, there is probably never a good time to have a dead battery, but I think I found the worst place to have zero juice: a modern gas station.

On a recent golf outing, Eldon, the guy with the biggest van, drove us all to the course. We met him at the truck stop out on the interstate, parked our cars and loaded our clubs into his van. After four and a half hours of asking myself why I play this game, after four and a half hours of being told, “You lifted up,” “You stepped out of it,” “You bailed out on that one,” “Your grip is all wrong,” Eldon finally got us back to our cars. All I kept thinking was: Waterboard a man and you’ve tortured him for a day; teach a man to golf and you’ve tortured him for life. Back in the luxury of being alone in my own vehicle, I would at least not have to listen to any more advice from people who played worse golf than I did.

Did I mention that it had been foggy when I left the house that morning? That I had turned on those headlights that don’t turn off automatically so no one would run into me in the fog? Did I mention that on the drive to the gas station, the fog lifted and it turned into a bright, sunny day that was brighter than the glow of my dashboard, so I didn’t notice my lights were still on?

You may ask, as my wife does each time this happens, “Doesn’t it make a loud sound or an alarm when you open the door?” If we were still speaking, I would say, “Not loud enough.”

The good news: I was at a gas station, a place full of people who know about cars. In a few minutes, someone would jump my car and I’d be on my way. An hour later, it occurred to me that I’d have received better help if my car had died outside a bridal shop. The two teens behind the counter at the gas station seemed excited to learn that cars had batteries. It took them completely by surprise.

“Is that one of those new ones that you have to plug in? We don’t do that here. I didn’t even know they were making them yet.” From the way this kid said “you,” I knew he spelled it “u.”

Except for windshield wiper fluid and motor oil, there was nothing in this gas station remotely related to gas, or motoring, or dead batteries. It was all heat-lamp food and sunscreen -- the necessities. The sunscreen is there to protect your skin from the deadly rays of the heat lamps. It was like asking for automobile help in the lobby of a movie theater. “Sorry your car doesn’t work, but for a quarter extra you can get the medium popcorn.”

Finally, a Good Samaritan who knew what a car battery was and had jumper cables (what happened to mine, I’ll never know) in his trunk parked next to me and got me on the road again. I shook his hand, and said, “I can’t thank you enough.” Then it hit me that I could thank this guy enough and in a deep and profound way. “Hey, mister! Whatever you do, don’t take up golf,” I yelled at him as he drove away.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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