A Laugh Threatening Situation
Chapter 4 – When Cops Are Too Stupefied to Speak
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The first car I ever wanted to buy that I could afford was an MG Midget convertible.
The first car I ever bought was a used Toyota Corolla.
How did this happen?
As I was turning 16 and about to get my driver’s license, I spent hours reading about and researching cars. And I had my heart set on a classic British motoring masterpiece.
In those days you could find a decent used MG for around $2000 (because they are totally unreliable and nobody smart wants one). I’d saved up $3000 so I figured I’d have enough extra cash to fix everything and get myself on the road in style in time for Prom.
My stepdad, however, was totally against this idea. Mainly due to the fact that he’d had an MG when he was in college and it was, in fact, totally unreliable.
He knew, from first-hand experience, that the only thing MG’s consistently do is break down. They leak oil, the gorgeous chrome spoked wheels come out of true, the carburetors are virtually untunable, the convertible tops couldn’t keep spaghetti out, and the Lucas electronics will inevitably short circuit leaving you lost in the dark.
And I wanted one more than anything.
Every week I eagerly circled possible prospects in The AutoTrader. After quizzing sellers on the phone I’d immediately begin scouring the JC Whitney catalog for any parts I thought I’d need, and tally up the cost. Negative reviews be damned! I had tools, I could do the work myself.
But my Professor stepdad implored me not to go this route.
“You want something you can count on to get around in. Something that’s not going to cost you thousands and thousands of dollars in imported British parts and specialized labor when things go wrong.”
He left “Consumer Reports” magazine articles about the most reliable used cars money can buy on my bed. Xeroxed ANCAP car safety ratings magically appeared on the breakfast table.
I read them all and continued to want my MG. So he continued to make his case.
“You want girls to like you for you, not your car. Besides, if you do find a girl that likes you enough to go to prom, you’re gonna want to be able to afford to take her to dinner first.”
In the end, his practical wisdom1He later co-authored a book with this title. It’s called Practical Wisdom by Ken Sharpe and Barry Schwartz prevailed and I became the slightly unproud owner of a $700 copper-coloured Corolla.
It didn’t stay copper-colored for long, I still had $2300 to burn and the first thing I did was spend $199 of it on a bright yellow Earl Scheib paint job.
Then I got out my jigsaw, cut a hole, and installed a sunroof.
Then I bolted on 5-spoke racing mags.
Then I installed a kick-ass stereo.
Window tint, seat covers, racing mirrors, this car had it all. I’d done all the work myself and there was only one final, glorious detail left to add.
A rubber and chrome race car steering wheel.
But stock steering wheels are impossibly hard to remove. This makes perfect sense. After all, nobody wants their steering wheel to come off while they’re driving.
So car manufacturers use all sorts of tricky engineering to keep steering wheels on, and you safe. If you really want to remove one, you have to buy a special tool remarkably called a “steering wheel puller.”
Now I was getting down to the last of the $2300 I’d saved by not buying an MG and didn’t want to spend money on a stupid steering wheel puller that I’d only use once.
So there I was in the front seat using a crowbar, hammer, screwdrivers, and various wrenches to try and loosen up the complex assortment of nuts, lockrings, and steel tabs all designed to prevent me from doing the very thing I was trying to do.
The irony is, once you get a stock steering wheel off, putting a custom one on is as simple as tightening a big bolt and snapping a horn cover on top of it.
But getting the original wheel off was proving to be impossible. After three unsuccessful days of failed attempts, I decided it was time to drive to the mall and buy a steering wheel puller.
And on the way to the mall, my steering wheel finally came off.
Around a sharp curve.
I remember the steering wheel coming up off the column, floating freely in my hands, like when a child pretends to be driving.
I remember frantically trying to push it back down onto the now-exposed steering column.
And I remember the sound. Crunch! Right into a telephone pole.
When the cops showed up I was still sitting in the car, sad, shocked, and confused. An officer stuck his head in my window and asked me what happened.
I waved my steering wheel in his face.
He just stood there, eyes shifting back and forth between my steering wheel and my bloody face as if trying to make sure what he was seeing was real.
After what felt like an eternity, he simply walked away and returned to his car.
The good news is my wise professor stepdad had made sure I got good insurance which paid for the telephone pole, plus the parts I needed to do the bodywork and repairs myself.
I installed a new fender, a new radiator, and a new bumper. And applied gallons of Bondo. This required so much sanding and painting that even Mr Miyagi would have suggested I take a break.
But in the end, I survived.
The Corolla survived.
And the new steering wheel was hot.
Life Pro Tips
- Always use the right tool for the job. For example, if you want to replace your steering wheel, get a steering wheel puller.
- If you don’t have much money, get a reliable car. Classic cars are cooler, but they cost more. If you gotta have one, make sure you have the money to keep it running. Talk to a mechanic who works on the make and model you want before you buy one. They can tell you what to watch out for and what things cost to repair.
- Insurance. Have it.
- Seatbelt. Wear it.
- 1He later co-authored a book with this title. It’s called Practical Wisdom by Ken Sharpe and Barry Schwartz