After a morning spent working, I had a quick lunch, resumed working and before I knew it the clock read 2:30 p.m. So much for my realistic plan.
I had a dental appointment at 3 p.m. and that was a 20-minute drive away, so it was already time to leave. Since the sun sets around 4:30 in Duluth during December, my opportunity to walk in the daylight had pretty much already passed. Still, I clung to hope.
I actually had two dental appointments back to back that day — a scheduled cleaning and a checkup on the progress of a recent implant, which replaced a molar that had collapsed a few months earlier due to the incredible bite-resistance of a simple graham cracker. Stories of dental calamity aside, by the time I got out of the reclining chair and removed my slobber bib the sun was disappearing. I no longer clung to hope, but I had intentions of making the most of the dusk.
My wife and I had plans to meet around 6 p.m. Knowing there would be some window of time between the dental appointment and the beer appointment, I brought my dog Wilma with to the dentist and left her in the car. It was a mild December day, so the temperature was perfect for a dog in a car. No worries there.
Although it was later than I hoped and not much was left of the sun when I exited the dental office, I was still happy with my decision. It would be a little dark, but since we were in the Woodland neighborhood Wilma and I could walk in Hartley Park — a nice change of scenery from our usual routes.
I got into the car and Wilma jumped from the back seat to greet me. I pet her and immediately noticed she wasn’t wearing her collar.
Oh no! I couldn’t walk her off-leash in the dark at a place I’ve never brought her before. I thought for a second and then realized I was right across the street from a hardware store. For something like nine bucks I could buy a collar and not have to cancel the walk. So that’s what I did.
Of course, by the time I made the collar purchase, drove to Hartley, lassoed the dog and got on the trail, it was well past 5 p.m. and we were in darkness. For 20 minutes we made the best of it, strolling along in the night air, then it was quickly time to start heading back to connect with my wife for our 6 p.m. plans.
When I returned to the parking lot, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. In the commotion of removing the labels and whatnot from the new collar and wrestling it onto Wilma, I had somehow failed to turn off the headlights on my recently acquired 1986 Mercedes-Benz 300E. Perhaps you’ve read about said car in chapters one and two of this trilogy. I don’t know what I did to provoke the bad carma that led to my previous issues with this vehicle, but I hoped in this case things would be fine.
It had only been 20 minutes, so despite all the minor adversity of the day I believed the car would start without issue. I had no idea how old the battery was, but I chose to have faith. I got in, sat down, turned the key and it turned over just enough times for me to think it would start before it wheezed and died.
So there I was, stranded on the edge of town in an otherwise empty parking lot with my dog, about to call my wife and say, “Forget about that trip to the new brew pub, please bring jumper cables and meet me in the woods.”
Much like the moment when I came up with the collar-buying idea, I stopped and thought for a second before giving up and calling my wife. “Is there any other way out of this?” I asked myself. Suddenly another car entered the lot and parked near me. What are the odds the person would have jumper cables?
I walked over and stood a few feet away from the recently arrived car. It quickly occurred to me — though I had no intention of being creepy — I was being very creepy. The driver was a man, which I guess made it a bit less intimidating than it would be for a woman to have some goofball standing in the dark waiting for her to get out of her car. But the guy also had what I assume was his daughter in a child seat behind him, so one would think he was on creep alert.
Despite how creepy I suddenly felt, my target gave no indication of being weirded out by me. He opened the door and I asked him right away if he had jumper cables. He did!
My knight in shining sedan expressed his willingness to help, so I instructed him to pull around to the battery side of my car. We popped our hoods and he handed me one end of the cables and started hooking up his side. In the darkness, I couldn’t see very well which connection on my battery had a red indicator to differentiate the positive from the negative. But there was just enough light casting across the right side of the battery to see that connection had no red indicator. So it must have been the negative side, right?
Well, that’s how, in an instant, I fried my battery and a stranger’s jumper cables. It turns out that a 1986 Mercedes-Benz 300E doesn’t have anything red to distinguish the positive connection on the battery. Instead there are tiny plus and minus marks on the surface that are barely visible in the daylight and completely invisible at night.
At first I didn’t realize the jumper cables had practically melted, but later, when I did, I was still so consumed with thought about the situation that it didn’t even occur to me to offer the poor guy some money to replace his cables. So in addition to being an idiot I’m also just generally a terrible human being releasing further bad carma into the world. I started the day out with a positive attitude and the best intentions, but sadly I failed to maintain those attributes.
All I could think to do was call my wife for a ride and leave a note on my car so the city wouldn’t tow it. It was time to count my losses and deal with the situation on a day when the Fates weren’t conspiring against me.
The next morning I knew I was in for a time-suck of an errand. I drove my wife to work and then went to an auto parts store for a new battery. Then I drove to Hartley Park and installed my new power source. With confidence my struggle was over, I turned the key and the engine turned … but refused to keep going. Did something else get fried during my jumper-cable blunder? I’d have to call to tow truck and let a mechanic answer that question.
To quote the mechanic: “I put a fuel-pump relay in there and got power to the fuel pump. I had the right pressure but it still wasn’t starting. It’s not getting correct voltage at the cold-start valve or the fuel-pressure regulator due to a blown overvoltage protection relay. There’s also a fuel delivery problem. The fuel-pressure regulator is leaking, creating a fuel smell.”
About ten days later my car was ready to pick up. My wife dropped me off at the shop and I walked up to the front desk. “Hang on and so-and-so will bring your car around,” I was told. “Blah blah blah $1,343.23”
And then about 20 minutes passed. In the days since the walk at Hartley, winter had begun to set in, and it was about 20-degrees below zero on the morning I went to pick up my car. And the car wouldn’t start.
Eventually the guys at the shop got it going, but it wouldn’t idle if my foot came off the gas. I drove it home and a few days later the weather got warmer, but the car still wouldn’t idle. It would start with ease, but the moment my foot left the gas, it was dead.
I called the mechanic and he told me the failure to idle could be a problem with the ignition system, which he said he didn’t know much about. So he recommended I take it somewhere else.
And that was the point my 30-year-old $3,500 car that had now been to the shop twice had ballooned to costing me $6,500 … and wasn’t working. So I decided to take a break.
I drove the car occasionally, making sure my foot was always applying some pressure on the gas pedal. If I came to a stop sign I’d shift into neutral and work both pedals. It’s a stupid and dangerous way to drive, but I needed a break from mechanics.
Three months later I decided I was ready to spend more money, so I brought the car to a different shop. After a week or two of experiments, nothing worked. The mechanic confessed he was about four years old when my car was built, so he’s not completely familiar with its quirks. On the bright side, he charged me nothing for his labor and referred me to another mechanic who was older and has worked on Mercedes-Benz cars for years and years.
I called mechanic number three and told him my story. He said, “I know what’s wrong, it won’t cost much to fix, and I’m the only guy you will find who can do it.”
So I drove out to the edge of town, pulled up to a residential garage, and met the Mercedes whisperer. He said the problem was due to the overload protection relay and the first mechanic tinkering with the fuel distributor before putting the fuel pressure regulator on … or something like that. For another $160 I had finally solved all my car problems.
And from that point on, my Mercedes has run perfectly. Although I suppose I should mention the radio stopped working last week.
Mercedes Trilogy Index
Part one: My Fancy Foreign Car is a Symbol of American Freedom
Part two: My Fancy Foreign Car is a Symbol of My Idiocy
Part three: Positive Thinking Meets Bad Car-ma
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