Murphy’s Law as Applied to a Rattling Deathtrap

Murphy's Law

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and in the worst way possible. In my case, these sage words of wisdom must be amended to include, “and particularly in a moving motor vehicle.”  A handful of great cars have graced my life and each, in their own special way, have demonstrated to me that Murphy’s Law is never more in effect than when one is very late, very flustered, and moving very quickly down a busy road.

My first car was a little red character I like to call Harold (I understand that cars are generally given female names, however, to deem this car ladylike would be at best outrageous). Harold was a Subaru wagon right out of the early 80s, with the physique that called to mind the love child of a refrigerator box and a stumpy baby rhino. Looks aside, Harold had guts. He had a certain level of stamina that could handle an unplowed logging road in a blizzard with a deer tied on top, and flick his lights as if to say, “Lets do it again!”

Harold and I were inseparable; that is, until he fell deathly ill one fateful spring day. It had started like any other day, with a rumbling purr and a typical ride down the mountain, Harold powering up the hills like nothing and swooping down with the grace of a cat, albeit an ancient arthritic cat at that. Then, as we approached the intersection that marked the edge of town, I heard a terrible sound: silence. In the middle of the intersection – the highway crossing – Harold had taken what I thought to be his last breath. We were dead in the water, stalled, a sitting duck and a convoy of trucks hauling heavy machinery was bearing down upon us. “Harold!” I screamed, quite audibly. “Harold, what are you thinking! We’re dead meat! Get it together!”

And a little voice replied, pop the clutch, pop the clutch! And since we were still in motion, barely creeping across the highway as the trucks thundered ever closer, I gave it a try and listened to the voice of Harold. With a jerk and a sputter he roared back to life, and we sped away to safety. Later, I would ask myself if I were crazy for listening to a car who sounded exactly like PeeWee Herman. Harold never led me astray, however, and guided me through many a slow turn and stop light when the engine would die, always at a moment when facing certain death.

Time passed, as always, and Harold eventually found himself in that Great Junkyard in the Sky. I too found myself without a ride. As luck would have it, we had a myriad of rigs up on blocks in the back pasture and so I took myself shopping. A lovely Toyota pickup truck, also in red, and in excellent shape, caught my eye. It turned out to be my Dad’s only running truck, but upon much wheedling he was convinced to invest in something new and hand the old one over to me. This vehicle, so short lived as to remain unnamed, had a few slight idiosyncrasies of its own. For some strange reason second gear didn’t work –at all – ever, and so often I would roar through town moving so quickly in first as to illicit a high-pitched whine. The noise the truck made wasn’t exactly pleasant, either. Due to an unfortunate hunting accident the driver-side door was held together with baling twine and later a giant deadbolt, so that in order to get out I would have to employ the help of a friendly stranger or launch myself out the window, Dukes of Hazzard style.

To this day I am plagued with guilt in that I am the sole cause for the demise of this beautiful truck. It was a wintery night – New Year’s Eve, in fact – and I was en route to the most stellar party of the year (never mind I was 16, and it was a party of band geeks playing pin-the-tail on the clarinet). In my haste to make it down the treacherous logging road I didn’t consider the layer of glaze ice beneath my tires and promptly careened into an unsuspecting tree. Fortunately, I was not hurt, but the poor nameless truck was never to roll again.

After the loss of this rig, and several years of the city bus, I found myself desperate for wheels once again. An opportunity presented itself that I couldn’t pass up – Grandpa’s abandoned ¾ ton 1981 Chevy – and Beulah was born. Of all the cars I have loved, Beulah is most dear to my heart. She is a massive grey hunk of steel, a tank of sorts, a farm girl longing to get out but who never will. I know that I will be safe under most conditions, though I fear for the car at the wrong end of a crash.

I do cherish Beulah, but she is not without her flaws. For instance, she does not have snow tires – or four wheel drive. Thanks to these features I often find myself stuck in a perfectly flat, nicely plowed parking lot or in the middle of a busy road. This has taught me of the kindness of strangers, for not once have I been spinning my tires that some thoughtful soul has stopped to help push. More often than not, due to Beulah’s hefty size, it amounts to approximately six strangers and new friendships are inevitably born. Her immensity and my incapacity to park appropriately has inspired me to always park on the far side of the lot and walk to my destination, a fact I credit with my killer buns of steel.

Beulah, in one fell swoop, taught me the validity of Murphy’s Law. I was late for school one morning, with an eighth of a tank of gas but more than enough (so I thought) to make it the three blocks to college. Lo and behold, by some tragic trick, the one-eighth mark on her gauge actually represents an empty tank! And so, steps from the college parking lot, I found myself spluttering to a stop at the edge of the road. Though a friend was kind enough to deliver me to the gas station to buy and fill a gas can, I returned only to find that my battery had died- thanks to my consideration in using my hazards during my absence. After a jump from a neighbor vaguely resembling an elderly chimp with a thing for chainsaws, I proceeded to school, thrilled to have made it in time for my last class of the morning. Come to find out, the one class I would have made after such trials was cancelled. I moped back to Beulah, teary and frustrated, and began to pull forward out of my spot when SCREEEECH! I caught the front fender of a sporty little car with the tail end of my mobile monstrosity. At that moment, I burst into tears, laughing hysterically, for what else can one do when all that can go wrong, has?

Thanks to these fine motor vehicles I have learned that truly, whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Especially to me, and especially when I am behind the wheel of a rattling death trap. So reader, beware! If on some dark, lonely night, you see a massive ancient silvery truck, a red Toyota with a deadbolt, and a Subaru struggling to keep up, you will know: Murphy’s Law has come to pass! Get away! Get away!