Cable-ready on the highway

Kevin Cowherd

June 07, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

A few days ago, in the midst of a rare episode of clear thinking, I went and bought a set of jumper cables.

No one ever actually buys jumper cables, of course.

Instead what people do is wait for that awful day when their car battery dies (for whatever reason) in some nearly deserted mall parking lot.

Then they stand there in the fading light and frantically flag down a total stranger, who looks vaguely like the police sketch of a suspected slasher in that morning's paper.

Mercifully, though, the stranger stops and pulls a set of well-worn jumper cables from his trunk, instead of the serrated 10-inch commando knife they were certain he'd brandish.

And after he cheerfully jump-starts their car and leaves, they think: "Gee, I should really get my own jumper cables . . ."

This was the sort of convoluted, did-a-safe-drop-on-his-head? thinking I displayed for many years.

Then the other day I burst into the auto department at Sears and cornered the startled sales clerk near the SteadyRider shock-absorber display.

Stabbing a stubby finger at page 1349 of the store catalog, I shouted: "Gimme those babies right there, chief!"

Unfortunately, the man was recently arrived from the Indian sub-continent and mistook my enthusiasm for some sort of strong-arm move on his watch and gold bracelet.

This is what can happen in the tense environment of a department store when people of different cultures meet, and one of them happens to be frothing at the mouth from excitement.

Anyway, we finally straightened out the misunderstanding and Rishi (that was the man's name) was then kind enough to show me the jumper cables.

They're real beauties, too: Heavy-duty 6-gauge cables. Sixteen feet long. Copper-plated steel jaws. I'm telling you, these babies could jump-start a Saturn 5 rocket.

At the very least, the new cables will help me avoid disturbing incidents like the one that took place the last time my car battery died.

This was in the parking lot of a rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike -- the Richard Stockton rest area, I think. Or maybe it was the Molly Pitcher rest area. Look, all I know is it was one of those pit stops inexplicably named after a Revolutionary War hero, even though the most historic thing in the joint is a Bob's Big Boy.

As it was 11 o'clock at night and there was only one other car around -- a late-model Cadillac driven by what appeared to be two Gambino Family soldiers -- my first thought was: I'm a dead man.

So I popped the hood and stood there staring at the engine for many minutes, as if, in my growing panic, I could actually will the battery back to life.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a big, white customized mini-van lurched to a stop next to me.

Naturally, my first reaction -- remember, this was New Jersey -- was to dive to the pavement, do a quick shoulder roll under my car, and shout: "Don't shoot! No dispares tu pistola! Allez-vous-en!"

It was while struggling with the Mandarin Chinese translation of "Please don't kill me!" that I realized no actual gunfire could be heard.

Instead, a beefy guy with 27 gold chains around his neck leaned out the window of the mini-van and said: "Whassa matta, pal? Needa jump?"

Well. It was all I could do not to drop to my knees and begin buffing his shoes right there.

The good Samaritan turned out to be a gregarious fellow we'll call Dominic, who lived in Bay Shore, Long Island.

Unfortunately for me, Dominic and his family were just returning from a 10-day vacation in Florida, and now seemed relentlessly determined to fill me in on every detail of the trip.

So as Dominic fished a greasy set of jumper cables from his van, I heard all about their adventures in Disney World ("da lines, fuhgedaboudit!") and Sea World ("nuttin' but fish, fish, fish.")

Then, as we connected the clamps to the battery terminals, I heard about their stops at Aunt Bee's Gingerbread House ("graydiss ginchabread in da woild"), Walt's Famous World of Reptiles ("biggess snake I evuh sawr!") and South of the Border ("a freakin' rip-off, right Angie?")

I don't know . . . at some point in the conversation I must have drifted into hyper-sleep.

The next thing I remember is my car engine roaring to life and Dominic slapping me on the shoulder and shouting: "Ya oughta gitcher own jumpah cables, pal!"


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