Posted on

Car and driver

Like many college students my daughter, Beth, is currently on spring break.

Despite the popular culture image of young people partying on beaches or otherwise acting like hooligans at vacation destinations, for the vast majority of college students spring break means heading home for a week of emptying their parents’ pantries and doing laundry for free.

My daughter’s roommates headed out earlier due to their class schedules and Beth decided to stick around until Saturday to get ahead on her classwork in order to have a more stress free break. Her plan was to travel from Stevens Point to Medford via Appleton in order to meet up with a friend and do some shopping.

Saturday evening Beth sent us a message that she was stopping at Kwik Trip near Appleton to get gas and then would be heading home and we could expect her in a few hours.

About 20 minutes later, she sent us a message that her car wouldn’t start.

My daughter drives what can only charitably be called a beater vehicle. Its major attributes are that it drives, has new tires and working four-wheel drive, and, most importantly, is paid for. It is the kind of vehicle where hitting a deer might actually cause cosmetic improvements. In other words, it is the perfect vehicle for a college student who will go weeks without driving.

One of the flaws of the vehicle is that there is a short somewhere in the electrical system which drains the battery if it is left parked for a period of time. Last fall we picked up a nifty battery pack which Beth uses to jump start her car. As a rule, it is a lot more useful if she actually brings it with her when she leaves campus.

Realizing she didn’t have the charger, Beth went back inside the Kwik Trip and bought a set of jumper cables. A good Samaritan at the store tried getting her car started and jumping it, but the car was unresponsive.

With concerns that it might be a bad starter or alternator, or that her car could have just chosen that exact moment to seize up and die, Kim and I discussed if we should be driving to Appleton to rescue her.

Kim was feeling under the weather from reactions to getting her COVID-19 vaccination on Friday, and, expecting to be in all night, I had just been relaxing watching TV with a cocktail so the idea of jumping in a car and driving across the state was not something either of us was looking forward to. At the worst case, Beth could have stayed over at her friend’s house and we would have gone over Sunday morning to rescue her.

Kim and I were still discussing options when about 10 minutes later Beth texted asking if we remembered that time when she was in high school taking her brother Alex to his youth soccer team pictures and couldn’t get her car started when parked at the elementary school.

Perplexed about the relevance of this, Beth said the tow truck driver had shown up and attempted to start her vehicle and in the process noticed that she was not in park. About 30 seconds later, the driver had his fastest call of the night and Beth was ready to hit the road.

Once she got home, Beth tried to make excuses noting that in the vehicle she drove in high school the “PRNDL” was on the floor not on the column and from the angle she sits at she couldn’t see it on the dash board through the steering wheel. When she noticed my confused expression as to what a “PRNDL” was she explained that is what she has always called the gear shifter not remembering what its actual name was.

Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.