Friday, July 26, 2013

No. 314 – Mean Street

Performer: Van Halen
Songwriters: Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth
Original Release: Fair Warning
Year: 1981
Definitive Version: None

The first Van Halen album I bought was 5150, as a celebration of the rest of the band finally ditching Diamond Dave and going with Sammy Hagar, who I always kind of liked. The first Van Halen CD I bought, however, soon after I bought my first CD player was Fair Warning. I think I bought it for Unchained, but the song that stuck with me was this one. It was around this time that I realized that I soon would have to make a purchase that was much larger than a CD player.

You probably have seen it in the movies: Someone gets in a car, and suddenly the accelerator gets stuck or the brakes fail and the car zooms off out of control until it crashes. If you read the news, you know that kind of thing can and does happen in real life, too. I always imagined that that loss of control had to be frightening, and in 1990, I got experience that sensation first-hand.

It was in the spring, and I was leaving work at The Journal in the early afternoon. I was going to run an errand somewhere, probably out on Miller Road, so I didn’t head immediately for the freeway like I might have typically. (That might have ended up being a big help, in restrospect.) Everything had been fine driving to work that morning.

It wasn’t fine when I started to drive. The car continued to accelerate at a fairly brisk pace, even when I took my foot off the accelerator. I hit the brakes and that helped only marginally.

The streets weren’t jammed, but enough cars were on the road that this was a real problem, particularly as the accelerator continued to open to the point where I was standing on the brake—I mean my weight full force on my right foot. I thought the engine was going to blow, so I turned off the car. That worked.

OK, this was a real problem. The good news was I knew I was close to a Mazda dealership due to a previous bit of maintenance. In hindsight, I should have pulled the car over and called a tow truck, but I didn’t want to have to wait two hours and pay the extra $50. So I drove, trying to manage as best as I could.

I found that if I just tapped the accelerator, I’d start slow and be going the speed I’d need within a minute or so before I had to stand on the brake again. Then I’d shut off the engine, coast to a stop and start all over again.

I made it to the dealership without incident but my heart racing and my nerves on edge. I remember sitting in the dealership’s funky ’70s style waiting room wondering how much this latest repair to my car was going to cost. They found the problem that led to a stuck accelerator pedal and fixed it to the tune of $90.

I tentatively got back behind the wheel—wondering whether I could trust my car at all—but everything was fine. In fact, I never experienced that problem again.

But I had been shaken, and I knew I was going to have buy a new car sooner rather than later. I had had the unMagical Mazda for six years by this time, and I already was on my third transmission and alternator.

I couldn’t pull the trigger yet, though. I just now was climbing out of the debt hole I had dug in the previous year and had no savings built up. I had to try to get one more year out of this car. Just one more year …

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