Ever have one of those days where you seem to be at odds with all the motorized entities in your life? Where anything electrical fails, every warranty expires and all the things that you hope will hold out ‘til your next paycheck… don't? I had just such a day last spring, where I ended-up flat on my back, with the wind knocked out of me, lying under my own pickup truck.
The day started innocently enough, albeit at 10 degrees below zero. Needless to say, the driver's side door on my “vintage” Mazda hatchback was frozen shut. Sliding in through the passenger side and clambering carefully over the stick shift, I plopped into the driver's seat. My next indication that this wasn't going to be a shiny happy day came at the coffee shop drive-through. After realizing that my window was frozen, I tried to crank it open. With a sickening crack, the glass jumped the tracks and disappeared into the deep recesses of the door.
My patience evaporated as fast as my breath, as my fingers grew stiff in the bitter cold. I set my steaming brew beside me and fiddled with the manual window winder until the internal mechanism caught. I managed to raise the glass, protesting and clacking as it ascended. Despite the temperature, the sun was bright and my mood optimistic. I was looking forward to picking-up a test vehicle for review.
Three blocks from the dingy sprawling metropolis of General Motors, Oshawa, flashing lights appeared in my rear view mirror. Sighing with karmic resignation, I pulled over and watched Officer Krupke walk to my car. In anticipation of our cheerful conversation, I rolled down the window– which fell with a resounding "thunk" inside the door. Pocketing my ticket, I followed the officer's advice and made a mental note to replace the out-of-date insurance card with the new one sitting peacefully on my desk at home, still inside its original envelope.
My hatchback spends most of its time shuttling back and forth between car manufacturers. It sits for a week in the company car lot until I return the latest press car. Most car writers I know do the same. It's poetic irony to see a well-known car critic climb out of a gleaming Mercedes E-class and jump into a rusty, flatulent 20-year-old Toyota Corolla. On that fateful day, I was looking forward to ditching my beater and hopping into a new vehicle. I had a reasonable chance that everything would function as it should. If not, it’d be someone else’s problem.
That week's tester was a Hummer H3, the smallest of General Motor's interpretations of the military Humvee. Feeling slightly ridiculous perched atop a wanna-be rapper’s wet dream, I was nonetheless grateful that it was a subdued, sand colored model, and not a screaming, retina-burning yellow version. From time served at the vehicle’s press launch and drive program, I knew two things. First, the vehicle’s in-line five cylinder engine rendered GM's mucho macho machine woefully under-powered and 2) the H3 was virtually unstoppable. Or, so I thought…
Later that evening, I headed out to a former ski hill. Its backside was a sloping expanse of rugged, tree-studded wilderness. Chugging merrily over hills, barging through woods and devouring trenches to the accompaniment of AC/DC, the day's dirty deeds seemed redeemed. And then I applied the brakes at the edge of a ditch and felt… nothing. Sheer, traction-less ice lay just under the snowy carpet. Slowly, inexorably, I slid into the ditch, nose down. The H3 was wedged in the snow, arse in the air, with its rear wheels barely making contact with the ground.
Trudging a couple of miles to a friend’s place– cursing my cell phone resting on the kitchen counter– I called a tow truck. After convincing the wary driver that I was sober, I directed him through the woods. We located the unfortunate Humlet by pressing the key fob. It lit up like a beacon in the blackness. It took all of 10 minutes to extricate the Chevrolet Colorado-based off-roader from the ditch (two thumbs waaay up for rear tow hooks). While I wasn't exactly happy, I was grateful that I'd somehow managed to find the only tow truck driver in Canada who could resist the urge to smirk.
Safely home, thawing my frozen feet, I suddenly remembered that it was mid-way through the month; I had to move my truck to the opposite side of the street if I wanted to avoid a parking ticket. Once the job was done, I exited the vehicle, gingerly edging between the pickup and a frozen snow bank. My feet slipped out from under me. And that's how I ended up flat on my back, under my own vehicle, vowing that under no circumstances was I going anywhere the following day.