Thursday, September 22, 2011

No Brakes, No Brains

Tommy Stinson--"Zero To Stupid" (mp3)

There's a story making the rounds at our school, a tale of courage and luck and all of that. It involves a runaway tractor with no brakes and the man, a guy who works here, had to leave the relatively-safe confines of traffic and cross a thoroughfare that run across the front side of our campus. That he did so with arms flailing and a healthy dose of good fortune and some ability to slow the tractor's progress so that he wasn't hurt and neither was anyone else has already made the story of the stuff of legend.

There's only one problem. He didn't drive with no brakes willingly. That's where I've got the edge on him. Here's my story:

Back when there were Turtles music stores and we had one located over on Ringgold Rd. in East Ridge (a few doors down from where Amigo's is now located), I headed out one early evening to take a look at their CDs, to see if there was anything new. Leaving my wife and daughter at home, I drove the copper-colored old Volvo 740 GLE that we had purchased from my father several years earlier. He likes to sell cars to us right about the time when things go wrong with them.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you read these pages regularly, you know that I typically have back luck with cars. And you know that much of that is my own fault or neglect.

I guess the brakes had been getting kind of spongy; I don't really remember. But after I had left my neighborhood, traveled Tunnel Blvd, turned onto Brainerd Road and then right onto Germantown Road, driven its length until it dead ends at Ringgold Road, where I soon took a left into the parking lot, as I pulled into the parking space at the side of the building, I had no brakes. Before I could react, my tires slammed into the concrete parking barrier, the Volvo kind of hopped up into the air a little bit and then came to an uneasy stop.

After the initial panic, I decided that I wouldn't deal with it until I went in and looked at CDs. What was I thinking? I couldn't concentrate on music; my car was several miles from home with no brakes. There were no cell phones back then. I didn't know where my AAA card was. I would have to borrow Turtles' telephone and call a wrecker to come tow me. I would have to get someone to come pick me up. As someone who is often motivated by not wanting to be the center of attention, not wanting to be embarassed, I pondered an alternative solution.

That, of course, was to try to drive back to my house without any brakes. That makes sense. Right? Risk death to avoid embarassment? Sure. Why not?

As I returned to the car and started it up, I started envisioning routes and imagining scenarios in my mind. Germantown Road, for example, the way that I had come, would not work for a return, since it culminated in a steep downward hill as it approached Brainerd Road. In my mind, Belvoir seemed like the better option. I could remember any steep places, and, at the Brainerd intersection, it was flat.

None of those route plans took into consideration the minimum 6 traffic lights that I would encounter and wouldn't be able to stop at. Under any circumstances. So I tried to improvise. Using hand brake and low acceleration, I held back some distance from the first stoplight, the one at the edge of the Turtles parking lot. When it turned green, I gave the Volvo a little gas and made the left turn onto Ringgold, heading away from my house, but, hopefully, heading toward flatness.

Somehow, I also made the turn onto Belvoir easily as well. I'm thinking, 'Yeah, I'm getting the hang of this, drive slowly, hold back, wait until it turns green, I can do this.' Belvoir is a winding road, past churches and through neighborhoods, until its crossing over the interstate, which I managed fairly easily, because the light was already green when I got there, and until it ends at a busy intersection of Germantown Road, which I didn't.

Belvoir onto Germantown is actually a bit of an incline and the light which was green had turned yellow and then red by the time I got there. I hadn't thought about running into the car in front of me, because the issue hadn't come up, but, as luck would have it, there wasn't one. But that also meant that rather than a minor fender bender, I was headed onto one of Chattanooga's main roads through a red light, picking up speed.

The light had only recently turned red and I was coming full on and about to make a 90 degree left turn at a higher speed than I'd ever done, and I was doing it approaching the cars at the light were just starting to accelerate at their green, so I pushed my horn and waved my hand and started mouthing 'I don't have any brakes' and trying to keep a car pulling toward a pole on the road and all of a sudden I was through!

Heart pounding, I made it through the next two lights on the flat road, which actually started to rise a little bit, making the situation more manageable. I took a right onto Tunnel Blvd. and used my low gear and parking brake to make the eventual turn into my neighborhood, which rose up a hill and then onto my street, which rose again, where I parked in front of my house, aimed uphill with the parking brake on.

Back I was to wife, back to family, after a near brush with complete stupidity. Not much to brag about.


Billy said...

I worked at Turtles one summer and over the following Christmas break. Employees received a 20% discount on all items. At least 90% of my earnings went right back to that damn store.

But I still wouldn't have gone there without brakes.

troutking said...

Most suspenseful blog post of the year! I miss record stores, mostly because the search for a cd was part of the fun. There's not much sense of discovery when you buy mp3s on iTunes...