Brakes Are Over-Rated
March 7, 2009

My father was ... is ... an alcoholic. So maybe that one tidbit will help you understand a little better my desire for my own set of wheels. After years of being forced to get into the car in the evenings with a drunk, I was ecstatic to be able to take myself places and not have to worry about Dad's condition ... or Mom's reluctance to leave the house for any reason.

So that rolling deathmobile may have represented freedom to me in a way a little bit bigger than it did to most teenagers.

Shortly after I moved out of the house ... actually, as soon as my mother discovered that I was planning on moving out of the house, she planned on divorcing dad.

At any rate, moving out, getting a set of wheels, meant a great deal to me.

But, of course, in the U.S. it generally takes more than a minimum wage job to make even the barest of livings. I was staying in an apartment complex with a roommate for $201 a month and we could barely make ends meet on our budget. Neither one of us went out clubbing -- cost too much in gas to go to clubs and we couldn't really afford the cover charges anyway. And, of course, I was paranoid about drinking and driving given my dad.

In the course of starting college and filling out financial aid forms, I discovered something about my family that completely shocked me. In 1986, my father filed a tax return just under six digits.

We had a hell of a lot more money than I'd been led to believe.

Now, in some ways, this was a good way to have been raised ... I wasn't a spoiled brat and I didn't expect to be given a lot of things like some of my friends. I didn't expect to have the latest and greatest popular stuff. The Swatch watch craze pretty much passed me by, as did a slew of other Name Brand Fads. And, I expected to work for the things I wanted.

But, I've also been led to believe ... just by the society I grew up in ... that when even an adult kid really needed something, something important, that you could rely on your parents to help you to the best of their abilities.

So, I was driving the rolling deathmobile to work one day, about a year after moving out. I worked at Bizmart, an office supply megastore (eventually bought out by the ever-evil OfficeMax).

I pulled up to a red light ... and my brake pedal went all the way to the floor. Nothing.

I slammed the car into neutral and prepared to yank the wheel into a curb to avoid entering the busy intersection. Luckily there was enough of the brake pads left that the combination of the brakes and neutral did stop me. (The emergency brake had never worked.)

By this point, my parents had been divorced for about a year and my father had agreed to help me with college as necessary and to repair the rolling deathmobile when it broke down. At this point, it had only broken down once and he'd been fairly good about getting it fixed.

I finished the drive to work gingerly, but without any further scares. Throwing the transmission into neutral seemed to be the key to getting enough brake power to stop reasonably. The trip home was a little more nerve-wracking, but no major incidents. I called my father and let him know the brakes had completely failed. It was Sunday night.

"Well, I can't do anything about that now."

"I know, Dad, but should I take it in to Pep Boys in the morning? My roommate can get me to work tomorrow, but I need the car back for classes Tuesday."

"Well ... I don't know."

"Dad! I have NO brakes!"

He sighed. "I'll look at it on Saturday."

I was shocked. I thought parents were supposed to be concerned about their children even after they moved out of the house. It's not like I was going to a private university and sucking the money out of him. It's not like I was driving a BMW and demanding that he pay the insurance and maintenance. I'd already gotten grants for my college tuition, so he wasn't having to pay for my schooling anymore. I was taking care of all of my own bills ... our town had no public transportation and walking was not an option -- everything was just too far away.

This was not a hole in the muffler that I could drive around for a week.

Brakes, I thought, were kind of important.

I got off the phone with Dad and was at a loss. My brain was going like 60, trying to figure out how to get out of the problem I was in.

And then, I remembered what I'd gotten in the mail just a day or two before.

My first credit card. $500 credit line for the college student in need. I got it for emergencies.

Brakes seemed like a necessity. Not having brakes seemed like an emergency.

I asked around, found a good mechanic -- NOT Pep Boys -- and paid the $120 repair bill with the shiny, new credit card.

I never asked Dad to repair the car again.

He didn't call me on Saturday to ask about the brakes.

He never did ask me about them.

Guess it didn't matter to him. After all, he's the one who bought the rolling deathmobile to begin with.

Posted by Red Monkey at March 7, 2009 9:31 AM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

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