Good Luck with That

Noise, Vibration & Harshness

Today being the first day of the rest of our life sentences, I turn now from the uncharacteristically sour remarks of my February column about being serially rear-ended to focus on a more positive trend line.

Our first installment begins last August in Chicago, where I’d flown to see one of the bands I manage, OK Go, provide musical entertainment for President Obama’s fiftieth birthday. I gather the Prez’s daughters love the band, his wife was likely responsible for diva Jennifer Hudson’s presence, and El Presidente presumably gets credit for rounding out the card with jazzman Herbie Hancock. I admire Hancock, but his band’s extended noodle session made Chicago’s resolutely un-air-conditioned Aragon Ballroom seem for a night like the Hollywood Guitar Center during a twenty-percent-off sale.

Rising on scant sleep, I departed bleary-eyed for O’Hare to catch a flight to Pittsburgh, where I planned to watch the Pirates under the lights before setting off for New York at dawn the next day in a coral-and-white 1958 Ford Anglia. I had bought it on a tip from our own copy editor Rusty Blackwell, who’d kindly brought it closer to its new home by towing the dinky Ford from Ann Arbor to Pittsburgh behind a monster Ram 3500 Longhorn dualie.

Five L stops into my trip to O’Hare, however, I realized that I’d left my shoulder bag, which held the Anglia’s plates and registration, along with my passport, house keys, and computer, on a downtown Chicago platform. I got off, ran downstairs and then back up, and by the time I made it back to the original L station, an hour had passed. Surely I would miss my flight and my bag was history. But then, incredibly, as I arrived at the station, a CTA employee walked up and handed it to me. She’d seen me leave it behind. And extending my lucky streak, the flight I should have missed was delayed. Meaning I arrived in Pittsburgh in time to watch the Pirates tragically blow a late-inning lead. Hooray.

In the morning, I set off in a fifty-three-year-old English Ford with all the hope that a fresh set of bias-ply tires, vacuum-operated wipers, and 36 side-valve horsepower (coupled to a three-speed floor shift with poorly spaced ratios and a nonsynchro first gear) can offer. A 67-mph top speed limited me to back roads, and the first 230 miles went swimmingly. Then I was forced to get onto Interstate 80 and promptly got stuck in traffic. Ninety minutes later, the lanes parted and I ran flat out. For twenty minutes. Then I lost all power, 140 miles from home. A fuel-delivery problem was my diagnosis, but my tools had been confiscated at O’Hare (no time to check luggage). At 5:30 on a Friday night, there wasn’t much to do. So I called AAA, who promised to come in half an hour. Ninety minutes later, they hadn’t shown and my phone died. A guy in a Crown Vic stopped. He had no tools, but he did pass along some awesome Jesus literature. Forty-five minutes later, as the sun set, a truck appeared. He couldn’t take me home, but he did get me off the highway. Where, he said, another truck would be along — in six hours.

Yet somehow, my thirty-six-hour demonstration of weird good luck continued. The truck arrived in forty-five minutes. And its driver was not only happy to drive me directly to my door, he amusingly turned out to be a tribesman, the only Jewish flatbed truck driver this side of Tel Aviv. Funnier still, it emerged he was the brother-in-law of my favorite law school professor. What are the odds?

Well, not as long as these: The other month, as I hustled to a meeting in downtown Manhattan, my Alfa Romeo Giulia Super lost power on FDR Drive. In a Herculean feat of adrenal strength, I pushed it to the side of the road. Clogged fuel filter, no tools; you know the drill. But then, the only Triumph Dolomite Sprint within 800 miles of New York City (other than mine) pulled up. The driver had a screwdriver and planned to route around the filter, fuel pump to carbs. Except the fuel line wouldn’t reach. So he pulled a breather tube from his Triumph. It fit perfectly, and I was on my way. Thank you, ukasz Janik. When I told my mechanic pal Santo Spadaro the story minutes later, he said, “Funny, he just left my shop [thirty miles away].”

Proving there is a God. And He likes old cars.