Driving around the other day, I kept forgetting that my car had electrical power even though it had gobs of the stuff. That made it quite unlike my home, which, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, was dark as night even during the day. As an unexpected ancillary drawback to the many others that beset one’s microenvironment when extreme weather events come calling, I suddenly found myself forgetting to employ useful things like directional signals, windshield wipers, and headlights, my failure to switch them on based possibly on a subconscious suspicion that there would be no point, since they wouldn’t work anyway, like the rest of my electrical universe.
Fortunately, I soon recovered my ability to indicate turns, and over the course of several really surprisingly lousy days, no one was injured on my account. In my defense, how could I not — in the aftermath of a natural disaster — forget everything, even essential accessories?
We were spared all but inconvenience, and yet everything was out of order. I was, for instance, running out of gasoline, which is almost as terrifying to most Americans as starving. Like the rest of East Coast humanity, I was already scared enough by pictures of the devastation in New Jersey and New York (before I lost cable and Internet service) and the even more astounding images I’d later see of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vibing amiably with President Obama. Wow. The hurricane had hit hard.
I was one of the true fortunates, unlike people less than a quarter of a mile away from me whose homes and businesses flooded badly or the dozens of souls whose lives abruptly ceased thanks to Sandy. But trees, live electrical wires, and vast quantities of debris were strewn everywhere, as if there’d been a wild Tailgate Party of the Gods staged in the parking lot at Giants Stadium, with all the crud divinely swept up to be sprinkled over hundreds of square miles. Along with countless fallen trees and utility poles, it made driving a little more interesting than I’d like.
Meanwhile, sewage levels were rising, drinking water was becoming suspect, and most gas stations were closed indefinitely due to no power, no gasoline, or both. Long lines — sometimes five or six hours — greeted panicky motorists who found open stations. Meanwhile, my cell phone was dying and the tank in a delightful Porsche Boxster S I’d borrowed was running low.
And that, my friends, is when I remembered the old cars in my life. Ordinarily, they are a net negative, far more hassle than just having an extra car or two and a lot more difficult to explain. Like, in my case, approximately thirty times more difficult. They are particularly burdensome when Mother Nature gets crabby, ocean levels rise, and stuff starts getting destroyed. At times like these, responsibility for multiple large, heavy, physical objects of not inconsiderable value just isn’t something you want to have to deal with. You know, real “O, Lord, my 1959 Morris Minor pickup is so small and your sea is so large” kind of stuff.
In the event, we only lost power. But we still had to get around, especially if we were going to decamp and move base operations to my parents’ home, which had managed to escape with all of its modern amenities up and running and from which I’d need to commute. And that’s when old cars saved my bacon. For I’d long ago learned the hard way that you want to always try to make sure your old cars have full or mostly full tanks of gas when parked. It’s the finest, simplest-to-organize preventive against gas-tank rust (read: leaky tanks plus clogged fuel lines, pumps, filters, and carburetors/injectors).
So, when my neighbors struggled to keep their cars rolling, I was able to access what amounted to dozens of tankfuls of gas. Sure, a 1958 Lancia Aurelia might not seem like optimal postapocalyptic transport, but one’s points of reference change in an emergency. When the gas lines are a mile long, I don’t care how bad the roads are, a 1967 Triumph TR4A IRS with a full tank looks a lot better than a brand-new Ford F-350 Super Duty in need of a fill-up. If its electrical system works and I remember to use it, that’s a bonus.