Thursday, September 9, 2010
The Real Thing
Cedar Springs, Michigan
Thursday, September 9, 2010
When it comes to the enduring icons of U.S. culture--the ones people both here and in other countries love to hate but usually can't do without--Coca Cola is sure to be high on the list, along with McDonald's and Ford Motor Company and a few others. So it's fitting that two of these emblems of our culture should have found themselves bound together today in a heartwarming story of American know how.
I mentioned that the motor home wouldn't start, and that I'd done about all I could do within my very limited mechanical means. Bright and early this afternoon, after The Price Is Right was over, I tried the last of my little potential fixes, after having already checked out the starter, the battery, and the solenoid. The piece I replaced this time was the voltage regulator. It didn't seem like the thing that was wrong, but what the hell, it was small and easy to change, so I got a new one and put it in. No luck. The damned motor home (this was now its official name) still wouldn't crank. So I called for a tow truck and arranged to have it taken to a shop, bracing for the usual few hundred dollars in miscellaneous diagnostic fees and repair charges.
When the tow truck arrived the guy suggested that before he took it away it might be a good idea for him to try a couple of things, and he hooked up a booster to the battery and gave it a try. Very quickly he said he knew what the problem was--that the negative battery connection was bad. Here I must say that I felt a bit embarrassed, because one of the things I had already done, quite conscientiously, was to disconnect the battery, cleaning and scraping the lead on the posts and the terminals until they gleamed. No one, I thought, could gainsay my diligence there. But the fact is that while I did what I did quite well, I hadn't done enough. The place where the little bundle of bare wires of the cable bolts to the terminal was where the corrosion was.
Here was the interesting part. He asked me if I had any coke. At first I thought he might just want to get high while he fiddled around with my vehicle. I'm a live and let live type of guy, but, well, I just didn't know about that. Immediately my mind went to that scene from one of the Naked Gun movies where Leslie Nielsen is leaning over O.J. Simpson's bed in the hospital and Simpson whispers, "Heroin, Frank," and Nielsen says, "That's a pretty tall order, Nordberg; it might take a little time, but I'll see what I can do." I gave the tow truck guy a bit of a sidelong glance. Then it hit me like a bolt of refreshment: "Oh, Coke!" "Yeah, what did you think I meant?" "Oh, nothing. I mean, uh, would Diet Coke be okay?" "Yeah, Coke, Diet Coke, whatever."
So I went inside and got a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke and took it out to him. By now I knew he wasn't going to drink it, so when he opened the bottle and began to pour it out like a libation over the oxidized bunch of copper wires at the end of the battery cable, I wasn't surprised. The copper began to sizzle and fizz. We poured a little into a dish and dipped the end of the cable into it and let the magical soft drink do its thing. Before long the copper was cleansed of its green patina. A little sanding and scraping of the other contact points and a reattachment of the wire, and once more, for the first time since the day I brought it home, I heard the reassuring sound of the starter. Ignition, blast off!
So here's to the confluence of Ford and Coca-Cola. And here's to simple solutions to all of life's problems. I couldn't help but imagine that in France this would have involved a Citroen, a piece of soft cheese, and some paperwork; and in Italy it might have been a Fiat, some olive oil, and a great deal of noise. Pretty much anywhere in the Third World there would have been a Range Rover, a bribe, and a baby goat. So comparatively speaking, this was a pretty clean fix.