I happened to be walking through the wonderfully preserved open space on the Boulder path earlier this week. I’m not sure exactly why, but I realized that I was traveling at a slightly slower than usual pace. Perhaps I was preoccupied with the nature of the universe, the purpose of my existence, and the ultimate fate of humanity. In retrospect, the fact that I was hauling around a backpack containing a broken car battery might have contributed to my decreased velocity.
The whole situation started out quite innocently when a friend of mine bet me twenty dollars that I couldn’t juggle 3 batteries at the same time. I found it kind of odd he didn’t explain that he was talking about car batteries until after I accepted the challenge. Being a man of my word, we walked out to my car so I could drive to the bank to pay him the money.
This is where the trouble began. I tried to start my car and nothing happened. That’s not completely true—when I turned the key I could hear a slight clicking noise. I honestly can’t say if the clicking noise was supposed to be there or not. What I did know was that the engine wasn’t running, and you don’t have to be an auto mechanic to recognize this as a problem. Which is a good thing, because there are forms of algae that know more than I do about automobile design and repair.
At this point I wasn’t sure what to do, I didn’t have a lithium jump starter back then. The more I turned the key the more it was clear the car wasn’t going to start. I gave it more gas and nothing changed. I turned off the radio. Still nothing. Adjusting the rear view mirror, opening and closing the trunk, and topping off the windshield wiper fluid also didn’t have any positive effect on the situation. Having completely exhausted my knowledge on the subject of starting my car, I decided to let the car rest for the evening and check back on it later. Maybe it was possessed by some evil spirit and would return to a more normal state sometime in the future.
I went back into my apartment to research ways I could remedy the situation. In retrospect, watching a documentary on the Discovery channel about people digging tunnels under the English channel wasn’t very relevant to my automobile crisis. But I now I am quite well versed in state of the art tunneling techniques (which I hope to use sometime in the future). Being no closer to getting my car running, I decided to go to bed in the hopes the answer would come to me in my sleep. Unfortunately, the only dream I can remember involved a bunch of ten foot tall tangerines running around trying to explain basic concepts of algebra to anyone who would listen. I asked one of them how to fix my car, but it could only suggest that I employ the distributive property of multiplication.
Having found no solution from the Discovery channel or the subconscious part of my brain, I walked out to my car the next morning to see if it was in the mood to start. Nothing seemed to have changed from the previous night. Having decided that the situation wasn’t likely to spontaneously get better, I got a pair of jumper cables and called a friend of mine to try and jump start my car.
When I connected the clamp to my battery, the (prepare for highly specialized automotive terminology) “wire thingy” fell off of the battery. I’ve never designed or conducted failure analysis on automobile batteries, but I could hear this voice telling me that something might be wrong with this piece of equipment. The voice turned out to be coming from Scott, the guy who was helping me get my car started.
After agreeing that the battery was causing the car not to start, Scott went back to work. About two minutes after he left, I starting thinking that having someone to drive me somewhere to get a new battery would probably be a good thing. I went inside and did some research into getting a replacement battery. The Saturn dealership told me the battery was still under warranty, and if I could bring it in they would give me a brand new one.
This is the point in the story where, in retrospect, I didn’t really make the best decision. I have this habit of approaching situations with either total apathy or complete involvement. Moderation is not my strong point. Being completely obsessed with getting my car running, I took the battery out of my car, put it in my backpack, and got ready to walk the one and a half miles to the Saturn dealership. The fact that some form of liquid was leaking out of the side may have stopped a less determined individual, but I just wrapped it up in multiple plastic bags and started walking.
In case you are wondering, car batteries are heavy. I would not suggest carrying one in a backpack for any significant distance. But I did make it to the dealership, and I even managed to get back to my car with the new battery (which had the positive property of not leaking out acid into my backpack). When I installed the new battery in my car the engine started just fine. And the doctor said the large acid burn on my lower back will only take two or three skin grafts to fix. But that’s just the price of fixing my car.