Engineering the Unexpected #2: Will I ever Learn?

It’s now 1989 – a couple of years after my first time trying (and succeeding – but not in a good way) to bring some unexpected excitement in to my life by lying to my parents and taking a spontaneous trip to the city.

It’s 1989, though, and I haven’t really learned. I’ve made a couple more trips to Boston without much in the way of drama. I did, however make one ridiculous trip with only one friend, $15 and a Mobil credit card my parents gave me.  My parents never heard of those trips and apparently didn’t notice the fill-ups outside of Boston on their bills.

Now, though, I’m out of university and working nights at a local grocery store. I come home one day at about 8:00 AM after an 11-7 shift. And today, I don’t want to go to sleep. I want to have some excitement with my brother. And so, I give my parents a similar story to last time – something about going to go shopping nearby. Then this time I grab my 10 year old brother and we get in to my parents’ new car. I tell my brother my plan and he’s excited.

We make for Boston again. This time we park in the Museum of Science’s parking garage – close to the highway and to the subway.  We head in to the city – back to Strawberries to get some records, over to a Japanese Steak House so my brother can try his first sushi and have his first Teppanyaki experience. Then we go to the John Hancock building – the tallest in the city.  I realize then that I’m going to be late. But it’s nice and quiet up on the top floor of the building so I give them a call from a pay phone and tell them I’ll be 2-3 more hours.

And it’s now about 3:00.  It’s about 20 hours since I woke up but I’m doing fine. Cities are exciting!  But we really do need to get home. It’s getting late and also I’m running out of money. I have about $40 left (and my parent’s gas card so it’s all good!)

We make our way to the interstate and head north. Traffic is heavy. And so are my eyelids. We’ve got over 2 hours left to go. I’m so tired that I am getting a bit irrational. I conclude that the best thing to do to resolve the issue is to stop just over the New Hampshire border – just a little ways away. My brother is old enough to know how to pump gas so I’ll have him pump the gas and I’ll take a cat nap while the car fills up and then I’ll be in great shape to drive the last couple of hours home.

I get off the interstate and turn right at the light, following the signs for the Mobil station.  The English Beat are singing on the tape player about a mirror in a bathroom.

And then everything goes pleasantly calm and dark…

But after a couple of seconds I wake with a jolt. An old 1978 Impala is stopped at a red light in front of me. And their bumper has stopped me.  I check on my brother – he’s OK. I’m OK also. I turn off the music and we get out.  Now the tables have turned. Now it is the other car that is unscathed save for a tiny bend in their trailer hitch. My parents’ new car, though, is not in such great shape. Its hood is crumpled, both of its headlights are smashed, the grille is shattered. The car runs and drives just fine, though, and the other folks are completely uninjured, so we exchange our information and get moving.

We go to a nearby mall and sort out the paperwork with the other drivers and I call my dad. He is very upset but tells me to go to the police station to fill out an accident report and to call him.

After that’s done I call him back and tell him the situation and state of the car. He tells me to go to a store and get rope (to hold the hood down),  and new headlights as nightfall is rapidly coming.  I go to an Ames and go inside. My $40 gets me one headlight and a bit of rope. What it doesn’t get me, though, are any tools or a second headlight. There is no way I’m going to fix this car. I call my dad back and he is really upset and also realizes something: If I wasn’t safe to drive a few hours before, I’m really  not safe now. We need a hotel.  He asks me how much money I have and I tell him I have about $15 left.  Not nearly enough for a hotel and I have no credit card.  He asks me the number for the pay phone I’m on and hangs up.

He calls back and tells me: “First off, if your brother weren’t there with you, I’d leave you to figure this all out yourself.” and then proceeds to tell me the plan. He’s called a hotel nearby that reserved a room for us and would let us stay as long as my dad drove down the next day with a credit card to pay. He would drive down the next day with my cousin and we’d get the other car back.

We head for the hotel and as the sun goes down I order us a pizza with the last of our money and we split that.  The next morning, with no money to speak of we divide up the left over bread crusts to eat and then wait for my dad.

He arrives and I get a very stern talking to and am told I will pay for all the repairs (of course) and we head home.  We now have only one car left so my opportunities for joyriding are hugely curtailed. That said, I’m not particularly driven to do so.


And here I can say I actually learned a lesson that would change my approach to these sorts of adventures forever. That was the last time I ever “pulled one over on my parents” as they called it. Instead I found other ways to have fun that kept the city excitement and eliminated most of the negative aspects.  A few  months after this collision my brother and I went back to Boston. This time, though, I had booked bus tickets. I wouldn’t be doing the driving. And having checked the Boston Globe before I left I learned of a special weekend rate at a nice hotel so I booked a night in the city. We rode the bus down and had a fantastic weekend of museums, dining out, subway riding, people watching, and of course record stores.  My brother also has a good time – and is likely much happier without my driving. I was even able to leave for Boston after working all night and not worry about the trip.  And hey: Some might argue that the money I saved on car repairs and insurance increases easily paid for the trip.

So yes, I learned something from this experience. Beyond, of course, the basic lessons of “don’t lie to your parents” and “don’t try to do a road trip after staying up all night”, I learned a little bit more about what I liked about the city and found a way to experience that without making poor decisions.

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