A few years ago I owned a 1998 Chevy Cavalier, or at the very least, a pile of dirt, rust and faded white paint that resembled the shape of a Cavalier. This car was the true definition of a “beater with a heater”. When I bought it, it had about 140K miles on it, and had only 3 hubcaps, manual doors and windows, and a 2200 series 4-cylinder that was leaking oil badly out of the valve cover gaskets. The air condition system also had a leak that I never cared to get fixed, so it just never worked, and there was also a giant crack along the entire length of the windshield. One of the back door latches would also just refuse to unlock sometimes, and the driver seat was so worn out that I could feel the metal frame of the seat dig against my back regularly. At one point I was also starting the car by jumping the starter with a screwdriver (which secretly made me feel badass like Jason Statham stealing a car in a movie or something, even though it was my own car). But hey, when you need cheap work beater, beggars can’t be choosers. Amazingly, despite the sorry state of the vehicle, I kind of grew fond of this little car that just refused to die, and it only stranded me one memorable time over the course of almost 50k miles that I put on it.
One spring morning on my way into work, I found myself driving through what felt like a monsoon. Heavy rain had been ongoing on our area for the past few days, so there was water everywhere, and there was serious flooding that was beginning to occur. Roads were so bad that police were beginning to shut them down while in route to my office, so I left the main roads that were closed in an attempt to sneak down some side roads to escape the traffic jams and find higher ground.
The side street that I turned down had transformed into a shallow stream, and I came across a part of the road where it was considerably deeper water. While I could see salvation on the other side of this deep portion of the street, I had a brief Oregon Trail flashback about trying to either ford the river, or caulk the wagon and float it across. You gotta risk it for the biscut I always say, so I chose to ford my car down this street. I put the Cavalier dead center of the road where it was at its highest point (and I could still see a little bit of the pavement) and hoped for the best. At worst, I’d drown my beater car and get my feet wet waiting for the tow truck to drag me out, and at best, I might still be able to make it to work on time. I hit the water with speed and kept the gas pedal down. With the engine revving hard and water splashing everywhere, I held my breath as I felt the steering wheel go light for a brief moment. “Shit, I’m floating!” I thought to myself, but just as the quickly as I thought my downstream tour was over, my car found just pavement again to pull me out of the abyss. I had made to the other side.
My plan to find higher ground was going well. Turns out a lot of other drivers also had the same idea, and as I navigated through residential neighborhoods to get to the nearest major street, I started to realize that I had another problem. My brake pedal began to get softer and softer until suddenly, my brakes were simply gone altogether. Relying on my still functioning parking brake, I was able to maneuver my car to safety, but I needed to find a safe place to park. With the water still rising, I was concerned that leaving it on the side of the street would result in my car either being swept away, or serious flood damage. After my last fording attempt, I wasn’t feeling confident in going double or nothing with my bet against Mother Nature, so again, I had to find higher ground. Thankfully, I came across an elementary school that had a pitched driveway. It would actually turn out to be a walkway, but at this point, I took anything that I could get. I parked the car, hunkered down, and decided that there was no way I would be getting into work now.
I made a phone call to AAA for a tow and stewed about what could have happened. The only logical conclusion that I could draw was that somewhere on car, one of the rusted out brake lines must have snapped while I was pretending that my Cavalier was a jet ski. The pressure of the deep and fast moving water must have been too much, but there wasn’t anything that I could do about it now but wait.
Seeing has how I wasn’t going to be going anywhere for the foreseeable future, and the coffee I had drank earlier was reminding my bladder about what time it was, I got out of my car and started walking around the outside of the school to try and find someone who might be able to let me in and use their restroom. I found a custodian who let me in the building. I told him my situation and he didn’t seem to care that my car was parked where it was, and that the school wasn’t open that day (probably due to the flooding).
While I was waiting for my tow, I ate the lunch that I packed for myself in my car and just browsed the internet on my phone while I was waiting for the tow to arrive. Hourly check-ins with AAA was useless at this point since they continued to give me the same spiel every time I called them that someone would be out to assist me “soon”, and it was well into the afternoon by now. The rain was long gone by now and all of the flooding was rapidly subsiding. It was actually turning out to be a pretty nice and sunny day. Over the course of my waiting, I took a few more bathroom breaks in the school since I knew it was open, and just continued to camp out in my car.
Then the police arrived.
I was questioned what I was doing parked illegally on the walking path and told them the situation with my car and what happened. Apparently some of the parents that lived nearby didn’t like the fact that some older looking man in a beat up car was walking in and out of the elementary school and wanted them to investigate. The thought of that had not even occurred to me while I was waiting for the tow, so I apologized to the officers, moved the car onto the street where there was no longer any water, and continued to play the waiting game for another few hours. Thankfully, there was no further police intervention for the rest of the day.
All in all, I waited about 8 hours for my tow truck to arrive. The driver of the tow truck had been having himself a busy day with a lot of other cars downed in other various streets. It was one of the most memorable moments that I’ve ever been stranded by any car I’ve ever owned, and not one that I’d like to repeat any time soon.