|Bill and John O'Brien, circa 1985|
In the summer of 1980, my family attended a weekend party in Columbus, about 120 miles south of Cleveland. I was 15 and went with my parents in their Honda Accord hatchback. My brother and his wife Lisa drove in their lime green Triumph TR7.
On Sunday, Johnny and Lisa left for the return trip about a half hour before the rest of us. Mom, Dad and I were making our way north on I-71 when a green dot appeared in the distance. It was the TR7 on the berm. John was bent over the open hood. Dad pulled over and threw the Honda in reverse.
Dad and John tinkered, ethered and cajoled to no avail (which is saying something). But of course, Dad had a tow rope.
"Hook it onto something that won't pull off," he yelled to John over the noise of the careening traffic.
Dad shifted into first and inched the Honda forward until the rope drew taut between the two cars. John hopped into the Triumph and our precarious caravan of two pulled onto the highway. It was 70 miles to Cleveland.
Behold a rare juncture when I may rightly divide the human population into two groups:
1) Those who understand the implication of a tow rope.
2) Those who do not understand the implication of a tow rope.
The tow rope experience is akin to a dog leash--sort of. Although both parties have brakes, only the leader has accelerating power. If the tow-er (as in one who tows) brakes too hard, he risks getting rear-ended by the towee. If the towee brakes too hard, he's "chewing up" the tower's clutch--or worse (think of pulling back hard on a dog's leash). If the tower accelerates too fast, the towee is subject to a lurch. it goes on and on. The tow rope itself is always in danger of snapping (not good when traveling 60+ MPH on a highway). So for those number 2's out there: using a tow rope is really tricky and should never exceed one or two miles.
But seventy miles with a tow rope? The prospect was insane.
In 1980, there were no cell phones. Communication during that trip was reduced to brake lights and exaggerated gestures poorly communicated by way of our rear-view mirror and windshields. At one point Lisa started to repeat a spell-casting gesture with splayed fingers and a frantic look on her face.
"Lisa's trying to tell us something!" I said.
"What's it mean? What's it mean?" said Mom as Lisa's motions repeated again and again.
"WAIT! I've got it!" said Mom. "She's counting ... TEN ... TWENTY ... THIRTY ..." I started in with her. We made it to about 60 before Dad rolled his eyes.
"The emergency flasher," he said, "they want us to turn off the emergency flashers." And we all laughed despite the tension.
Dad wasn't one to let circumstances interfere with lifestyle. He sipped beer for the whole trip.
"Hand me another Stroh's, Skeeziks."
The end was the worst--4.5 miles of dense city traffic between the I-71/West 150 exit and 14000 Lake Avenue. It isn't easy to navigate two cars tethered with a rope through an urban route of stoplights and turns, but despite the impossible odds, Dad and John got both cars home unscathed (although Dad would always say that the Historic Tow of 1980 ate a good bit of the Honda's clutch).
"Holy Christ," said Dad with relief as we finally pulled into the drive.
Holy Christ, indeed.
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