Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One tow over the line, sweet Jesus


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.

* * *

28 comments:

(S)wine said...

holy shite, i was the towER in a similar relationship in Florida about 6 years ago. we travelled no more than 5 miles on a large street, not a highway. this is insanity. love the photo of John.

Cosmic Navel Lint said...

A lovely story lovingly retold.

Anonymous said...

I went about 10 miles as towee through Alexandria, VA in the 70's. An interesting experience to have. ONCE. I wouldn't want to repeat it!

- DJCinSB

Bri said...

Awesome. Your dad rocks.

HeyJoe said...

Great story. My dad and I would have totally fucked it up somehow.

Dreamfarm Girl said...

Ahh, those were the days now, weren't they? I'm quite sure this couldn't be pulled off today, especially with the beer drinking, Skeeziks! (great nickname)

james2285 said...

As both a tower and towee both sober and tipping a few i know the feeling.
jim

Hal said...

Who was "Skeeziks?"

B.E. Earl said...

My Dad was the only person I know who always kept tow ropes in his trunk. He was obsessed with them. "Gotta have my tow ropes!"

They did come in handy a few times. What with six kids driving a bunch of third-hand cars. He usually enlisted his buddy Howie to help him out though. They had all the tow tricks down pat.

Erin O'Brien said...

Dad always called me "Skeeziks."

Erin O'Brien said...

Once Dad called me to give him a tow. It was a Saturday morning and his Caravan was sitting in the parking lot of the Silver Quill bar. I had a little Honda CRX, but it towed the minivan just fine.

Ha!

g. said...

such beautiful boys, eob.

philbilly said...

"Dad wasn't one to let circumstances interfere with lifestyle. He sipped beer for the whole trip.

'Hand me another Stroh's, Skeeziks.'"

I bow to the Master. My tow rope is coiled on the passenger floor and makes a kickass cupholder.

standing on my head said...

just brilliant! both the event and the story. holy wow.

Kirk Jusko said...

Skeeziks was the name of a character in the old comic strip GASOLINE ALLEY.

Anonymous said...

What a great story! And the name Skeeziks I haven't heard in decades. Will be my next dog or cat name for sure. thanks.

Amy L. Hanna said...

That was nothing short of brave and courageous - my hat's off.

Bill said...

i love the way you write e.

Tommy said...

These skills should really be included in driver's ed. classes. I was a towee for 70 miles the very same year.

The Shitty Astrologer said...

Love the story! Those were the days eh? Towing some tin can into the night of the unknown...

...brings back memories of my Dad saying Fuck! about 800,000 times every time he had to do something like this (because with him, nothing EVER went smoothly).

Anonymous said...

Great story.

RJ

Johnny V. said...

Since I am the only one who still owns a Triumph, I now know what to do the next time that I break down. Do you think the MINI has the balls to pull me? You probably inherited the rope.

Erin O'Brien said...

Johnny,

If I pulled Dad's Caravan from the Silver Quill to 14000 Lake with the Honda CRX, I think the Mini can handle the Triumph.

Then I will drink your beer when we get to your house.

Anonymous said...

Yep, Mini(BMW) can always pull a Triump,(British hunk of crap), and I have owned both.



Your best guess

C. said...

I read your tale and suddenly I am sitting in my '76 Monte Carlo being towed by my then boyfriend, now anti-husband. (God I loved that car!) He was driving a '79 burnt orange Grand Am. He ASSUMED in my 16 year old wisdom that I knew what to do when being the tow-ee. Lucky for me the weight to horsepower ratio was on my side so the 20 or so mile trip (at night) didn't result in significant damages except for my feelings being pummeled with profanity and cut downs. Aaaahhhh...those were the days!

Al Penwasser said...

What a great story! You've inspired me to write a "slice of life" story on my own. So, when you see it on my blog, you'll know that you were my "muse." Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Second reading. Still a great story.
There's a country song in this somewhere..."Brokedown at the Silver Quill."

RJ

Erin O'Brien said...

Hey "best guess," are you Mr. Rick M.?