Winter in Chicago  (1)

Coming of Age     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

Despite the cold and snow, many Chicagoans enjoy winter activities such as ice skating, sledding, and visiting outdoor winter markets. The city is also known for its beautiful winter architecture and festive holiday decorations. Okay, let’s get real. Winter in Chicago causes some serious come-to-Jesus soul searching for those weak-minded popsicles among us. The wind and below zero temperatures can cause anyone to lose faith and offer their soul for a 30 degree day. I was a top-ten contestant in this category, but having already lost both religion and my soul, I had nothing left with which to bargain.

Every December, there was always one day when my car wouldn’t start. I waited for that day, always hoping it would come early in the season. Nothing could prevent the situation; not a brand new battery, not a 100% antifreeze mix, not even a high test gasoline solution using my father’s moonshine formula. The only saving grace was I had only one day to worry about. Then, I was home free. The car always started every day after that until the next winter.

And so on the coldest day of the year it happened, as the bible predicted, or maybe it was Nostradamus, I can’t remember which. The car wasn’t going anywhere and the apartment complex dumpster was already full. I had no other option except to pull on heavy wool socks and boots, suit up in double coats, and turn on the oven for my return.

I worked for thirty minutes trying to remove the battery. The weather had permanently fused the plus and minus cables to the terminals. I couldn’t beg, beat, or pry them apart. My fingers and toes had frozen to one another by then and I had to penguin-walk back inside.

I kicked off my boots at the door and left a trail of clothes to the stove. I pulled a kitchen chair with me. The temperature inside the oven was 400 degrees. That should warm me up in about five seconds. I pulled the door down, sat in front of it, and swung a wool sock covered foot up on the flat surface.

The sock instantly caught fire, and the smell of burning hair hit me before I realized what happened. I jumped up, dancing like a drunken leprechaun at an enemy’s funeral. Who knew the oven door was as hot as the inside?

Thinking the day couldn’t get much worse, I returned outside with a fresh assault on the battery that included a bucket of boiling water and two cans of WD-40. Eventually the cables surrendered the battery, and I took it inside to warm it up.

The car finally started, but still wouldn’t move. It was sitting on a sheet of ice that extended ten feet behind the backend. I knew reverse in my manual shift Toyota was geared so low that when it hit dry ground without applying the gas, the car would stall. While the tires were slowly spinning in reverse, I wedged my body between the apartment building and the car. A gentle nudge sent the car flying backward on the ice, onto the dry ground, down the driveway toward the street. As the car rolled into the street, the tires caught in the wheel ruts on the unplowed road. It took a ninety-degree turn and headed backward down the street.

I caught the car and flung the driver’s door open on a dead run. The clutch and brake pedals looked like Oreo cookies and my bouncing head further obscured them. As the runaway car approached a busy intersection. I had one chance to twist around and nail one of those two pedals. One foot barely clipped the brake, but it was enough to stall the car’s backward progress.

By the weekend, I had arranged a Going to California Party. I asked my friends to bring their trucks and vans. Anything that didn’t fit into a 1974 Celica was theirs for the taking.

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