No Golf GTi's were harmed in the making
of this column, although one particular
red 1990 was roughed up a bit. No
one was injured in any way other than
feelings, and only a few emergency
personnel and myself were inconvenienced.
was a dark and stormy night.....OK,
not really, but it was a dark and
stormy afternoon when I had an Adventure.
Gus, my trusty 1990 Golf GTi and I
were headed to an appointment one
early afternoon. The rain was coming
down hard, and it was cold out - relatively
speaking, because we here in CA don't
have "real cold". It was
chilly and wet, and I happened to
be wearing a raincoat (a rare occurrence
for me). Was the rainwear an omen?
I was on an expressway (speed limit
45mph) and took an off ramp pigtail
to continue on down to a street below.
About halfway down the ramp, I felt
the front tires begin to shudder and
in the blink of an eye, Gus' rear
end began to twist around and attempt
to pass his front. My driving life
- all 40 years of it - flashed before
my eyes and at that moment, I remembered
what I'd been taught about a skid
- the main thing being that you steer
into the skid, and your car will straighten
out. I'm sure this adage is true,
in some situations, but in this one
I happened to be driving a front-wheel
drive car (check), and both rear tires
were a bit thin (check-check). At
that point, all bets were off. Gus
was surprisingly strong in his resistance
to me trying to yank the steering
wheel back straight. My quick thinking
resulted in Gus' rear end flipping
around alarmingly in the other direction.
We hit the curb once, twice, and then
Gus grew tired of the entire exercise
and flung his butt over the curb and
down an incline into a muddy ditch.
His front tires hung onto the curbing
and I sat behind the wheel wondering
what the hell just happened. I did
have the presence of mind to push
the clutch in just before the engine
behind me on the ramp slowed and crawled
around me to get wherever they were
going, no doubt thinking what an idiot
I was for interrupting their day.
I know I was thinking that. I was
talking to AAA when a young woman
(obviously a former Girl Scout) stopped
and put out flares. Flares! Oh yeah,
I should have thought of that too.
In my vintage VW's, I always carry
a quart of oil and Gus is no exception
to that rule. In fact, if the Big
Quake hits near me I will have enough
spare motor oil in any of my vehicles
to keep the city fleet supplied, guaranteed.
But in this case oil was of no use
and flares would have been nice to
have. Good thing someone had them.
a half hour or so, emergency vehicles
started arriving: a fire truck with
lights and siren blaring pulled up
behind me. By this time I was out
of the car and down the hill, in the
mud, under a tree, still trying to
get AAA to recognize my location.
The dispatcher, a friendly woman located
helpfully in Arkansas, could not pinpoint
the actual ramp I had flown off. I
squinted through the rain, across
the street, and saw a few AAA tow
trucks sitting idle in some mechanics
yard. I told her I thought there was
a AAA truck, across the street and
gave her the name of the street. She
couldn't find that either. By the
time the fire truck arrived, I had
been on the phone with AAA for over
half an hour, been passed by no less
than THREE tow trucks who were on
their way somewhere else (they didn't
stop to help), and had 4 drivers with
pickup trucks stop to ask if they
could help in some way. I kept shooing
them all away as I thought AAA was
already coming. I should probably
mention here that I didn't attempt
to drive Gus out of the mud as I wasn't
at all sure we could do it. The incline
was steep enough and the mud slippery
enough that I was afraid to try. There
was also that little detail of the
oncoming traffic not being able to
see me as I drove up and over the
curb - if I tried and just slid around,
I would have been directly in the
"line of fire" from oncoming
cars, who seemed to be all oncoming
at 50MPH or more.
let the fire truck stay so I could
have a warm dry place to sit and talk
to AAA. It was probably the first
sensible thing I'd done that day.
High up in the cab, I could see poor
little Gus hanging onto the curb by
his fingernails, and looking quite
forlorn and waterlogged. It was obvious
he was embarrassed by the deep tire
marks in the mud where he'd gone for
his romp. In fact, when the firemen
showed up, one of them saw the tread
ruts in the mud at the bottom of the
ditch and asked with a grin "Are
those you also??"
the AAA Lady and I continued our conversation
past the 45-minute mark, and I looked
in the fire truck's rear view mirror
to see a Highway Patrol car pull up.
My stomach lurched. I knew I was going
to get a lecture now, from the CHP.
The cop was obviously younger than
I was but he had no hesitation about
asking someone his mother's age if
she "might have been going a
bit too fast for the conditions'.
I honestly didn't think I had been
so I pointed out the balding tires
on the rear of my car. Big mistake.
Both the fireman and the cop made
me promise that I would get new tires
immediately. Right about then, one
of the firemen volunteered to drive
Gus out and up over the curb. The
cop stopped traffic while my fireman
friend climbed in Gus and started
him up. With barely any hesitation,
he let the clutch out gently and Gus
crawled up the bank and gently over
the curb. One 3-point turn later and
my car was headed in the correct direction
and drivable, albeit with a slightly
flat rear tire. The fireman, it turns
out, was a VW lover who had owned
a 1989 Golf (but not a GTi) and wanted
to chat about my car and compare VW
notes! I would have been happy to
do so, except that we were standing
in the pouring rain in the middle
of an off ramp and a cop had 10 cars
stopped. Dang, doesn't that ALWAYS
happen? I did go the very next day
and got two more new Michelins. The
only real damage (if you can call
it that) was a scraped-up front spoiler
from being bent under the nose of
the car as we went over the curb.
Boy my old GTi is a tough little nut.
am sure there is a lesson in all this.
Such as, "Don't think it can't
happen to you". Or maybe, 'Your
tires are always in worse shape than
you think they are'. But all's well
that ends well. Oh, and AAA never
did find me.