My wife and I refer to 1986 as “The Year We Lost Our Minds.”  That was the year we both changed jobs, sold our house and moved, then changed jobs again, moved – and moved again, found new jobs and moved once more for good measure.

At one point we were living in Pittsfield which, legally, is part of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but really felt a lot more part of New York. In our efforts to get back to the Eastern end of the state, I was looking for a job in the Boston area. Interviews were a big deal because it was 130+ miles each way to Boston.

On a cold, cloudy mid-December day, I had an interview scheduled for mid-afternoon in Framingham. I gassed up my trusty ‘83 Subaru Hatchback, grabbed a few dollars for tolls and coffee and hit the road. Image

I was making good time as I breezed by Springfield, Palmer and Auburn on the Mass Pike. I was reviewing potential questions in my head and practicing answers. I was ready for anything – totally prepared.

That’s when it all went so wrong.

Just after barreling past the Auburn off-ramp my car went “taka, taka, taka,” paused, then “taka, taka, taka,” again. I was about to pull over and investigate when it stopped. Everything seemed fine – all the gauges were fine. No warning lights were on. The car was running okay. Bewildered, I kept on driving – but not for long.

“Taka, Taka, Taka,” twice as loud as before.

“Uh oh,” I thought.

“TAKA, TAKA, TAKA, TAKA,”  even louder


Smoke and steam exploded out of the engine compartment. All the warning lights came on at once, then went out. I couldn’t see. I was going seventy miles an hour – blind.

Finally the smoke/steam cleared enough for me to see a little. My windshield was covered in a greenish, oily goo. The wipers didn’t work. Nothing worked. It was silent – no radio, no engine noise, nothing but the sound of my tires on the pavement.

I was able to stop in the breakdown lane. I leapt from the car to see a green river of coolant flowing from under the engine. Smoke was pouring out from under the hood and it smelled sickly sweet with an burnt/acidic after-taste.

I was screwed. I had 45 minutes to get to my interview and was 30 miles away with no transportation and no phone. I was 3 miles from the nearest exit.

I was determined not to miss this interview. I grabbed my overcoat and folio and stuck out my thumb.

Literally, the first car, a black Renault Fuego, stopped and the driver offered me a ride. He was a salesman with an appointment in Framingham so he drove me right to the front door of my interview.

I walked in, exactly on time, and asked for the HR guy. I nailed the interview – I met with several people and ended up back with the HR guy.  By this time it was well past 5pm – it was pitch black outside. As we wrapped up, he asked if I parked in the North lot or South lot?

“Actually, I parked in Auburn.” I replied, explaining my car troubles.

He let me use his phone to call a garage in Auburn to tow my car off the Mass Pike, but the local car rental place was closed. I wasn’t able to reach any of my friends – cell phones hadn’t been invented and most offices were closed for the night (and knowing my friends, they were the first out the door at quitting time anyway.)

I was stranded in Framingham, 120 miles from home. I had $8 in my pocket.

I was able to reach my brother-in-law’s fiance and she offered me her car – a boat of a Pontiac Catalina. She lived in Springfield, about 70 miles away, but was willing to meet me at the Palmer toll booths – a mere 55 miles away. It was looking like I was going to have to thumb.

I think because it was the Christmas season, HR guy offered to take me all the way out to Palmer.

On the way, we stopped and delivered some Christmas gifts to the place he used to work. They were having a Christmas party, so we had pie and egg nog and I ran into someone I knew from my son’s daycare. I furtively slipped her a resume to forward to her HR guy.

It was a surprisingly festive evening all things considered.

My benevolent HR guy drove over an hour out of his way in each direction and even took me to the garage in Auburn so I could retrieve some stuff from my car and talk to the mechanic.

By the time I dropped my future sister-in-law off in Springfield (She never did marry my brother-in-law (He did much better, despite her kindness on this particular night)), it was well after 9pm. I got back to Pittsfield closer to midnight. I was worried about my car, hungry and really, really tired.

I dragged myself into the house and found it empty. My wife, Laura, and son were not home. Laura had left a note:

“Took Mark to Emergency Room. Meet us there.”

As it turned out, Mark was fine – he spiked a high fever and Laura had to take him to the ER in a cab because her car was in the shop and I wasn’t home yet. After a few hours, we all came home in the borrowed ’77 Catalina and ended this dreadful day.

By the way, I didn’t get the job.

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