“Uh . . . Dave . . . are we going to die?”

“I hope not.” I tried to contain my own fright and concentrate. What should I do? My Ford was going faster and faster. I didn’t know how the road was empty of other cars at that hour of the afternoon. I had an idea why we kept accelerating, but not how to remedy it.

I was nineteen, in the Army, and only had my first car for a few days. I used my weekend pass to drive by my girlfriend’s house to show it off. She wasn’t home, but her pre-teen brother was, and happy to go for a ride. I knew that if I survived an accident with Bobby in the car their dad would kill me.

I had to go and act the fool and burn rubber when the light turned green, but when I raised my right foot the pedal stayed down. I stood on the brake, but that had little effect. One, two, three blocks and we were catching up to traffic. I saw one route of escape, across the oncoming lanes and into a large parking lot.

“Hang on!” I twisted the wheel to the left and entered the lot, momentarily safe, but it wasn’t an unlimited space. Can I start turning in a circle until the engine blows up? Not at this speed, we’ll roll over.

“Bobby, can you reach the gas pedal and pull it up?”

He leaned across the hump under which the transmission was surely about to seize and felt around for the accelerator. Finally, he pulled it and the car began to slow.

“Thanks. I was afraid we were goners.”

“Me too.” I looked at him and saw a face as white as his platinum blond hair.

I switched off the ignition and stared at the key as the engine died. Why didn’t I think of that?

I pulled the hood release and got out, then raised the hood. The air above the Thunderbird V-8 engine shimmered. I saw what had to be the connection between the four-barrel carburetor and the grommet in the body panel to connect to the gas pedal. It was a jointed connection of thin steel rods.

“Bobby, will you push the gas pedal up and down?”

I saw the rod begin to slide forward and backward. “That’s enough; I see where the problem is.” As the pedal was depressed to the floor, the linked rods hinged beyond a point where the spring couldn’t return them. Either it wasn’t adjusted correctly or it was a really dangerous design . . . or both.

“It’s okay, Bobby. As long as I never floor it, it won’t stick like that again.”

*      *      *

I learned four things that day:

One: Always know how the controls of a car work, even those you can’t see.

Two: Always make sure critical parts are adjusted properly.

Three: If the engine won’t stop racing, turn off the key. (On modern cars, don’t remove the key —- that locks the steering.)


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