Problem Solving Is Sometimes, A Passive Experience

Life is a parade of problems that solve themselves.

Yesterday, I had to run errands after work. So I loaded up my car with stuff to return to Amazon, but the car wouldn’t start. I knew what had happened, my kids had been playing with the dome light switch and they left it in the wrong position. So for a week, the dome light had been draining the battery, and now, the battery was really dead.

Out came the jumper cables, out came my younger daughter, ready to help. I asked her to go back inside the house because hooking up two batteries for charging can be dangerous. Batteries can explode, people can be shocked by touching the wrong things, and it was kind of cold in my garage. She complied.

I hooked up the clips, red to red, black to black, one by one. Then I started the donor car, my SUV. Then I tried to start my trusty little Honda, and it fired right up. I disconnected the cables and put them back in the trunk of the Honda, still running. I backed out and went on my way as the garage door closed.

I only drove for maybe 10 minutes to get to my destination, the local UPS Store. As I turned off the engine, the car went nearly dead again. It wouldn't even lock at the press of the lock button on the keyfob. I took the packages inside for shipping, got back in the car, and called AAA. But I soon realized that waiting for AAA would take longer than I wanted to wait. So I called my wife and asked her to come out.

She got the kids together and they all came out. Once again, I hooked up the cables, red to the positive pole, black to the negative pole. My wife didn't even stop the engine, she didn't’ have to. And the Honda fired up again. The cables went back into the trunk. And my wife mouthed the words, “‘go home”. But all I could think of was fixing this problem of a potentially dead battery. I mouthed, “I’m going to Costco for a new battery.”

I was worried that the battery was going bad. I was worried about having a non-running car sitting around in my garage. I like to keep my cars in good repair, so now I was “on duty”. I was thinking about how to fix this. Wirh the word “repair” firmly in mind, I drove home with my wife in front of me. I followed her until I saw her cross the last major street she needed to cross before going home. At that intersection, she went straight, and I made a left turn to go to Costco.

I had figured that driving to Costco, a 20-minute drive, would charge the car. I played some music. I enjoyed the drive through the wintery landscape around me. I set the heater up on high to warm up the car. Sure enough, I made to it Costco. The plan was to check out the battery to see if it was going bad and to replace it there.

When I arrived, the same thing happened again. The car was dead. I was already preparing myself for the next steps. I went inside and talked to the tire shop attendant. They had racks of batteries for sale. I inquired if they could test the battery. They could. I provided the make and model of my car and they got a battery off the rack that was suitable for my car. I gave them the credit card. “Can you install it?”

“Oh, we don’t install the batteries.”

“But I don't have any tools.”

I got the card back. Easy come easy go.

I called AAA. I’m paying them for something every year, I might as well use them. The clock was ticking because the warehouse would eventually close. It was cold outside and I would rather spend most of my time waiting for AAA inside the warehouse than outside in the cold wind, in an unconscious car. One call leads to another, information passed back and forth, and then I learned that a AAA truck is on the way. I got a text to a link of a map with “real-time” tracking of the driver so I knew where he was.

I walked around Costco, marveling at the giant TVs, the gizmos the gadgets, the soundbars, the monitors, the furniture, our life in a package. It was all there. And there was nothing I really wanted to buy. I considered buying one of those jump-starting bricks you charge and carry with you in the car in the somewhat likely event you’ll be stuck somewhere. But I’ve had one of those before. Eventually, the battery no longer charges and it becomes useless. AAA is more useful. Jumper cables are still more useful. Besides, I’d still have to charge that thing before I could use it on my car that night.

Every few minutes I was checking my phone to see the progress of the AAA truck. I was hoping he’d be there before the store closes. I was thinking of the snow, too. I figured that it wouldn’t be long before the snow came. It didn’t, at least not yet. I continued to walk around the aisles of the warehouse, checking my phone when I thought there might be progress on the map. And then, the map showed that the driver was approaching, so I went outside.

I stood by my car with the hood up as a big, burly yellow truck rolled up next to my tiny little car. The driver had a routine to follow, and boy, did he follow it. He tested the battery. He had batteries in stock in the back of his truck. He didn’t even check for ID, for the car matched the description they had on file. He had one of those jumpstarting bricks, too, but he’s in the business, so when that thing wears out, he buys another one, records the cost, and calls that a business tax deduction. I hoped he recycles his batteries.

He said the battery was still good, just really, really drained. He told me to take my time going home and to take the side streets. I told him I’d be taking the freeway back home. It’s way out of the way, but I figured highway driving will pack a better charge than putting around on the side streets. He agreed, and I was on my way, without spending any more money.

I spent the next 30–40 minutes driving the highways just to charge the battery, but good. I listened to some music I liked. It was new to me, but it was good. I hadn’t been driving out there for a long time as I don’t commute to work anymore, so it was good practice. I noticed that I needed better lane discipline. I noticed that I was out of practice with driving. But I was glad that I didn’t have to pay anything more that night.

When I got home, I thought of all of the problems that were solved by someone else before a problem hit me. Someone else invented the jumper cables and made them cheap enough for me to buy and keep in the truck. Someone else built the AAA and the app that ran on my phone to track the driver. That tow truck anxiety was gone. Someone else had a battery if I really needed one. And Costco does sell a tool set, but I think I might get a little toolset just for the car. Still, the solution was to just drive the car to charge the battery. I only needed to drive it long enough to get a good charge into the battery.

Other things could have gone wrong. The alternator could have been fried, but I replaced that a few years ago. It’s still good. The battery was still good, but I cna’t remember when I bought it. I know who would know, though. I always take my car into the dealer for service. They do a good job and there is only one point of contact if something goes wrong. The dealer also has mechanics who work on cars like mine everyday. They know their product, which I will continue to drive and maintain until it’s no longer useful to do so.

Through a series of steps, the problem of the dead battery was solved, mostly with the help of other people. In a sense, they solved my problem for me, but I had to be the squeaky wheel. My wife helped, Costco helped, AAA helped. A ton of other people helped indirectly and they weren’t even there. This is what it means to me: we solve problems together.

My life has been a steady stream of problems solving themselves. I see a problem, I give it a nudge, forget about it, time passes, I turn around and the problem is solved. Some are harder than others, but I can’t think of a single problem that I solved without help from someone else. Other people are directly or indirectly involved, but they are always there. There is always someone to help me.

Write on.

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