Super Bowl Sunday, January 20, 1985. A day I would get into work after a women's college basketball game in nearby Lakewood, N.J., then turn my attention to watching the San Francisco 49ers strafe Dan Marino and the high-flying Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.
I kind of expected it, and I wasn't the 49ers fan that I am now. My team back in the day was the Los Angeles Rams with coach John Robinson, quarterback Vince Ferragamo and superstar running back Eric Dickerson. But I had a strong admiration and respect for Bill Walsh and Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig and that whole team. In a sense, I wanted my Rams to be like the 49ers.
My Sunday was set. First was the women's college basketball game at nearby Georgian Court College that the Lions were playing on a rare Sunday. Since I was the only one working alongside the assistant editor in the department that night, it fell upon me to get to Lakewood, cover the game at the famed Casino building on campus of the all-girls school and head back down Route 9 to the paper that night.
It was a 2 p.m. start, so that allowed for plenty of time. As I turned the engine over of my 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle, I figured all was OK. I knew I needed some gas along the trip, so there would be a gas station I could stop in near the Toms River-Lakewood border along the way.
Oh, the challenges that were about to face me.
The biggest challenge was the weather. It was downright freakin' cold. Temperatures were about 10 degrees and it had snowed a few days earlier, so the snow that remained on the ground with the exception of the road was all ice. But I had to be aware of ice patches on the ride.
The one thing I wasn't aware of was how my 12-year-old car ran. Now I had gotten this car practically for free from my family's next-door neighbor the week I began my two-year stint at Ocean County College. The neighbor, a terrific guy named Mike, was a pastor who moved with his family in from Missouri. He had this brown bomber, as I called it, and he was trying to get rid of it in some way. My family was more than delighted to take it off his hands, and I'll admit, for the two-plus years I had the car, it got me quite a few places in New Jersey and to quite a few assignments.
The one thing I had no understanding was how exactly a car worked. And as an 18-year-old in January 1985, I figured it was all just about putting gas in the car and letting it do its thing.
I soon found out on this nightmarish afternoon it isn't all about that.
The ride itself was pretty simple. Down Hooper Avenue until getting to Shorrock Road and then a turn onto Route 70 west toward Route 9. But by the time I got past Buckelew's Restaurnt near the Route 70-9 intersection, I suddenly realized the car was acting up. It made it to the top of the small hill at the intersection and the car turned off.
Hmmmmm. Let's turn the car back on again, which I was able to do with a couple of cranks. So off on Route 9 it went. But as I slowly got toward the downtown area/main area of Lakewood, the car was starting to act up once again. And as it shut down just as I approached Paul Kimball Hospital, I knew I'd better get to a gas station quickly. This time, though, the car wasn't going anywhere.
It sat right on the shoulder of two-lane highway Route 9 dead to the world, across from Paul Kimball, me figuring out, "Well if something happens to me, they can just wheel a gurney across the street. Ha-ha-ha!"
But when the car isn't on, it's getting cold. And 10 degrees is what it is -- 10 degrees! Add a slight wind chill, and it was near zero degrees. Not very comfortable to say the least.
The next step was to collect enough change to call my folks on a pay phone in the lobby at Kimball and let them know I broke down.
Telling them anything bad summons up thoughts that I've been taken hostage, gagged and forced against my will to tell them if they don't send the money quickly that this might be the last conversation my captors will allow me to have with them.
Well, except my mom. God only knows how strong a woman she is. She told me to hang in and she and my dad would be there. Well, hell, I don't have a running car ... it's not like I've got a whole lot of places to go!
I was forced to wait on that street corner across from the hospital for them -- hands in my pocket doing the best I can to keep from my fingers being completely frost-bitten and my feet doing its best to keep warm despite the circumstances of icy snow on the ground.
I couldn't pick a 75-degree day for this to happen. Nooooooooooooo! It had to be on one of the coldest days of the winter.
About a half hour later, they arrived. And the first thing they had to do was try to get the car started. Nothing. Nothing was going to work. By this point, a couple of kind folks in the neighborhood were good enough to help me and my dad move the car off of Route 9 and onto a side street.
This was about 15 minutes of time and any hope I had of covering coach Bob Sonday's Georgian Court basketball team went out the door. Meanwhile, being out in the cold was taking a toll on my fingers. Of course, I didn't have a pair of gloves on me for this day. Figured I was getting in and out of the car and heading in and out of the building where the game was. What time was I going to be in the cold and elements?
Needless to say, we had to find out where the closest service station was. And thanks to my mom who had some familiarity with this one Sunoco station right across from Lake Carasaljo on Route 9, we were able to give them a phone call from the same hospital lobby. They would be on their way.
The problem was that even though they were right up the road, it didn't mean they were going to be there absolutely right away. And being outside for a long period of time was really making things uncomfortable. Hey, this was my responsibility, I had to take the bullet by being out in the elements instead of staying in a nice, warm car. And each time the car keys would fall to the snow because my frost-bitten fingers couldn't get the darn things into my coat pocket, I can just feel my father's anger building to keep them in there and don't pull them out! Dad wasn't the best at crisis management at that time.
It took less than a half hour for the tow truck to get there and less than 2 minutes for the guy to figure out that a) I didn't have gas in the car, and b) I didn't have any oil in the car either. In the case of the lack of gas, I had been having difficulty understanding the gas gauge and what the total amount of gas there was, so even when I got to the bottom of the tank, it wasn't as apparent. And in the case of the oil, that was just me being stupid for never checking the oil, which now is a religious thing with me.
By the time I signed the papers to have the work done and by the time I heard my folks lecturing me on the privileges of owning a car and taking care of it, I was nearly thawed out as I got back home to Toms River.
I had to borrow mom's car to go to work that night, take whatever notes from the game I was supposed to be at from coach Sonday and then write a short story. Though I wasn't enamored with my assistant boss for the time he was there, he understood what happened. Got whatever I got done and saw my prophecy play out on television that night through the words of Frank Gifford, Joe Theisman and Don Meredith on ABC.
Final score: 49ers 38, Dolphins 16. Knew the Dolphins couldn't hang with the 49ers.
It was a good night. And everything went as planned and I got out at a decent hour. The next afternoon, I picked my car up at that Sunoco station, paid $34 for the service and learned a valuable lesson.
Never ignore your car! Yeah, I still have a problem with that from time to time, but I learned to make sure there's gas in it now. I haven't broken down due to a lack of gas again.
Because no one wants to run out of gas when temperatures are barely above zero.