Budding Writer, 1979: Fifteen below

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A frosty sunrise over North Hero, Vermont, February 28, 2022. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Did they or didn’t they? What was the premonition of disaster and how was it fulfilled? Yesterday I teased you with these questions and today you’re here! Cliffhangers work.

Yes, I did sleep with my Winter Carnival date when we got back to the remote farmhouse I shared with three friends. She slept on the bed and I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor. (I told you I was the perfect gentleman.)

As for the premonition of disaster:

We awoke at 8 a.m. (what a relief to get off the floor!), breakfasted, and went out to drive [her] into town. Surprise! My car wouldn’t start (-15oF.) So we went in to get a jump from M’s friend’s car.

When she made the mistake of shutting off the engine, she, too, was stuck. So I used R’s car to jump theirs — but it didn’t work on mine. Apparently the oil is too thick to handle this bitter cold. Also, it appears to be out of radiator fluid.

So I went in to ask if I could borrow R’s car to take [her] in. Coming out again, I almost got stuck in the driveway. But that was overcome.

Next, I had trouble getting the gas pump to work when we stopped in order to prevent running out before reaching Hanover. But eventually [she] did, indeed, get out of here. … All in all, a good day, but tiring and trying.

Howard W. Fielding, “Journal, Volume II,” 11 February 1979

There’s nothing about writing in this day’s entry — other than a passing mention of a David Bromberg concert that I apparently did not review. I was at least trying to keep up with the campus cultural scene. So why am I sharing this here?

Here’s why: The car-cicle story is an amusing, true-life anecdote that could someday be fleshed out. A scene? A short story (with the right plot and characters)? It’s strange, yet true, and kind of funny (unless you’re one of the cold and grumpy characters). It’s true to life. I’ve seen it played out, in variations, other times in the North Country. Summer weight oil doesn’t play nicely with sub-zero temperatures.

And yet, if you’re a writer who never lived north or south of the temperate zones, or know only synthetic motor oils or e-vehicles, you may never have an experience like this one. So use it as a writing prompt. Have fun!

Meanwhile, if you’re following the adventures of a budding young writer at the dawn of his career, tune in next time. There’s more about the frozen car and my race against time on the TV Guide article. See you then!

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