Happy Independence Day

“Star-Spangled Banner” films were a regular fixture of local TV stations, before infomercials gave them an excuse to broadcast 24-7. The ones I see on YouTube seem all recorded from the sign-off at the end of the day, but my strongest memory of them is from one that was played as a morning sign-on.

The video below is a sign-off from New York City, and I’m reasonably sure this is the same video we had in my corner of the Midwest when one of the local stations signed on at 6:00 in the morning on the Saturdays when I was up. The close-in on the flag at the end with that exciting high note (sounded like a pipe organ from a little TV speaker), followed by a whooshing rocket-into-space noise is the part I’ve always remembered.

But wait, there’s more. Notice that the entire video is a series of still photos with zooms and pans and fancy edits. This style is the true essence of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and it was everywhere. I’m continually amazed that anyone associates it so much with Ken Burns documentaries–remember the opening credits of The Rockford Files, Days of Heaven, anything on public television back then?

Cold Car Battery Chaos, Part 4


Not what my trip home through a blizzard looked like, but an incredible simulation. (Image owned by Lucasfilm, obviously.)


So, continuing on through my battery odyssey . . .

After profiting nothing from visiting nine stores, I had the harmless idea of wasting time at Half Price Books. After all, I’d earned a little carefree time between the failure, the repetition, and the cold. Leisurely taking some in-town streets, I then got back on the interstate and found the right exit. A little more town driving and I arrived.

And it was true timewasting. For I was looking for nothing and bought nothing because I was surprised by nothing.

Surprised by nothing until I left Half Price Books, that is.

As I walked back to my car, it was amazing how much the weather had changed when I was expecting no change at all. Snow was coming down—streaking horizontally, really. Not the most intense snowfall ever, but it was heavy enough. I got out of town, the sky impressively gray and thick in the direction I was leaving as I turned, the kind of winter weather where the world looks like day with reflected city light. I had optimism that the thirty miles home would be a reasonably smooth ride as I got up to many miles per hour and six or more lanes of traffic in each direction.

My optimism was not attacked too much until exiting to a smaller highway. For once I was on another road I was soon unable to drive at a good speed. And then I did not want to . . . for the visibility was just a little better than nothing.

I was driving home, away from the direction in which I’d earlier seen snow piling on, but it was now hitting me from this direction, little points of snow stretching into long streaks and hitting me somehow all straight on, driven by some wind that was literally against me. It remained slow, I was grateful for good vision so I could pick out little hints of other cars and painted stripes on the road which finally curved, and the awfulness began to subside.

Another exit, a smaller two-lane highway, and the snowfall was finally negligible once I was again against the wind. I was grateful that everything had calmed down, that I was only a little slow from a road that was messier than it should have been. Whatever came down was recent, brief, but just enough to make things a mess. But I didn’t care, and had a smile on my face that I could spare a hand to choose different radio stations and hear a silly song like DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat.”

I got home, tired from my battery odyssey and just grateful to be home and not be in danger of not getting home, not minding that I completely struck out on finding the battery I needed.

Did I ever find the battery?

The next day my father-in-law called a local car dealer, who had it in stock.

So, praise be to car dealers for having batteries when everyone else is trying and failing to get them at the usual places.

And with that knowledge, I could have avoided my odyssey . . .

Cold Car Battery Chaos, Part 3

Forecasts are a good thing.  But it could be argued that this guy took it too far.


What should you always do in the Midwest before driving out of town at night in January?

Very simple. You should just check the weather.

Anyway . . .

So I had less than an hour to go 30 minutes on the interstate. But I needed gas and could not put it off, in a compressed, highly populated college town with far too much traffic. Then there would be driving into town once I got there.

I added $20 at the nearest convenience store with no delays, got back on a street, was soon on the highway, and made the interstate merge.

Watching minutes melt away as miles slowly crawl along while driving is one the oddest helpless experiences one can have. You’re in motion, you’re heading somewhere, you’re doing something. But . . . you’re stuck, only getting there at the mercy of your speed and the cooperation of other drivers and the condition of the road. You would already be there instantly if you could, and you fear not getting there on time and making the whole trip pointless and not getting the thing you needed that set you on the trip in the first place.

The radio helped, and the weather could not have been more boring and I soon found my exit. I might have had almost ten minutes to closing at 9:00 o’clock at this point. Directions announcing in monotone from my phone, I got the main road I needed, then got stuck on a side road into a silent neighborhood. The road looped, one right turn almost looked right but it was only a similar name to the one I needed. I avoided it, found the right one, listened better to the computer directions and was on the main road again. I had less than a mile to go and I knew it had to be coming up soon on my right.

And there it was, still lit up, in a pretty roomy parking lot, the only Advance Auto Parts that had what I needed. Apparently, the only store of any kind that had what I needed.

I got parked, unpacked my dirty old dead battery and walked into the brightly lit store. I parked the battery on their big counter, explained to the guy that I had ordered something online, and did not have long to wait for the lady at the other counter to look it up.

And she told me that she was sorry, but they would have to cancel my order because it was not actually in stock.

A word of advice: never believe in online inventory for stores, and especially don’t take trips out of town because of them.

I was still without a battery after vising nine stores, I had made the trip for nothing, and I had to get back home.

So was it a quiet boring trip back home?

No . . .

Cold Car Battery Chaos, Part 2

Empty battery spot

Who knew they were so popular?


When should you change a car battery you know is getting old?

The summer before the winter when you know it will be out of date.

But I bet almost no one does.

And, as my story continues, I had tried three places in town to get a replacement battery for my 2009 Ford Focus.

I was sure that my striking out would change when I journeyed one town over to a much higher population, reflected by two Wal-Marts in town.

So I tried one Wal-Mart . . . and I had no luck.

But there was a trio of auto stores nearby, all on separate blocks but within walking distance (if not for the cold temperature, the night, and the fact that I was not 100% over a yucky cold-flu double whammy that started two weeks previous).

I struck out, hopped across a four-lane road to strike out again, then crossed another little road to strike out a third time.

But there was still that other Wal-Mart on the other end of town.

And then it was a bust too.

(Though I liked the more relaxed, laidback vibe of the other Wal-Mart, and that its location kept it hidden from the worst of the wind and the cold.)

A phone chat with my wife convinced me to call up two other nearby Wal-Marts. They were very polite but did not have the battery I needed.

Frustrated, I was cold, tired and had nothing better to do than eat.

And as I waited for my Culver’s food to arrive, I was able to ignore Navy NCIS on a TV screen and the obnoxious man-boys on the other end of the place when my phone rang.

My wife had found the right battery 30 minutes away on the interstate. It was just after 7:00, and they closed at 8:00. All I had to do was finish feeding my face and get down there in time.

Did I succeed?

Well . . .

Cold Car Battery Chaos, Part 1

Battery dead

The dead batteries look so much like the living batteries . . . how will we ever recognize the zombie batteries before it’s too late?


Where do you get a car battery when you can’t get a car battery?

At a car dealer, of course.

At least if the car dealer also has an auto shop.

I should have known better and put a new battery in my 2009 Ford Focus, passed on to become a high school kid car, being that I remembered putting in a new battery at the beginning of 2014. But I soon found that I was not the only person to forget thinking about such things in summer when they would be easy to take care of.

For close to two weeks of increasingly cold temperatures, the Focus held up its end of the bargain and kept starting. Only the night before the problem the little car started and I drove it around a few blocks to keep it from grogginess. But that didn’t stop it from refusing to start the following morning, although the battery showed some lingering signs of life with the dash at least lighting up.

I went through the day blissfully assuming that it was only responding poorly to the coldest of our bout of cold temperatures but I soon got the word from home that it was not starting and the battery was well and truly dead.

No matter, I had changed batteries before and could do it again.

So I messed around with my cheap-but-good-enough tools, finding the correct wrench size for each bolt. (I only needed two different wrench sizes, so that part of the job could have been much worse.) The battery was removed and I knew from experience that getting a new one from the local Wal-Mart would fix the problem.

But I never before brought a dead car battery into a store and then lugged it back out.

Wal-Mart did not have my battery, nor did two other stores in my town.

What followed?

An odyssey. 2018: A Car Battery Odyssey. But if only it had been that boring . . .