Red and Black

 Sweaty, exhausted, and entirely too ready to go home my co-worker Conrad and I squeezed into my ninety-two Toyota Camry and headed to the Liquor Barn. It had been a long night and since it was far too cold to walk Conrad had begged for a ride. He was a tall black man with an attitude and a perverted sense of humor that I had found compelling since my first day working with him. I found myself constantly asking for the meanings of his “slave talk” which is what he kept calling the slang that he was so fluent in. I was a white girl from the country doing a favor for a co-worker.

            I put my car into park and leaned onto the side of my car as Conrad went into the Liquor Barn. The night sky was masked by the parking lot lights and planes that flew over Lexington. My wool pea coat wasn’t doing much to shield me from the cold night air and I watched as if in a trance at my inhale and exhale. Where was Conrad anyway? I rubbed my hands together trying to keep my fingers from going numb. I glanced at the traffic flying by and turned at the sound of footsteps behind me.

            I hopped into the car and kicked myself for leaving my headlights on. Shaking my head at myself I pushed and turned my key into the ignition. The air blasted into our faces but there was no sputter of and engine to be heard. Maybe I was doing something wrong. I pulled my key out and tried to start my car again. At least the heat was working. Conrad was fidgeting with his MP3 player next to me and for a moment I debate asking him to give the key a try.

            “You probably need a jump,” he said to me without looking up from his MP3 player. All I could think to myself was “Great. Just what I need: to call my parents and tell them that their underage daughter needs a jump in front of the Liquor Barn.”   I can feel a single bead of sweat trickle down my face as I try again to make my engine turn. Who could I call? I rummage through my pockets and I try not to panic when I don’t immediately find my phone in the depths of my purse. It’s not there and I shift in my seat looking through the endless pockets in my pea coat. Finally I find my phone and I dial my best friend to come and bring jumper cables. When she asks if I know how to use them I look at Conrad and ask if he knows. He responds “yes” and he and I are stuck in the car.

            She’s on her way and I wonder to myself what I’m going to say to this person I barely know for fifteen minutes while we wait. I fidget and as I listen to the sound of his headphones I bob my head even though I can’t understand the words. Slowly out conversation drifts to rap music and I ask him “But why can’t these guys rap about something important instead of rapping about lollipops and money?” He shakes his head and tells me that only they know why they rap about that stuff. It all seems confusing to me and finally Keanna pulls up. I had never been so relieved to see her in my life.

            She was bundled in layer after layer of winter clothes on top of her pajamas. Holding out a set of old jumper cables, which I happily took and gave to Conrad, she pushed her mass of tangled black hair behind her. For a moment she and I watched as Conrad hooked up the cables with no problem. I knew I should pay attention and learn to jump my car but instead I chose to jabber with Keanna about how life in school was going and what her classes in school were like. The sound of Conrad slamming on Keanna’s gas pedal in a vain effort to charge my car vibrated in the night air.

            He shook his head and said something about not having them hooked up right. I shrugged my shoulders because I had no idea how this was even supposed to work. Our chatter subsided at the sound of a spark. At this point I was convinced that my car would be working in no time. I had only a second to reflect on this thought when everything went wrong.  In mid conversation with my back turned to our cars, Keanna stopped mid sentence and stared in horror. Either my conversation was absolutely rancid or there was something going wrong. The sound of Conrad screaming, “That shit’s not normal” confirmed that something seriously wrong was going on behind me.  

            As I turned around I found the jumper cables connected to both car batteries were on fire. What’s more Conrad is standing in horror and by the second my jumper cables are punching holes in the cords with smoke. I looked around.  Where the hell are some liquids? Panicking I start screaming at the empty parking lot for water. It’s funny how the liquor barn only carries flammable liquids. At this point there is nothing that I can do except imagine a giant mushroom cloud with two cars that I couldn’t afford to pay for on fire.  Conrad was inching further and further away and Keanna was staring in horror.

            What did I do then? The only thing I could do. I ripped my wool coat off, ripped my t-shirt off and started ripping off the jumper cables from the two cars using my shirt as a type of oven mitt for my hands. Adrenaline pumping and flushed I took a few deep breaths and noticed that the owner of the Liquor Barn and a small crowd of people had gathered around me and were staring at me. It took a moment to register why they were staring. I was standing in the parking lot of the Liquor Barn in my bra. Just wonderful. I grabbed my abandoned jacket and wrapped myself up. The owner informed us, with fire extinguisher in hand that the fire station was on its way.  I was shaking now with a combination of adrenaline and absolute mortification as we all stood in the cold and waited for the firemen to arrive. Conrad stood to the side explaining to the owner that “No he hadn’t crossed the cables and he had been working on cars for years.”

            My mechanic later informed me that Conrad had indeed crossed the cables and the spark that my battery emitted should have been Conrad’s first clue that something was hooked up incorrectly. He also informed me that Keanna and I were lucky because that mushroom cloud that I had envisioned is pretty close to what could have happened if my battery had exploded. Along with a lecture from my mechanic the next morning I was told by my parents that I should “Call them no matter where I am next time.”

            What did I learn from this horrifyingly embarrassing experience? Only that the red cable is positive and the black is negative on jumper cables… or was it the other way around?  


StarPoet   StarPoet wrote
on 12/7/2008 11:22:47 PM
Wonderful read and told. I knew as soon as you wrote about te spark that he had mixed them up. I did the same thing and ruined an $80 battery. Just was not paying attention. I also like the question you posed to Conrad about the rap music for I wonder about the same thing. Why do they sing about how many gold chains they have, how many women they have/had, killing someone, how much money they have, and a few other useless things. I like some rap, but it is overkill in it's stupidity about topics they choose to rap about. Anyway, great story. You deserve an "A" for this fine effort!

shakatoah   shakatoah wrote
on 12/6/2008 2:53:47 AM
Ms Bedhead...this is brilliant and I think we might be related. I thought these insane incidents only happened to me...and I'm sorry to see that the genetic mutation seems to have crossed the oceans and infected you too. But my goodness, you wrote this so well. You kept my interest revving from beginning to end, the silliness and excitement building up to that very clever finish of yours. You have a natural wit and up-beat sense of humour which is positively irresistible. I've already wrote this beautifully, outlining all the important details that make this story truly stranger (and funnier) than fiction. What a joy...thank you for sharing. And yep! Red's positive...I only know this 'cos I had to disconnect my car battery yesterday...because of a door that wouldn't close...caused by an escaping turtle (never knew they could run, did you?)...but that's another story. See why I think we may be related? Thanks again for your excellent piece.

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Its a true story about my adventures with my new car and jumper cables. Enjoy.